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American Tuned

Meet the $850 Volvo 850R turned into a BTCC-inspired hero

The story of how an ordinary family brick can be turned into something extraordinary

Published: 19 Feb 2024

Surely you’ve seen that iconic photo of Dutch racing driver Jan Lammers? It’s an action shot capturing an incongruous Volvo 850 Estate racing car in British Touring Car Championship trim, two wheels suspended above a bit of curbing, with Lammers at the wheel coaxing it in for a landing. A flying brick, to be sure.

The former F1 and prototype sports car wheelman had signed on to race with the Walkinshaw squad for the 1994 BTCC season, running one of a pair of Volvo estates with teammate Rickard Rydell, as the Super Touring era unfolded. The cars made an impression on fans, with loads of two-wheeled antics from Lammers and Rydell to seal the deal, but the boys finished no better than fifth that season, and Volvo placed sixth in the constructor’s championship. Still, the on-track highlights feature some world-class BTCC door banging and are definitely worth a watch.

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The real reason Volvo picked its family hauler, and not its saloon, to shoulder the marque’s return to the tarmac may be lost to history, but the legend has endured: when it came time to pick up the cars from the factory for conversion, only estates were available. It was only later that it was determined the long roofline gave them a slight downforce advantage.

It’s no secret Volvo, particularly in its most brick-like form, holds a unique place in automotive history and in the hearts of enthusiasts the world over. On the final episode in this series of American Tuned, presenter Rob Dahm delves into a tribute project, a Volvo 850R honouring that BTCC 1994 season. Jacob Maller, the owner and mastermind behind this project, began with a stock Volvo 850, which he bought for just $850. Although inspired by the BTCC, Maller didn’t set out to build a replica as much as an homage that captures the spirit of the original racing car.

Given the limited aftermarket support for older Volvos, Jacob creatively used factory Volvo bits to enhance the car's handling, including parts from the C70 convertible, for example, to add rigidity to the chassis. Under the hood, the Volvo mill is fitted with individual throttle bodies from a BMW S85 V10, enhancing its naturally aspirated character. The result is an engine that revs smoothly and delivers power thrillingly, reminiscent of in-period Super Touring-spec racing cars.

One of the most striking aspects of Jacob's build is the use of 3D printed parts. The throttle body runners and other components, though appearing stock, are custom-made, showcasing the blend of modern technology and classic tuning methods.

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Maller’s Volvo 850R may be a bit of a Volvo nerd’s breakfast, but it demonstrates how an ordinary family car can, in the right hands, be transformed into something extraordinary, embodying the passion and creativity at the heart of car tuning.

10 minutes 11 seconds

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