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dannyp84
dannyp84 Reader
4/28/22 2:37 p.m.

Last spring, my girlfriend and I (plus her little dog, Momo) moved to a new house just outside of town. Since then, there has been an old Saab 900 parked in the driveway of one of the houses on our road. She is obsessed with it. For at least the last 6 months, she has been looking at 900s on marketplace and daydreaming about buying one. At this point, I have 4 cars, and at least one (the 2010 Frontier) is fairly modern, easy to find parts for and practical - so I don't feel that it's absolutely critical that she have a totally sensible car. Meanwhile, Carvana and the local Mazda dealer have both offered her a tempting amount of money for her '18 Mazda3. Theoretically, she could cash out on the Mazda, buy a fairly clean 900, and still stash away 4-5k when all is said and done. 

With that said, I'm fairly comfortable maintaining old cars myself, but I have next to zero knowledge about old Saabs. Do they require any special care and feeding? Are the convertibles a headache? Avoid turbo models? Any specialty tools? She says she specifically wants a '92, I don't know why. In the winter, the 900 could be parked inside and she can drive either the Frontier or the Montero, assuming I finish the motor rebuild on the latter. (All that's left is bolting on the alternator and filling the engine with oil before test starting it, but I've been dragging my feet because as long as I haven't attempted to start it, I can't be heartbroken to find out I missed something on the rebuild.)

Any Saab apologists here? A friend of mine told me that anyone who is into Saabs, is REALLY into them. What does the 900 feel like, more of a sport coupe like the E30 or more of a GT car? Why is the ignition in the center console? Are they capable of at least 20 mpg? Parts availability? Do they rust as easily as my 80s Mazdas? Fun to drive or just fun to look at? Thank you all in advance. 

dannyp84
dannyp84 Reader
4/28/22 2:41 p.m.

* I should also mention, she works from home and realistically might drive less than 20-30 mi in a week.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
4/28/22 2:53 p.m.
dannyp84 said:

Why is the ignition in the center console? 

It may be an apocryphal story, but what I always heard is that Saab engineers did a study of injuries from car crashes and discovered an unusually high number of key-shaped head wounds, so they moved the key from the dashboard to in between the seats.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
4/28/22 2:59 p.m.

In reply to stuart in mn :

It makes it a lot easier to have a shifter interlock with a manual trans.  Have to have a manual in Reverse to get the key out.

Now... I know the old 96s had column shifters, did they have floor mounted ignition switches? devil

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture UltimaDork
4/28/22 3:50 p.m.

I've had 3 of these over the years and probably know more than the average person.

  • The 900 is kind of a weird GT-ish utility vehicle, they are not terribly sporty and nothing like an E30. Along with Volvo 240/740s and Peugeot 505s, they seemed to be a vehicle of choice of elbow patched blazer-wearing college professors in the late 80's-early 90's.
  • They are...interesting to drive. The ergonomics are very strange and quirky by modern standards. The turbos are quick, if not fast. They eat up highway miles really well though.
  • Whether auto or manual, they all are at high risk of transmission problems. The engines sit *on top* of the transmission and are joined by a chain drive system at the front of the engine bay. The autos are garbage. The manuals are fragile, particularly in turbo cars. They need to be driven with mechanical sympathy to last.
  • You've never worked on anything like a classic Saab. The clutch is at the front of the engine bay and the accessory drive is at the rear. Things aren't *hard* as much as they are *different*.
  • Even outside of the rust belt, they have a tendency to rot where the front passenger side A-arm attaches to the frame rail. The cars have a bad tendency to collect leaves and so forth in that area of the frame and rot from the inside out. Other than that specific area where they are all at risk, I would say they are generally less at risk of rust than an 80's Japanese car, but definitely not impervious (they will rot like anything else European from the 80's, particularly around cladding areas).
  • Parts availability is pretty abysmal these days. Oil filters and belts and stuff are pretty well covered but when you get beyond mechanical consumables it's basically whatever you can find secondhand from other cars being parted out.
  • The engines are extremely overbuilt relative to the rest of the car which is why a large number are still running around despite general parts scarcity. I would not be afraid of a turbo because of the engine, but a turbo that has been beat on is probably not far off from grenading its transmission, and that's a largely unsolvable problem.
  • It's been a while but I remember the convertibles having an overly elaborate top mechanism that is very failure-prone. The hatchbacks are generally seen as the desirable ones (aside from the very rare notchback coupes only sold for a year or two).

