The Volvo Laplander was a military vehicle built by Volvo in the 1960s and 1970s, and used by a variety of countries' militaries.
The Volvo Laplander was a military vehicle built by Volvo in the 1960s and 1970s, and used by a variety of countries’ militaries. Ownership and use of these trucks eventually trickled down to civilians, and now private owners use, show and maintain Laplanders worldwide.
In the early 1950s Volvo received an order to develop a new utility vehicle for the Swedish Army. A pre-run series of 90 vehicles, named the L2304, was delivered between 1959 and 1961. It was powered by a Volvo B16 engine. Full scale deliveries of the somewhat improved L3314 began in 1963. The L3314 was powered by the 1.8L B18.
The L33-series was offered with different body-variants such as hard-top, half-cab, soft-top, or special versions mounting anti-tank weapons. All vehicles are forward control (where the cab is located over the front axle), except the open L3304. The base version was the L3314SU softtop. Other versions were the L3314HT hardtop with mechanical winch, the L3304 anti-tank gun vehicle and the L3315 communications version, with a shielded 24V system. The L3314 was succeeded by the Volvo C303 in the late 1970s.
An upgraded version of the L3314 was offered on the civilian market in 1977 as the C202. It was a hard-top with the more powerful B20 engine instead of the B18, but with less robust axles and no differential brake. The C202 was manufactured in Hungary as a cheaper alternative to the more expensive C303. Civilian versions of the L3314 series, as well as the C202, are often called the Volvo “Laplander”.
Like many military vehicles of this type, the engines were actually very weak by today’s standards, boasting 82 hp. Miliary application puts a huge premium on simplicity, durability, parts commonality and in-the-field repairability. Performance is a distant fourth or fifth. To understand why this is the case, the German Army blitzkrieg advances in World War Two, noted for their speed, rarely exceeded an average of 30km/day.
How did Volvo's Swedish touring car racing team end up as a high performance manufacturer under their own brand? It didn't happen overnight.
A look back at Polestar’s 20 year history
With Polestar announcing their very first production vehicle – an incredible 600HP hybrid sedan – in 2017, we got to wondering. How did this once-time Volvo racing team end up as a high performance manufacturer under their own brand?
Well, it didn’t happen overnight. Polestar’s been around since the mid-90s, working with Volvo from the get-go. But before we get into all that, what exactly is Polestar anyway?
What Exactly is Polestar?
As of 2018, Polestar is Volvo’s performance arm, providing tuning and performance upgrades for both existing Volvo models as well as new offerings. You can either buy a Polestar Volvo new, or bring in your existing vehicle to your dealer for an upgrade.
These tunings take about an hour and can give you quite a whopping of extra power. Bring in your 2006 XC70, for instance, and gain an extra 28 HP and 36 lb-ft of torque. Not bad for an hour wait!
In 2017, Volvo purchased outright the tuning and performance arm of Polestar and decided to spin off the brand as a separate manufacturer to produce high performance electric vehicles.
Before all this performance manufacturing and engine optimization though, Polestar was simply Volvo’s team in the Swedish Touring Car Championship.
History of Polestar
While founded as an independent company, Polestar has always been linked to Volvo. In 1996, the Swedish Touring Car Championship celebrated its inaugural year, and driver Jan Nilsson founded the company to join in on this new racing series – with a Volvo 850.
Let’s take a look back at how Polestar morphed from this racing team to a premier electric vehicle manufacturer.
1996: Flash Engineering
Jump back to 1996 and the British Touring Car Championship was hot. The sport was huge in Sweden and Volvo even had a great showing the year before in Volvo’s new BTCC 850 wagon. Wanting to cash in on the popularity, the Swedish Touring Car Championship was formed.
Seasoned Swedish driver Jan “Flash” Nilsson, who previously raced in Formula Ford and Formula 3, founded the company Flash Engineering to compete in the new series.
Flash Engineering was the official Volvo team in the STCC, with the manufacturer providing funding and vehicles. That inaugural year, Nilsson – the team’s sole driver – drove the Volvo 850 to 1st place.
The following year, Nilsson – again the team’s lone driver – jumped back in the Volvo 850 and again secure 1st place. Over the next 6 years, he would also go on to bag 4 2nd place wins in 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
2005: Sale and Rename to Polestar
Fast forward to 2004 and Nilsson has sold his half of the business to Christian Dahl, who joined Flash Engineering as their chief mechanic back in 2001. The following year, Dahl changed the name to Polestar to “represent the frozen north of Sweden with the pole star and also playing on the connection to pole position and star of racing”.
In 2006, Polestar began to branch out from racing, partially taking over Volvo training for new mechanics and even creating training equipment for mechanic schools. In 2007, they further developed the program, supplying Volvo cars to schools and helping introduce new business methods to dealers.
Of course, Polestar was still heavily involved in racing. For the 2008 STCC season, Volvo asked Polestar to develop the new C30 from into a race-worthy vehicle – Polestar’s first chance to design and build a car completely from scratch.
While the team didn’t break any records with the C30 for the 2008 season, this new vehicle ushered in a new era for Polestar’s relationship with Volvo.
2009: Official Performance Partner of Volvo and Introduction of Performance Upgrades
2009 really marked a sea change for Polestar’s business focus. Driver Robert Dahlgren won the driver’s championship in the C30, with Polestar winning the team championship the following year.
Polestar also became Volvo’s official performance partner in 2009 and, for the first time, left the racetrack, designing and manufacturing performance upgrades for ‘civilian’ Volvos.
On top of all this, they also began producing concept cars based on the C30 and S60, with 100 tuned S60 eventually going on sale in Australia in 2013 – Polestar’s very first production vehicle sold to the public. That same year, a tuned version of the C30 also hit the market.
Polestar continued to race in the STCC and even went international, jumping into the World Touring Car Championship in 2011.
2015: Volvo Buys Polestar Performance
In 2015, Volvo announced they had purchased the performance arm of Polestar as well as the larger Polestar Holding (the owner of the Polestar trademarks). However, they left the racing branch intact under current-CEO Christian Dahl (remember that head mechanic that joined the team in 2001?)
