Journal: Saab 900 Turbo Offered High Performance with a Side of Weird

Saab 900 Turbo Offered High Performance with a Side of Weird

By Alan Franklin
June 27, 2013
15 comments

Dreaming about odd cars is a guilty pleasure of mine. Willfully strange engineering, whether an improvement over convention or not, simply appeals to me on a very base level—what that reveals about my character I’m not sure, but there it is. Of course I’ve dedicated future garage space to all sorts of Italian, German, and Japanese sporting exotica, but you’ve got to have a bit of levity, right? Citroëns, Tatras, early Lancias, Soviet hatchbacks, Wankel-powered things—I love them all, Saabs in particular. Perhaps it’s because of their relative abundance, really work my imagination and get me dreaming about torque steer, turbo lag, electrical fires, vodka, and super-comfy seats. The early two-stroke cars are especially amazing, their Panda bear-choking, blue-smoke belching exhaust and Paul Bunyan’s chainsaw soundtrack icons of earlier, more “who gives a shit?” times, but the one Saab I’ve always lusted for is a 900 Turbo.

Released in 1978 as a replacement for the 99, itself considered the first “modern” Saab, the 900 was heavily based on its predecessor but was significantly larger and more sophisticated, too. Built in two and four door sedan, as well as three and five door hatch configurations, the 900 gets a bit weird even before we delve into its inner workings. Joined by a convertible in ’86, just in time for the yuppies, one single line offered a range of body styles more typically spread across a range of models—call it Nordic pragmatism, or call it stretching a krona, the 900 appealed to young, urban, moneyed types of all stages of life.

Though I usually view front wheel drive performance cars with the same eye I’d view a vegan hamburger, the 900, and in particular the Turbo, sent that power to the wrong wheels with so much style that it actually moved the concept beyond merely an endearing quirk to become an outright asset. Mounted longitudinally and at a 45 degree angle, the 900’s four cylinder’s also delivered their power backwards—that is to say, twist was delivered to the front-facing end of the crankshaft. The transaxle, though running a separate sump, comprised the engine’s oil pan, with power transferred downwards through it by means of chain-driven gears before heading back towards the driveshafts—why? Because trolls.

Utilizing double wishbone suspension at the front and an unusual (notice a pattern?) beam axle rear with what essentially worked out to two Watt’s linkages per side, it offered a kind of quasi-independent movement capable of maintaining very accurate geometry over a wide range of motion. Ergonomics were also super-advanced, from the deeply curved windshield to the placement of controls according to their frequency of use, as well as front-lit gauges, it was all laid out according to aircraft design philosophy—an actual, tangible link to Saab’s roots, well before “born from jets” was watered down to nothing more than a limp marketing tag line for cars built from GM parts bins.

They were all weird, they were all great, they were mostly quite slow—the Turbo though, as previously mentioned, is the one to have, particularly an ’85-up version as they were fitted with a twin cam, 16 valve motor rather than earlier, eight valve designs. Thusly equipped, the Turbo offered 175 HP and a grunty 205 lb. ft. of torque, good for roughly eight second 0-60 MPH sprints and a top speed of 130 or so. Nearly three decades on, neither figure is all that impressive, but in the context of the times it was plenty quick.

An old acquaintance of mine traded a 27-inch television and a case of cheap beer for a decently nice runner about 10 years ago, and today they’re not worth much more. If strange cars do it for you, too, there’s no getting weirder for less cash, but best be prepared with a big tool kit, a parts fund, lots of patience, and an army surplus Siberian tank commander’s driving cap.

Image Sources: oldcarmanualproject.com, saabworld.net, carinteriors.tumblr.com, peopleswheels.com, netcarshow.com

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swissvest1@hotmail.com
swissvest1@hotmail.com
3 years ago

I am driving my 2nd Saab 900, an 86 Turbo Hatchback, which has over 360,000 miles and has never had the head off and transmission is original, unrepaired! When I used to take my
’84 4dr Turbo 900 to the local Saab dealership, the Service Manager assured me it would continue to be reliable. “It’s just a baby,” he’d say. He had several 900s above 300,000 miles still being serviced and driven daily. I have owned many cars in my lifetime and this is among the best. Quirky, yes but reliable when maintained and not only fun to drive but it offers up a nice exhaust note. I’m 70 and intend to pick up an SPG one of these days, after I sell my 71 240Z. Dennis

trackback

[…] Speaking of weird, the proliferation of body styles being offered was only where the 900’s weirdness started. You inserted the key just below the shifter, for example, instead of the steering column. The engine was mounted lengthwise, and pitched at a 45 degree angle. Power was transmitted from the “front” of the engine. The engine’s oil pan was integrated with the transaxle’s, and power went downwards throu…. […]

stevelewissaab
stevelewissaab
4 years ago

I have customers all over the world, in my experience the c900 is a car that you buy because YOU like it – not because it impresses others. Sometimes you find yourself pleased because someone comments positively but it’s always a decision you made. The customers range from people who barely have 2 pennies to rub together to Directors of music studios and Pop group managers. You never can tell the social status of a c900 owner. They get under your skin and once you scratch you cannot remove them.

