By on June 18, 2021

Long before the S90 moniker was applied to a Chinese-produced front-drive car, it was (for a short while) the last chapter in a series of luxurious rear-drive Volvo sedans. What we have here is a last-of moment for Volvo, and a very rare one at that.

Presenting the S90 Royal Hermès.

Of course in the beginning it wasn’t called an S90 at all, rather 940 or 960. The 900 Series was the 1990 replacement for the 700 Series in production since 1982. We’ve featured a special 700 Series car here before – the Bertone-edited 780 coupe – but the vast majority of 700s sold were of the sedan or wagon variety.

There was some 700 and 900 production overlap, but after 1992 the 900 was on its own. 900 was not an all-new car for Volvo but rather a rework of the 700. Everything aft of the C-pillar on the sedan was new, but most other things carried over including options and indeed drivetrains. The first model introduced was the 940, which correlated to the prior 740 and shared its dashboard and sheet metal ahead of the A-pillar. For 1991 the 960 debuted as Volvo’s top-tier flagship. As the name suggested, it was a replacement for the prior 760. 960 had its own exterior appearance, an independent rear suspension, nicer interior, and a unique dashboard exclusive to that model.

Though the two 900 Series cars shared some engines, the new and exciting DOHC 2.9-liter inline-six was exclusive to the 960. With 24 valves the engine produced 204 horses. It was often colloquially called the “white block” because of its unpainted aluminum block. Other engines for the 960 were of inline-four, smaller inline-six, or V6 varieties. Transmissions were of four-speeds if automatic, or four- or five-speed if manual.

Unlike its 700 predecessor, the 900 was never offered as a luxurious coupe. Both 940 and 960 were built in four-door sedan and wagon guises. The North American market largely shunned the 940 in favor of the cheaper front-drive 850 or the high-lux 960. In 1995 Volvo dropped the 940 in North America and focused on the other two models. 940 continued elsewhere through 1998.

The 960 received a facelift for the ’95 model year, after incremental fiddling and improvements for ’92 to ’94. Only six-cylinder power remained from 1995 onward, paired to a brand new multi-link rear suspension. In 1996, markets outside the US relabeled the 960 sedan and wagon as S90 and V90 respectively, to coordinate with Volvo’s new naming scheme. That change didn’t occur until 1997 for North America, and by then the 960 was not long for the world. Production of the 960 was finished by February 1998, but not before a very special version had its day.

In markets outside the US, Volvo sold a super luxurious version 960 and S90 called the Executive. Six inches longer than the normal sedan, it had a redesigned C-pillar and much longer rear doors. It also featured a rear center console and lots of wood and additional electric niceties. Based on the Executive was the ultimate S90, the Royal Hermès.

Not the first time Volvo worked with the French handbag company, the Hermès took S90 luxury to the next level. Focused more seriously on rear passenger comfort, its Royal badging did not disclose the discrete rear fridge or the fact that the interior was trimmed in high-quality Hermès leather. It was a fitting end to Volvo’s last full-size, rear-drive car.

Today’s Royal Rare Ride is located in Japan and is listed at auction for a present bid of $27,000. With low miles, it looks almost like new in navy over ivory. And that’s good because interior trim replacements are surely non-existent.

[Images: Volvo]

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28 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Very Exclusive 1998 Volvo S90 Royal Hermès...”


  • avatar
    toronado

    I bet buyers scarfed these up….

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    I coveted the 960 when I was a kid (I was a weird kid) but didn’t know this one existed. I like it: with the extra legroom and rear console, you could sit in the back and get chauffeured around and pretend you’re on your way to Stockholm to pick up your Nobel.

  • avatar
    Guytonglavin

    @Astigmatism me too!

    I bought a 960 24v as a stand-in once. My s80 was temporarily ill at the time. It lasted a weekend! I was horrified at the handling. Jelly doesn’t come close.

    It just shows what an improvement the s80 platform was. Such an improvement, Ford bought Volvo supposedly ‘just’ for the s80 platform.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I heard the same, pity the execution of the P2 platform was somewhere between poor and abysmal. Ford did get the D4 though from it, and then proceeded to sell horribly crampt models with poor visibility (both of which were by Ford’s choice not by a platform limitation).

