Insider Garage

Sometimes, you have to say goodbye

by Conner Golden
11 November 2022 5 min read
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Never ask a lady her age, a friend for money, or Conner Golden what type of “Old Volvo” he has. I usually operate under the presumption that if you have to explain why your car is interesting, then it’s probably not as interesting as you believe. And yet. And yet—I am unable to shut my yap when someone politely asks what vintage of Swedish brick occupies my apartment parking lot. It goes a little something like this:

It’s a 1998 Volvo S70 T5 manual. Why not an 850R, you ask? (No one ever actually asks, but I always pretend they have.) Because every 850R imported to the U.S. arrived exclusively with a four-speed automatic transmission. You couldn’t even get the non-R 850 T-5 with three pedals in the States. If you want one of Volvo’s “high-pressure” turbocharged inline-fives with a manual, you have to get one of the few 1998-2000 S/V/C70 T5s equipped as such.

Then consider that the 1998 model year was the last to have a standard throttle cable, as opposed to the ’99 and 2000’s problematic Electronic Throttle Module (ETM). Volvo only imported 363 S70 T5 manuals to the States, so it’s not just interesting, it’s rare. And by 1990s standards, oh so powerful—237 hp and 243 lb-ft!

Of course, one could also choose to see a weatherworn boxy four-door.

The question of whether anyone else cares about this car isn’t merely a matter of pumping up my self-esteem. The best stuff from the 1990s is worth increasingly big bucks these days; most everything else, however, nets used-car money.

After much consideration of my time and (nonexistent) garage space, I decided to gamble that there were other Conners out there, and offered the Volvo on Bring a Trailer at no-reserve. Before you comment that I’m using my power of the pen to pump my own sale, note the auction is already complete, with the new owner just a few days from picking it up and skedaddling on back to Seattle.

Before I dig into selling the thing, though, allow me to reminisce about how great it was to buy it. Half the fun with esoteric automobiles is finding them. I caught the five-pot Volvo bug sometime in late 2018, and set my sights on a serviceable S70 or V70 T5 M, searching in some capacity for the better part of a year. Neither variant was treated with any particular reverence, and was by and large used and abused as any semi-luxury lease-‘n-release special. Even with a turbo and a stick, these were just nerdy used cars wanted by no one save a small cluster of weirdo Volvo cognoscenti.

Thus, the majority of these T5 Ms lived the hard, high-mileage lives of a disposable objet d’abuse. Between natural deaths via crashing and crushing, there are very few T5Ms still scooting around, and when one does surface from the swampish muck of the sub-$5000 used car market, it’s a leaky heap of junk on its third engine and sporting an interior musk of stale cigarettes, mold, refuse, and ancient winter slush. In a year of searching, I couldn’t even find a bad one. I gave up. I planned to import one of the rare Not-For-Yanks S70 R when I have more money, time, and space.

Nick T.

Fast forward to late 2020, in the middle of a pitch-black trans-Mojave late-night cruise from LA to Santa Fe. I rang my close friend Clay—an avowed Volvo nutjob—to kill some time and chat about Volvo 240s and other motorized bricks.

“Don’t get a 240,” he said, dismissively. “Buy my friend’s S70 T5 manual.”

Turns out, this friend-of-a-friend with my dream T5M was a former master Volvo tech out of Missouri. He purchased the car from its second owner, and subsequently overhauled much of the S70’s wear parts and weak points to a degree that, if done during billable hours at a shop, would bump against the five-figure watermark.

I’d be willing to bet it was one of the most mechanically sorted T5 Ms on the planet, and I caught the seller a week or so before he was going to list it on the forums. I struck a deal, bought Clay a one-way ticket to Missouri, and took delivery of one of the rarest and quickest pre-Ford Volvos.

Nick T.

Two years later, it was ruined. Alright, not ruined—but it had suffered under my care. Despite lavishing the drivetrain with an open-wallet policy toward mechanical maintenance, the car deteriorated on a weekly basis. I took delivery of a car in what the Hagerty Price Guide would describe as Condition #3+; two years parked in the California sun shredded the roof’s clearcoat, melted some of the headliner’s glue, and further faded some of the exterior trim.

I couldn’t do a thing about it, either. With my only covered parking occupied by my 996, the S70 continued to bake in the sun. This degradation made me sick, to the point where the car became a larger source of anxiety than joy. That, along with intermittent A/C, sealed the deal; a 2022 Subaru Crosstrek was requisitioned as my daily and the Volvo would remain a weekend cruiser until I could organize my BaT debut.

Like you, I’ve learned quite a bit about BaT here at Insider. I know that with a detailed and honest presentation good photos, and a bit of luck, a car can fetch a premium. I tapped a professional photographer bud to handle the photos, but the car was in desperate need of a full detail. A full hand wash, wax, detail, and hefty-ish bill later revealed not all was lost—it still looked pretty good! Just don’t look at the roof.

Nick T.

It’s widely known that BaT has ramped up its offerings in recent years—in October alone it listed 3110 vehicles. Less appreciated is the fact that they still get more submissions than they can post. I was terrified my S70 wouldn’t make the cut.

The car was accepted, with one proviso—it must be a no reserve sale. A quick scan at the cheapest cars sold on BaT revealed I should get the bare minimum for what I wanted. I approved the submission, and then:

Nothing.

BaT’s a busy place, with some 724 lots live at the time of this writing, and it takes time to cycle through all the accepted cars. My listing sat in limbo for right around three weeks before an auction specialist was assigned, and another week and a half until the listing was ready for final review. Then it was up to me to approve the final draft and enter the Volvo in BaT’s packed auction schedule.

It went live the day after final approval. Active sellers achieve the biggest sales, so I spent an inordinate amount of time responding to comments, well-wishers, and critics. The actual process of accruing bids is rather terrifying to a neurotic like myself; the vast majority of bids come in within the last two hours of the sale, with the first seven days serving mainly as a period of exposure and Q&A.

I woke early in a Vegas hotel room to watch the final two hours of my auction wind down. I’m glad I don’t have an addictive personality; the final scrawl of bids piked my serotonin centers better than any slot machine could.

The digital dust settled, and the S70 is off to a new home for $5000. S70s aren’t in the Hagerty Price Guide, but the typical value when someone calls Hagerty for insurance on one is $6500. (Mind you, our insurance agents like to ask how a car is stored, and my Volvo’s roof is a perfect example of why.)

The calculation for me is simpler: After maintenance, registration, initial delivery, photos, and detail, I fell just short of breaking even. No matter, my T5 M itch was scratched. Money well spent.

Farewell, 1998 Volvo S70 T5 M. May you find some much needed shade.

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