Mike Sheldon
Mike Sheldon
5 years ago

’92 900 Turbo… still my daily driver… only 235,000 miles… just a baby 😉

rodger burkley
rodger burkley
5 years ago

Wow…what a crappy review. Heartless and superficial. Yes, Saab 900s are unique, quirky, dated (by today’s modern standards) and funky. Saab stories abound. “SAAB” may even be an acronym for “Stupid Arse Actually Bought” it…especially for those who got a ‘lemon’ used ship box or didn’t/don’t keep up on preventive MX and repairs…and treat /thrash them harsh. Yes, Turbo 16-valve 900s (any body style) with 5-speed tranny are the ones to go for. Especially those Classic 900s from 88 on (useful mechanical/design upgrades). Who am I to say? A proud “Saab” acroymn guy who owns 3 900Ts — 4-dr sedan, 3-dr SPG/hatch and 2-dr convertible. Plus the mother of all Saabs 9000 Aero. Nothing but good things to say about these guys. Forget about off-the-line acceleration 1st thru 3rd gear dashes. Agree: slow off the mark with potential for torque steer when spooled up in lower gears at full boost and RPM. The trick is…don’t do that! It’s not their thing. But a lot of that is gearing too. Classic 900Ts excel from 4th (3rd really if you want to mash it) and 5th gear on rolling acceleration on open highway. (as in 65 – 95mph afterburner runs). Great sports touring cars. Sure footed, solid feeling, ‘quaint/comfortable’ inside, ‘practical’ interopr space, reliable (if properly sorted) and great handlers. Nothing feels like them when they’re ‘in the zone’. And — remember — BACK in 1985 (1st yr of 16–valve Turbos) they were just about the fastest thing on the road here in the NorthEast….with great mileage (important at the time). IF you are lucky enough to get a early ‘classic 900’, however, I strongly recommend you consider upgrading ignition to a T5 Direct Ignition cassette conversion. I did recently — and am still smiling. Brings them up to 21st century (laptop diagnostics) and livens them up with greater perf, lower end torque and reliability like the later gen 900s, 9-3s, 9-5s and 9000s. Pricy/involved — but well worth it. So Mr. Hot Reviewer….suggest you REALLY get to know these cars better. Feel them’…drive them as intended by Saab…and experience what their real strengths and value props are. You’re right though…a great contemporary ‘classic car’ that you won’t see replicated in parking lot or interstates…for reasonable cheap money. BTW: I bet you think Chevy Corvairs are ship boxes and crapola rides too. Do your research and homework. 🙂 It’s all about engineering design objectives, execution…and the times at the time. Sadly, we’ll probably never see again this kind of creativity and unique, individual personality cars on the road ever again.

Jared Ross
Jared Ross
7 years ago

I loved my SPG for the 2 Months I had it before the head gasket blew. I had the timing chain replaced and the mechanic said that the head gasket looked brand new so he said he would not bother. Well, driving up the mountain on I70 outside of Denver in 97 degree heat, I felt scalding hot liquid dripping on my feet… Did I mention that the heater core is right over your feet?? It looked cool to me, and was fun while it lasted. Ahh well

Xun0
Xun0
7 years ago
Reply to  Jared Ross

Hey, I am in Denver as well and I know you probably had your SPG so long ago but I wish you still had it so I could purchase it from you. I love the older Saabs. I originally started with a 9-5, it was nice but lacked something the 900s had. I currently own a 9000 and a 900, love them both. Would have loved to get my hands on an SPG that needed a little motor work, I love working and getting them back on the road. And hey, a blown head gasket is just a reason to get the heads ported and polished.

Jeremy Ebbesen
Jeremy Ebbesen
7 years ago

I picked up this 84 900 turbo last year from the original owner. It was rarely driven in the winter so is almost entirely rust free. This is amazing considering it spent it’s entire life in Wisconsin before coming across the river to MN. I park it during the winter also so I hope to have it for many years. These cars are so well engineered compared to other cars of the era. I had always wanted one so when this one became available I jumped on it. Before I get it out this spring it needs oil pump seals and a new harmonic balancer, but otherwise it runs and drives great!

will
will
7 years ago

Ok I have just got a sabb 900 Se turbo and the shifter unit is broken it still shifts but need a new one were is a good place to get one ???

Luc Bonachera
Luc Bonachera
9 years ago

I owned an ’85 900i “combi-coupé” and an ’88 turbo 8 sedan and I loved both of them. I wouldn’t call them fun to drive, but they had their, let’s say “personality”, for lack of a better word. These cars are amazingly cheap and might be a good investment…

Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro
9 years ago

My first performance car was an ’89 900 Turbo 3-door, what a fun car it was. I think I only paid about $1500-$2000 for it and it last me for years.

Robert Goldstein
Robert Goldstein
9 years ago

I still remember mine with great fondness. It was a ’93 900 turbo and it was a blast! Yes, the AC was weak and my battery seemed to die every summer in Houston, but I still loved it.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
9 years ago

last of the real saabs before the company resorted to re-engineering gm and subaru product.

Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari
9 years ago

Can’t forget the SPG or Aero!

assaf rutenberg
assaf rutenberg
9 years ago

These really were fun cars. I had an ’88 900S and in addition to being incredibly comfortable, the handling was amazing.