Jake King’s Volvo 850 R Estate was trouble at first, but he stayed dedicated to his car, and eventually, Hot Wheels modeled their die-cast 850R after it.
The 90s British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) was the domain for BMW, Audi, and Ford until 1994 when Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) took a P80-chassis 850 Estate and created the Volvo 850 Super Touring Car. While it didn’t take wins or poles in its debut, it was enough for the BTCC to change regulations for aerodynamics and make unfeasible to race the estate version of the 850. Even so, images of Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers banging over curbs that solidified its presence for fans. Fans like Jake King, who had a poster of an 850 Estate on two wheels during a BTCC round.
That’s not the only series the estates were raced in, either. In Australia, the BTCC 850 Super Touring Car was driven by Tony Scott in 1995 when it was shipped over for the Australian Super Touring Championship. These super touring cars were based more off the 850 T-5R, but in 1995 its production ended, and Volvo didn’t really want to create a successor. The demand of the T-5R by Volvo owners made them reconsider that decision, and the 850 R was born in 1996. While everyone got the cool version with the heavy-duty Volvo M59 manual transmission, the US was only allowed to have the Aisin AW50-42LE automatic transmission version.
That doesn’t deter owners like Jake – this was the Volvo to have. Racing heritage, estate usability, and a fun car to drive even if you’re not choosing gears. That grit would come in handy after the engine went south just a little while after it was purchased. While he wasn’t financially ready at the time, he stuck with it and found a B5234T4 engine to install. There’s more to that engine, and we’ll get to it in a moment.
What’s nice about Jake’s Volvo 850 R is that it retains an OEM-plus look. That was the goal from the start for him, and nearly everything that was upgraded is a Volvo part originally. The bumpers are stock, but the front has a composite lip from Volvo, and the grille shell is a blacked-out IPD egg crate.
What’s even more amazing is that this car, in the form you’re looking at right now, was used by Hot Wheels to model their own 850 R scale model car. Could you blame them? Oh, it also wears the same white paint it has had since it was factory new even though Jake isn’t its first owner.
Inside, you’re greeted by original 850 R interior parts of Alcantara and wood grain, but a dash pad protects the original dash from the harsh California sun. The IPD boost gauge was added so Jake can keep an eye on turbo boost, and an Alpine head unit provides an ability to listen to modern music and connect to a smartphone. Didn’t have that or Bluetooth in 1997.
The steering wheel is an 850 R piece but has been modified with a set of thumb rests at ten-o’clock and two-o’clock before it was custom wrapped with leather and Alcantara. The fabrics are held together with contrasting yellow stitching. The great part about this is that this keeps airbag functional and the legendary safety Volvo is known for.
As hard it is to believe – if you’re only familiar with Volvo’s mundane and beige history here in the US – those are stock 850 R seats in leather and Alcantara materials. They are powered but don’t lose their bolstering, and that means you aren’t fighting your body during hard turns.
In true, Volvo function fashion, the second-row seats three but match the front with leather and Alcantara covering them. Though, they do lack the side bolsters of the front seats.
The beauty of an estate car is that there is room for rear-facing seats that fold down when they aren’t in use. Might be better for kids, though, as the room between the pair is reduced. At least when compared to the second-row seats.
As you can see with Jake’s son in the rear-facing seat, the room is limited, even for a child. Still, it doesn't stop Max from being enthusiastic about his dad's car and the Volvo brand.
This engine has been improved internally but is the B5234T4 Volvo Modular Inline-Five Engine. The original displacement was 2.3-liters, but this has been opened inside to make it 2.5-liters by increasing the bore from 81mm to 83mm, all while keeping the stroke the same at 90mm.
To support the new displacement, an IPD and Snabb intake is used and leads to the new turbocharger. Spark is improved by using an MSD Blaster Ignition Coil to the stock distributor cap.
