Featured: This Saab 900 Turbo Aero Is A Piece Of Sweden's Eden

This Saab 900 Turbo Aero Is A Piece Of Sweden’s Eden

By Alex Sobran
March 16, 2017
24 comments

Photography by Arno Kenis

If you’re reading this in America, you probably know this car as a 900 Turbo SPG, but to the residents of its birth country, it bears the quintessentially ‘80s moniker of “Turbo Aero.” Why the dual identity? Well at the time of the Saab’s public debut in 1984, General Motors held a trademark on the Aero name, and were attaching it to their aerodynamically-focused projects. So buyers from the US received an SPG logo on the trunk of their odd little import instead. As for the rest, the model was dubbed either the Turbo 16S or the Turbo Aero—apparently GM either lacked the legal reach to stretch its mighty litigation all the way to Scandinavia, or else weren’t all that concerned with all five Chevy owners in Sweden getting their neighbor’s new Saab mixed up with concept cars in America that they’d never lay eyes on. Who knows.

So what’s in a name, really? In this case, there is actually some essential information about the car encoded into its badging—to start, there’s a 16-valve turbocharged 2-liter inline-4 under the hood producing 160 horsepower, and if you read further, the rare “Aero” label designates, among some other touches, a more aggressive aerodynamics package that included those bodacious 3-spoke wheels that are now synonymous with Saab’s styling. The kit was comprised of the aforementioned skirting and lowered air dams which were developed with the aid of wind tunnel technology, so the next time someone asks you how effective your blocky Swedish polygon is at pushing through the air, you can quote whichever made up drag coefficient you want—as long as you also mention “wind tunnel” no one will question you on its atmospheric slicing abilities.

Better aerodynamics aside, just look at this car: yeah, a Countach might be more in-line with the stereotypical vision of the excess gaudiness of the 1980s, but I think you’re lazy if you think that’s the end-all, be-all. For one, the Countach was designed and first built in the ‘70s, and it deserves more respect than being the go-to car of choice for anyone in the props department of a movie about cocaine dealers. The Swedish slab doesn’t just recall the ‘80s, it is the ‘80s—this Saab captures the decade perfectly. Let’s run it through the list: Is it an expensive and complex sports car from Europe? Check. Does it look like you could make a pretty good origami representation of it with a single sheet of paper and less than ten folds? Check. Does it have the word “Turbo” anywhere on it? Of course it does. Keep your Lambos and Slant Noses, I’ll skip the DeLorean too and drive one of these back in time instead. 

The story of this particular Aero also starts in a different time, and its owner, Arno Kenis, has been a devoted car enthusiast of the Scandinavian slant for quite a while. With long hours spent mashed up against his childhood window peering at the passing vehicles, Arno has been infatuated with cars for as long as he can remember. Having a father who owned an eclectic set of sweet Swedes didn’t hurt either though; when his family garage has held Volvo 240s, a Volvo 440 Turbo Intercooler, a Saab 900 Turbo, and a Saab 9000 Turbo (“What should we call the new one?” “Just add another ‘0.’” is a plausible guess at how that meeting might have gone), it’s not difficult to guess which cars Arno started hunting for when he got his license.

Currently he has a growing collection that includes two more Saab 900s (one of them a non-Aero Turbo, and the other a wholly un-turbo’d model altogether, making his trio of 900s pretty close to a full model range), and he started out in a similar fashion with his first car being an ’88 Saab 900 Turbo, an 8-valve version. Having trouble keeping track of all of Arno’s Saab 900s yet? He has owned a few.

Regrettably though, Arno had to let go of his first car due to the kind of expenses that go along with being young and owning a turbo’d sports car, but that Saab was obviously not just a one-off thing. For over a decade he searched for the right car to quell his yearning for 900s, and last year he landed on the car you see here, the Aero. Out of the two color options in 1985 (black with tan, or silver with burgundy), it was the one he wanted, and the rest of the car was in solid shape so he became the proud owner of one of Saab’s most iconic cars from that decade or any other.

He has fitted a few tasteful modifications in the course of his ownership thus far, a list which contains the likes of a Nardi steering wheel, a black Alcantara headliner, a full Jetex exhaust system, 16” Aero wheels from a later model, and bigger brakes off of a Saab 9000.

