RT Mechanics Ltd Demonstrator Car
THE PERIL - 1995 Volvo 854 T5-R
From a very early age I have always been car mad (of all types, not just Volvo’s!) and have had a big interest in motorsport etc. I followed Volvo during the BTCC years when the 850 series made it’s debut - I thought this was a great thing to show that Volvos are not boring and slow and had planned to make a copy of the white Volvo touring car at some point. Some years later, as RT started to grow, for one weekend a month I worked through a good friend in the Porsche GT 2 Lemans series for a couple of years and then went on to working in the European Le Mans series which took me all over the world with the team working on the cars before having the chance to be a mechanic at Le Mans - the best sports car race in the world which was a real treat for any petrol head - just very very tiring !!!
As RT Mechanics continued to grow and grow I had to give up the racing world and focus more on the normal day to day work. I had been thinking of having a demonstrator car for our company for some years and as we slowly found our way in the small world of Volvo modifications, I thought it would be a good route to take to show the Volvo world what we can do with these much loved cars.
I have never carried out such a big project on a car before so building The Peril has been a great experience for me. Even through the hard times its still been great, and I dread to think how many hours I have spent planning and working on the car over the last three years - all the work has mainly been carried out by me after work or over weekends - the wife has been a great supporter too which helped.
This is the story of our demo car :
Introducing “The Peril” (Volvo 854 Yellow T5-R)
When I first found the peril it had been well looked after in its life but had the usual items needing attention. Unfortunately the last owner of the car had not been very mechanically minded and had decided to drive for 20 miles with no coolant in !! A new engine and heater matrix/radiator etc was found while I planned my approach on the demonstrator!!
I am not sure the purist’s amongst you will like what I have done to the unsuspecting original T5-R but the project was not designed to make it a show winner for the originality. The demonstrator is designed to show what you can do with a Volvo that is a bit different to the route everyone else takes and also to have some fun along the way.
My first task was to look into improving the looks and general set up of the car – I fitted new wheels (I spotted another yellow T5-R saloon on the net that had the Volvo 18 inch Pegasus alloy wheels fitted and I loved the simple design so had to have them thanks to the Nordic car company), and started looking into replacing the terrible brakes and standard suspension - through a bit of research I found by far the best route was a Volvo strut brace and a AP kit for the front and Koni FSD kit with Eibach springs (which was a very new kit at the time) so was just a trial that worked out very well at first. I had also poly bushed the front wishbone arms with Powerflex poly bushes and of course the top engine mount bush. I also brought a few carbon fibre parts - a lower lip spoiler, a number plate surround, throttle body cover and a spark plug cover just to change the look slightly.
I had seen mentioned many times on the American forums that the up-rated anti roll bars were available for the 850 along with adjustable anti roll bar link rods so was very keen to try some before deciding to advise customers if it was a worthwhile modification to do. The kit arrived and I was keen to try them out - I was very surprised at how much better the car handled – it was one of the best kits I’ve brought for the car (apart from the AP brakes!).
The AP Kit gave me the stopping power the 850 should always have had - even on a standard car the brakes are not great so was I very pleased with them. At this stage I also bought a 19 T turbo and was going to use this but as my thoughts grew I decided to go bigger to see how much power I could get from the car to learn what works and what does not.
I have made some great friends in the Volvo tuning world, mainly in Sweden. I’ve learnt a lot from their approach to what needs to be done to the engine, ie chassis and brakes etc when developing a high horse-power engine. Most of their tuned Volvo engine’s run at a genuine 500 plus hp, which is a rare number in an 850 especially in the UK !! so thought it would be great to do something special with the Peril. I also wanted to focus on keeping the Peril reliable and strong - I did not want to build an engine that would break every time out and my aim is to make as many shows and events as I can. I have planned to do the Brighton speed trials - I have been going to these shows for years and have always longed to see a Volvo have a go.
My plan has always been to be 100% completely open and honest with the project as it goes along sharing the good times and the bad, and what ever power figures I can make they will be 100 % proven. I’ve always found it strange when you see people spending a small fortune on their cars and don’t have a proper bhp and ftlb torque figure with a graph to prove it! Its very easy to say “my car has *** plus hp” - but would always be great to see it proved!!
Autronic ECU (SM4)/CDI
I have a great friend in the tuning world in the UK who I caught the bug of tuning from and I have learnt a huge amount from him (Mark Shead of MA Developments). Mark has a reputation that is highly regarded as being one of, if not the best in his field of tuning mostly Evo and the Cosworth brand. Five years ago MA Developments became the largest Autronic dealer in the world for their excellent stand alone ECU’s so I thought that with what I had planned in power output this would be great to use to handle the power and have complete control of the ECU and mapping.
