As you’ll probably be aware, the "R" in the 850R model name refers to its racing heritage, specifically to the now infamous 850 estates that won quite a few British Touring Car Championship races. These 850 estates were so dominating in the BTCC that Alfa Romeo and a number of the competing teams got together to have the vehicle construction rules changed - allowing the use of spoilers which had been banned up until that point. Prior to that, the estate had benefitted from a downforce advantage generated by its long smooth roofline. Volvo did race the 850 saloon for a few years afterwards, but ultimately it wasn't as headline grabbing!
In the meantime, to celebrate the 850’s BTCC success, Volvo released a limited edition performance variant of the 850 – the 850 "T-5R". To ensure that it grabbed the attention of the motoring press, they made sure that it was the estates that took the limelight. This was advertised as having a top speed of 152mph, and a 0-60mph time of 6.9 seconds – not bad for a 1995 estate car!
The 850 T-5Rs had an uprated T5 engine, now producing 240bhp, along with lowered sports suspension, unique interiors and 17inch alloy wheels, and were highly equipped becoming the top model of the 850 range. They were only available in Cream Yellow, Stone Black and Olive Green, and only 440 estates (@ £30,400) and 118 saloons (@ £29,360) were sold in the UK market. (Note the official colour is called Cream Yellow not Gul/Gull Yellow, which is just Swedish for 'yellow').
Globally, 6964 T-5R estates and 2400 saloons were sold – originally Volvo intended to sell only 2500 T-5Rs of any body type worldwide, but they sold so quickly that they decided to make a few thousand more, and then a few thousand more, and then a few thousand more... :) Eventually they decided to launch a mainstream performance model to replace the T-5R - the almost identical and slightly more powerful "850R".
The 850R was released in 1996, and had a slightly bigger 16T turbo and slightly different engine mapping, giving the engine 250bhp on the manual gearbox variant. In the interest of gearbox longevity, the automatic versions retained the original 15G turbo and 240bhp mapping. There were a number of cosmetic and minor detail differences, but essentially it was the same as a T-5R, just offered in a wider range of colours – Bright Red, Stone Black, Dark Grey, Olive Green, Turquoise, and Polar White - but not the iconic Cream Yellow which to this day was only used on the T-5R. The 850R was restricted to 155mph, but rumours have it that it probably wouldn’t hit 160mph if the restrictor was removed – but it was a very clever marketing ploy that most motoring magazines fell for! Both saloons and estates, auto or manual cost the same £32,000. Thats equivalent to about £56,000 in 2020 so it was quite a pricey option - a lot more than a BMW 328 for example.