Not content with his own stable, Arno is also building a platform for tales of Swedish car ownership, appropriately dubbed Swedish Car Stories. He hopes to use it to bring together a community of like-minded people with the same verve for the cars he’s loved his whole life. Besides growing that group, future plans involve further mechanical training in pursuit of restoring and modifying vintage Saabs and Volvos for others—because when you’re this into something, it’s even more fulfilling when there are people to share it with.

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Mark Sherman
Mark Sherman(@shrmnmrk)
2 years ago

These are amazing cars. I had a couple of 900 Turbos which were good enough. The SPG is over the top (and certainly underappreciated in the USA).
The only issue I have with the car is the steering wheel. I have a wooden steering wheel on my MG and I would have one on my Alfa (if I had one) but IMHO a wooden steering wheel evokes the past and certainly does not belong on any Saab (always futuristic).
The brochures for the original 900 range all described the technical features of the car, the ergonomics, the human factors. The instrument panel is beautiful in its effectiveness. A wooden steering wheel belongs on a different car.

Saabfreak666
Saabfreak666(@saabfreak666)
2 years ago

Love it…Amazing Saab and story 🤘👍🤘

alwajeeh alkindi
alwajeeh alkindi
3 years ago

i want to buy it . i need it so much if any one know from where i can get it tell me .on my email alwajeehalk@gmail.com

Alec
Alec
4 years ago

As the next model was originally named 93 (a small 3, indicating 9 to the power of 3), that IS the way the model naming meetings went – they just ran out of 0s. It later became the 9-3

Johan Gunverth
Johan Gunverth(@gunverth)
4 years ago

Sleeper. My uncle the police officer had these 900s with special treatment, when hunting speeders on swedish highways. Bigger turbos, revised injection, stiffer lower suspension, no steering servo and a top speed over 270 km/h.

Stéphane Trigaut
Stéphane Trigaut
4 years ago

Hey i’ve got one of those .. an 86′ Turbo 16S … and i’m from Belgium too 🙂

Swedishcarstories
Swedishcarstories(@swedishcarstories)
3 years ago

We should meet up and shoot some pictures of our cars then! Where in belgium are you?

alwajeeh alkindi
alwajeeh alkindi
3 years ago

can i buy it . if you would sell it send me at mt email alwajeehalk@gmail.com

Russ Wollman
Russ Wollman(@twincamfiat)
4 years ago

I love the shot of the view through the windscreen, the shape of the glass, the wooden wheel, and the intrigue of the driver’s panel.

Somehow the word “throne” comes into my mind. This is a chariot.

Saab: individual, daring, brilliant, independent. Sniff, sniff. Blame the world, not the car.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
4 years ago

superb !
one of my favourite saabs and possibly teh only cra to make tri-spoke wheels look cool.
not sure about wood rim steering wheel.

Swedishcarstories
Swedishcarstories(@swedishcarstories)
3 years ago
Reply to  Ae Neuman

I love the wooden steering wheel. It feels nice and I think it looks good with the burgundy interior and the silver exterior of the car. But tastes can be different of course!

nicklongin
nicklongin(@nicklongin)
4 years ago

I had a 1988 Edwardian Grey SPG…. I loved it.

I miss it.

I’ve replaced it with cars I like even more, and are far faster, better, newer, but I still miss it…

Selling cars you love is dumb.

Bastian Karl
Bastian Karl(@bastiankarl)
4 years ago

Thank you petrolicious for this Great feature!

Peter Stumme
Peter Stumme
4 years ago

Brings back memories. I had a red 88 SPG, which at the time was such a looker that Porsche guys would stop me for a look. When that turbo hit watch out! You had to let the thing spool down when you wanted to shut the car off for fear of coking the ball bearings. Quirky, cool, different and fast. Wish I still had it…

Gabriel Villegas
Gabriel Villegas
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter Stumme

I wish I still had mine.

Ted Aydt
Ted Aydt
4 years ago

I had a grey 87 SPG that saved me in a head on crash. Replaced it with a red 90 SPG that had something I could’ve used in the 87….an airbag! Their styling is as fresh now as it was then.

