Used Car Reviews – 1987 Saab 9000 Turbo 16

Today’s Used Car Review post is again of a car that’s been on my mind for quite some time. It’s a 1987 9000 Turbo 16, a car I’ve tried to want.

I’ve driven a couple of manual 9000:s now. I’ve ended up disliking them for some reason, despite trying to find the point buried deep inside them. On paper, it’s a good idea; a solid-looking, well-equipped car with a nice well-executed design and room for everybody. It touches my graphic designer points and throws in some architect cool. Then there’s the turbo engine for the hoon inside, with ’80s endurance race cred from the Talladega days. Everybody wins.

Problem is, I’ve never wanted to seal the deal on one. After a short test drive, I’ve always been happy to take the Saabs back and walk back to my car, unable not to wonder why the kick of desire never came. Perhaps this one would make the difference, incite the want want gotta have it factor?

This 1987 car is a US model, bought new by a Finn living in Ohio and brought back as a souvenir. It’s an automatic car with an MPH cluster, burgundy leather, A/C on the paper and a sunroof. It’s done 172 000 miles, with service history and documents to back it up; the original owner held onto it until 2009. It’s said to be a Saab enthusiast car with history of being stored for a number of years and only really getting summer use for some time now. The 16-valve 2.0-litre turbo engine delivered 175 hp when new.

So, on my mind I had the following scheme: Sell the Sapporo (gasp), acquire currency, spend on turbo Saab and fix whatever little needs fixing. A solid plan, but after thoroughly detailing the Mitsu, I had to back the plan up with some real-world Saab seat time. How would it turn out?

First on the issue list were said seats. Seat time and sunshine had by now nearly completely wrecked them. Damn it, the burgundy/oxblood interior was a major selling point for me!

I had scouted the car out on Sunday, and peered inside. By today, I had already got wind of replacement leather seats, so technically these wouldn’t be too much of a problem. I had already replaced the front seats on the Mazda for grippier ones, so these Saab sofas would be rectified without reverting to duct tape.

As I took the Saab for a spin, I had firm hopes for the car. It had been fitted with Sachs springs and a 60/40 kit to get the stance to a mean look; round the back were spacers to bring out the rear tires. It was a hungry-looking machine.

And there were good points. The turbo felt strong and once I had let the engine warm up, the engine temperature didn’t instantly raise to worrying levels unlike the previous 9000 I tried (and instantly brought back); the gearbox shifted well enough despite feeling hesitant to engage reverse when I manouvered the car on the parking lot. Pickup was good, the kickdown existent and the car felt, tech-wise, like there wasn’t much wrong with it.

The ride had firmed up with the suspension kit, true, but the car also felt like its creaks and stutters were magnified. These were by now numerous, to the extent that I had a hard time believing it would make a smooth highway cruiser for summertime trips across the country, drives like the ones I had done with the Sapporo last summer. True, I wouldn’t probably be driving to Copenhagen and back this year, but a car’s got to handle that, right? The dealer mentioned the cruise control was functional, so that’s a plus. What was a minus was that the A/C compressor had packed in; a new one would arrive in a box after purchasing the car. The sunroof also worked, but the seals were due for repair and even when closed there was a wind sound.

As I brought the car back from the drive, I listened to the engine idle. Listening for cam chain rattle was the one other thing a 9000 turbo driver had told me to do, with the other being checking for blue smoke at startup (a sign of a tired turbo, and not an issue here). Surely enough, the car sounded like it was very much due for a chain replacement. With a little gas the rattle went away, but as the revs dropped to idle levels the car ran noisily, diesel Mercedes-like. The dealer backed me up here, confirming it had sounded rattly as he had used the car for random errands.

It’s just… another case of wanting the idea of the car more than the actual car. Time had turned the interior into beef jerky, and while the partially resprayed exterior was more than fine with rust not present at all, the car just told me it had a bunch of things waiting to be fixed, without guaranteeing me the satisfaction the Japanese hi-fi sofa does. Damn, the Mitsu even handles better. I’m not jesting; with the Saab’s seating position, tall wide dash and staid character giving me the feel I was sitting behind a school desk with a math book at hand, the Sapporo in comparison gives me solid chuckability without creaks. I didn’t buy the Mitsubishi for its handling, but it didn’t come without one.

I had disliked the manual 9000:s for their shifter feel and the auto 9000 did sidestep that issue, but still the car felt like the only good time it would offer would either be looking at it through a window – turbo upgrades not accounted for, of course. I still feel like a 900 OG would do me good, and with the grandpa examples in this country, I think there’s hope for me to come up with a clean one.

There was one of these on the forecourt, by the way. Sapporo stalks behind it.

[Images: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

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