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Our Cars – Classic Saab 900S joins the Hooniversal fleet

Antti Kautonen August 27, 2013 Finnish Line

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic

I think I’ve delivered all my tentative Saab purchase write-ups for a while now. I’ve sampled various 900s and 9000s, auto and manual and Sensonic; but right now, there’s no reason to open the door of yet another advertised one and go through the logbook. Have I given up on the weird one of the two Swedish marques? No, not exactly.

I’ve bought one.

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_10

The proverbial wraps come off, and reveal to you the latest inclusion to my fleet of daily drivers. Finished in perfect ’80s red, bespoilered, rolling on cross-spoke Ronals from a 9000 CDE, it’s a 1990 Saab 900S five-door Combi Coupé, original generation. Note, please, that it’s the Euro-specification 900S, which means a low-pressure turbo good for 145PS factory fresh. More of that later.

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_24

And for the first time ever in my possession, an automatic car. I’ve driven a few in my time, but never with my name in the pink slip that’s not exactly pink here. It’s the three-speed Borg-Warner M-37 box, slapped below the venerable 16-valve Saab H-block.

The car has done 211 thousand documented kilometers, and the previous owner was a meticulous Saabhead who paid close attention to everything else than the hanging headliner (three pins, mind) and the wrecked C-pillar cloth. And yeah, three of the four door bottoms are a bit nasty on the inner edge. But not terminal, and the car has been garaged for the past three winters. The underbody is as solid as they come, and the hood and the hatch are near-flawless, along with the wheelarches. Trim is spot-on.

In the previous owner’s opinion, the car works so well the minor cosmetical fixes are rendered near-meaningless.

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_5

I’ll be the first to say, a manual one is probably a touch more enjoyable. But I don’t care, since the trans shifts very smooth and complaint-free. No niggles there, as it’s been maintained well. Bury your right shoe into the stain-free carpet, and the car senses its chance and surges forward with the extra power invested in it by an intercooler from the Saab 900 turbo proper. The ECU benefits from an extra chip and whatnot, so we could say there’s a 15-hp leeway from the stock figure. Not much, but more than factory-spec, with torque to spare. The drivetrain really makes the car, and on our roads, no matter whether straight or twisty, it’s right at home. A car made in Finland really should, too.

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_47

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_26

And yet, the 900S feels the most solid of the cars I call mine. It’s like driving around in a bank vault with an electric sunroof. I love the dashboard layout, I love the sure-footed steering, and even the wipers washing the upright windshield are a treat to use. The dashboard is uncracked, the cloth seats are rip-free and comfortable with no sag. No leather here, sadly – this example wasn’t the gunmetal car with the Oxblood interior I had been daydreaming about. But I definitely cherish having a bright red ’80s car again.

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_7

Then there’s the enormous trunk that makes the E34 shrink and shrivel in comparison. True, the cabin is a lot bigger in the BMW, but the Saab could swallow two sets of tires and have the spoilered hatch slam tight. And with an upgraded Sachs/KYB suspension, the car rides comfortably but solidly, making highway progress incomparably hushed in comparison to the 4000rpm terrier that is the 205 XS. But a car that weighs 500kg more and has doors thicker than the Peugeot’s engine block really should have an advantage there.

And instead of the stock three-spoke wheel, I get to grab a Saab Sport Momo wheel originally from a Saab 99 turbo. The stock wheel and a set of rear window slats followed with the car, as did a modicum of spares and a good set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta tires on steelies and original wheeltrims. I don’t think I’ll be doing winter driving in this, the BMW will be reserved for that. And the Peugeot needs to do some ice track hooning as soon as the lakes freeze over.

1990_saab_900S_t-16_automatic_38

But right now, I look forward to doing cross-country trips in the excellent Saab. Is it perfect? No, far from it – the penalty from spending my days in TURBO ZONE in a heavy automatic car is 19-20 mpg. But do I get what all the Classic 900 drivers are on about? Definitely.

Now I only need two new Saab badges and a set of 16-inch Super Aero wheels and I’m good as gold. Anybody got a Toppola for sale?

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

Currently there are "45 comments" on this Article:

  1. mdharrell says:

    That 96 is still available, then?

