Effortlessly cool in its day, and still effortlessly cool now – everyone loves a Saab 900 Turbo, don't they?
By John Howell / Monday, 22 May 2023 / Loading comments
There are Saab 900 Turbos, and there Saab 900 Turbos – and proof that not all progress is good progress. The late ones that married the Saab badge and styling with a Vauxhall Cavalier platform are not the best. The earlier ones, on the other hand, have become rather collectable because, well, they were rather good. Proper Saabs, you might say.
That said, there was still some cross-breeding involved with the earlier 900s, which arrived in 1978 as the successor to the Saab 99. The engine that was used in both the 99 and early 900s was, of course, derived from the Triumph Dolomite slant four. But despite being based on something designed in the Midlands in the 1970s, and having a turbocharger to stress it further than Triumph dared – in the days when this was a new technology for mass-produced cars – Saab made it work reliably. Well, eventually.
The early B engines were used in both the 99 and the 900 until 1981, at which point Saab had reworked it enough to designate it as the H engine. This made it even more bulletproof, which is the word that tends to be used a lot when talking about the ‘proper’ 900s. And justifiably so. They were, in many respects, indestructible. Throughout the ‘80s, Saab was also seen as a world leader in turbocharging, with a range of low-pressure turbo engines that added torque without damaging fuel consumption too heavily, and full-pressure turbos, which were all about power.
You could tell the big-boost cars by their boost gauge, added to the instrument pack just above the fuel gauge. Now, along with shoulder pads, skinny jeans and a ratty-looking ponytail – or a permed mullet – there were few things more 80s and coveted than a boost gauge. By the middle of the decade, these were becoming more commonplace, on models such the Integrale and Cosworth, but those were still the proper high-performance machines rather than everyday transport. In contrast, the Saab 900 was a car your dad might have chosen, if he was too cool to own a BMW 5 Series and worked as an architect.
That’s the other thing: nobody hated you for driving a Saab. You cannot hate someone who drives a Scandinavian car. This is just a simple law of the universe it seems. If you drove a BMW, you would wither and die at a T-junction because no one would let you out. And if you were seen in a Sierra Cosworth, well, everyone would assume you were a car thief, because that was the company car of choice for those in that line of work. But Saab drivers were well-liked by everyone. They weren’t vulgar. They were polite, well-meaning, affable, middle-class folk, who hosted candlelit dinner parties for their affable, middle-class friends. Because of this reputation, you could turn up to any occasion in your Saab 900 and people would know immediately that you were a good egg.
They would know you were smart, too. Smart enough to buy a car that not only presented the perfect classy-but-not-flashy image to the world, but was also well engineered. Which is why, 180,000 miles and 35 years later, this one appears to still be going strong and looking good. Before those of you with the MOT-checker on speed dial mention it: no, it doesn’t have an MOT. But I’ve spoken to the vendor, and he says the car will be tested and come with a 12-month ticket when it’s sold. On the topic of MOTs, this one had what reads like a fairly significant failure in 2021 over rust. This is the thing that kills Saab 900s. Despite being built in a country that suffers from some of the harshest winters in Europe, 900s still rot. So the fact that this one failed is good news. Think about it: that failure was dated December 2021, and by January 2022 this car was back on the road with a clean bill of health. Someone else did all the work so you don’t have to.
The vendor also told me that this car presents well, drives well and comes with a fully stamped service book. The price might seem steep at first glance, but thanks to the rarity and desirability of 900s in general – and the ones with a boost gauge in particular – that’s what they cost these days, even with a few miles. That’s still a lot cheaper than an Integrale or a Cosworth, and for a car that’s still as effortlessly cool as ever.
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