Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon
For wagon enthusiasts like me, this decade has been a golden age in which a cornucopia of stylish, incredibly powerful wagons dot the streets--a Bacchanalian feast of wagon goodness, if you will, for every appetite. A Dodge Magnum Hemi satisfies the V-8 set, the Subaru WRX and Forester XT wagons fulfill the dreams of off-road rally wannabes, the Audi S4 wagon is available for fans of fast European cars, and there are many, many other interesting wagons to choose from.
Things were not always so.
Following the 1980s, a time in which the sports wagon concept began to germinate and blossom, the early 1990s were a fallow time. Wagons as a whole were passe--replaced in the American consciousness by the ubiquitous minivan and, soon, the family-oriented SUV.
In this dark time for sports wagons, however, enthusiasts looking for excitement had an unlikely hero-- Volvo. Yes, Volvo, the dour Swedish manufacturer of underpowered and boxy but eminently practical and safe sedans and wagons.
Volvo started with its typically boxy and safe 850, then--crucially--dropped a turbocharger and a four-valve head on the 850's reliable if slightly agricultural five-cylinder engine. The combination was good for 225 horsepower, and a wagon that could run with the sports sedans and sporty coupes of the time.
With turbo whistling, a standard 850 Turbo Wagon could run to 60 mph in just a tick over 7 seconds and in super-hot T5-R form could get down into the mid-6-second range. Those numbers may not look that impressive today, but 10 years ago, before the recent horsepower explosion, that was some serious performance--as quick as a Ferrari Mondial of previous years, and as quick as even today's premium hot-rod V-6 family sedans. This made for an extremely compelling combination of performance and utility.
This most audacious of Volvos was even made into a race car in the highly regarded British Touring Car Championship (BTCC)--eventual BTCC champ Rickard Rydell drove an 850 Turbo Wagon (and the subsequent V70 Wagon), one of the only racing wagons I've ever seen. I'm enough of a wagon addict that I have a photo of Rydell's 850 Turbo Wagon, right-left tire suspended in the air in mid-corner, at home waiting to be framed.
If you wanted thrilling speed with the space of a wagon in the early 1990s, combined with Volvo's more typical attributes of durability and safety, the 850 Turbo Wagon was the only game in town.
The yellow 850 T5-R above was for sale on the SwedeSpeed Forums; I've seen the Jan Lammers BTCC 850 above in various places on the web, but I don't have an attribution for the original photographer.