The wagon is synonymous with Volvo. You cannot separate the two…and so, it just made sense that Volvo decided to race with one. In 1994 Volvo took the new 850 wagon to the track to race in the British Touring Car Championship. The world took notice, and it has become a legendary vehicle in the history of racing.
It is now 20 years since Volvo marked its return to the racetrack – with a wagon! The venture would lead to many successful years in the BTCC – including an overall victory in 1998. "When I signed up for Volvo and TWR around Christmas 1993, I didn't know about the wagon racing plans," says Rickard Rydell. "If I'd known, I would probably have hesitated. It was lucky I didn't know!"
Volvo's Back on Track project was tangibly launched in April 1994, when two liveried Volvo 850 wagons rolled up to the start line on the Thruxton track in southern England. It was the start of the season of the most prestigious standard car series, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
Alongside Tom Walkinshaw Racing – TWR – Volvo had initiated a major investment in the class, and the idea of using wagons (known as estate cars in Europe) was a great success right from the outset. They attracted a great deal of attention and challenged Volvo's image in a positive way, particularly in the UK. Volvo wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to combine practicality with pleasure!
Behind the wheel of one of the cars was 26-year-old Rickard Rydell who, despite his tender age, had a great deal of experience from karting, Formula 3000 and Formula 3. In the other car was his team-mate Jan Lammers, a 37-year-old Dutchman who had competed in various classes including Formula 1.
"It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed," says Rickard Rydell today. "It doesn't feel like it. But now looking back it is clear that we were focusing on the right class at the right time."
The decision to compete with two wagons was taken several months before the start, but was kept secret until the last moment. When the news was released, many thought it was a joke. A large estate is not an ideal track car – with a lot of weight behind the rear axle and a higher centre of gravity, it is harder to get around the corners than a saloon.
"But the aerodynamics of the estate were slightly better than the sedan," says Rickard Rydell. The deciding factor, however, was that the estate would attract more attention. Indeed it did. 20 years later, people are still talking about that Volvo racing wagon.
The spirit of the Volvo 850 wagon racer lives on in the new 2015 Volvo V60 Sports wagon…from the 240 horsepower/37 mile per gallon T5 to the 325 horsepower all-wheel-Drive T6 R-Design.