I knew the Autronic ECU (SM4) route would not be for everyone, but again if you look at all the high power Volvo’s in Sweden you will see them using the same stand alone type of unit for a very good reason - at this level the standard ECU is not able to handle this kind of power safely enough. You could of course run this system alongside the Volvo ECU and electrics but I did not see the point in still having the bulb failure warning light and cruise control etc. The SM4 has its own self diagnostic system which is extremely helpful in case of a problem – it can be accessed by any PC with the SM4 software. The last thing I wanted to do was risk all the time, money and effort I have put into the car to skimp on the main heart of the car. This also meant I could also do away with the air mass metre which is quite a restriction in terms of air flow and performance.
The SM4 has great features as standard such as traction control, launch control and flat shift - once a sensor is fitted to the clutch pedal you can change gear without lifting from the throttle - all of which would be an extra module to buy in other makes such as Motec – with the SM4, only a switch and a sensor is added to activate it.
I started to learn how to map the car myself with the aid of Mark Shead (the best Autronic mapper in the world and who has mapped many cars all over the world). I had always wanted to learn about mapping, but of course never wanted to tune / map a customers car before I had properly tested it on our own car. Also at the time, it was and still is a UK first for Autronic SM4 on a 5 cylinder Volvo. All the wiring for the unit was done by myself, again some thing I had never done before so at first I ran the car on the SM4 alongside the Volvo ECU’s (my T5-R was still an auto back then)!!
I read the Autronic manual and started to teach myself about how the system works and what would be needed to make a five cylinder system work. At the same time I wanted to hide as much wiring as possible. I needed to make the system neat and also accessible for if the engine had to come out.
As the Peril was always going to be run at high boost, I did not want to run into problems with a spark blow out, so due to the high boost pressures, I also brought the Autronic 500R CDI unit which removes the need for a distributor cap and HT leads so I could now run an individual coil on each spark plug. I didn’t have to search too hard for the correct coils to use - 960/V90 coils would be just fine.
Change from Automatic to Manual Gearbox
I ran the car for a couple of months like this while I sorted out my wiring loom for the rest of the SM4. I had also decided to make the car a manual at the same time as the power level I had planned would be too much for the autobox so decided it would have to go - I had only seen this done by a friend in the USA. He had a great write up on how carry out the change so a donor car was sourced and the pedal box/centre console/gear cables/flywheel/gearbox and new master cylinder clutch slave was obtained. At this stage I also added a gripper diff which a customer had wanted us to try and then fit one to his car – I was very impressed at how much nicer the car was to drive and control the power. With reducing the torque steer it made the car so much more drivable so I knew this was the diff for me. I brought a new gripper and had the ramp angle made as high as possible. The diff made a few noises on full lock but I could live with that as the benefits of having it far outweighed this.
Getting starter under the Bonnet…
After a few wiring changes the swop was made and I decided to start work on making under the bonnet a lot neater - I removed the standard Volvo wiring and mounted the new ECU inside the car - all associated wiring was hidden as much as possible (I have seen a lot of modified cars over the years with a real mess of wires, pipes and sensors all over the place and wanted to have as much of a fresh and neat look as possible).
I thought it would be an ideal time to strip the engine bay completely and start again including a complete re paint to freshen up the look of all the surrounding areas. I stripped out all of the old Volvo wiring loom and made the changes to the loom for the auto to manual swop etc - at the same time I upgraded all the wiring for the Alternator/battery/and mainly the fuel pump loom. I have seen many people upgrade many items on their cars to make lots of power but no thought is given to the standard wiring which would need to be in top condition. I decided to use a Bosch 044 fuel pump along side the Walbro in tank pump which I had already fitted when I first got the car. I had decided to try a set of RC 750 cc injectors as a trial first of all, so these were brought ready for the engine to be built.
I had been looking into what would be the very best quality engine parts to use. I did not want to risk unknown poor quality parts for the heart of the engine. Generally the Volvo crank seems to be very strong and does not give any problems so I decided a custom crank would not be needed. I then decided to over spec all the other engine internals so future power would not be a problem.
I had conrod’s made to my own design and spec as I wanted to see what difference this would make to the power figures. I also decided to use a very good name for the pistons - they had to have outstanding quality and strength and again it was made to my own design of piston (not that Volvo made a bad job of both components in design but thought it would be nice to try something a bit different) - Time would tell if my new ideas worked.
The next step was the head and a brand new one was ordered. I did not want to start with an unknown head so found it cheaper to buy a brand new one and then have the head polished/ported with three angle valve seats cut and the inlet manifold matched as well, I had tried to find a suitable pair of camshafts for the job but found, as usual for the Volvo tuning world there is so little available. I decided to use the standard cams but have them re profiled by piper cams.
Due to never having enough spare time to spend at work I decided to take the whole new engine home and assemble the new build in my small garage - I even had the wife and cats helping !!!
The next stage was to look at what type of design and size intercooler I could run. Again, I decided to go down the custom route - as there were very few intercooler’s that were available, when I asked how they had been tested I was left with a very long silence!!!