For the Volvo Enthusiast

Project 850 T-5R Update: Carbon Fiber Dashboard, Alpine iXA-W404 Head Unit

Last spring, just a month or so after buying my T-5R off a lot full of Harleys in Rockford, Illinois, I decided the woodgrain trim needed to go. It wasn’t offensive by any means, but woodgrain just wasn’t me, and it wasn’t my sinister black machine, either. But if I knew then what I know now, all these months later, I’d probably be convincing myself that the T-5R trim was period-appropriate and very unique among 850 owners, because man, has it ever been a long nine months.

Anyone who has tried to take those trim pieces off an 850 knows why my project was going to be a pain right from the get-go. The pieces of wood veneer that circle the gauges, switches, climate control, radio, and shifter on the 850’s dash and console don’t just clip on and off. They don’t even screw on and off�actually, there are rivets, glue, and a whole lot of deep-down mysterious connections involved. I didn’t have the patience for this. After getting all but the last piece out of the car, I did some chopping with a Dremel to remove the piece that surrounds the gauge cluster. Sue me.

As the pictures have already given away, my plan was to resurface the dashboard pieces with carbon fiber. Not replace them with lighter, solid carbon pieces, which would be ideal, but not use fake vinyl wraps, either�but genuine overlays, using the proper materials and resin. To do the work, I enlisted a small company called OCarbon, which mainly does work with late-model Audis and was open to fielding my custom application. I boxed up the parts and sent them off to Arizona for refinishing after doing some minor gluing and sanding on my old, cracked pieces. The next step would be patience. Lots and lots of patience.

Actually, a half-step between there was building a temporary dashboard for the meantime, and the result got quite a few laughs around our office. I used a large cardboard box and cut out squares to hold each component on the dash�I even went to far as to double-layer it in some trouble spots, I mean, it was very well done. But still, my structure proved to be no match for the heavy radio head unit, and over and over, gravity kept doing its thing. Within weeks, it looked as if a box full of Volvo components had fallen from a plane and crashed through my sunroof.

I made a good number of repairs to my Ikea Edition dashboard because, unfortunately, I waited a very long time for OCarbon to finish the job. And as these custom application processes sometimes go, the intended completion date passed but the wait continued. My parts were sent in March and I was told “one or two months,” which seemed normal. I finally got my refinished carbon fiber dash in October, but the center console was never finished before I demanded it back as-is and somehow the shift knob was lost in the process.

While all the parts were out (and after I realized they’d be gone for some time) I decided to take the opportunity to modernize the 850’s stock stereo. I haven’t even seen a cassette tape in a decade, and even then it would’ve had a cord and a Discman attached to it. I’ve even given up on CDs at this point and rely only on my iPod for all my music wherever I go. For that reason, I was first in line when Alpine’s new iXA-W404 came out earlier this year. It supports no discs, only iPods, which connect through a USB port in the back. It was perfect for my 850 because of its double-DIN size just like the opening in my 850 dash.

The W404 features a touch-screen display that’s capable of displaying album art and even video. Additional components from Alpine also make navigation, backup cameras, and satellite radio easy additions. It comes wired with all the necessary pre-outs and is easy to install for anyone who has monkeyed around with car audio. The only random new wires are the ones that connect to the brake feed to decide when video is available for play. It works with every generation of iPod and the iPhone, charges while it plays, and features Audyssey MultEQ XT sound equalization. Output is 18W RMSx4. I ran my iPod wiring along the center console of the car and through the bolt access hole inside the armrest compartment. That tucks my iPod nicely out of sight but keeps it closer to the driver than if it were in the glovebox.

I had only one hiccup in the install process�the stock stereo had three sets of outputs (dash speakers, front door speakers, and the four in the rear) while the Alpine unit had just two. Knowing the unit would be smart enough to protect itself if I screwed up, I wired all the front speakers up together. This seemed to work at first, but eventually the head unit started cutting into safe mode intermittently. I disconnected the tweeters in the dash, which weren’t much good anyway, and the problem has gone away. Eventually, I may get everything working to the proper Ohms and re-install a new set of tweeters.

So far, I’ve loved the Alpine system. The touch screen is easy to use but most functions can also be done through the buttons and dial on the left side. The sound is lovely, even with my 15-year old stock speakers, though I would like to add a small subwoofer since I have the pre-outs. I enjoy how subtle the unit is in my new black dashboard, and if it weren’t for the bright blue lights it uses, a casual observer might not even notice it as being aftermarket�it doesn’t have any of those annoying flashes and gimmicks on the screen that many other head units have. Just the song and artist info and a picture of the album cover. It’s even intuitive to use and scrolling through artist or album lists is quicker than many OEM iPod interfaces.

With the stereo ready to go (I didn’t want to just leave it sitting loose in my car) I finally got my trim pieces back with their makeover complete. I opted for a matte finish just to keep things less shiny on my dash, and I’m happy with the overall appearance. Some of the corners, especially the tighter ones around some of the buttons, are a bit jagged�a sign that OCarbon was used to larger, simpler Audi trim pieces without any cutouts for buttons. Matt, the owner, admitted he’d never worked on something so hard and that while he’d be happy to work on other Volvos, he’d never want to do another 850.

The parts went back in easily, and since I had done some cutting and couldn’t reverse my removal, I glued the pieces back in with black RTV sealant. That worked quite well, and I suspect that as long as it holds, it won’t squeak like some of my old rusty screws and bolts.

As for my sanded down, half-finished console piece, I needed a new direction. I decided to go with an ultrasuede look to match the original seat inserts and shift boot of my T-5R. After buying the fabric, it was a quick and easy job with a can of spray glue and a razor blade for cutting out where buttons need to go. The complex angle beneath the parking brake handle was a challenge though, since it needed multiple pieces and I’m no tailor. I laid the faux-suede best I could without wrinklesand covered the remaining space with black vinyl. I’m not totally happy with the result and may think about other alternatives. As a whole though, I’m happy with the appearance, as the suede contrasts well with the leather-look vinyl of the console’s sides, just as the inserts contrast on the leather seats. It isn’t a look for everyone, though, so you be the judge.

I also ordered a new shift knob and lined that with the same ultrasuede, but I rushed and bought a stock 850 knob, which is all vinyl. I’d like to find another T-5R knob and cover just the wood insert with suede as to not overuse the material so much. But mostly, I’m just happy to have a complete interior again finally.

So would I do it again? Yes and no. I’m quite happy with the look, which fits well with my car’s all-black theme (How much blacker can it get? None, none more black) but I wasn’t so happy with the timeline and the final product was less OE-looking than I would had expected given what I’vd seen of OCarbon’s Audi products. I’ll gladly point some blame for the former, but in terms of the latter I do think the 850 dash, with all of its holes and corner and pieces, is pretty impossible to perfectly overlay with anything. If I were to do this again, I’d consider something I’ve seen in some other forums where guys are taking the carbon fabric and applying that, leaving it bare. That way, I would have been able to do it myself, leave the pieces on the car, and I think many of the edges would’ve been easier as the cuts could just be tucked away behind seams. I may try it on a second center console piece, just to see if it turns out any better. For now, like I said, I’m just happy the cardboard is in the garbage can.

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