A set of Powerflex engine mount inserts reduce the amount of movement the original, overly-compliant rubber bushings could ever do. Jake also used other Powerflex bushings where he could, but the subframe uses custom-made Delrin plastic for maximized stiffness in the chassis.
A Mitsubishi TD04HL-20t turbocharger replaces the stock TD04HL-15g. It has a much larger compressor wheel (47mm exducer, 58mm inducer) while the nine-blade turbine flows better (45.6mm exducer, 52mm inducer). This not only bolts up to the IPD straight flange downpipe but also retains an internal wastegate. The charged air is cooled by a do88 Intercooler before heading into the stock 850 R intake manifold.
When you let off the throttle, that excess boost pressure must go somewhere. For Jake’s car, it uses a Snabb/Forge Motorsport blow-off valve that vents out to the atmosphere under the hood. At full boost of 18-PSI, 91-premium fuel fed to a set of Bosch 550cc/min injectors by way of a Walbro 255 fuel pump, and an ARD tune, this 850 now puts down 330-horsepower and 270-lb-ft-torque to the front wheels. That’s a gain of 50-horsepower and 12-lb-ft-torque over stock.
You need all the grip cornering you can get with that large of a gain in power. The strut towers are tied together by an IPD strut bar, reducing the flex normally seen in this area under hard coring loads. To ensure that the front tires align perfectly, the BC Racing BR Series Coilovers feature strut mounts made to adjust camber from the top of the strut. They are also adjustable in height with their adjustable spring collars and damping rate by turning the nob attached to the hollow piston shaft and needle valve.
That gives this 850 R the right stance and feel to Jake. It also gives these Fifteen52 wheels a much better, racing look they are designed for. These Tarmac wheels measure in at 17x8 +38 all around with a set of Bridgestone RE71 tires in 215/40R17.
The front brakes are off a Porsche 986 Boxster and are four-piston Brembo calipers.
The rear brakes are the Volvo S60R four-piston rear calipers. The front and rear rotors are also off the S60R but are GiroDisc slotted two-piece units.
Everything else outside is Volvo but are upgrades or European parts that we normally can’t get here from the dealer. For example, the headlights are E-code instead of US-DOT. The more obvious change is the headlights reflector shape. This is because E-code headlights use H1 bulbs over the US 9005/9006 bulbs and produce a wider, flatter beam pattern with a sharp cutoff at the top of the beam. The great part is that the E-code lights fit in the US-DOT design but will require new pigtails for the H1 bulbs. The corners are also E-code style and feature a clear lens design over the amber reflector found in the DOT turn signal.
The upper taillights come from the European V70R, as well. Both the Volvo V70 and 850 estates share the same upper taillight design but feature a clear portion of the lens for the turn signal. It’s a small touch, but one that makes a difference between the standard 850 R and Jake’s.
While more pressure and exhaust gasses will flow out of the new TD04HL-20g turbo, the sound doesn’t drone nor is it excessively loud. It just has that nice unique five-cylinder note that only a Volvo makes.
As you saw earlier, Jake isn’t the only one that gets excited by the Swedish mark. His son, Max, is Volvo to the core. Seriously, when was the last time you saw someone wearing a shirt with the different generations of Volvo grilles, let alone a kid? With kids like Max and dads like Jake, we’ll see plenty of Volvo enthusiasts for a long time to come.
It’s hard to explain or pinpoint exactly what it is about Volvo wagons, excuse us, estates. It doesn’t seem to matter what generation it is, or which wheels are propelling it down the road – a Volvo estate just looks right. It has just the right amount of boxiness to be classic looking, the right number of amenities to be functional and upscale without going overboard, and enough space to be useable in nearly every situation from carrying a spare set of wheels or just two more people in the back. All of these describe a Volvo, and Jake did everything he could to make sure his 850 R stayed that way. He just wanted to add a little more fun, and we happen to like how he achieved that.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you enjoyed Jake's Volvo 850R Wagon, you can find additional Volvo-related content at volvo.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one, here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS