The suburbs. These two words bring with them so many connotations that it’s almost impossible to accurately put them all into words. The idea was to offer country-like settings within the boundaries of a big city, to give the denizens of these areas quiet in the midst of commotion and space in the confines of gridlock. Overall, the ‘burbs have been successful at this; from backyard barbecues to cul-de-sac street hockey tournaments, they have seen constant expansion since they were first popularized in the post-WWII period.
However, the ‘burbs have their own rules and requirements, and this localized specialization extends even to cars. One of the more popular types of vehicle associated with suburbia until recently was the station wagon. While most car companies now consider wagons to be sales poison, there was a time when a lot of suburbanites drove wagons. They were the perfect combination of the style of a car and the practicality of a light truck or van. Now displaced by far less practical (but supposedly more rugged) SUVs, CUVs, STDs (wait, is that one right?) and other forms of vehicular alphabet soup, wagons nonetheless ruled the driveways and subdivisions of North America for quite some time. There was a time that almost every maker offered a range of wagons, and foreign manufacturers were quick to follow suit.
One such maker was the Swedish auto builder Volvo. Long highly-regarded as the makers of supremely safe and tough, albeit stylistically uninspired, vehicles, Volvo wagons were not uncommon sights in the suburbs from the 1970s forwards. However, as times changed, the lack of style and outright refinement of the old Volvos risked putting them squarely (pun intended) out of the running as a choice for the newer, more sophisticated suburbanites of the 1990s. To correct this, Volvo created a new generation of vehicles; the new, Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) 850 series hit the markets in 1991.
In 1993, the 850 Turbo Estate (for North American readers, “Estate” is the European way of saying “Station Wagon”) hit the streets with a minor facelift (including a better-integrated below-bumper segment) and a 225hp transversely-mounted, turbocharged 5-cylinder engine. Yes, a 5-cylinder engine. If that sounds weird, it should be remembered that in North America, not too many makers had embraced the 5-cylinder at that point. However, odd engine size aside, the 850 Turbo Estate was a slick-looking car for the time, and definitely did away with Volvo’s stodgy image.
Given the dearth of wagon kits available to model car builders, it came as a surprise to me that Tamiya actually offers a kit of this car in 1/24! I didn’t think it would be important enough for Tamiya to bother with, but on a visit to Wheels and Wings in Toronto, Canada, I came face to face with it. Of course, it went without saying that I picked it up. Granted, it wasn’t a cheap kit, but c’mon: it’s a mid-‘90s Volvo wagon! You KNOW that was coming home with me!
So, get your sweater tied around your neck, put on your aviator sunglasses and pop some early ‘90s EuroSynthPretentiousPop in your tape deck; it’s time to check out what the soccer moms were driving all those years ago!
The box of the 850 Turbo Estate is not much different from any other Tamiya car box, although the box itself is a bit bigger. It’s a pretty plain box with a very large and impressive front three-quarters view of the car. The main illustration shows the Volvo in a metallic pearlized teal colour; oh-so-very-‘90s! I remember the colour well on a lot of cars, but not particularly on Volvo wagons. I seem to remember them in silver and “Champagne”, aka metallic beige. There’s also a side-view of the wagon in red, just under the title block.
The sides of the box show the “red pearl” colour on one side and the “dark blue pearl” on the other. The dark blue drawing shows a cutaway to the interior, which is a nice aid for painting later. Overall, the box is just as sturdy as any other Tamiya box, and there’s not a lot to get too excited about. The artwork is precise and functional, if not a bit clinical. Overall, the box does the job but doesn’t illicit too much emotional response, which is perfect for a Volvo wagon, since it had the same effect in real life.
If there’s one thing that kind of cheeses me off about Tamiya cars, it’s the high horse they seem to ride in on. Let’s be honest: Sure, Tamiya makes nice kits. However, most of their “everyday” car kits are only “okay”. They are almost all curbsiders, and the interior detail is nice, but not exceptional. Same with the chassis detail. However, the Tamiya cars I’ve seen aren’t quite as “all that” as their box copy makes them out to be. This is why I couldn’t help but snort derisively when I saw the words “Minutely detailed exterior and interior”. Really? How minutely? Do you have a detailed headliner on the inside of the roof? No. What about detailed underhood texture? Nope. Well, at least the seats have backs on them in this kit!
