Market Watch 1995 Volvo 850 T5-R
I was there to witness the Volvo 850 T5-R miracle. A press car appeared in the BBC Pebble Mill car park – where those early-Nineties series of Top Gear were filmed – and Clarkson and I took it for a spin. We ripped through Birmingham, front tyres fighting for grip and out onto the M6, laughing out loud at the amazing, incredible urge.
That day we both sensed that this was a seminal moment in Volvo’s history. A break from its sensible heritage with a large helping of Swedish mischief. Everybody loved the 850-T5R and when Tom Walkinshaw prepared an estate version for the British Touring Car Championship in 1994 with a mock Alsatian propped up in the back, it became one of the coolest touring cars of all time. Few of us noticed that the 850 was also one of the first production cars to feature daytime running lights and side airbags – Volvo’s famed SIPS System – and to be honest, I don’t think we cared. Later, for Channel 5’s Fifth Gear, I bought a black auto T5R for an affordable performance car feature I was filming. At weekends there would be a queue to borrow it, and its reliability, flat ride and turn of speed so delighted the camera crew that we ran it as a photography car for more than a year.
The effect of the T5R on Volvo’s brand was immediate. For a company that routinely sent out press releases about seatbelts and airbags, it was transformational. And when UK motorway cops chose T5s and T5Rs as high-speed pursuit cars, the unheard of happened – BMW buyers started buying Volvos. Yellow manual-gearbox T5-R estates became cult cars and outside the bars and eateries of the Kings Road, the new hot Volvo rubbed spoilers with 911s and 355s as a widely admired performance car icon. And it still is. The five-pot 243bhp overboosted engine can dispatch 60mph in a little over six seconds and run to a limited 155mph, while the Porsche-inspired interior radiates Germanic efficiency. Only 440 T5Rs were sold in the UK which is one of the reasons why we’re hailing it as a Smart Buy. Other reasons include its one-year-only production, longevity, reliability, and the fact that despite that halo of residual glamour, T5Rs are still relatively inexpensive.
In Perth, Scotland there’s a UK-supplied, privately owned 1996 T5R auto estate in Olive Green Pearl with 98,000 miles for £9000 or ‘near offer’ – which sounds on the cheap side. Usually £12k-£15k seems the ballpark for decent examples with manual Cream Yellow estates running at a solid £5000-£7000 premium over everything else. Ex-Japan T5Rs can make good buys (749 were sold there) because they won’t be rusty and are usually very well maintained. Expect to pay around £10k for a Japanese-market car with around 100,000 miles but make sure it’s got a service history and hasn’t been modified.
Like the Honda and Triumph, seek out original unspoilt specimens. Our photo car is bone-stock original but has been sympathetically refreshed over time and looks like it’s only a few years old. Estates are more desirable than saloons and the debate between four-speed auto or the five-speed manual will never be settled. I prefer the auto because it’s quicker off the mark, less unruly at the front wheels and the tyres last longer.
You’ll be pushed to find a really tiny miler – snap it up if you do – and the lowest mileages available now tend to be around the 80k-90k mark. Given most of the oily bits are good for 200k, the T5-R is a pretty safe buy. Common problems include blocked Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) systems, leaking heaters, bush wear in the rear self-levelling suspension and leaks from the rear main oil seal. Vital maintenance includes 5000-mile synthetic oil and filter changes, cambelts every five years and auto gearbox fluid every 20k. These cars were – and still are – bought by fastidious owners so many are still likely to have surprisingly detailed service histories. A fully historied T5R with 150k miles might be a better buy than one with a lower mileage and limited or missing history. As the Volvo T5R becomes increasingly collectable, mileage and provenance will increase values significantly, so insist on being fussy. Strike when you find a good one though – it can’t be long before really fine, well-fettled estates start appearing at £20,000.
‘The new hot Volvo rubbed spoilers with 911s and Ferrari 355s as a widely admired performance car icon’
Owning a Volvo 850 T5-R
‘My fascination for T5-Rs stems from the 1994 BTCC,’ says Richard Smart. ‘I was just the right age for them to make an impression. They just stood out so much, people forget that the estates didn’t actually win any races! ‘I have two, a manual and an auto, both in T5-R launch yellow. I bought this one six years ago for £2000. It was in poor condition having not been on the road for a while. I stripped it, refurbished the interior, refitted the correct wheels and repainted it. There was no rust on it at all. ‘A lot have been questionably modified, and while 850 parts are plentiful, T5-R-specific bits are hard to come by, especially bumpers and interior parts. It’s probably cost about £7k getting it to this level, but it’s great value for money, and Volvo specialist servicing costs are really cheap.’
TECHNICAL DATA 1995 Volvo 850 T5-R
- Engine 2319cc transverse five-cylinder, dohc, Bosch Motronic M4.4 electronic fuel injection, Mitsubishi TD04HL-15G turbocharger
- Power and torque 250bhp @ 6000rpm; 258lb ft @ 2400rpm
- Transmission Four-speed automatic/five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
- Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
- Rear: independent, transverse arms, trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
- Brakes Servo-assisted discs all round
- Performance 0-60mph: 6.6sec.
- Top speed: 155mph
- Weight 1490kg
- Fuel consumption 29mpg
- Cost new £35,000
- Classic Cars Price Guide £4000-£10,000
This example has been refreshed to factory spec – note the period Nokia. Enthusiasts will readily pay a hefty premium for iconic Gol/Cream Yellow (different names for the same colour).
20-valve turbo five-cylinder dominates the driving experience