If you have any specific questions feel free to ask. I loved the few I owned but it's more because of how committed to being different they were as opposed to any objective strength.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim MegaDork
4/28/22 4:30 p.m.

I also seem to remember that the top are generally pretty expensive to replace.

With C900s, it definitely pays to find the best one you can, especially these days with the sketchy parts availability.

Rotaryracer
Rotaryracer Reader
4/28/22 5:19 p.m.

I should probably throw this in the Cars for Sale forum, but it seems appropriate here.  NMNA...even I don't hate myself enough to own six Saab 900 'verts.  Link to ad here.


 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
4/28/22 5:47 p.m.

In reply to Rotaryracer :

You are evil.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill MegaDork
4/28/22 7:06 p.m.

I shopped them for a while and even stopped into a repair shop that specialized in Saabs.  He told me about the tender transmissions and that scared me off.  And that was when Saabs were still being made.  

procainestart
procainestart Dork
4/28/22 8:38 p.m.

Saab Weirdo checking in. Pointofdeparture has you up to speed, especially on gearboxes and weirdness.

The 91+ nonturbos had 2.1L engines that were prone to corrosion at the deck, not easily repairable, discovered via bad HG. A Turbo will be much faster. As noted, hatchbacks are more desirable. If the 92 is a 4-door then it's not a Turbo. BTW, it's not uncommon for someone to buy a used Turbo and deem it anemic because the wastegate has gone way out of adjustment, a 15 minute fix makes a dramatic difference. 

They have a double wishbone front suspension and can be easily given camber. Add some decent tires and off you go into the twisties. 

I have not driven dozens and dozens of other cars (see Saab Weirdo) but I really like the way they drive, and just about everyone who drives mine comments about how much they like it, too -- not always car people, for example, my sister and my special lady friend, both of whom couldn't care less about cars.

A mixed blessing is, they were made 79-93 but while some stuff fits any year, lots of incremental changes can thwart you or at least slow you down.

I no longer daily my 89 so I don't seek out parts as much as I used to, but I haven't really struggled with finding stuff. Biggest problem is, aftermarket parts are often E36 M3. But better than nothing considering the company died in 2011 and the last c900 rolled off the line closing in on 30 years ago. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
4/28/22 9:02 p.m.

Do gearkits still exist for the manual transmissions? I recall a hot setup was an aftermarket 4 speed conversion with beefier gears.

02Pilot
02Pilot UberDork
4/28/22 9:11 p.m.

I've had mine for several years, and probably can't add much to what's been said above. I do enjoy driving it, and that's coming from someone who dailies a 128i with a lowered M3/1M suspension. Totally different experience, but they handle surprisingly well (especially on dirt), albeit with tons of roll. Mine was a basket case when I bought it, and I've been able to get it to a point of reasonable mechanical reliability with a fair bit of work, but none of it was too difficult. The hatchback is incredibly useful; mine is basically my utility vehicle.

procainestart
procainestart Dork
4/29/22 1:52 a.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

You used to be able to get gearsets from Sweden, probably still can. I have a 4-speed from an early 900 in my '86 -- more durable than a 5-speed, but as I get older I'm wanting the latter again. OTOH, maybe the car will be electric at some point and it won't matter. 

Unrelated, but another Saab 900 oddity that's a bit of a silver lining is, you can change the ratio of the chain primary gears from the engine to the transmission, functionally like swapping out a differential in a RWD car. I originally wanted to autocross the car and did this to get to 60 in 2nd. A guy who raced them in Kansas rigged a snowmobile dyno to the front of the car, which is the kind of thing you can apparently do when the engine in your oddball FWD is mounted longitudinally...and backwards. 

ddavidv
ddavidv UltimaDork
4/29/22 8:10 a.m.