With the change, Volvo began using the Polestar moniker for their high performance models and, now independent, Dahl renamed the racing team to Cyan Racing. Of course, the team is closely connected to Volvo, becoming their official partner. Said Dahl:
“We are extremely satisfied with the way the performance business with Volvo has developed. But we are a racing team first and foremost. This is an opportunity to return our full attention to our core business – to develop and race Volvo cars”
2017: Shift to Electric Vehicles and Independent Branding
Polestar will now produce high performance electric and hybrid vehicles.
Polestar vehicles will now be branded solely under the Polestar brand – not Volvo.
With these changes, Volvo hopes to compete with other high-performance electric vehicles, notably Tesla.
The first vehicle directly branded as Polestar, the aptly named Polestar 1 or P1, will be available in 2020 only via a subscription service. As promised the P1 will be a serious contender in the performance electric industry, pumping out 600HP via the hybrid engine, with an all-electric range of 93 miles.
After the P1, all models will be fully electric, with the Polestar 2 a mid-sized sedan and Polestar 3 an SUV.
Cyan Racing Goes on to Win WTCC in 2017
What happened to Cyan Racing after Volvo split Polestar in two? Well, they’re still going strong! As mentioned, they’re still an official motorsports partner of Volvo and they’ve branched out since the split, going international for the World Touring Car Championship.
For the 2017 WTCC season, the 3-person Cyan team drove Volvo S60s to first place overall in the championship.
What Volvo Models Has Polestar Tuned?
As of 2018, Volvo offers Polestar upgrades for many of their models, though offerings differ by year and country. Upgrades are typically available for vehicles manufactured in 2006+ and bump power and torque by about 30 HP and 30 lb-feet respectively. While prices vary from dealer to dealer, these tunings typically fall around $800 to $1500.
While that might seem a bit costly for a software upgrade that other aftermarket companies can offer for much less, drivers who do go for the Polestar tune absolutely love it. Here’s MVS forum user JRL reviewing his own Polestar upgrade on his 2007 Volvo XC70:
“I like it. Not a tremendous amount of power but a very significant difference from 15 to 60 MPH. What I like about it more than the actual boost is what they did to the transmission. While my tranny was/is fine, the tune incorporated smoother, tighter shifts. It shifts with less lag, less slop while not being any harsher. Upshifts are about at 2-300 RPM higher, crisper with better downshifts. It seems to react a hair faster in manual mode too.”
As of 2018, Volvo also offers Polestar versions of the S60 and V60. These Polestar variants aren’t simply the normal models with the tune already in place. Of course, they do have the tuned engine, but also an optimized powertrain, stiffer suspension, upgraded brakes, wheels and tires, and sportier styling.
Drivers praise these cars’ engine, powertrain, and suspension. Here’s Motorreview’s review of the 2017 Polestar S60:
“for Polestar duty it’s been souped up a touch with a new turbo, connecting rods, camshaft, fuel pump, and fuel filter, plus a larger air intake along with 3-inch “full-flow” exhaust systems that raise power from 345 to 362 horsepower. Torque is actually down a touch from 369 to 347 lb-ft, but seeing as how the cars are now 44 pounds lighter than before, you won’t miss the torque….Volvo has quietly started building some of the best-looking cars in the industry. If you can overlook one glaring issue, you’ll find yourself behind the wheel of an excellent alternative to mainstream sporty performance cars.”
Volvo Racing Outside Polestar
Now that you know pretty much everything you need to know about Polestar, maybe you’re wondering about Volvo’s other motorsports attempts?
Most of us are probably already aware of Volvo’s motorsports history, but it’s the 850 (including the wagon) in the British – not Swedish – Touring Car Championship that most of us picture when we think about blurry Volvos at high speeds.
Did you know that, even before the 850s cruised through the BTCC in the 1990s, rally drivers had been using Volvos as far back as the 1920s?
Ever since their first car came off production, rally drivers have picked the reliable, sturdy Volvo for long, harsh races.
In 1928 – just 2 years after the first Volvo came off production – three of these vehicles entered in the Swedish Royal Automobil Club’s Winter Rally – a grueling 652 mile race with snow chains and no helmets. While no Volvo won the race, two placed 6th and 3rd – not bad for a two year old car company.
A year later, 2 drivers entered a Volvo OV 4 in the Moscow-Leningrad-Moscow Rally. This 845 mile race obviously required snow chains, which was certainly a strange sight on a convertible vehicle with no heat! Amazingly, this drop top won first in its class that year. Jump to 1949 and Hilding Olsson, a Volvo dealer himself, drove a Volvo 444 in the Monte Carlo Rally. He certainly didn’t win, coming in 100th place, though still ahead of 66 more drivers.
Through the 1950s and ‘60s, Volvo entered into what you could consider their ‘golden age’ of rallying, with Volvo drivers taking home trophy after trophy:
1957: Swedish Rally
1958: Swedish Rally
1963: European Rally Championship
1964: European Rally Championship, Swedish Rally, Acropolis Rally
1965: Safari Rally, Swedish Rally, Acropolis Rally
Unfortunately, in 1966 two Volvo mechanics died from a truck crash at the Acropolis Rally and Volvo subsequently pulled out of all racing due to safety concerns.
However, they weren’t gone for long. After a quite decade in the 1970s, the company reentered the racing scene in 1980, winning the European Rallycross Championship that year with the Volvo 343 and again in 1987 with the legendary 240. In fact, from 1980 to 1986, they placed 2nd or 3rd in each season of the European Rallycross Championship– mostly with the 240.
Beyond the Swedish Touring Championship of which Polestar was so involved, Volvo dominated the British Touring Car Championship through the 90s, eventually winning the cup in 1998.
Even before then – as most of us know – Volvo was involved with touring, winning the European Touring Car Championship in 1985 with the “Flying Brick” – the same 240 Turbo that landed them the rallycross championships above. The 2.1 liter engine in that 240 pushed out at incredible 300 HP, with a top speed of 161 MPH. With the 242 Turbo, Volvo also took home 1st place in the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship.
