The Volvo 850 was the vehicle that changed everything: a front-wheel drive Volvo with a 5-cylinder transverse engine. It was born as a result of the Galaxy project, a name that was a true declaration of intent for a car destined to reach the stars. The 850 series was very successful in the field of sports engines and was Volvo's first four-wheel drive vehicle.
The new car was presented at the Globe Arena in Stockholm on June 11, 1991 under the slogan “A dynamic car with four world firsts”. These novelties were the 5-cylinder transverse engine, the rear axle with Delta-link, the Integrated Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) and the self-adjusting seat belt in the front seats.
Although by design it was reminiscent of the 700 series, the 850 was a totally new vehicle. Development work had started in 1978. At a meeting that year, it was decided that you had to unleash your imagination and reach for the stars. That is why the project was called Galaxy.
The Galaxy project spawned two different series: one Swedish and one Dutch. The core technology was developed jointly. Afterward, the teams parted ways. The Dutch company Volvo Car BV continued to work on what would become the 400 series, while in Sweden Volvo Cars was developing the 850 series.
The first model to be introduced was the 850 GLT, with a 20-valve naturally aspirated engine that developed 170 hp. During the development phase, Volvo actively worked to make the 850 GLT a lively vehicle, capable of delivering great driving pleasure, while reducing intake and exhaust noise levels.
The next major version of the 850 was introduced in February 1993: the station wagon. It had Volvo's own characteristics, such as the steep cut at the rear for maximum load capacity. But there were also novelties, such as the large vertical taillights that covered the D-pillar. The station wagon version received in Japan, in 1994, the prestigious "Grand Prize for Best Design", which was added to the Italian award for "Most family car. nice".
The 850 series soon grew with several engine options. The model that attracted the most attention was the one presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1994. With its unmistakable yellow color, the T-5R stood out like an exclamation point on wheels. It was a special model of which 2500 units were expected to be manufactured. Its turbocharged and intercooled engine developed 240 hp and a maximum torque of 330 Nm. The vehicle's equipment included special spoilers, a square exhaust pipe, and 17-inch alloy wheels that received the Titan name. The yellow vehicle sold out in a couple of weeks, so the same number of units were built in black and a third series of 2500 T-5Rs in dark green still had to be built.
1994 was also the year that Volvo made a comeback on the racetracks, and it did so in a more than conspicuous way. The two 850 that were placed on the starting grid for the first race of the season at Thruxton, in the south of England… they were of the station wagon version! The decision to compete in a station wagon in Europe's most prestigious series, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), was much talked about. Volvo made a big investment, together with Tom Walkinshaw Racing: the cars were driven by the Swede Rickard Rydell and the Dutchman Jan Lammers. In 1995, station wagon models were practically excluded by a rule change and Volvo switched to the sedan. That season, Rickard Rydell was third in the championship.
From the outset, the press called the Volvo 850 "the safest car in the world." In 1995 came another world first in security. At that time, the Volvo 850 became the first vehicle to have side airbags as standard.
A new milestone came for Volvo in 1996: the launch of the 850 AWD, the brand's first four-wheel drive vehicle. The 850 AWD (All Wheel Drive) had permanently engaged traction: a viscous coupling automatically distributed power between the front and rear wheels. If one of the rear wheels started to skid, the electronic TRACS anti-skid system automatically distributed power to the front wheel with better grip. The 850 AWD was fitted with a newly developed engine with a light pressure turbo developing 193 hp, the forerunner of Volvo's all-wheel drive XC models.
The last year of production of the 850 was 1996. When in 1997 these models underwent a deep renovation, their name also changed: the sedans were renamed the S70 and the V70 station wagon. In total, 1.360.522 vehicles of models based on the 850 series have been manufactured.