I was a parts guy at a dealer in the late 80s-early 90s, the pinnacle years for 900s. My folks also owned two of them.  The automatics were simply dreadful. We always had giant wooden crates of them lining the one wall, waiting to be replaced. The manuals weren't nearly as bad, though they did tend to need pinion bearings. Lower ball joints seemed to be weak. The manual shifters were rubbery feeling. The ignition keys would frequently twist and sometimes break off due to their odd location between the seats. Saab OEM keys were much stronger than the local locksmith ones.  Exhaust systems rusted out with frequency. I remember issues with the HVAC controls but can't recall what the failing parts were. 

The engines were virtually indestructible. Sturdy bodies. Odd quirk of the 900 was you could order just the front half of the fenders. The OEM Ronal wheels were soft and would bend easily. A non-turbo had sluggish performance. The turbos had 1980s boost lag. 

The later, redesigned 900 was nowhere as good of a car IMO. The 3 door 900 was an SUV masquerading as a car. You could haul anything in them. 

914Driver
914Driver MegaDork
4/29/22 8:16 a.m.

I applaud SAAB for being independent thinkers.  Ford gets a better idea and you can bet Chevy and Dodge will have the same one.  SAAB was alone out there in the woods of Trollhattan and didn't know that cars were supposed to be rear wheel drive, that the belts go on the front if the engine not the back, that they were supposed to be stylish not aerodynamic.  

I bought a 900 new in 1986 and put 200,000 miles on it loving every one.  They are quirky but who isn't?  Forget to put the gas cap on and it runs like crap.  It's a closed system that is now open.  Don't put the oil fill cap on properly and it runs like crap, same reason.  With Blizzaks on all four corners I was totally comfortable in any weather and my experience ice racing a SAAB 96, I  felt I could go anywhere.  Drop the back seat down and you can haul a new hot water heater home.  

I would buy another one TODAY!  Seriously.

RaabTheSaab
RaabTheSaab New Reader
4/29/22 9:55 a.m.

Nothing useful to add, but I loved my '84 sedan 8v non turbo. Very easy to work on, though my particular example needed a lot of love. The driving experience, to me at least, was still 80s euro and I mean that in a good way. It's not the corner carver that an e30 is, but still has a good feel. Image wise, I think 80s Saabs and Volvos no longer scream philosophy professor, but instead scream weird car enthusiast because, well, you have to be to own one. 

Aaron_King
Aaron_King PowerDork
4/29/22 10:55 a.m.

I learned to drive on an 83 900S 4 door that my parents bought new when we lived in Germany and later rolled and totaled it days before I graduated HS in 89.  I never really worked on it but I had lots of fun hooning it around the desert roads around where we lived in California at the time. I REALLY want a 900 SPG but I am afraid that by the time I have the room for one they will be priced out of my reach.

mtn
mtn MegaDork
4/29/22 11:22 a.m.
914Driver said:

I applaud SAAB for being independent thinkers.  Ford gets a better idea and you can bet Chevy and Dodge will have the same one.  SAAB was alone out there in the woods of Trollhattan and didn't know that cars were supposed to be rear wheel drive, that the belts go on the front if the engine not the back, that they were supposed to be stylish not aerodynamic.  

I bought a 900 new in 1986 and put 200,000 miles on it loving every one.  They are quirky but who isn't?  Forget to put the gas cap on and it runs like crap.  It's a closed system that is now open.  Don't put the oil fill cap on properly and it runs like crap, same reason.  With Blizzaks on all four corners I was totally comfortable in any weather and my experience ice racing a SAAB 96, I  felt I could go anywhere.  Drop the back seat down and you can haul a new hot water heater home.  

I would buy another one TODAY!  Seriously.

SAAB people didn't like the 9-5, said it was too much GM, but I'll be damned if that wasn't the best car in the snow that I've ever owned, and by far the best ergonomics of any vehicle I've had. It took about 3 hours of driving time to figure it out... "This is really strange, why did they do it this way"... 20 minutes later... "Wow, how have the other manufacturers not picked up on this?"

Not to mention, 30mpg highway in a vehicle that could handle 4 full sized adults comfortably and all of their luggage, with a 5 speed to boot. 

dannyp84
dannyp84 Reader
4/29/22 11:39 a.m.

