Saab 900

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Saab 900

1979 - 1993
4 cyl.
1985 cc
175 bhp (turbo)
5 spd. man
Top Speed:
130 mph / 208 km/h
Number Built:
1 star
Saab 900
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


The Classic Saab 900, manufactured from 1979 until 1993, remains to this day a very popular car with many thousands having been sold around the world. The 900 was a development of the 99, using the latter cars central body section, but with the addition of a longer nose and better sculptured rear.

The reasons for the popularity of this car are many, but could include the uniqueness of its design, the reliability and long life, the pleasure of driving it, indeed the list could go on and on! Over the 14 years of its production the classic Saab 900 was sold in many variations, including 3 and 5 door hatchbacks, 2 and 4 door saloons, cabriolets with a choice of normally aspirated or turbocharged engines.

Most sought after today are the turbo versions, and in particular the 900 Turbo 16S. Using the existing 900's 2 litre engine (which already featured a 16 valve head!), a Garrett turbocharger with intercooler was added, bumping the output of the engine to 175bhp. In its day the classic 900 Turbo could give many a car a surprise with its tremendous performance, and to this day it still surprises many. In our eyes, the Saab 900 was clearly a good looking vehicle, but the jury is still out on the 3-spoke alloy wheels fitted to the turbo versions.

SAAB 900 Turbo

In 1981 SAAB's four-door sedan with conventional luggage compartment was finally released. Increasing interest in Saab's Turbo models had accentuated the need for broadening the Turbo range into which the new notchback was positioned. By 1980 every fourth Saab car sold throughout the world was a Turbo! The Borg Warner Type 35 transmission, used in Saab 99's and Saab 900's since the early 1970's, had been refined and modified for the Turbo.

All components of the transmission were upgraded so that Saab would benefit from the Turbo engine's high torque throughout the engine speed range. Torque was increased by 50 per cent - to 24 kpm at 3000 rmp - giving exceptional pulling power. As well, the torque curve was very flat with the engine producing more than 20 kpm from 1800 rpm to 5000 rpm. This characteristic made Saab's turbo engine particularly suitable for coupling to an automatic transmission. A great deal of effort was been devoted to making the shift as smooth as possible.

At the time, SAAB claimed that too direct an engagement would have led to reduced comfort; and the torque converter was therefore designed so that the car moved off smoothly. Saab's aim was to develop a comfortable touring car with above average performance. Acceleration from 0 to 100 kmh was claimed to be 11.5 seconds. From 80 kmh upwards the Turbo automatic was just as fast as the manual version, due partly to the more responsive kickdown in the new transmission.

Four-Door Saab 900 Sedan

The four-door Saab 900 Sedan was also released locally in 1981, in the standard fuel injected automatic GLI and the luxury automatic 900S versions. 900 sedans were supported on the Australian market by the highly successful five-door Saab Turbo with manual transmission and the five-door manual Saab 900 GLI. Innovations included a radically redesigned and lightened engine. The Saab two-litre overhead camshaft engine had been developed to meet both then current and future demands on emission control and fuel economy and to allow more rational production methods. The result was the redesigned H-Engine, which was 11.5 Kg lighter than its predecessor.

Lower weight of the type H-engine was primarily due to a number of simplified features. For example, the auxiliary drive shaft was eliminated. It was used to drive distributor and oil and water pumps. The distributor was mounted directly on a new cast aluminium camshaft cover and was driven by the camshaft. The water pump was powered by the alternator belt, while the oil pump was driven directly by the crankshaft. It had fewer moving parts than the earlier engine and the engine block was simpler and easier to service.

In the Sedan body, the rear section was designed to harmonise with the front section. Through modifications to major parts of the basic construction, interior space was increased in several key areas, resulting in vastly improved seating comfort and increased load capacity. Headroom in the rear seat was increased by making the roof beam more slender, but with the same strength. Rear seat comfort was enhanced by new seat padding, with five times as many coil springs as previously and with new luxurious velour upholstery. Recessed thresholds provided easy entry to the rear seat. The Saab 900 Sedan, which had the same outside dimensions as the 900 five-door models, had a slightly curved rear window and a luggage compartment lid that extended right up to the rear window trim.

Other new features on the 1981 Saab 900 models included:
  • New four-spoke steering wheel for all models. The energy absorbing properties of the wheel were improved, and the field of vision over the instruments was wider.
  • Power windows on the front doors were standard equipment on the four-door Turbo, the five-door Turbo and the 900S sedan. Window controls were on the instrument panel.
  • New outside rear view mirrors, adjustable from the inside, were fitted on all 1981 Saabs. On the Turbo models and the 900S sedan the mirrors were electrically controlled from the instrument panel.
  • More luggage room in all models. The spare wheel was re-located under the floor of the luggage compartment, together with the jack and tools.
Prices of the five Saab models in Australia in 1981 were:
  • Saab 900 Automatic Turbo four-door sedan: $28,250
  • Saab 900 Manual Turbo five-door sedan: $27,250
  • Saab Automatic four-door luxury 900S sedan: $19,500
  • Saab 900 Automatic four-door GLI sedan: $16,500
  • Saab 900 Manual five-door GLI sedan: $15,500

SAAB 900i 16 Valve

Here in Australia the SAAB 900i was a bargain basement European and a worthy alternative to local luxury cars. Back in July of 1984, you could have bought a Holden Calais for $19,315. The roughly equivalent (specification-wise) Fairmont Ghia bore a sticker of $19,199 and by way of comparison, the base model Saab 900 GLi sported a $17,975 asking price. The other side of the European coin was the Volvo 240 GL at $19,630, while the upmarket Japanese flag was being carried by the Honda Prelude at $19,490. And by 1989, that made the Saab 900i a virtual bargain basement model.

On the road the NVH was brilliant, better than anything local, with road drum and noise (both mechanical and wind generated) being kept to an absolute minimum. Even overtaking was not a problem with the ability to shuffle back to fourth and use the flexible high speed aplomb to good advantage. Even when push came to shove, the Saab refused to be ruffled. Winding twisting roads were dispatched in almost record time and it was only long uphill grades that threatened to take the edge off the performance. The flat, neutral handling characteristics and rapier turn-in were responsible for some startling point to point times and any sympathetic input on the driver's part was always rewarded with a satisfying rush.

The only problem was that the driver soon developed a close rapport with the car and that could sometimes lead to a form of over-confidence (perhaps over-exuberance was more appropriate). When that happened it was a case of the Saab washing wide towards the outside of corners - as you would have expected in a "front-wheel-drive" from this era, but even then the chassis remained communicative and gave the driver plenty of warning about what was coming next. Any line could, of course, be tightened with a dab of lock or (in extreme cases) releasing the throttle a little.

So there you have it; as an urban car, the 900i Saab was somewhat flawed; as an open road car, extremely competent and satisfying and, as a family car where value was concerned, one of the best in Australia - and one of the best kept secrets too. The 1989 sticker price was a low $29,990 asking price - Saab had been underwriting its prices (as did many manufacturers) since the Australian car market crashed in 1987. For such an accomplished bit of kit, that made it a bargain.
SAAB 900 Turbo

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Also see:

Saab 900 Turbo APC (Automatic Performance Control)
The SAAB Story (USA Edition)
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9,250 EUR
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