Volvo has – quite literally – been racing since its very inception in the 1920s. From poorly-equipped convertibles on the snow-covered roads of Russia all the way up to the modern S60, Volvo’s put wheels on the track. And with Polestar such a crucial partner in their more recent history, it’ll be interesting to watch where Volvo’s motorsports teams move in the future. With Cyan Racing’s great showing in the 2017 WTCC, it seems pretty promising.
The inline 5 (I5) cylinder engine has come to be a symbol of Volvo’s recent past. But did you know that manufacturers started whipping up first iterations of this quirky engine as early as the 1930s?
While in the US we gave up on the 5 cylinder, the story’s a bit different in Europe, where it flourished. Over the last 90 years, the I5’s been used in everything from WW2 military vehicles, sedans, and sports cars, to our modern SUVs and trucks.
Let’s look at the early history of this iconic engine and exactly how – and when – Volvo joined the party.
The Earliest 5 Cylinders: Ford and Lancia
The earliest known 5-cylinder comes from Henry Ford himself (p.64). Ford was famous for near-constant experimenting when he was leader of the Ford Motor Company and many of his ideas, including the 5-cylinder, never left the design table. He experimented with V10s, X-8s (yes, an 8-cylinder engine shaped like an X, with 2 cylinders on each end), opposed cylinder engines, and of course, the 5 cylinder.
The larger designs were meant to compete with the new 6-cylinder engines from competing companies like Chevy, but that wasn’t the vision for the 5 cylinder.
Ford developed the I5 in the late 1930s and early 1940s and, like Volvo some 50 years later, Ford saw the 5 cylinder as an option for a smaller economy car. Indeed, the engine they produced clocked in at just under 2.5 liters and produced a meager 50 to 60 HP.
In the end, Ford simply couldn’t shave enough cost off manufacturing to make a smaller economy car an affordable option and the 5-cylinder was scrapped.
The first production 5 cylinder, on the other hand, came from Italian manufacturer Lancia.
The first production 5 cylinder, on the other hand, came from Italian manufacturer Lancia. In the late 1930s, Italy (and the rest of Europe) were embroiled in WW2 and Lancia was manufacturing a line of transport trucks for the Italian Army.
The manufacturer equipped the first model, known as the Ro, with a petite 2 cylinder diesel engine. After a few years, they tacked on an additional cylinder (lovingly known as the Ro-Ro), until finally bringing it up to the 5 cylinder (the 3Ro) – the first production 5 cylinder (though it was diesel).
Mercedes Steps Up to the Plate
The first true step towards a 5 cylinder passenger vehicle came 35 years after Lancia’s 3Ro.
In 1974, Mercedes introduced their new 3 liter 5-cylinder diesel (known as the OM617), which first saw action with the 240D and now-famous 300D. While not sporty by any means – accelerating from 0 to 60 in 17 seconds – the OM617 is downright reliable, with many 300Ds clocking in over 500,000 miles. Some enthusiasts have even claimed the OM617 as the most reliable engine ever – period!
However, before the 300D became so famous in the 1980s, Mercedes wasn’t alone with a production 5 cylinder.
The First Gas-Powered 5 Cylinder
We’re all likely aware of Audi’s connection to the 5-cylinder and motorsports, most notably as a rally car in the early ’80s, but also through successes in hill climbing Pikes Peak and other US-based racing.
In 1976, Audi introduced the first gas-powered production 5 cylinder for the Audi 100. With the larger engine, the car was considered a step up from Audi’s previous models, though with the 2.1 liter engine producing 136HP it wasn’t up to racing-status quite yet.
Like Volvo, Audi will always be permanently connected to the 5 cylinder, thanks to their huge showing in motorsports
Fast forward to 1980 and Audi has introduced the Quattro, featuring a turbocharged 5 cylinder engine and permanent 4-wheel drive. Clocking in at 200HP, Audi soon entered the Quattro in rally races. Throughout the early ’80s, Like Volvo, Audi will always be permanently connected to the 5 cylinder, thanks to their huge showing in motorsports, especially Group B rallying in the early 1980s. Throughout the 80s, Audi continually updated the Quattro and eventually took home 23 world championships.
Volvo Joins the Party
While Volvo only introduced its first 5 cylinder, the Volvo 850, in 1991 – much later than Audi – the actual development of the 5 cylinder started way back in 1978, just two years after their rival introduced the 5 cylinder Audi 100.
In the late ’70s, Volvo wanted to jumpstart their move towards a more modern automobile. They created a new special project dubbed the Galaxy Project, as they were – in their own words – ‘aiming for the stars’ by creating something completely new. Indeed, the project encompassed new ideas everywhere: new body styles, new materials, new safety components and, of course, new engines. It was a long-term investment, with an economic, future-forward car as the ultimate goal.
Over the next 10 years or so, Volvo poured huge amounts of money into Project Galaxy and it eventually ended up becoming the most expensive project Volvo had ever taken on at the time. However, their push into the future eventually birthed two new cars, the Volvo 480 and the 850, the latter of which would go on to define Volvo for a decade or more.
Project Galaxy eventually ended up becoming the most expensive project Volvo had ever taken on at the time. However, their push into the future eventually birthed two new cars, the Volvo 480 and the 850, the latter of which would go on to define Volvo for a decade or more.
The 480 was built in Volvo’s Dutch manufacturing plant from 1986 to 1995. It was the first front-wheel drive vehicle Volvo had ever produced – one of the major goals of Project Galaxy – but the differences didn’t stop there. The 3-door hatchback was a stark right turn to Volvo’s traditional vehicles, with the FWD, low ground clearance, and sleek design (pop up headlights!) aimed at a younger audience. The 480 also enjoyed design elements that we’d later see in the Volvo C30 – most notably the full-glass back hatch.
Unlike the 480, Volvo built the 850 in Sweden. Introduced in 1991, a full 13 years after Project Galaxy first started, the 850 sported many of the ideas Volvo envisioned for the project. First off, the drivetrain was completely front-wheel drive with the engine transversely mounted in the engine bay, a major change for Volvo, but necessary to keep up with other manufacturers that had already switched over.
To keep everything as light as possible, the entire engine block was composed of aluminum, as opposed to heavier cast iron. The 850 also included Volvo’s new SIPS (Side Impact Protection System).
