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thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/31/21 2:57 p.m.

This is me posting a learn me thread for a car I've never seen but may own soon, in classic GRM fashion.

So my buddies and I are doing the gambler 500 this year. We started talked about what to get and they mentioned that their dad has an 1985 saab 900 that he wants gone. Which sounds perfect for us. Thing is, I know almost nothing about them. This one is a 5-speed and a turbo, allegedly. What can the hive teach me about these cars? I've always thought they were neat, in a quirky swedish way. 

docwyte
docwyte PowerDork
1/31/21 3:37 p.m.

85 should be the first year for the 16v motor.  Fun cars back in the day, somewhat interesting to work on...  Don't know a ton about them but I know some guys here own the non turbo version and I'm sure will chime in...

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/31/21 3:41 p.m.

Weak points on these are mainly the transmission that never really got upgraded from the original 99 box. Engines are generally robust, clutch is at the front, of the car. Depending on the age, parking brake works on the front calipers. Check that it works and doesn't have too much free play.

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
1/31/21 4:41 p.m.

I had a friend growing up whose mother owned at least 4 of these. She loved them. But she was a professor, so she had to. I always liked them. Lots of character and good pep.

Transmissions are glass from what I hear. 

It’s a strange bird being longitudinal engine with the trans out front with FWD. 

Fifth gear is difficult to find for some reason. It’s a “cool” quirk.

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
1/31/21 5:50 p.m.

Can't comment on the turbo part since mine is NA, but otherwise they're entertaining cars with enough quirks to keep even the most eccentric car owner happy. For Gambler usage, make sure the suspension mounting points in the front haven't turned to dust, change the fluids, and send it. The engine is pretty solid (and seems happiest in the 4-5k range), the transmission is OK but does not like to be hurried or bullied, and the suspension has a lot of roll but is otherwise pretty composed. If you've got more specific questions at any point, just ask - I'm no expert, but buying a 30-year Saab for three figures means that I've been into a fair portion of the car for one thing or another.

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/31/21 6:09 p.m.

Are these the kind of car that I can add more more boost with a Grainger valve boost controller? The talk of glass transmissions makes me think "no."

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/31/21 6:13 p.m.

In reply to CyberEric :

Trans is actually not out front, it's underneath the engine.

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
1/31/21 7:08 p.m.

In reply to thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) :

The transmission isn't really glass from what I've been able to determine, at least not at stock boost levels and actually full of fluid. The linkage is pretty convoluted, and shifting isn't exactly joyful, but as long as you don't hurry or force it, it works (mostly - on my car 5th can be recalcitrant at times). It seems like losing reverse is a harbinger of other issues (but can also be remedied relatively easily), and pinion bearings start to make noise when problems are imminent (this is second-hand info, but it's fairly widely discussed on the Saab boards).

spitfirebill
spitfirebill MegaDork
1/31/21 7:21 p.m.

How available are transmission parts?

Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/31/21 9:01 p.m.
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) said:

Are these the kind of car that I can add more more boost with a Grainger valve boost controller? The talk of glass transmissions makes me think "no."

I am very confident you can add more boost that way! For the gambler in you? I crack myself up

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/31/21 9:06 p.m.

In reply to thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) :

IIRC a lot of the European tuners got reliable 250bhp oh of them, but you need a decent amount of mechanical sympathy to keep it reliable.

mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/31/21 11:10 p.m.
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) said:

Weak points on these are mainly the transmission that never really got upgraded from the original 99 box. Engines are generally robust, clutch is at the front, of the car. Depending on the age, parking brake works on the front calipers. Check that it works and doesn't have too much free play.

87 was the last year for front mounted Handbrake. in 88 they went to the rears.  

procainestart
procainestart Dork
1/31/21 11:21 p.m.

I'm biased but I think they are great cars. 

Some flaws, tho.

As noted earlier, 85 was the first year of the 16v engine - the head is 1-year-only. Not really a big deal unless you were to need a head.

But the wiring harnesses in 85 and some 86 Turbos were *terrible*: total insulation failure. If the car hasn't had a whole mess of underhood wiring replaced, it could be a PITA - either you replace one wire at a time or you find an intact '86T or '87T harness to graft in.

On 86+, modifying the boost controller, or APC, is really simple (a couple resistors and twist some knobs) but the 85 is different and I'm not sure it can be modified similarly. If you do increase boost, say, with a check valve, you can get a little more fuel in open loop by installing a 3 bar fuel reg from a nonturbo (Turbo is 2.5 bar). If you get too greedy with boost, on an 85, a pressure sensor will suddenly kill fuel. It's not subtle. 

The car has double wishbones up front and you can easily get more camber with shims, which I highly recommend. 

If memory serves, the 85T lacks a rear sway bar. I prefer a car with both. Get one from a later Turbo (grab all fasteners, too). I can't recall when NAs got bars. 

