Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beater with boost

It occurred to me the other day that "cars" are in the subtitle of this blog and yet I spend very little time talking about the more entertaining aspects of them.  Anyone who's been around me for a while knows I have a proclivity for old Volvos (especially those of the turbocharged and wagon varieties).  I've owned 10 to date, ranging from a '67 122S coupe (not quite as nice as that one) to the '96 850 T5 wagon I drive today which ticks both the longroof and turbo boxes nicely.

When it debuted in 1994, the T5 version of Volvo's 20v I-5 engine boasted 222hp and 221 lb-ft of torque propelling the boxy 850 series from 0-60 in around 7 seconds and to a top speed of 155mph.  While today you can buy a Kia that will easily best those figures, the 850s performance was pretty impressive for its time and pretty closely matched that of the 1989 5.0 Mustang I borrowed from my uncle for senior prom (and thought was the fastest car ever).  The R model (which is on my car bucket list) was even quicker with 250hp on tap and a sub 6-second 0-60 time.

The 1996 specimen I currently own has seen some hard use (and has the salvage title to prove it) but still gets up and goes pretty well and has surprised a couple of v6 pony cars on the route to work. It burns a little oil which would be concerning if the 78,xxx miles shown on the odometer was accurate but considering the odometer hasn't moved since I bought the car (nor probably in the last 10 years) that's probably not a big deal.  I do know that we've put 4000+ miles on it since we bought it 8 months ago and save replacement of a $10 axle seal it's been trouble free and averaged mid-20s mpg which ain't too shabby.

The performance bug has buzzed here and there and I considered picking up a custom ECU tune from ARD for a boost to around 300hp but couldn't swallow spending 1/3 the cost of the car on what would inevitably lead to breaking it (or spending more money making it faster), plus I haven't reached the 1yr modification threshold I set to ensure I'm actually going to keep something before modifying it.  It would be pretty awesome to be able to do mile long 1 wheel burnouts though...

All in all these FWD Volvos are great cars, maybe not quite as robust (or receptive to V8 swaps) as their RWD 240/740 counterparts, but you can pick them up cheap and they'll go a long time with minimal maintenance.

That said, there are a few things to watch out for:
-A/C issues--the evaporators tend to fail after a while and it's like a 10-day job requiring disassembly of just about the entire dashboard to replace.  Heater core is quite the opposite, $30 part and probably 20mins of work!
-PCV system--Tell tale signs of issues are smoke out of the dipstick tube and in extreme cases leaky seals due to high crankcase pressure.  Volvo used a complex ventilation system on the turbo cars that needs replacing (along with all of the associated hoses) every 100k or so.  Not a terrible job but it's a decent amount of labor and quality parts will run you ~$150 from a source like FCP Euro
-Headgaskets--a concern with most cars 15+ years old, turbos are harder on them and the seems to be just about the only weak spot in the engine.  Definitely run it good and let it idle for quite a while when test driving to make sure she stays cool
-Transmission problems (Internals are typically pretty reliable for 200k+ miles but there are some sensors that can become flaky and are expensive to replace)

More info on common issues can be found on IPD's website.

Other helpful sites:
Matthew's Volvo Site (forum for tech)
FCP Euro (parts)
Swedespeed (performance forum)

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