And of course, the 850 also included Volvo’s very first 5 cylinder engine. Why did they choose a 5-cylinder instead of a 4 or even 6?
First off, we can only imagine that, with Audi seeing huge successes with their own I5, Volvo – as well as other manufacturers – were already somewhat open to the idea of a new 5 cylinder engine.
From the very beginning, one of Project Galaxy’s goals was the Modular Engine – an engine design that could easily be converted to a 4, 5, or 6 cylinder with little extra design and production changes, allowing Volvo to produce a variety of engines for less time and money.
During the early years of Project Galaxy, the development group initially developed their transverse engine as a 4 cylinder, with 5 and 6 cylinder models as secondary options. When it came time to test the engines though, Volvo’s engineers loved the 5 cylinder’s performance so much they decided to focus in on this oddball engine, with the 4 and 6 cylinders eventually falling to the wayside.
Keep in mind that the Volvo 850 wasn’t actually the first to feature their modular engine. That honor goes to the Volvo 960 and its I4 engine [In dispute. See this.]. However, the 850 was the first to feature the 5 cylinder version. The modular engine eventually became a mainstay of Volvo automobiles, with the manufacturer using the design all the way up to 2016 in the Volvo XC60, XC70, S60, and V60.
The 850 and Beyond
After the 850 proved such a huge success, thanks to their raucous showing in motorsports and the public’s fascination with the boxy underdog, Volvo kept introducing the 5 cylinder in more and more models, with the engine becoming increasingly intertwined with Volvo’s image over the next decade.
Below is a list of each vehicle that Volvo added the 5 cylinder engine to, along with the year they added the 5 cylinder as an option.
After the 850 in 1991, Volvo introduced 3 more models featuring the 5 cylinder engine:
S70/V70– Volvo introduced the S70/V70 in 1996 (’98 in the US) to replace the 850. In essence a facelifted 850, the S70 exclusively featured the 5 cylinder engine, both gas and diesel variants, naturally-aspirated and turbo, from a low of 2 liters in size to 2.5 liters.
C70 – In 1998, Volvo also introduced the convertible C70 to US markets, also featuring Volvo’s 5 cylinder modular engine along with a turbocharger to add some extra boost. Volvo continued to produce the C70, with the 5 cylinder engine, all the way up to 2013.
S80 – Volvo introduced the S80 with both a 5 and 6 cylinder engine in 1998, with 4 cylinder and 8 cylinder options in later years.
Over the next decade, the 5 cylinder became increasingly prevalent, with Volvo throwing the inline 5 in pretty much every car they manufactured:
S40 (2nd gen) – With the 2nd generation of the S40 in 2004, Volvo added on a 5 cylinder option to go with the standard inline 4.
S60 – Volvo’s replacement for the S70, Volvo only offered the S60 with the inline 5 (either NA or turbo) when first introduced in 2000. For the 2nd generation S60 in 2010, they also offered a turbo and/or supercharged 4 and 6 cylinder options.
XC90 – Volvo’s first foray into SUVs back in 2002 also featured a turbo inline 5 as well as an inline 6 and V8. In 2014, Volvo introduced the 2nd generation XC90 that only came with 4 cylinders.
C30 – From 2006 to 2013, Volvo manufactured the C30 hatchback, featuring either an I4 or I5 engine.
As engine technology continued to rapidly progress, manufacturers were able to coax major power out of smaller engines, with little effect on efficiency. The popularity of 5 cylinders began to wane and even Volvo moved on to smaller, more efficient inline 4s. Since 2010, Volvo has introduced the 5 cylinder briefly to a couple models, but nothing long-lasting:
XC60 – Introduced in 2008, Volvo’s 2nd dip into SUVs also briefly featured a gas-powered turbocharged inline 5 from 2015 to 2016, though Volvo replaced the entire lineup with their new 4 cylinder in 2017.
V40 – No, not the ‘90s wagon. Volvo introduced this hatchback in European markets in 2012, though it isn’t available in the US (yet). While the V40 was equipped with a 5 cylinder engine for a short time, the 2017 V40 only comes equipped with a 4 cylinder.
The Future Is Small
The inline 5’s pleasing sound and better NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) generally leads to a more pleasant experience than an I4 engine. Audi continues to use a turbocharged 5 cylinder engine in the 2018 Audi TT, but we can’t say the same for Volvo. The last two cars they’ve introduced, 2016’s S90 sedan and 2017’s XC40 SUV, wowed critics but both only feature a 4 cylinder engine.
In fact, as far back as 2009 Volvo announced they were ditching all engines bigger than 4 cylinders, including the I5 that they – and we – are so fond of. When Ford sold Volvo to Chinese automaker Geely the following year, Volvo took the time to rethink their designs and customer needs and decided that both they, and their customers, would benefit from smaller, more efficient turbocharged engines, like the current widespread trend in the automotive world. The 5 cylinder was toast.
Volvo took the time to rethink their designs and customer needs and decided that both they, and their customers, would better benefit from smaller, more efficient turbocharged engines. The 5 cylinder was toast.
If you’re now pouring out lamentations for Volvo’s 5 cylinder, consider this: the 2017 XC90’s dainty (albeit twin-charged) 4 cylinder engine produces a whopping 316 HP and 295 ft-lbs of torque. That’s a lot more power and better fuel consumption than the V70R.
When Volvo first introduced the 5 cylinder engine way back in 1991, it filled an important niche. It was a midway point, providing greater power than a 4 cylinder, but greater efficiency than an I6 or V8. However, times change. Volvo is moving into the future, and the 5 cylinder engine simply isn’t a part of that future.
Out of the past’s future comes an amazing Volvo prototype. This design by Italian Pietro Frua lost to what would become the 1972 Volvo 1800ES, which was iconic in its own right. (The 1972 Volvo 1800ES’s hatch style would carry to the Volvo C30, 35 years later.)
When Volvo entered their ultra-tuned 850 wagon into the 1994 BTCC, fans loved it. But why did Volvo chose the 850 wagon to shake up the racing world?
