Nordic blunder: 1991 Saab 9000 turbo

In the fall of 2012, I was looking for an interesting daily driver and winter car so that I could store my beloved Alfa Romeo Spider. I loved the classic Saab 900s I’d owned over the years, and also recently had a great experience with a cheap used Saab 9-5, so another Saab seemed like a great option. After some typical Craigslist searching and poking around on Saab message boards, I found a Saab fanatic in northern Wisconsin who had this really slick 1991 9000 Turbo. He said that it had been sitting for quite some time, but offered to do all of the work to get it running and said he’d sweeten the deal by throwing in some very desirable extra parts, all for a mere $2000. Like most colossal mistakes, it seemed like a great idea at the time.


After driving two hours north to distant Greenleaf, Wisconsin, I had a closer look at the car. The body was clean and largely rust-free; the paint remained glossy, the undercarriage looked nice, and the car drove well enough. I smelled a faint odor of gas on my brief test drive, but figured it was just the car running a bit rich; a tune-up was on my to-do list anyway, not a huge deal. Shortly after, I left with $2000 less in my pocket and the title in hand. With my girlfriend following behind, no more than a mile up the road, I found out what the gas smell was. She called to inform me that the car was actually dumping fuel onto the ground from a leak somewhere on top of the tank! With no tools to inspect the problem, and the car still running reasonably well, I decided to press on home. I was also thrilled to discover that the heat was inoperable, and that the sunroof (while functional!) made a horrific sound during operation. Also, the radio released an ear-shattering tone whenever it was turned on, apparently because an incorrect security code was entered. The long drive home was not entertaining.

The next day, I began my diagnosis. The fuel leak turned out to be a cracked fuel elbow coming off of the pump; it was great fun to confirm this diagnosis by turning the key to cycle the fuel pump and subsequently getting sprayed in the face with gasoline. At least the elbow was easy enough to fix…but the problems continued. It took a difficult, six-hour venture into the cowl of the car to replace a shattered $12 plastic flap and get the heat working again. With that out of the way, a rear brake caliper began intermittently seizing in place. Next, the headlights decided they wanted to turn off at random times due to a failing relay. Independently, these repairs weren’t too bad, but it was all getting a bit tiring. Of course, the worst was yet to come.

The car developed an odd running problem. With light throttle input, it would accelerate all the way through the rev range, but trying to accelerate quickly would cause the car to just fall on its face. It seemed like the kind of thing that a simple tune-up would have cured, but I had no such luck. Fuel pumps were swapped, spark plugs were changed, all sensors were replaced, chips were installed, three Direct Ignition cassettes were tried…the thing simply refused to run right! I had more or less isolated it to being some sort of issue with the Bosch fuel injection, but who knows. I had tried just about everything! I wanted for the car to work right so badly, because it was so cool, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be. I messed with the Saab for about six months before I gave up and sold it back to its previous owner, who also attempted to make it work right without success. As far as I know, it currently sits in a garage awaiting a conversion to Saab’s far more robust Trionic 5 fuel injection system.

This was a very disappointing experience, because it was an incredibly cool car. It was uncommon but well-preserved and would have been a great driver if it worked right; details the out-of-this-world Recaro “Aero” seats, charmingly Swedish three-spoke wheels and practical five-door setup were awesome. I would probably still be driving it today! But, purchasing a car that had been sitting unused for such a period of time was likely a bad idea. In retrospect, I bought it more because of emotional appeal than practicality…anyway, it was a learning experience, and one I won’t soon forget. Well, except that I kind of did, and bought a Volkswagen not long after that had also been sitting for over a year, but that’s a different story for another post.


2 thoughts on “Nordic blunder: 1991 Saab 9000 turbo

  1. Ahh, I did it again. I found an interesting and relevant blog after the owner had already vacated. I hope the Saab 9000 project went/goes well, it’s a rare thing to find a rust-free example up here in Wisconsin (I’ve always been tempted to snag one of the 9000 aero’s and the odd SPG’s that comes up)

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