Editor’s note: The Class of ’22 is a collection of standout 80s and 90s cars that have been entered into the Hagerty Price Guide for the first time, in 2022. Ahead of RADwood, the show for the best enthusiast cars from the ’80s and ’90s, we’re profiling a handful of our favourites. If you own, or owned one, tell us about it, in the Comments! James Mills
Long before the 850 R came wheelspinning onto the scene in 1995, Volvo had been turbocharging its saloon and estate cars – but while they’d been plenty practical enough, they’d hardly been the last word in tyre-shredding performance. The 850 R changed all that, and challenged tyre engineers the world over.
An evolution of the 850 T5 R, itself a step on from the T5, the R got the 2.4-litre, five-pot engine really singing, with a larger Garrett turbo, bigger intercooler and revised engine management system taking power to almost 250bhp.
However, you’d have to temper your right foot from a standing start, otherwise the tuneful warble of the inline five would be drowned out by the squeal of rubber being shredded against Tarmac.
Even with a limited-slip differential – standard with the manual gearbox versions – the front-wheel drive 850 R struggled to put its power down in the first two gears. But temper your right foot, an make the most of in-gear urge in third and fourth gears, and this was a laughably quick car, Volvo or not.
In an attempt to tame that power, Volvo lowered the R’s ride height further still compared with other 850 T5 models, and fitted low-profile Pirelli P-Zero tyres, which – at 205/45ZR-17 – may not sound all that extreme today but was distinctly out of the ordinary at the time. This combination of little sidewall, short-travel suspension and masses of turbo torque meant the R rode with little consideration for the rest of the family, Labrador or any antique furniture you might have had aboard. At lower speeds, its suspension and tyres failed to mask any lumps and bumps in the road, and at higher speeds the lack of suspension travel mean the tyres would often not be in contact with the road
In short, it was a Volvo hot rod.
The stats at the time said 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds and 150mph. But those numbers told drivers little about the way the R could pass slower traffic with all the confidence of a Scandinavian stripping off for their daily sauna.
The square edges of the saloon and estate’s body were perfectly complemented by an equally right-angled dashboard, while the leather seats were delightfully comfortable and helped hold occupants in place with ‘Amaretta’, a synthetic suede fabric.
The 850 R was a rare enough sight on Britain’s road, when it was on sale from 1995. Now, you’ll be doing well to find one for sale. Last year, DVLA data suggested there were a little more than 70 remaining on the road.
This is partly why Hagerty added the 850 R to its Price Guide. Tracking the auctions and sales of such as rare car should help enthusiasts be better informed when either selling or buying one.
John Mayhead, editor of the Hagerty Price Guide, says that it’s been some time coming for the 850 R. “Hagerty already listed the Volvo 700 series in the Price Guide, so the 850 was a natural progression. The 850 R, especially in estate body, is an iconic car and our sales and insurance data show that they are becoming collectable and prices are rising.”
An 850 R in excellent condition is likely to fetch around £10,000, according to the Hagerty Price Guide, while a concours example pushes that to more than £13,000. However, when sales are so few and far between, just finding one for sale will be half the struggle for a buyer who hankers for one of Volvo’s most image-changing cars.
If you’re at RADwood, on 20 August, we can at least promise you there’ll be one on show as part of the Class of ’22.