In 1994, Volvo shook up the touring car world by enlisting their supposedly-soccer-mom 850 wagon in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). Many laughed and drivers sneered. And even though the car didn’t win any races during those golden years of the BTCC, many of us still picture Volvo’s iconic offering when we remember that long-ago time.
Taking a look at that iconic image of the 850 with 2 wheels airborne it grinds through a corner (see above), you’re probably left with a smile, but also wondering “Uh, why did Volvo pull this crazy stunt in the first place?”
Turns out, we can all thank a Volvo factory’s shortage for this blimp in motorsports history!
Why the Wagon?
Volvo had been out of the racing business since 1986, when it quit the now-defunct ETCC (European Touring Car Cup) after winning the cup the prior year with their 240 Turbo (pic below).
By the early 90s, Volvo’s senior vice-president, Martin Rybeck, felt it was time to shake up the company’s well-won ‘safe’ image and jump back into the racing scene – with the new 850 sedan as the vehicle of choice.
Volvo quickly hired Swedish performance company Steffanson Automotive (SAM) to develop a prototype racing-version of the 850. As the legend goes, when SAM visited the factory to pick up the 850 bodyshell, only wagons were available. On a tight timeline, instead of waiting for a sedan model SAM just grabbed a wagon and went about their way.
When VP Rybeck got wind of the racing wagon – unheard of in the BTCC – he recognized a huge potential to drum up some PR for Volvo’s momentous return to motorsports. They hired out their old competitor from the 80s – TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) – under a 3 year contract to build out the vehicles. TWR focused on the technical side while Volvo provided marketing, support, and PR.
After a bit of testing later on, turned out the wagons actually enjoyed greater downforce than the sedan thanks to their long, flat roofs. While this was certainly a bonus, in the end the decision to continue moving forward with the wagon was a marketing decision.
To drum up the suspense, Volvo kept their wagon plans secret until the last minute. Even 26 year old Rickard Rydell, their newly-hired driver for the 1994 season (and many years after that as well) wasn’t aware of Volvo’s wagon plans. So said Rydell:
“When I signed up for Volvo and TWR around Christmas 1993, I didn’t know about the estate plans. If I’d known, I would probably have hesitated. It was lucky I didn’t know!”
When hired, Rydell was just 26 years old, but already had close to 10 years of experience with track racing. From somewhat humble beginnings winning the Swedish 100cc go-kart championship in 1985 and 1986, Rydell joined the Swedish Formula 3 (F3) team in 1986. Staying with the team for 3 years and taking home 2nd place two years in a row, Rydell moved to the British and Japanese F3 teams before switching over to Volvo’s newly-formed BTCC team for the 1994 season.
Rydell’s teammate, the more experienced (and older) Jan Lammers already had 20+ years of experience in a variety of races, including F1, Le Mans, IndyCar, F3, and Formula 3000.
Lammers began his racing career way back in 1973 – at just 17 years old – when he joined the Dutch Touring Car Championship. By 1994, he was racing sports cars in the Le Mans with TWR/Jaguar and even won the championship in 1988. Joining Volvo’s BTCC team was Lammer’s first step back into the touring car racing since he first hit the track in the early ’70s!
With a well-experienced team and a couple highly-tuned 850 wagons, Volvo officially launched their aptly-named “Back on Track” program in April 1994 at the BTCC’s first race of the season.
Volvo’s 1994 BTCC 850 Wagon Specs
While touring cars retain the appearance of normal production vehicles, under the hood and inside the cabin, Volvo’s BTCC 850s were anything but standard!
The BTCC requires all racing vehicles to follow certain regulations designed to keep costs low and all vehicles on an equal playing field. During the 1994 season (under FIA Super Touring class 2 regulations), they capped engines to 2 liters, turbos were a no-no, all vehicles had to be solely front-wheel drive, and the body remain unchanged. In addition, engine speed was capped at 8,500 RPM and vehicles were limited to a minimum weight of 950 kg (2,094 pounds).
To make the 850 race-worthy, the development team needed to get to work. They took on typical weight-saving and safety measures, stripping the inside down to the metal and adding a role cage. For better weight distribution, the development team also lowered the engine in the bay and set it as far back as possible. The image below compares Volvo’s highly-customized 850 engine for the 1994 BTCC to a standard 850. Check out that air intake!
With the 850’s turbo 5 cylinder engine coming in at 2.3 liters and 222 HP, Volvo and TWR had to drop the engine size down to 2 liters. If they really wanted to compete with the other cars, they needed to take some drastic measures to increase the car’s power.
The team started by simply studying the rules, figuring out where exactly they had room to tinker, and moving on from there. Understanding exactly what they could and couldn’t change, they began by chopping off portions of the cylinder head to fit bigger cams. They also machined the face of the head into a wedge to optimize valve angles. After a few other modifications, they had their engine. With these clever reworkings, they created a 2 liter NA engine that produced an astounding 290 HP – 30% more powerful than the standard, larger engine!
With these heavy modifications, Volvo ran into trouble proving that this highly-modified head was actually original to the production car. So says Charlie Bamber, then chief engineer for Volvo’s race engine department,
“It was queried at every race, and time and again, proved to be within the regulations. It is a production head – there is no way it was anything else.”
Even though they were original, in the end each of these special cylinder heads cost Volvo between $20k and $23k (in mid-90s dollars). Yikes!
Here’s the full specs for the 1994 BTCC 850 wagon:
Weight: 2150 pounds (about 50% less than a production model!)
Engine: 20 valve 5 cylinder 2.0 liter (highly modified, as we know)
Suspension: McPherson struts in front, coil overs with Volvo delta link at rear
Braking: Brembo discs and calipers
Steering: Modified rack and pinion
Wheels: OZ 18” rims
Catalytic Converter: First car in the BTCC to incorporate a cat converter, soon to be mandatory across the BTCC.
Rumor has it that after the 1994 season, Volvo required all of the 850 wagons developed for the BTCC to be destroyed to keep the secrets of their speed intact. Thankfully though, they weren’t 100% successful! One is now in the Volvo Museum in Sweden. Another (though just the shell) was hidden away in storage in Mijdrecht, The Netherlands, until 2010, when driver Jochen Pehtke purchased it. He added a 2.3L turbo engine and began racing it in the 2011 Dutch Supercar Challenge.
