Feb 062014

To anyone that knows me, this was inevitable. For all the great things the 850 does — its quirky personality, its stubborn reliability and its Swedish comfort — there are three key things that it is not:

1. Nimble
2. A stick
3. Even remotely quick

Now, I admit that I knew all this coming in and chose this project anyway. I chose it for all the things it was not and accepted it as such. I also admit that I enjoyed it, and continue to do so, for all of those reasons. But as I said, anyone who knows me knows that this car couldn’t be my only automotive love for long and they are correct. I need something a little more from my cars and the 850 could never fill that role.

Don’t think that this is another sad farewell, though. No, this was a labor of love for me and I had so much invested that it only made sense that I treat it as such. As of this month it is my wife’s daily driver and she loves it for many of the same reasons I do, especially the seats. I am a little sad that it never got to see the challenge I had planned for it, but I am pleased that all my work won’t go to waste and it will live a long and healthy life with us.

Speaking of the work, this is probably the closest I have ever come to being “done” with a project. I know I didn’t get to chronicle it all, but I will leave you with a list of everything I did to it, including all the parts I installed. Some of it will be familiar, some was completed since my last update. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments.

Project Volvo 850 base sedan — list of work completed

IPD odometer repair kit
IPD dash light repair kit
Alpine head unit
Integrated Sirius radio
Driver side window regulator
Volvo electronic ignition switch
Volvo keyless entry remote

IPD black egg-crate grille
Junkyard power antenna module
Custom rear trunk
Lamin-x yellow fog light treatment

Driver front caliper
Front pads & rotors
Rear pads, rotors and mounting hardware
Complete front coil assembly (IPD third party springs, Monroe struts, Volvo genuine XC90 spring seats, all hardware)
Heavy duty front sway bar links
Third party front lower control arms
IPD rear overload springs
KYB rear shocks
Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires

IPD upper engine torque mount bushing
Third party lower transmission torque mount
Transmission fluid drain/fill
Rebuilt passenger side driveshaft
Replaced driver side driveshaft
Volvo spark plugs, distributor cap, rotor and wires
Volvo fuel filter
IPD PCV breather repair kit
IPD 90-degree thermostat
Coolant drain/fill

And, just for old time’s sake, at the time of this writing I have just been informed that the “Check Engine” light is on. Guess she just wants my hands on her. The best projects never really do end, do they?

Jan 152013

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. Continue reading »

Apr 272012

There have been a number of changes in my life over the last several months, but none were bigger than my most recent career decision. I was offered (and accepted) a position at a local BMW dealer. My role there is still somewhat in flux, but overall I am thrilled with the move. Learning to work with BMWs, though, has presented a number of challenges for someone who has spent the majority of his automotive life focused on Honda/Acura and Volvo. I wanted this weeks’ COTW to reflect that, so I picked the first BMW that came to my mind:

2000 BMW 323i sedan


This probably doesn’t seem like the likeliest BMW model to discuss on a site like this. The 323 was the bottom of the E46 3-series line in the U.S. market when it was introduced, taking the place of the defunct 318.  The 323i sedan had smallish 15-inch wheels, leather and power seats were options and, though it was powered by a straight-6, it wasn’t long on power (168 horses). It seems like an odd choice for Car of the Week. So why did I choose it?

Well, put simply I almost bought one and I needed to do a bunch of research to make an informed decision. The car in question was a white 2000 model with fabric, non-power seats. It was clean, but needed work that, if it were done at the dealer, would have cost the owner between $2500 and $3000. None of it represented a major issue, though, and since he was already in a selling mood, I decided to make him a lowball offer. If he took it I could easily take care of the work myself for way less and flip the car for a profit.

Turns out he wasn’t so keen on my offer and, in hindsight, my wallet is probably happier as well. In any case, though, I learned that the 323 was a really sturdy car and, for a BMW at least, not terribly expensive to own. If another one comes to my attention I will have to give it serious consideration.

About the Car

With the elimination of the 318 from BMW’s 3-series line, the 323i became the entry level sedan for the U.S. market. While its 2.5 liter straight-6 engine was an upgrade from the 318′s inline-4, it still only made 168 horsepower. It was a reliable motor, however, and many examples are still ticking with over 150,000 miles on the clock.

In terms of cost-of-ownership, the 323i was the best value of the 3-series line as well. Leather, power seats, powerful stereos and the like were all options, keeping the initial purchase price was comparatively low. Some wear items were also less expensive as well. The wheels, for instance, were 15-inch alloys, meaning tire options are plentiful and inexpensive.

In 2001, after only a couple of years, BMW replaced the 323 with the 325, which sported a more powerful engine and the option to add the company’s new XDrive all wheel drive system. Since the cars with the more powerful motors are more desirable, the 323i can frequently be found for very wallet-friendly prices these days.

Other Resources

E46 Fanatics (enthusiast community for this generation 3 Series)
Wikipedia: BMW 3 Series (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course)
Cars.com Expert Review

Some photos in this article were freely sourced from Google. If you take issue with usage of any image, please contact me and I will remove it.

Mar 052012

Every year around this time we find out what the best selling cars of the past year were and every year, we see the same thing. Americans, it seems, love two kinds of cars: big honking pickup trucks and bland, reliable sedans. America’s strange obsession with the pickup is fodder for another day, I think; it’s the cars that concern me right now. For the better part of 30 years, the Accord and Civic from Honda and the Camry and Corolla from Toyota have dominated the car segment of the top 1o. One would think that to achieve this, Honda and Toyota would have had to keep making these mainstays more intriguing to maintain public interest. Instead, they have steadily become more archetypal, more alike, more boring.

Nonetheless, Americans line up at dealers to spend anywhere from $15,000 to over $30,000 on these glorified appliances every year. I have to wonder, doesn’t anyone want to enjoy driving anymore? Surely there must be any number of cars out there that, for the same money would provide more fun, more class and more personality. I decided to look around and see what I could find. Continue reading »

Mar 052012

Fast sedans are a staple of American car culture. Indeed, there is an undeniable appeal in a car that is versatile, fast and stylish, all in the same package.

Americans aren’t the only ones that think so, though. I read this short feature from the Top Gear people this morning and it got me thinking. Most of the cars they mention are European-market models, not available in the U.S. Given America’s obsession with all things fast and big, it stood to reason that we must have some pretty decent examples of hot sedans as well.

In true Top Gear spirit, I decided to find out what options are out there for those of us looking to go fast and look good – on a budget.

The criteria for my search were simple: The car must have four doors, a manual transmission and be between $4999 and $9999 in asking price. Autotrader dutifully returned about 200 options fitting this description within 25 miles of my house. In sorting through all obligatory Hyundais, Civics, Corollas and Jettas, I found five gems. Each of them will get you where you’re going in a hurry, keep a smile on your face on twisting backroads and assure that whenever you arrive, you do so in style. Continue reading »