At Turbo HQ we get a lot of suggestions on what type of project vehicles we should build in the magazine. From the ultra exotic Lamborghini Murcilago to the less exotic Ford Festiva, and anything you can name in between, we've had requests to build it. Although it would be nice to fulfill everyone's requests, there are the obvious budget constraints of not being able to spend $250,000 on a car so we can tweak with it. From our experience we sometimes have more fun tweaking a $500 car we found in the Recycler than one we spent 50 times more on. I remember my very first project car, a 1984 Honda Civic DX. I installed a 4-1 header (which I found at a junkyard), an Ultra Flow exhaust and a K&N air filter. Although some of my friends would make fun of me fixing up the car, I didn't care because it was my pride and joy. Who cares what others think about your car as long as you are having fun with it - that's my motto. The best part about the Civic was that it was faster than most of my friends' vehicles that were five to ten years newer.
It's been 15 years since my friends made fun of the '84 Civic, and today they make fun of my current car you see here today: my 1994 Volvo 850 Turbo. They crack jokes like, "How is the Swedish toboggan doing?" or "Where's the brick?" to "At least when you get in an accident you'll be safe because it can barely move." Laugh all you want, I will have the last laugh, you watch.
There were three reasons why I bought the Volvo. First of all it was cheap, very cheap. I bought it from the original owner for $600. The car had a broken driver's side window, a dent on the hood, sun-damaged paint on the roof, and overall it needed some maintenance work. The second reason I purchased the car was because I wanted a four-door sedan. In my entire collection of ten cars I have not one four-door. Mind you I don't need seating for four, I just need the room so I can haul all my engine parts around. And lastly, I wanted a Volvo because I hated the feeling of always wondering if I would get pulled over each and every time I see a police officer. Have you ever seen a Volvo pulled over? Me neither. I can cruise at 80 mph on the freeway (theoretically speaking, of course) and the Highway Patrol doesn't even notice me. I drive 60 mph in my red Celica and I guarantee I will be on the officer's radar screen, locked and loaded to get pulled over. It's not to say I no longer drive my fixed-up cars, I just drive them when I get bored of driving the Volvo. This way it lessens the chance of me getting a ticket.
When I first drove our project Swedish Toboggan I was floored at how fast it was, but then when I tried to come to a stop the brake pedal went to the floor. The brake fluid level light on the dash was flickering, and when I popped the hood there was no brake fluid in the reservoir. Before driving the car home I stopped at the local parts store and filled it to the rim with fluid. On the second power run the Volvo pushed me into the seat and the boost gauge was being pinned to the end on the gauge cluster. I would later read on the Volvo forums that the boost gauge is only supposed to be about 3/4 (about 7-9 psi) of the way up on a stock car. A pinned boost gauge, which my car was doing, means it probably was boosting about 15-16 psi, whoops. Further diagnosis would reveal that the vacuum lines that connect the factory boost solenoid to the wastegate actuator were completely deteriorated and riddled with holes. No wonder the car was so fast. Thankfully, however, the car didn't blow up. While underneath the hood, I also found out that the factory brake distribution block was severely leaking and that was the reason why the Volvo had no brake fluid. I was able to locate a used unit for $50 at a local junkyard and while there I was also able to find a driver's side window for $45.
Full DiagnosisAfter replacing all the vacuum lines and the brake distribution block, we performed a basic tune-up with new spark plugs, spark plug wires and a distributor cap and rotor. Unfortunately, the previous owner did not perform any preventative maintenance and only took the car to the mechanics when there was a major problem. Lucky for us, the transmission looks like it's been rebuilt once before. However, the rear main seal was not replaced, and is now leaking. I have worked on hundreds of cars from many different manufacturers, but I've never worked on a Volvo before. Let me just tell you, it's a whole new ball game when you're used to working on Nissans, Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Subarus and Hondas. My motto is: If it can come apart, it should go back together. Having lived by that adage for 15 years, it has yet to fail me. For a second I contemplated on sending "the Brick" out to have a Volvo specialist replace the seal, but after finding out it was going to cost me about $750 to $900 I thought I better attempt to replace it myself. I can't see spending more money on replacing the seal than what I paid for the car.
After doing some extensive research on the web, talking to a fellow 850 Turbo owner and purchasing a Haynes manual for the car I found out why it cost so much to replace the seal. There are two options, both time-consuming. Option number one is to drop the entire engine and transmission as a whole. The reason for this is because the engine is mounted directly to the subframe and the only way to remove the transmission is to remove the subframe. Option number two is to support the engine from the top using an engine support hoist. The only problem with this is I didn't own one. However, as I'm always looking for an excuse to buy another tool, it gave me a reason to go buy one. My first choice, of course, was to check if Snap-on made one, and they did. Unfortunately, it's $400 and I probably was only going to use it once, maybe twice at best. So, my next choice was to check the web. Luckily, I was able to find a generic engine hoist for $75 including shipping.
Replacing the seal was an all day affair, and not recommended for your average home garage mechanic. You need both a lift and a friend to help you guide the subframe off and on. The 850 Turbos are fairly notorious for bad rear main seals and if you do plan on purchasing this model be sure to ask if the owner has ever replaced it. If they haven't, be prepared to spend several hundred dollars in the near future because if it hasn't started leaking it will. Once the seal was replaced the oil drips on my driveway stopped, thank goodness. I was sick of busting out the pressure washer every week to remove the oil stains.
Our next concern with the Brick was to address the factory suspension. With 250K clicks on the odometer, the factory shocks and springs were shot and making noises over bumps. Although there is a coil over setup from KW Suspension that's available for the 850, we thought it would be sort of an overkill for the car. So, we opted for a set of H&R performance springs tag teamed with Bilstein heavy-duty shocks. Bilstein offers two types of shocks for the 850: touring and heavy-duty. We opted for the heavy-duty because we wanted a slightly stiffer ride than the factory shocks. Having done our research beforehand we purchased a set of front and rear upper spring perches, as they have been known to fail on older cars.
After removing the front MacPherson strut, we found the culprit for the noises: the front spring perch was completely destroyed. Replacing the front and rear shocks and springs is a straightforward R&R affair. The H&R springs and Bilstein shocks are factory replacements with the exception of the shorter H&R springs. The H&R springs are supposed to lower the vehicle 1-1/2 inches, but since our stock springs were extremely worn and sagging it only lowered the vehicle about 1/2 an inch from before. Replacing the shocks and springs were long overdue. The Brick actually can take corners now, and it doesn't make a God-awful sound each time it goes over a bump. The front bushings and tie-rods probably also need to be replaced in the near future, but for now the car handles much better. We plan to further enhance the handling characteristics of the Volvo by adding a set of stiffer sway bars. Until then, the generic tires that came on the car are already screaming for dear life.
Up next for the Volvo will be to address the need for some cosmetic upkeep. The damaged paint and wheels will have to go. But for now, however, I have a car with heated leather seats that is automatic, turbocharged, rock solid, surprisingly fast (174 whp), and still gets 25 miles per gallon - all for $1500. Take that naysayers.