How Did the 850 Wagon Do?
How did the 850 wagon fare in the 1994 BTCC? Not great, but not terrible either. With the 850’s good downforce, the wagon pulled ahead in the straightaways, but just couldn’t handle the corners like its smaller rivals. With its ‘unusual’ weight distribution, the wagons suffered from oversteer, hindering their abilities to quickly move into and out of corners.
Volvo enjoyed 5th place at Oulton Park – its best placement – with Rydell coming in 14th overall (out of 17) for the season and Lammers one seat behind him.
This wasn’t a huge upset for Volvo. From the get-go, the company saw 1994 as a practice year – a time to get their feet wet, ease back into the racing circuit, and drum up some publicity. In fact, Volvo’s drivers couldn’t even practice driving the vehicles beforehand! Volvo was cutting it so close with the 850’s production that driver Rydell’s first test drive on an actual track was the day of their first race! Before that, he’d only driven it a few hundred meters outside TWR’s workshop.
Even with the wagon’s lackluster standing, Volvo had a winner. The 850 wagon fully grabbed the opportunity that VP Rydeck had envisioned and ran with it. The 850 wagon is now an icon of 90s touring cars and showed the world that safety doesn’t have to be the opposite of excitement – they can coexist.
Of course, a few of the other drivers weren’t too happy with Volvo’s offering. Who wants to be passed by a long box? Driver Rydell recalls:
“There were a few taunts from other drivers – but that was no problem. To wind them up, in one heat we drove with a large stuffed collie in the boot during the parade lap!”
Rydell and Volvo certainly had fun with the 850 wagon and the ’94 BTCC, and their publicity experiment certainly paid off. Unfortunately, the 1994 season was to be the only year Volvo used the wagon, turning to the sedan for the ’95 season.
Sedan Replaces Hatchback for 1995 Season
At the end of the 1994 season, driver Lammers decided to leave Volvo and the BTCC, returning to sports cars for the 1995 season, racing in 24 Hours of Daytona, and 24 Hours of Le Mans the following year. Rydell stuck around and Volvo hired Englishman Tim Harvey as Lammers’ replacement.
For the 1995 season, the BTCC changed regulations to allow spoilers on vehicles, as long as they were an option on the production vehicle and didn’t stick up above the roof of the car.
We can actually thank Alfa Romeo for this change, as the previous year they’d been splitting hairs on the rules, running large spoilers and adjustable front splitters to slip through the air more easily, helping them clock in first place for the 1994 championship. After much hullabaloo from the industry, BTCC simply removed the ban on spoilers and other aerodynamics-enhancers for the 1995 season.
Volvo found that a spoiler on the wagon wouldn’t do much for its performance, but could vastly help the sedan. They had to decide between keeping its publicity-hungry wagon or moving to the more-traditional 850 sedan for the 1995 BTCC. With some experience under their belt and publicity already drummed-up, Volvo switched to the sedan.
The move paid off for Volvo. After the switch, driver Rydell came in third place overall for the following two years (1995-1996).
Switch to the S40 and Championship Win
In 1997, Volvo switched over to the S40, with Rydell placing 4th that year. Finally, the following year, he placed 1st overall in the entire BTCC!
Even with Volvo’s 1998 series win with the S40, when we think BTCC and Volvo that classic image of the 850’s boxy body, tilted up on two wheels, inevitably comes to mind. It didn’t win any races – not even close – but it’s forever stuck in our collective conscience. Even if you don’t know Volvo, somewhere deep down Volvo and Racing seem to just go together for some reason.
More than any other auto maker, Volvo’s name has become almost synonymous with the 5 cylinder engine over the last 30 years. Here's its history.
Volvo’s history is intrinsically intertwined with the 5-cylinder engine. More than any other auto maker (besides maybe Audi), Volvo’s name has become almost synonymous with this rather idiosyncratic engine over the last 30 years. At the time, it was a perfect compromise between the 6-cylinder’s power and the 4-cylinders size and efficiency.
Of course, time soldiers on and today we’ve got 4-cylinder engines that put out 6-cylinder power with great efficiency, leaving the 5-cylinder to the history books.
In 2012, Volvo announced they would cease producing the 5-cylinder, opting instead for the smaller 4.
Let’s look back at the history of Volvo’s 5-cylinder engine, where it came from, and delve a little more into why this peculiar engine flourished for so long.
Where Did the 5-Cylinder Engine Come From?
5-cylinder engines have been around a long time. Henry Ford first tinkered with them back in the late 1930s. Fast forward to 1974 and Mercedes has put a 5-cylinder diesel in their 300D. Jump forward 2 years (1976) and Audi has introduced the first gas-powered inline 5 in the Audio 100, the beginnings of a relationship that lasts to today (though with some bumps and gaps along the way). In fact, along with Volvo, the 5-cylinder is forever linked with Audi.
Since Audi’s initial success with the 5-cylinder, seemingly ever manufacturer has introduced their own version at some point: Volvo in 1991, Volkswagen across many of their offerings, Acura, Fiat, Lancia, GM (including even the Hummer H3 when it was first introduced), and others.
Brief History of Volvo’s Inline 5
Volvo’s love affair with the inline 5-cylinder began in 1991 with the introduction of the 850. The offering was part of the Volvo Modular Engine, a family of inline-4, inline-5, and inline-6 engines that used aluminum blocks and heads, as well as aluminum pistons and double overhead cams.
Volvo began researching and developing the Modular Engine project in the late 1970s, with their first offering coming in 1990 with the new 960 that featured Volvo’s first Modular Engine, an inline 6-cylinder.
In 1991, they released the 850, the first of many vehicles sporting the inline 5-cylinder Modular Engine. The 850 sported the 5-cylinder until its demise in 1997.
Benefits of the Volvo 5-Cylinder
The 5-cylinder is unique and dwindling in popularity, but it does have some legitimate perks:
Space. The 5-cylinder fits much better in the compact transverse engine compartments of modern cars than an inline-6, but provides more power than an inline-4.