  2. sport_wagon says:

    Excellent purchase! That's one fine-looking Saab. In remarkable condition for its age. Normally I would lambast the autotragic transmission, but the car is just so NICE it doesn't matter. Also, crank windows seal the deal. I have to admit, I'm kinda jealous.

    • FuzzyPlushroom says:

      It's sort of the opposite of my slightly-rough-around-the-edges '96 900S, where the manual gearbox is one of its redeeming qualities, while the rest of the car is okay.

      I always wished we got the 900 (not just the 99) as a five-door over here.

      • frankthecat says:

        The Aisin-Warner 4spd automatic used in the NG900 isn't really that bad. Unlike a lot of automagiks, I don't immediately hate it with every fiber of my being. I do plan on buying all the parts to do a manual conversion for when the automagik kicks the bucket on my car.

        • facelvega says:

          The other big advantage of the Aisin-Warner is that it is extremely durable for an automatic, and needs little attention– yours may never kick the bucket. The NG900 manual lacks this, and also is pretty unimpressive for a manual. The only reason to go to the stick in an NG900 is to keep the turbo in the power band more often. Now, with a 9000, the manual is the way to go, no question.

          • frankthecat says:

            Eh, you have to keep up on fluid changes. The torque converter lockup solenoids like to gum up and jam if the fluid gets too dirty. Leads to some incredibly awful hammer shifts (which can't be good for the clutches) and constant trouble codes.

      • dead_elvis says:

        We did! You should know that as a NH Hoon. I drove dozens of these growing up across the Connecticut.

        Wait. How old are you? Most of these are gone due to New England's love of salt. Maybe you missed them.

        • FuzzyPlushroom says:

          I'm almost completely certain that the facelift model only came as a three- or five-door, while the more modern 900 was a three-door hatch…

          <img src="http://i.imgur.com/73avG2l.jpg&quot; width="600/">

          (yes, that's my NG900)

          …or four-door sedan:

          <img src="http://i.imgur.com/fdn3WDZ.jpg&quot; width="600/">

          …as shot near my hometown a few years ago.

          That said, the older cars…

          <img src="http://i.imgur.com/FYJRm.jpg&quot; width="600">

          were apparently available with four doors and a hatch. My mind must have parsed them as 99s for all these years. I'm only 22, so that's entirely possible – a 900, to me, is either a mid-'80s sealed-beam example or the last of the breed with proper aero lamps; my eye doesn't usually immediately notice the longer nose, but rather the quirky 'old Saab' grille and funky wheels.

          Edit: I see below that they were only available with the 900 nose for two years. No wonder!

          • dead_elvis says:

            Yeah, I saw that comment lower down too. I'd love to dig up some SAAB brochures for the US market from 82-92 or so. Maybe I'm conflating some of the later 99s with early 900 5-doors.

            A friend of mine rolled a 5-door 900 (a 79, I remember specifically, dogshit brown) in 1986. Low speed on a gravel road. Once we got it flipped upright, it fired up & he drove it home after the adrenaline wore off.

  3. dwbf11 says:

    I spent my backseat time as a child in a 2-door 900 Turbo and then a 9000 Turbo (both sticks). Love the red. Nice score and enjoy it!

    Mom kept the Nardi wood wheel from the 900…it's been on my wall since age 13 or so.

  4. Robby DeGraff says:

    Woot!!! Love it

  5. Neen85 says:

    Are you left handed?

    Beautiful early 90s ride there!

  6. Maxichamp says:

    Nice find! I momentarily toyed with buying a 2011 9-5 that is still for sale by the dealership this week.

    ETA: I am bidding on one now.

  7. david42 says:

    Congratulations!!! A very SAABy SAAB.

    What is the little round thing under the front bumper (passenger side)? It looks like an electrical plug…? Perhaps an engine block heater, though that would be quite unusual on a non-diesel (at least here in the US).

  8. Paul E says:

    Gawd, that's a pretty 5-door! They were only offered in the 'States in '79 and '80. Quite un-obtainium over here these days.

    • dead_elvis says:

      Those two years were all?! 90% of them must have been in Southern Vermont, if that's really it. More common that the 4-door sedan 900 in Windham county throughout the 1980s & well into the '90s.