Chris Cushing
Chris Cushing(@chris_cushing)
4 years ago

About six months after I graduated from college I bought my first classic 900. It was a 1989 900 Sedan, an absolute stripper. Most people don’t know Saab made a 900 that fitted in the lineup below the S. Weirdly for a non-S mine had the 2.0l 16v engine, but it also had holes in the front fenders you could stick your hand through.

Unlike most cars the front fenders on a 900 are welded to the unibody, much like the rear quarters on most cars. Because a most unsuccessful internal ventiliation system designed to keep moisture out of the inner fenders they ALL rust there if not pampered.

Mine was not pampered. I bought it for $1k on craigslist just outside of Albany, New York. By the time it came into my life in 2013 salt had not been kind to it. The suspension mounts, floors and all of the important structural parts were in good shape though, so the 24 year old, 200k mile Saab became my daily.

I was in love. These cars are astoundingly competent. The front suspension has equal length upper and lower control arms, and they are LONG. There is a ton of front end grip. Even the non-Turbos have very long legs, and feel very relaxed on the highway.

The rear end has an ok-ish beam axle. It’s comparable to a Mk.IV VW Golf, and nowhere near as refined as the front end.

My car ultimately succumbed to ECU failure. It turns out my ’89 non-turbo had a failure-prone, one year only ECU. Who knew?

A friend of mine made up a pair of brackets for me to mount the front seats to desk chair bases. Both front seats(which are in remarkably good shape) live on as desk chairs at my house and a friend’s house. They’re incredibly comfortable, and we’re working on wiring the heaters back up. They still worked when we removed them from the car!

I loved that car, and I miss it terribly. I’ve moved on to faster and more German things in the interim, but one day I’ll get another Saab 900. Hopefully it’ll be a flatnose Turbo like the car in this piece, but they are VERY hard to find. Lovely car.

Xander Cesari
Xander Cesari(@xander18)
4 years ago
Reply to  Chris Cushing

Who are you?! I was attending college in the Albany area (graduated in 2014) and bought an Edwardian grey ’88 SPG off a farm in VT. It was also rusty in the fender arches but made a terrific daily for a few years.

I’m now dailying an ’89 900 turbo convertible (yes that ECU is tender but I’ve been able to limp it along) but I’ve also acquired a rust free SPG shell and another 3 door turbo in about the same shape as my first SPG. Something about the 900s just grabbed me and won’t let go.

Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer
4 years ago

When current these were among the coolest cars ever, especially in black. I wish SAAB was still around as a partial antidote to the procession of beigemobiles we see these days.

Fábio Ribeiro
Fábio Ribeiro
4 years ago

Greatings, i really love the looks of 900 Turbo. But for some reason the volvos were my choice, part because rear wheel drive. Thats why i have now a Volvo 740 Turbo brick sedan. Still i would like to drive 900 turbo.

Jim Levitt
Jim Levitt(@jrl1194)
4 years ago

My wife drove a 1981 900 Turbo when I met her.
Turbo let go at 40,000 miles, she sold it as-is…
A fun car to drive but give me my Volvos any day of the week.

Mark Willenbrock
Mark Willenbrock(@markwillenbrock)
4 years ago

I had a near identical 900 aero. It would show 140mph surprisingly easily, and handled and steered delightfully, although track day cornering could open the rear hatch…

Chris Cushing
Chris Cushing(@chris_cushing)
4 years ago

That is actually one of the few pluses of the Sedan(and rare notchback coupe) over the hatch. The Sedan/Notchback are both lighter and stiffer than the 3-door hatchback!

GuitarSlinger
GuitarSlinger
4 years ago

Ahhh … geez .. you’re breaking my heart reminding me of the glory days when innovation and iconoclast style with a whole lot of function [ a symphony percussionist associate used to tote his Tympani and Marimbas hither and yon in one ]was the very hallmark of all things SAAB . Tuck a turbo under the hood and it come with a lot of go to boot . Whereas today SAAB has become the SaabStory of lost automotive icons

A little insider tip though Alex . Eve though the 900 Turbo Aero was shipped here with that silly SPG badge on its rump … everybody and I mean everybody from the hardcore SAABista’s to the dealerships to the press knew the car as the 900 Turbo Aero .

So much for GM’s gag order … ehh !

Good lord I do miss SAAB ! If only GM’d of seen fit to sell SAAB to CvK rather than that pretense of a Dutch motorcompany Spyker .. if only …. sigh …