Smooth Power Delivery. Because of the overlapping piston timing inherent within inline 5-cylinder engines, they produce a smoother power delivery than similar inline 4 engines, in which the pistons’ movement does not overlap. Because of this, 5-cylinders enjoy less noise and shaking in the engine. If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at this wonderful Engineering Explained video on YouTube on 5-cylinders:
Cost. Costs less to build than inline 6-cylinder engines.
What’s Going On with the 5-Cylinder Today?
As more and more automakers turn towards turbos and tweaking to make inline-4s more powerful and efficient, the inline 5 is become more and more redundant.
Volvo stopped producing 5-cylinders in 2014, with the last 5-cylinder going into the 2014 S60, and is testament to the sea change described above: they no longer make any engines larger than 4-cylinders, though they quite like the turbos.
Even up until just 5 to 10 years ago, 5-cylinders were used by the likes of Volkswagen, Audi, Land Rover, Ford (with Volvo’s engine), and Chevy. Today, you’re hard-pressed to find any, although Audi has announced a new 5-cylinder for 2017 that produces almost 400 bhp.
Will Volvo Ever Reintroduce the 5-Cylinder?
In two words. Probably not. Like we said, the 5-cylinder is a thing of the past. During its heyday, it was the perfect meeting point between 4- and 6-cylinder engines: almost as efficient as 4-cylinders, almost as powerful as 6-cylinders.
With today’s modern engine technology, we can squeeze more performance out of inline 4s and many auto manufacturers are even jumping onto 3-cylinder engines coupled with turbos to pack even more power. Just like the other manufacturers, Volvo is moving forward to an era of smaller-but-powerful engines.
Volvo and another carmaker got exemptions. Sort of the opposite of the VW deal. These didn't have defeat devices they had hard-assed enforcement software.
Did you know?
Volvo’s emission standards were too high on the P80 Volvos. Yes, too high.
SonicAdventure:I have a 98 non turbo V70. Build date is 5/97. When I called the local Volvo dealer they said that my VIN made my car exempt from emission testing in Pennsylvania.
Let’s let Jimmy57 explain:
They will not pass with CEL on and may still be checked for emissions readiness but will pass with more indicators not in full ready mode.
The Bosch engine management system had too tight parameters for some of the readiness indicators and would only complete those to full readiness state by a VERY strict test drive followed to the letter. A person leaving a/c compressor on full time (as is the best plan for cleared windows and more alert driver) would never pass it as the stringent drive routine required some operation at drive and idle with no a/c compressor.
Volvo and another carmaker got exemptions. Sort of the opposite of the VW deal. These ECM’s didn’t have defeat devices they had hard-assed enforcement software.
Of course whether your 1992-2000 850, V70-XC, V70 or S70 (P80 Volvos) is exempt from emissions or partly exempt depends on your state.
As far as I know this varies by state. Your dealer is most likely right because they encounter this with a lot of consumers coming in for emission testing. You may just want to confirm and call your local DMV.
Here where I live all 97′ and 98’s are exempt from emission testing for quite a few years now. The last time I passed my XC with 5 monitors not showing ready mode. If I have a CEL on I could simply clear all codes, drive down to the testing station, and pass.
Over the years, Volvo has proven to be a popular automaker among Americans. The Swedish company’s unique Scandinavian designs, reputation for reliability, and legendary safety have combined to ensure a rich history in the United States. We’ve been lucky enough to have been a sales priority for Volvo, and have had the option of purchases most of the models released over the years.
There are, however, some notable exceptions. In the US, we’re certainly no strangers to being denied cool cars by overseas automakers, and even our friends at Volvo have deprived us of some of their more interesting models. These are just a few of the Volvo vehicles we’ve missed out on, but be prepared to drool!
5. Volvo ÖV 4
The ÖV 4 was Volvo’s first foray into the car market, and they certainly came out swinging. Introduced on April 14, 1927, the ÖV 4 was a minimally-styled, but handsome, open-carriage tourer. Built on a wood frame and skinned in sheet metal, the aesthetics (non-coincidentally) were reminiscent of late-model Ford Model T Touring cars.
Sporting a 1940 cc inline-4 putting out 28hp and 74ft-lbs of torque, the ÖV 4 was surprisingly spritely for the time. With a 3-speed manual transmission and weighing less than 2,600lbs, it was able to reach a blistering top speed of 56mph.
While only 275 of the Volvo ÖV 4 were produced (the design wasn’t exactly well-suited to the Swedish climate), it was an important first step for Volvo. Within a year, Volvo released the related PV4, which was a sedan that was better able to handle the Swedish weather. 694 PV4s were built, and Volvo was well on it’s way to becoming the company we know today.
4. Volvo 66
Beginning its life as the DAF 66, this beautiful little car became the Volvo 66 in 1975 after Volvo’s purchase of Dutch DAF a year prior. It’s not surprising that the 66’s styling is so unique among Volvo cars, as it was designed by the legendary Giovanni Michelotti for DAF. This is the same man who responsible for famously gorgeous cars like the Triumph GT6, BMW 2002, Maserati A6G/54, and Ferrari 250 (among many, many others).
The Volvo 66 was a unique car, featuring a RWD drivetrain connected to a CVT transmission. Two engines were available, both developed by Renault: the B110 1.1L inline-4 making 46hp, and the B130 1.3L making 56hp. While a coupe was available at DAF, once Volvo took over production only a 2-door sedan and a 3-door estate were available.
While it was only sold until 1980, at which point it was succeeded by the 300-series, the Volvo 66 stands out as one of Volvo’s most unique cars. And, in our opinion, one of the prettiest. Surprisingly though, the 66 was never popular in the UK (most were sold in mainland Europe), and only eight are known to be surviving there today.
3. Volvo 360 GLT
Notoriously hated by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, the Volvo 360 GLT nonetheless stands out to us as something we wish we at least had the opportunity to hate too. Based on the 300-series that laid the 66 to rest, the 360 GLT was a sportier version of the 360 3-D or 5-D models, and was produced from 1983 to 1989.