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Iirc the D3 came from the P2. We had a Ford 500 in the family that was fairly spacious, if a bit mediocre in gas mileage (about what a Panther gets). I wouldn’t touch its Volvo counterpart though.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I want to curl up on those seats.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Yahoo auctions… in Japan? How did you even find this Corey?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “And that’s good because interior trim replacements are surely non-existent.”

    They are, or if something pops up irs absurdly expensive and 20+ years old. Volvos not a good company as far as long term support goes.

    In the early 90s the 740 was more or less a budget 940. Same car but without things like cruise control or other small creature comforts (though Volvo did leave much of the wiring behind).

    For the time these cars were very expensive, even the gutless 0-60 in 12 seconds 940 was pricey, yet even the stripped down 740 turbos felt sloppy to handle. Both Japan and America could put you in a much better RWD boat (and if you liked having an ancient chassis Ford was an expert there).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This thing would be a pain to own and totally unrewarding to drive but that interior is *so* pretty.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The only thing off on this model AFAIK is the 2.9 White Block vs a smaller Red Block. I’m not 100% sure but I think all of the mods and aftermarket for the 900s apply. I actually know of an S90 in quasi abandoned status right now, with my imaginary internet dollars it would be fun to drop a turbo Red Block in it.

  • avatar
    Jeff_M

    We wouldn’t be having these speed camera issues if speed limits weren’t so low to begin with. It’s almost as though traffic planners use the “Great Aunt Mildred Algorithmn” when setting speed limits: What speed would be most comfortable for Great Aunt Mildred? Meanwhile, the rest of us are either bored to death or drive in fear of getting pinched. Who in their right mind can drive 25 mph ANYWHERE? How about 15 mph school zones where there’s nary a child in sight? The list goes on, but I am some tired of it.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Who in their right mind can drive 25 mph ANYWHERE?”

      The speed limit on most of the streets in my city is either 20 or 25 mph. You get used to it pretty quick.

      The audience isn’t the people in the cars, it’s the people outside. Just remember this:

      Speed vs. Probability of Death in Pedestrian Collision

      ≤20: 10%
      25: 30%
      30: 50%
      35: 70%
      40: 90%
      45: 99%

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I just bought a 2001 Volvo C70. Ragtop. Turbo. Manual. Transverse engine. Five-cylinder. All I’ve done with it is wrench on it. I haven’t even driven it yet. Idiocy abounds.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Oh really? I recently acquired the same in automatic but a bit newer. I’m not sure what you’ve encountered but what I’ve had to deal with can only be described as: “the stupid, it burns!” – and mine is absolutely cherry to the point where it barely exists.

      If yours is the 2.3 HPT, its actually quite rare but I read torque steer is a real b!tch. I think you’d also have the SC901 3 Disc CD Changer head unit which is actually very high end. I’m trying to source one for mine.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        Yep, that’s the one. Head unit and all. The roof and mechanism are in perfect shape, at least. I’ve replaced the coolant reservoir; fixed the airbox and inlet; reconnected a few sensors; and chased down a coolant leak at the rear of the engine. One rear map light has been punched into the speaker housing and the headlight washers both leak but I’m getting there!

        • 0 avatar

          I like the C70 coupe which is of course almost non-existent in The Current Year.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            C70 Coupe and convertible are probably my favorite Volvos over the past 20 years. Very understated design that has aged very well. There are a couple parked in driveways near me that are still driven, including one in the ungodly humidity yesterday (with the top down) – you might have gotten all of the rain in Cincinnati a couple of nights ago, but 85 miles SW of you, well, we got the humidity out of the deal!
            If I could do it right now, I’d be doing what Tele Vision is doing right now. As a side note, we had a 2001 XC70 Cross Country in the family for around 15 years and still went strong with just basic maintenance. No gremlins. We sold it to a neighbor’s son who just got his license and liked the car and it’s still being driven during his college years. The right Volvos just don’t die, but they might cost you!

          • 0 avatar

            Interesting, I know those early XCs often got the electrical gremlins and trans solenoid problems as well.

