Project Swedish Rocket Brings Me Back To Writing

As you may recall, in the last installment (the introduction to this car) I stated outright that I chose a 1997 Volvo 850 non-turbo sedan as my next daily driver because it has character. It has been quite a while since I wrote anything — on this site or otherwise — so I assume that most of you came to the conclusion that I was so embarrassed by this assertion that I gave up on auto writing altogether, leaving Gearheads Anonymous to go the way of Google Buzz (remember that? Yeah, didn’t think so) or the Chrysler Crossfire.

What actually happened was that I got my finger caught in a rather unpleasant situation involving a timing gear that resulted in several fractures. I have since recovered, but found it difficult to find the motivation to get back to writing. The reasons varied, of course: I couldn’t think of a good topic, I was too tired after work, things needed doing around the house, etc. The result, however, was inevitable. Without care and attention the site stalled and even my contributors lost interest. It has been just about three months since the front page of this site has seen any new material and more than three and a half since I did an update on this project.

Through all that, though, the Volvo has been a friendly, reliable and patient presence in my driveway, every day starting up on the first try, as if to say, “I’ll still be here whenever you get around to telling the world all the fun we’ve been having.” I finally came to the conclusion that I owe it to the car, if not myself, to give this thing another go. For motivation I decided I would need a goal for us.

I have what I think is a pretty cool idea for a challenge involving me and the 850. I don’t want to say too much yet, but suffice it to say that my inspiration came the other night while watching an episode of Top Gear, so it could either be totally epic or a catastrophic faux-pas. Either way it should be amusing.

That said, let’s take a look at what the Volvo and I have been up to over the last three plus moons. For the sake of readability I will break that period up in to two pieces.

As you may recall, when I purchased this car I did so with the knowledge that it needed a little bit of work. None of it was major, though, and with the wedding of a long-time friend coming up, I set that weekend as my deadline to make the car roadworthy. I would treat the trip to West Park, NY as the car’s inaugural road trip and its first shakedown.

First, I replaced the faulty ignition switch. With that simple $50 part, 50% of the car’s driveability issues were fixed — the headlights operated normally, the transmission came out of park, and all the error lights on the dash were summarily dismissed. If only I could solve all problems that easily.

Next, I took care of the bad driveshaft and the heavily worn rear tire. I will keep an eye on its replacement, though, since choppy wear may indicate an alignment issue.

The IPD mount installed. Not only functional, but a cool shade of blue.

The upper engine mount is a common point of failure on these cars, and this particular example was nearly nonexistent. Though a factory replacement is dirt cheap (under $20), this is one of the few areas where an upgrade is actually a better idea in the long run. Polyurethane provides strength and longevity that rubber simply cannot. Though the tradeoff is a slight increase in vibration, I knew I made the right choice the moment my foot touched the gas pedal. The delay in acceleration, the sloppy gear changes and the odd noises every time the engine was under changing loads were all gone. Though at $40 the upgraded mount from IPD was more than twice the price of an OE part, it was money very well spent.

Finally we came to the elephant in the dashboard: the broken odometer. This is another common failure on these cars. Apparently the little plastic gear that turns the actual dial in the gauge cluster is made of ear wax and cardboard or some such, because they break with surprising ease. Volvo, to their credit has done… well, very little actually, to solve the problem. At one point they put out a repair kit but it was disproportionately expensive and, much to the annoyance of its dealerships, always on backorder. Eventually, Volvo’s strategy became “well, now all the 850s are old, so we aren’t going to bother anymore,” which forced customers to look elsewhere.

The broken tooth is clearly visible on the right. The new gear already installed on the left. Click to enlarge

Fortunately, the good folks at IPD stepped up again. For a mere $30 they supply you with a replacement gear, replacement bulbs for the entire gauge cluster and a DVD with a helpful walkthrough of the whole process. This is not a project for the feint of heart and even guys like me don’t mind getting advice from someone who has done it before. I am not ashamed to admit that the video instruction was a blessing.

Though the windshield now sported some rather odd smudge marks from where my sweaty head rubbed it, I had a perfectly lit dash and a normally functioning odometer. You would be surprised just how much you miss those things.

Since I still don’t know the actual mileage, as an added bonus, when people ask I still get to respond with, “well, the prevailing opinion is somewhere around…” It’s all a part of the fun of owning a car with this kind of character.

Ah yes, the character. I still stand by my earlier statement. This car has a character that I have only grown to love more. Maybe I’ll try to explain it in a later piece. Maybe trying to put it in to words would ruin the feeling.

Whatever the case, though, the car passed its first test with aplomb. My fiancé and I made to and from West Park with no major issues. The 850 was now officially part of the family.

About Chris Nelson

Chris is a writer and communicator with backgrounds in public relations, communication, political science and automotive technology. He holds an M.A. from Rowan University and a B.A. from Susquehanna University in addition to a certificate in Auto Tech from Lincoln Technical Institute.

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