While most certainly wouldn’t consider it a looker, the 360 GLT did possess the kind of unique styling that many of us love about Volvo. While it utilized a common (for the time) front-engine RWD layout, its gearbox was rear-mounted for better weight-distribution. This, in combination with a robust (if not necessarily powerful) I4 making up to 116hp, made the 360 GLT at least somewhat popular among enthusiasts looking for cheap thrills.
2. Volvo V40 Cross Country
The Volvo V40 Cross Country stands out in our list as the only model that is currently in production. While only available in India (and through Volvo Diplomat sales) at the moment, the V40 Cross Country is sure to interest buyers across the globe. The design is similar to vehicles like the Subaru Crosstrek — basically a lifted 4-door hatchback with AWD.
Of course, this is Volvo we’re talking about, so it has a premium design aesthetic and feel that exceeds what’s available on the Crosstrek. Diesel engine options are only available in FWD, but T4 and T5 gas engines let owners step up to AWD. Here in the US, we don’t even get the Volvo V40, so there is little hope that we’ll ever get V40 Cross Country. But, adventurous enthusiasts of small hatchbacks can certainly dream.
1. Volvo TP21 Sugga
Oh yes… how could this list be complete without the magnificent Volvo Tp21 “Sugga?” Deriving its enthusiast nickname “Sugga” from the Swedish military designation “Terräng-Sugga,” the TP21 was an off-road work horse produced from 1953 until 1958. Built on the PV800 series, the TP21 was the successor to the (also very cool) WWII Swedish military TPV.
This brute weighs in at more than 7,000 pounds, and was equipped with a 3.6L 90hp 159ft-lb inline-6 mated to a Volvo E9 gearbox. While less than 1,000 were produced, the TP21 has garnered a rabid group of enthusiasts. A handful have even been imported into the US.
The combination of military history and unusual off-road design makes the Volvo TP21 the coolest Volvo we never got in North America. Its predecessor the TPV, and its successor the TL22, were worthy contenders for the spot, but the sheer toughness of the TP21 has won us over.
Did we miss any really cool Volvos that weren’t available in North America? Let us know about your favorites in the comments!
Joe put almost a half-million miles on his 1986 Volvo 240DL. Here's the story of the 460,000-mile 240, Ole Bessie...
A funny thing happens when you screw up an email newsletter. People write back, angry. Angry people write angry things back to you. But some correspondence turns interesting. This is one from ex-MVS member Joe, who put almost a half-million miles on his 1986 Volvo 240DL. Here’s the story of the 460,000-mile 240, Ole Bessie:
I got 460 thousand miles out of my 1986 240DL and was still running strong when I traded her in…lol. I drove it for over 28 years and was hesitant about letting her go. Never used a drop of oil and still had original transmission. I drive 175 miles to work once a week and figured it was time to bite the bullet and get a new car. I went with a 2016 Honda Accord EX.
You guys have been great over the years and I couldn’t have kept her going that long without you. Thank you and should I ever get another European car I will surely be back!
That was his first email. My curiosity piqued, I asked for more. Luckily, Joe was in the writing mood… [my bolds for emphasis — Matt]
ROCKLEIGH, NJ–Volvo is optimistic about sales volumes for the last half of 1996. And no wonder. By the end of
June 850 sales were up 16% over the first half of 1995, 960 sales were up 33%. Both series will continue to be on sale
for model year 1997.
Volvo’s 1997 flagship, the 850 R, is an enthusiast’s dream: a high performance road machine with the kind of safety
engineering that is synonymous with the Volvo brand name. The model was first introduced in 1995 as the 850 T-5R.
New for 1997 is an engine package in the 850 GLT series that increases horsepower from 168 to 190. More importantly,
torque has increased to 191 lb.ft. at 1,800 rpm versus its 1996 torque rating of 162 lb.ft. at 4,700 rpm. This
improvement delivers six-cylinder performance in a five-cylinder package.
The 960 series retains its superb road handling and grand touring luxury for 1997. Its whisper-quiet silky-smooth engine
performance, expertly crafted interior, and Volvo’s famous seating design deliver uncompromising driving comfort.
Pricing for 1997 reflects the new 850 GLT engine package and modest fluctuations in world currency. MSRP for the
850 models, sales weighted and reflecting content changes is up 3.1%. The MSRP for the 960 models is up 1.0%.
Overall Volvo’s MSRP pricing for 1997 has increased 2.5%.
Volvo 850 Series — 1997 Model Year Price List
Suggested Retail Price
Destination Charge: $495
850 O/A/Gto/Gta/Gtos/Gtas Models Have Plush Upholstery As Standard.
850 Glt And T5 Models Have Velour As Standard.
850 Glt Replaces My 96 Gtas (New Engine).
Gtos/Gtas Model Content Equals Gto/Gta With Addition Of Sunroof.
850 T5 Has Dual Power Seats With Memory And In-Dash Cd-Player As Standard Features.
Ever wonder about the AWD peculiarities of the Volvo 1990s 850/S70/V70/XC70 cars? Which P80 models were built with all-wheel drive?
Ever wonder about the AWD peculiarities of the Volvo 1990s 850/S70/V70/XC70 cars? Which P80 models were built with all-wheel drive?
MVS Volvo forums member Jazzop asks “Lately I’ve been curious about the AWD versions of the 855 & V70, but I haven’t found much in the way of FAQs/wikis explaining the model differences. Perhaps someone can help?
Depending on what I discover, I might want to add an AWD model to my passive search list of interesting Volvos to snatch up, should I come across one for a steal.”
The 850 AWD wagons were sold as manuals. I’m not sure if it was all of them, but every one I have ever seen has been a manual. They are Canadian only and only about 217 came here. I’ve seen 2 in junkyards.. I’ve never seen a manual 70 series AWD but that’s just me personally. They may exist.
I believe the rear suspension and gas tank are completely different on the AWD cars. Typically the 70 series are just GLT’s with AWD added. Same engine and transmission and LPT and option packages. ECU I’m unsure of.
I went from a 98 S70 GLT on 16″ Columbia’s to to the 99 S70 AWD and it’s on 15″ Ariana’s with chunky tires. The AWD is noticeably taller but the P80 line are pretty low cars to begin with so it’s not an awkward look.