Nordic Thunder: 1987 Saab 900 turbo

Late in my high school career, I found a Saab 900 turbo sedan for sale on eBay. The bidding was only up to a couple hundred dollars; I had some cash from my first job and Target and decided to put a bid in. I won it for $350. My father told me to get rid of it as soon as I brought it home, so I hid it at the school auto shop and eventually sold it to a classmate after barely driving it. That felt like a missed opportunity, but a few years later I found another one on Craigslist for $500 that seemed to have few issues. Of course, I bought it, and finally got to experience one of these weird and wonderful cars for quite some time.

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The cockpit-like interior took some getting used to, but has some serious quirk going on, thanks to an aircraft-style windshield, tall dashboard, spindly shifter and a massive hatch area; Saab’s trademark ignition switch on the center console is great for puzzling Saab virgins. Of course, driving the 900 is a real treat as well. They are very capable highway barnstormers; my 900 turbo never felt more at home than it did doing 90+ MPH on the freeway. Saabs are also typically known for their incredible capability in snow, and the 900 was no exception. Even on the crappy generic tires mine came with, it seemed to get through any snowbank I could throw at it with minimal drama.

At the time, I was delivery driving for a since-defunct fast casual cheeseburger restaurant on Milwaukee’s East Side. The car saw a considerable amount of abuse in my nine months of ownership; I drove it hard, hitting boost whenever I could, sliding around corners in the winter and trying to catch air over humps in the street. It was a ton of fun, and the car took it all in stride, despite having well over 200k miles. In retrospect, I probably should have gone a little easier on it, but I was 19 and nobody could tell me anything different at the time…

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One spring day I got underneath it and found a fist-sized rust hole on the frame, right next to where the front suspension mounted. It was pretty much game over for me at that point. Apparently that’s a very common area for the classic 900s to rust, and there are patch panels made to fix it, but I didn’t want to invest the effort. Amazingly, I ended up turning a tidy selling it for $750 to someone who intended to repair it and keep driving it.

I’ve always kind of been looking for another; a late SPG performance model would be great fun as a project car, but these cars seem to have vanished into thin air in modern times. It’s not surprising, taking into account their aforementioned rust issues in addition to their delicate transmissions…but it seems like a mere 10 years ago, they were everywhere! Alas, Saab itself is now gone along with most of these 900s. It’s a shame, because their speed and quirkiness is well-matched by the versatility their cavernous hatchbacks and solid driving dynamics provide. Someday, I will have another.

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2 thoughts on “Nordic Thunder: 1987 Saab 900 turbo

  1. Don’t know why the classic Saab 900 made crap car guide. You offer an accurate and nice write up here. I’ve owned several and, outside of their quirkiness, they are durable, good looking and fun to drive. I would NEVER own an automatic version of this vehicle. The three speed Borg-Warner automatic trans was absolutely wimpy and disgraceful when placed next to a 5 speed, turbo charged manual transmission. I’m currently driving a 1988 turbo charged convert that has 350k miles on it and it’s showing no signs of giving up the ghost. Looking forward to 500k miles. Owning one isn’t for pussies but, if you can swing a wrench and have some DIY fortitude, they’re awesome cars.

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