A great wealth of knowledge here as usual. The fragile transmissions are probably the most worrisome of the issues listed here, that and the possibility of hard to find parts if something breaks. I already told her the car would need to have a fairly mint interior and body panels, since those are going to be the most expensive and hardest to find pieces I imagine. Now I'm also thinking I'd rather she stay away from the convertibles, if she wants to ride around with the top down she can borrow my FC. 

02Pilot
02Pilot UberDork
4/29/22 12:00 p.m.

In reply to dannyp84 :

From a purely reliability standpoint, my understanding is that the 89+ non-turbo cars have the best chance of transmission survival, due to the lower power output and more robust internals. That's what I've got, and the trans is seemingly fine. The shifter is incredibly vague, and finding fifth is like trying to hit a bullseye in darts while blindfolded and drunk, but it continues to work. I will say that going over to Honda MTF transformed the ease of shifter engagement - highly recommended for this trans.

Fortunately, the interiors seem to hold up really well. Except for the headliners, which all seem to sag. I still have to recover mine.

914Driver
914Driver MegaDork
4/29/22 1:03 p.m.

In reply to mtn :

I wouldn't buy anything after 1992 when GM bought in; that's when they had a lot of brake issues among others.  Then they became rebadged Subies.

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture UltimaDork
4/29/22 1:06 p.m.
914Driver said:

In reply to mtn :

I wouldn't buy anything after 1992 when GM bought in; that's when they had a lot of brake issues among others.  Then they became rebadged Subies.

This is an oft-repeated and totally false statement. There was only ever one Saab made out of Subaru parts, the 9-2X, and it was only sold from 2005-2006. I have no idea how this claim became so prevalent.

With GM's acquisition they were mainly made of reconstituted Opel parts. They aren't bad cars - I actually rather liked the few that I've owned ('99 9-5, '96 900) - but the GM parts binning is very clear and they are extremely difficult to work on for no good reason. They also have insane torque steer and handle like garbage because of a bizarre firewall-mounted steering rack/heavily bushed subframe/unsupported shock tower arrangement.

The real Saab DNA purge happened with the shift to the 9-3 "Sport Sedan" (2004-up). There are merits for and against the 9-5, it had the OG Saab engine until 2009.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim MegaDork
4/29/22 1:09 p.m.

In reply to 914Driver :

Only one model (the 9-2X) was a rebadged Subaru.

The GM models have a bunch of issues, but most of them have known fixes, assuming you can still get the parts. The earlier ones were extensively reworked by SAAB engineers compared to their GM brethren, but that didn't address all of the issues. But the later they get, the more GM they are.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim MegaDork
4/29/22 1:10 p.m.

In reply to pointofdeparture :

Abbott Racing in the UK has a kit that addresses a lot of the "all the torque steer" issues by addressing some of the mounting issues.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
4/29/22 1:26 p.m.
pointofdeparture said:
914Driver said:

In reply to mtn :

I wouldn't buy anything after 1992 when GM bought in; that's when they had a lot of brake issues among others.  Then they became rebadged Subies.

This is an oft-repeated and totally false statement. There was only ever one Saab made out of Subaru parts, the 9-2X, and it was only sold from 2010-2014. I have no idea how this claim became so prevalent.

IIRC it was '06-07.  They were definitely GD chassis cars.  I remember GM had a fire sale where ALL GM products could be had at employee cost, but by the time they announced that, they had completed the run of 9-2 Aeros.  Then they eliminated half their brands.

With GM's acquisition they were mainly made of reconstituted Opel parts. They aren't bad cars - I actually rather liked the few that I've owned ('99 9-5, '96 900) - but the GM parts binning is very clear and they are extremely difficult to work on for no good reason. They also have insane torque steer and handle like garbage because of a bizarre firewall-mounted steering rack/heavily bushed subframe/unsupported shock tower arrangement.

...Yeah.  Opel.  For some weird German reason they liked the high mount racks.  (See also: GM J-bodies, loosely Opel based, and then the Beretta and Corsica which were loosely J-body based...)

The real Saab DNA purge happened with the shift to the 9-3 "Sport Sedan" (2004-up). There are merits for and against the 9-5, it had the OG Saab engine until 2009.

What was up with the 9-4?  I managed to get to drive one and seemed like a great car.  Too little too late.

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