For the Volvo Enthusiast

Project 850 T-5R: Suspension Upgrade

I sometimes wake up in cold sweats at night because suspension projects haunt me. That’s because the last time I did a “quick and easy” spring and shock swap, the job was anything but. The car was a 1986 BMW 325e, a recent project that I finally abandoned after an intermittent stalling problem destroyed any hope of me trusting that car again. It was, for the most part, a decent vehicle, but it wasn’t exactly short on flaws. Like its secret rust issue, which the car managed to hide under the plastic bumpers and down inside nooks and crannies undetectable during a quick look-over. You might have some idea where this going.

My H&R Cup Kit was delivered by the guy in brown trousers and, excited to bring my little blue two-door down from its towering ride height, I pulled it into the company garage and set it up on jack stands. All was going well until the final corner, the left rear coil spring. The E30 BMW uses a semi-trailing arm setup, with the coil mounted behind the wheel, opposite of the two points where the arm meets the body. I push down hard on the arm and pulled the spring, which gave way partially but wouldn’t drop out. Strange. I pulled and pulled, then gave a little twist, and finally the spring was loose. That’s when I realized the source of the issue; the sneakiest, most dangerous bit of hidden rust on my car had rotted the spring mount, a small metal post that I now held in my hand, rust-welded to the spring. Mother. . . never mind, kids might be reading. Long story short, two weeks, a new trailing arm, and a brake bleed stood in the way of me seeing my car back on its own four feet again.

But enough about hopeless German cars - this is a about a Swedish speedwagon in need of some love. And I’m happy to report that I can still show my T-5R all the love it deserves following a successful and, more importantly, uneventful suspension job. This time, the boxes that arrived at the Swedespeed office weren’t from H&R but instead from our good friends at IPD. Along with replacement Bilsteins to send the 177,000-mile originals into retirement, I opted for a set of IPD’s in-house coil springs which, in addition to providing a 1.75-inch drop and a 20 percent higher spring rate than stock, are bright blue. Combining the two components results in a wonderfully Swedish-looking suspension system. While ordering parts, I also decided to throw in IPD’s strut tower brace for some added rigidity, along with a set of strut tower bearings to replace the originals, which seemed pretty beat and were likely making the car’s steering behave inconsistently.

My poor Volvo certainly was due for some suspension maintenance. As I suspected, the strut tower bearings were quite hard to spin by hand, but the more surprising issue was with one of the front springs, which was so worn that the last half-foot or so actually snapped off. I wanted my car to sit lower, but that’s not exactly what I had in mind.

With the new parts in place, I’m really happy with the look and feel provided by the IPD springs. The ride height is perfect, though my front tires do rub the on the inside in tight parking lot maneuvers. The compromise of handling and comfort is surprisingly nice, and the new bearings really helped to return some fluidity to my steering. However, replacing weak points on any car always reveals the next problem area - with my new parts installed, I’ve noticed more clunks coming from my front end. In the past few days, I’ve replaced the outer tie rods, and I have control arms and sway bar links ordered. Hopefully, replacing every original suspension piece will have the 850 soaking up bumps as quietly as it must have in 1995.

That’s about all we can report from the Swedespeed garage for now. Along with a few more suspension components to replace, I’ve discovered that I’ll need to deal with the dreaded flame trap of the PCV system. The car sometimes hesitates on warm starts and exhibits the tell-tale smoke puff from the oil dipstick tube. Additionally, I’ve got a small exhaust leak that’ll need to be diagnosed and a bit of oil leaking only when the car’s running, the source of which has eluded me thus far.

With these few “stage zero” issues to settle (and a recent realization that Uncle Sam didn’t get as much of my money as he wanted in 2008) it may be a while before we can report many more advancements with the Swedish price of darkness. My missing dashboard however, which I’ve temporarily rebuilt from Ikea-grade cardboard, should be dealt with in the coming weeks. We’re still keeping the wraps on this mod, which promises to be one-of-a-kind. Stay tuned and we’ll bring you another update when the time is right.

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