            I’d like an Ocean Edition actually.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Corey

            I’ve seen precisely one C70 coupe in the flesh and drove it up the block once (customer of my mechanic). I love the styling but its essentially an 850 with very poor rear visibility. Volvo imported 24,948 convertibles but only 6,465 coupes (98-02, ‘vert to 04) but if you could find one in manual it would probably be worth buying otherwise m’eh.

            @flyersfan

            Every one of them from 1998 onward *will* cost you, but the costs vary. Only the Red blocks run and run with gas and $6.95 of annual maintenance.

          • 0 avatar
            Tele Vision

            I’d rather the coupe but the wife wants a ‘fun car’ to match my ’07 CTS-V. I got it both road- and legal-worthy and am disappointed. It’s like driving a waterbed with a Jello gearshift.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          A few things I’ve learned on the C70:

          1. The power window regulators have plastic gears and *will* break… my example’s broke in under 38K.

          2. The window regulator design is specific to the C70 MK I convertible (even coupe is diff I’m told) because of the roof. I was quoted $900 for the part, we sourced an entire door from a junkyard for $150 and removed the part from it to install in mine.

          3. This remove/reinstall and calibration operation took an experienced C70 tech five hours. I believe it because I was not paying book hours at the dealer but instead paid an upfront cash price to do all work necessary (timing belt/water pump, window, safety inspection).

          4. Before I continue, if ever dealer serviced there should be a silver colored sticker on the upper left of the motor when looking at it hood up (I think near the coolant tank). I have from a P80 master mechanic the belt is supposed to be changed every 7 years or 70K, I was told in March mine was original to 2004 and “didn’t look good”. You kinda need it because the Volvo white blocks are all interference motors…

          5. There is a special Volvo tool to interact with the roof and calibrate it. I’m not sure if the only dealer in town still has it, the tool we used was loaned to us from my mechanic’s friend and former co-worker who likely stole it when their dealership was bought out by the now only dealer. We recently made an agreement to purchase said tool from this friend, since myself, my mechanic, and another friend all have C70s and we were concerned about the future as this man is moving away.

          6. The original roof was from some company in Germany, in my research at one point to purchase a replacement was $4,000. From what I have seen from ads for these, there must be Chicom aftermarket options because people are claiming they replaced the roof and I can tell its a different material than mine. I’m very curious to know how they are doing that without the roof tool/calibration.

          7. My roof is possessed, it will only go down inside my garage (with e-brake applied) but seems to go up on uneven ground. Two Sundays ago I tried about six times from relatively even roads to driveways on incline to drop it, the rear window piece would drop but it would stop after this (though it would go right back up). Its not critical but I’m waiting for the roof tool to see if something is off that Randy missed when he installed the window regulator.

          8. The auto transaxle is a PITA to check the dipstick or exchange fluid (was told the pan is mounted sideways and cannot be simply dropped for a fluid exchange). My mechanic did not recommend I change the fluid at all because of age, based on what I read Volvo had software updates for it if it started to shift hard in low gears (mine is). I have not approached the dealer yet on this.

          9. When I did speak with the dealer, the attitude was I was talking to them about something from a hundred years ago. It seems the P80 seems to occupy the period between RWD “we don’t need the dealer” and P2 “the dealer owns your ass”. The C70 ‘vert has several specific parts which are specialized but there are other bits such as the drivetrain software which AFAIK cannot be accessed by the shadetree.

          10. My mechanic hates the headlight washers, he wanted to remove mine. Evidently the gears are plastic (surprise!) and break.

          • 0 avatar

            This sounds worse than say, owning an R129 SL sir.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The few I have seen are double what I have in this, and three times or more the initial acquisition price. I also don’t have experienced resources for Mercedes work. Now that we’re getting the special tool, and everything else outside of the roof systems are generic P80, this is probably a better car to maintain especially given its condition at acquisition.

            Now if we’re talking collectability or desirability? That’s a different conversation. I would also imagine 25yo+ RWDs will need new rear main seals at some point, among other things. A R107 would be desirable as well but those ten years ago were typically five figures, let alone today. I always had my eye on an SC430 for a reason… but this C70 for the money seemed like a decent buy and smiles per gallon to this point have been efficient.

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