If you want to raise the car, pieces of cutting board (uhmw) are what I've used in the past. In the front, the thickness of the cutting board will *double* the increase in ride height; in the rear its more 1:1. Fair warning: removing the front springs is tough. 

Transmissions evolved over the years, so while there are some parts that'll fit in any of them, there are others that won't. I have a good local source for trans parts but he hoards and is creative with repurposing stuff. 

Yes, pinion bearings are the usual failure. If you rebuild soon after they start to whine, you will have avoided needing a new one. 

Speaking of evolution, other stuff evolved, too (fuel system, for example) so if you get the car and need stuff from the junkyard, do your homework to make sure the car has what you need. 

​​​​The difficulty finding 5th gear noted above is due to the shifter going out of adjustment - a pin at the bottom that controls movement to 5th fails to catch a plastic gate. 

If you have mechanical sympathy, the transmissions will thank you. 

E-brake is on the front on an 85.these brakes are a bit of a pain and often clunk when applied going backwards. You can't upgrade to later better more normal stuff (e-brake in rear) without swapping spindles, rear axle, and wheels. 

My buddy and I did Alcan 5000 in an 85 T with 250k+ miles on it. We did other TSDs for a bunch of years. Car was pretty reliable but we worked hard to make sure it was in good shape. I own an '86 that I converted to turbo and an 89 900T. Lmk if you have any questions. Oh, also, Mezzanine here is a longtime 900 owner. 

Sorry this is disjointed - I can't cut and paste on my phone... 

​​​​

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
2/1/21 12:18 a.m.

In reply to procainestart :

Is this your car? It popped up right quick when I went searching on google for rally style inspiration.

procainestart
procainestart Dork
2/1/21 8:27 a.m.

In reply to thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) :

Yes. Well, my buddy's. He sold it a few years ago and it has been sold at least once more but it is apparently still on the road. 

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
2/1/21 8:36 a.m.

Weren't the 80s the years when those Saabs liked to constantly blow head gaskets?  I always remember seeing a disproportionate number of them with steam and green water coming out the tailpipe.  I signaled a guy on the highway to pull over because he had green water coming out the tailpipe and I figured stopping him now would prevent a seized engine or a destroyed turbo.  He got out and I told him what was going on and he just said "AGAIN?!?!?!"

I don't know how many times the head gasket had blown, but it was definitely more than one.

rustyvw
rustyvw Dork
2/1/21 10:09 a.m.

I never heard about head gasket issues with those.  I've had a couple 900's and never had issues with that.  The last one I had I got rid of because of rust in the front where the suspension attaches.  

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
2/1/21 10:35 a.m.

The 2.1 had head gasket issues, but the 2.0 shouldn't be any more problematic than any aluminum head/iron block car of that age. I did mine (2.0) because I burned a valve - it's a pretty straight-forward job.

Powar (Forum Supporter)
Powar (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
2/1/21 10:54 a.m.

Just listen to everything procaine said above. He's spot on with all of it--- especially the part about them being great cars. The wiring insulation rot is going to be your biggest challenge with an '85T, I'd bet.

LanEvo
LanEvo Dork
2/1/21 11:03 a.m.

I've always thought they were really cool. But a good friend of mine owned two of them ... and both were plagued with electrical gremlins, short circuits, etc. from engine harness and dash. Not sure if this is a common issue or she just got unlucky twice.

914Driver
914Driver MegaDork
2/1/21 11:30 a.m.

I bought an '86 900 (non-turbo) in 1987, put 180k miles on it and the only issue was the clutch slipping around 140,000.  Easy enough to work on.  For insurance, make up a 3" long bit of wire with flat paddle wire connectors at each end.  When you're 100 miles from home and the fuel pump relay pukes, you can cross the power and at least get home.  Just remember to disconnect it later.

From ice racing, I learned that wider tires only hydroplane;  I ran taller narrower Blizzacks on the 900, seems no snow could be deep enough to keep me at home.

I would absolutely buy another one right now!

It looked a lot like the one below, in 1987 the grille was chromed and not gray.  Rust forms at the fender lips first.

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
2/1/21 11:38 a.m.

I'm pretty excited to get my hands on this thing. I've never messed around with a saab or anything turbocharged. Hopefully it's mostly rust-free. The car spent most of it's life here in Oregon with a short time in NY. It's technically a one-owner car, as my friends' dad bought it new. His kids (my friends here) borrowed it here and there but it never left the family. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/1/21 2:40 p.m.

It's for the hot SPG version, but I think there might be some useful information in this buyers guide:

Vintage Views: Saab 900 SPG

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
2/1/21 2:58 p.m.

Almost all the factory workshop manuals are available as free PDFs, and much more comprehensive than the (also available) Bentley. I'm sure there are many sources, but I got mine in the C900 subforum on Saab Central - there's a sticky with links.

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
2/1/21 6:56 p.m.

In reply to 02Pilot :

Ooo, good stuff. I'm sure those will be useful, thanks!

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