So, how is the kit? Well, it is nice. It’s packed beautifully with the body, glass and racks all separately bagged, to keep scratching to a minimum. The wheels are, as always, excellently moulded and have their attachment points well away from the face of the wheel. This is genius, I will admit; if only MPC could have figured that out. Just like it also says on the box, there are stickers for the carpet, although these don’t cover the cargo area. I checked, and as I would have expected the cargo area had carpet in these cars. So, the carpet decal isn’t really complete. It also is only in one colour, so if you want to do a different colour, you’re out of luck. While the idea of a carpet sticker seems nice, it is actually a cop-out. It saves Tamiya the trouble of moulding in the texture to the model’s floor pan, but they make it out to be some kind of great bonus. Again, there’s that bloody high horse.
One thing that is well detailed though is the seating. The texture on the seats really conveys that plush, overstuffed leather vibe that one would expect in a car like this. There’s going to be lots of opportunity to add shadowing to the upholstery in this model, and with that I am impressed. Nice job, Tamiya. That almost makes up for the weak floor texturing. Almost. Unusually for a Tamiya, there’s even a legit chrome rack, with the grille and mirror faces. These also look nicely done.
Chassis detail is excellent, but like all other Tamiyas it’s all moulded-in. Almost nothing is a separate piece, and this is going to make painting very difficult for details like the exhaust and fuel tank. This is very disappointing, and while it is highly detailed, I wouldn’t call it “minutely detailed”. The tires are also very nice, as expected on a Tamiya car kit; they are the softer kind of material seen on other Tamiyas, as opposed to stiffer, but shinier, tires seen in American car kits. Interestingly, there’s no motorization feature on this kit. I’m surprised and gladdened by this. I don’t like the gimmick and the model always suffers as a result.
Decals and Instructions:
The instructions are one place where Tamiya car kits excel. They are excellently drawn and very, very clear. The best part is that there are frequent call outs for colours all throughout the instructions. This is going to be fairly helpful for determining what parts are what colour, at least for a grey interior. However, as always, it’s best to see if you can find a “for sale” example on the internet and use the pictures there as reference; then you KNOW you’re looking at something original. Well, unless you find a customized wagon, that is. It’s possible, but you’ll be able to tell pretty fast, usually.
The decals are nice, and include some fake wood grain for the dashboard and the tinting strip for the top of the windshield. The decals look good, and the couple Tamiyas I’ve built had good decals in them, so I expect more of the same. It’s not an expansive sheet of decals, and there are no North American licence plates, but if you have any spares in your decal box from any other car, you should be fine.
The Volvo 850 wagon was a nice looking and relatively upscale suburban family mover in the mid-1990s. This kit captures the rounded-squareness of the car excellently, and should build into a very good, albeit simple, replica. With a little bit of work on the interior, I have the feeling it can be made to ‘pop’ quite well, and this should add to the appeal of the finished kit.
This sure doesn’t look like a hard kit to build, and I can recommend it for modellers of any experience. With the body moulded in white, you’re going to have to paint it, but that’s likely the hardest part a builder will encounter. So, if you want to take on a mentoring project with a younger modeller, there’s a lot here to learn from and practice on. If you want to take it all the way and make a show-winner out of it, there’s that possibility too. Like most Tamiya cars, this is a great kit for any builder, and I’d encourage anyone who likes it to give it a go.
However, the killer here is cost. This is not a cheap kit, at least mine wasn’t. The high price tag is going to make this a hard pill to swallow for some, and it prices itself out of the casual builder’s market. It’s unfortunate that it’s so expensive, since it is a very good kit of an interesting subject.
Overall, I like oddball cars and I have always had a soft spot for wagons, so this kit looks like fun to me. I found the price jarring, but not a deal breaker. If you can get past the price then I would recommend you pick this up if it sparks your interest; after all, how many other ‘90s wagon kits are there?