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Swedish Speed: A sporting history of Volvo

As Volvo announced the purchase of tuning company Polestar, we take a look at the Swedish brands sporodic sporting history.

Volvo has been known as the world’s safest car manufacturer since the production of the ultra-safe 140-series. The marque’s no-compromise attitude towards safety has over the years seen its drivers earmarked as ‘Volvo drivers’: slow, cautious, and largely uninteresting.


It came as a surprise then when Volvo this week acquired 100 per cent of Polestar, the Swedish high performance car company. Or did it? History shows that every now and then a hint of sport slipped through the Volvo net…



34-years after Volvo was born, the P1800 left the factory in 1961 as the marque’s first foray into sport cars. Admittedly, its sporting credentials belonged only with the cars exterior, however the change to a sleek Fura-designed body was a big change from the mundane square lines of previous years. After starring with Roger Moore in The Saint, car received the update it deserved in 1963 with power upped from 108bhp to 115bhp, before the car finally got the power it really needed in 1969, with 130bhp under the bonnet of the 1800SE. One in good nick nowadays can amount to £8,500.


480 ES

After the limp-wrested P1800, Volvo understandably got cold feet on the sports car scene. It wasn’t until 1986 and the 480 ES that they braved it again, with a hot-hatch unlike no other produced by Volvo. The 1986 car featured a frameless glass hatchback much like the 1800ES and thick bumpers as featured on most Volvo’s, but the similarities stopped there. Front-wheel drive, pop up headlamps, an ECU system and wedge styling were all firsts for the Swedes. In 1989 they even fitted a turbo-charger to the 120mph electronically fuel injected engine, helping the car achieve 124mph flat-out. Despite its evolutionary nature, one can be found for just £1,250 today.


850 T5

The 850 T5-R was released in 1994 as part of a fresh-looking Volvo range. Smoother, more modern, with more equipment and improved driving dynamics, the T5-R marked a real signal of intent from Volvo. Such was Volvo’s determination to shake off their ‘boring and safe’ tag, that they entered the BTCC with the estate version! It performed well, taking a best qualifying position of third and best race finish of fifth. A favourite among enthusiasts and tin-top racing fans, the £3,250 price tag in today’s money is highly reasonable.


S60 Polestar
Arguably, Volvo slipped into bad habits following the mid-‘90s, going back to producing drab saloons and half-hearted 4x4s. Outside the factory gates in 1996 however, Polestar was founded. On the back of Volvo’s BTCC exploits. It entered the newly formed Swedish Touring Car Championship, and continues to do so to this very day with Volvo’s. The 2013 Volvo S60 Polestar was Polestar’s first ever road going car, and featured a 6-cylinder turbocharged engine that produced a sizeable 350bhp. It was originally aimed at the Australian market, before Volvo stumped up the money in 2014 for a fully-fledged and highly-successful Australian Touring Car campaign. The S60 had a launch price of £38,675.



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