Thursday, August 23, 2012

Swedish Iron

Volvo 850 T5-R
Meet the car that 
 saved a company...

The Kuba ikul is a beautifully made emblem of peace in Central Africa.

 Kuba ikul (circa 1600)

Its main role is a ceremonial object with fluid, flowing lines that are pleasing to the eye. But the ikul is also a knife. 

The ikul teaches us that under certain design conditions, a knife can be much more than just a knife.

The same could be said for the Volvo 850 T5-R.

It looks like a car, but as we know from the ikul...looks can be very deceiving.

This car has fluid, flowing lines that are pleasing to the eye, and the 850 is perfectly at home taking the kids to a movie or picking up a week's worth of groceries. 

But then you take the 850 to a track, and everything changes.

Not a lot of people are aware that Volvo almost closed its doors back in the late 80s. The market, indeed the public in general, had grown weary of boxy cars that had no flash or style. 

Oh, there would still be Volvo heavy equipment, jet engines and trucks....but they needed a new car. Desperately.

So the engineers at Volvo threw everything they had into a brand new design. Their new design would not look, drive or be equipped like any other car they'd ever made. 

Volvo has always been known for their safe, reliable station wagons, a car with great internal volume...but about as exciting as watching paint dry.

The 850 - penned by Jan Wilsgaard - changed that perception....permanently

The 850 - one of Sweden's largest engineering endeavors - was introduced 1992, but only '93 models were available here in America. 

The engineers also taught other car-makers an important lesson. A station wagon could be cool, it was all how you laid out the lines.

And the world took notice.

The 850 was their first front-wheel drive automobile, with an inline five-banger that begged to be turbo-charged.

So the guys at Volvo did just that.

They teamed up with Porsche and gave the world a car that will do 155 mph, with a tire-shredding 0-to-60 time of 5.6 seconds. 

The turbo five pumps out 250 horsepower, gets fantastic gas mileage - and best of all? Everything that makes a car terrific to sit in is standard equipment. Leather, burled wood, power options galore.

The 850 also led the way concerning airbags. It's the first car to have four as standard, and the first to use side-impact airbags. This is impressive, but things really started to perk up when Volvo took the 850 racing.

Volvo joined forces with Tom Walkinshaw Racing in 1994, and hit the BTCC circuit. They did well, but new rules pushed the TWR estate car out of competing. It seems nobody liked being beaten by a station wagon. 

Volvo moved on after five years with the V70. 

The fact that they were able to move on to anything is due entirely to the success of the 850. 

Without a doubt, the 850 cemented Volvo's reputation as a high-end car maker.

What was that? You didn't know Volvo makes jet engines?

Remember all those ads in the 90s where Saab compared their cars with their fighter jets? Those Saab jets all had Volvo turbofans...every single one. 

Looks can really be deceiving sometimes, can't it?

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