  9. frankthecat says:

    You might want to at least try the Saab in the snow. Even with a set of all seasons, they're unstoppable. With snow tires… well, nothing short of a 2ft embankment will break your traction.

  10. chrystlubitshi says:

    congrats on the new (to you) wheels! I just found out this last week that a GM orphan named for a certain planet may be headed my way in the next month or two for a price I can actually afford (free).

    • mdharrell says:

      Best wishes with the free Geo.

      • chrystlubitshi says:

        good guess! it's a Saturn (ion quad coupe), and we're probably a few months out on it being mine… so as long as it doesn't die before the guy decides what he wants to buy to replace it… it'll be mine.

        Thanks just the same!– I really didn't mean to be so cryptic with my first comment..

    • FuzzyPlushroom says:

      I was offered a free Saturn once.

      Ended up with a free Saab instead.

      I would've been fine with the Saturn (an SW2) if it had been a manual, but alas…

      • chrystlubitshi says:

        I know that it'll be a gutless wonder of a penalty box, but it'll be good to be in a 2 car household again.

      • Sjalabais says:

        You know, the Germans have a saying about being picky about gifts: "Einem geschenkten Gaul schaut man nicht in's Maul."

        It actually is transport-related. Good luck with figuring it out. :)

        • FuzzyPlushroom says:

          I imagine it pertains to inspecting the teeth of equines obtained at no cost. ;-)

          I didn't turn it down for being an automatic Saturn, I simply ended up with a better vehicle – one that didn't have a busted windshield I could barely afford to replace, one that hadn't been sitting for years, and one that was easier for me to acquire in the first place.

          Now that I (barely) have the means to drag home that Saturn (which is still sitting), I have no need for it.

  11. CherokeeOwner says:

    Oooo, that's pretty. Good find Antti.

  12. Mr. Smee says:

    Beautiful! And, it's so nice to see a steering wheel without a giant tumor occupying the center.

  13. Willie and Waylon says:

    He ain't wrong, he's just different
    but his pride won't let him do the things
    to make you think that he's right.

    Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be saab boys.

  14. dukeisduke says:

    What does that sticker above the body plate say? Something about "CARE IS NEEDED… TO AVOID DAMAGE TO…"

  15. dukeisduke says:

    Some other cool stuff there, too, like a VW 412 and a Ford Transit.

  16. smokyburnout says:

    I'm not sure if the window in the C-pillar looks weird to me just because I've never really seen one of these or because they'd just let that be a blind spot if they designed it today.

  17. Bren says:

    Like the VW 412 there – rare enough

  18. Sjalabais says:

    Congrats on a very cool car! I have relaxed a bit about slushboxes lately, too, but would probably change the steering wheel back to original. Just a matter of taste. How much do you spend on a car like this in Finland?

    • julkinen says:

      Purchase price was under 2k. They can be had for half that, but that's not low-mileage Turbo money.

      Apparently this car would be worth at least 4k in Germany, and mobile.de is full of 12-15k eur cars or even more expensive ones. Weird.

      • Timo H says:

        WHAAT. It was that cheap? You mothaf…, I was eyeing that car too, but thought that it would be too expensive for me…guess who's feeling stupid about right now..? Is it in any means fast with the auto?

        • julkinen says:

          Yeah, he didn't advertise the price so I had to ask. Don't worry, I'll be keeping good care of the car.

          It's plenty fast even with the auto. Not neck-snapping like a manual would be, but it has good lungs for overtaking and plenty of torque. Cruising speed means under 3000rpm. I plan to make life easy for the autobox, since I don't feel like shopping for a replacement unit anytime soon!

          • Timo H says:

            It was dirt cheap, must say. Take good care of it, it's value will only be going upwards.
            I had a manual back in the day with a 185bhp red box. It was fast, very fast. Surprised many people :)

            • Sjalabais says:

              I have to agree, that's stupid-cheap. I'm really happy for you, nothing makes a good car and conversation starter better than a cheap price. Your assessment of the car's value in Germany is correct, too, and you would easily get 5-8k in Norway, too.

  19. J.J. Lasne says:

    Very nice 900 but I want the 99…

  20. Jonathan says:

    Does the car still run. How about an ownership update?

    Cool ride and thanks in advance.

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