The British Touring Car Championship in the mid-1990’s provided some of the best motor racing ever seen. I have great memories of watching the championship in my early teenage years. There were a large number of drivers and manufacturers entered. Some of these manufactures included Renault, Alfa-Romeo, BMW, Vauxhall, Ford, Peugeot, Audi, Honda and Nissan.
There were all sorts of drivetrain configurations and different cars had different strengths and weaknesses, making for close and exciting racing.
In 1994, another manufacturer to enter the BTCC was Volvo. This wasn’t just any Volvo though; it was an 850 Estate, driven by Swede Rickard Rydell and ex-Formula One driver Jan Lammers. Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) was responsible for the technical development of the racing car, while Volvo was responsible for technical support, marketing and PR. An estate car was chosen because it would attract a lot more attention than a regular saloon car and Volvo wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to combine practicality with pleasure.
Many thought that using an estate car for racing was a joke due to it having more weight behind the rear axle and a higher centre of gravity than a regular saloon car. The regulations of the time meant that competition cars had to be based on a production model. Engine cylinder volume was restricted to two litres and the minimum weight had to be 950kg for front-wheel drive cars. Volvo and TWR decided to use the five-cylinder engine from the 850 Turbo, but in racing form it was naturally aspirated and had a two litre capacity, capable of around 290 horsepower. The five speed manual from the standard car was replaced with a six speed sequential unit.
The first season was to be a trial year for the team, with Rydell and Lammers finishing 14th and 15th respectively in the driver’s championship. The Volvo’s best result was fifth place at Oulton Park in the hands of Rydell. The following year, in 1995, results improved significantly, with Rydell finishing third in the championship. However, in this season and again in 1996, Volvo switched to the saloon model. Even though the estate had better natural downforce at the back than a saloon, the option of an additional spoiler at the rear was introduced for 1995. This wasn’t of any benefit to the estate, but on the saloon it made a significant difference. Volvo switched to the S40 model in 1997, with Rydell winning the 1998 championship in this car.
Tuning into the BTCC in 1994 was a real highlight. It would’ve been great to get along to some of the events back then to watch my favourite driver of the time, Rydell, throwing the 850 Estate around tracks like Thruxton, Brands Hatch and Donington Park.