What makes Saabs different from other cars
Purchase advice for Saab 900 Bj 1978 to 1993
by H. Lehmann
GENERAL: chic, practical and reliable - and just a little different!
The old Saab 900 proves that something special can be worthwhile. The unusual appearance and innovative technology of this vehicle attract buyers who love it individually. But the difference does not require a sacrifice in utility - a huge trunk, good road holding with year-round front-wheel drive and excellent workmanship mean that good used 900s are always in demand. Relatively hard suspension and a little tight space in the rear seats are the only drawbacks.
The Saabs before the turbo era were solid middle class with a lot of bought-in and not particularly exciting technology. The only thing that stood out from the crowd was the advanced aerodynamics of the 92 to 96 models, some somewhat quirky details, the construction and standard equipment designed for winter and bad weather, and the list price, which is very expensive in Germany, on the level of the established German competition.
That changed with the model 99 Turbo in 1977. Actually, the turbo engine at Saab was born out of necessity: The market demanded more powerful engines, which at Saab were not allowed to exceed the small budget of the small quantities, neither in development nor in production. In contrast to the aggregates of turbo vehicles from other manufacturers, Saab got the turbo engine ready for everyday use and stable right from the start - the model became a cult vehicle. At the end of the seventies you could hardly buy a cooler sports sedan than the 99 turbo!
In 1978 the Saab 900 debuted as a further development of the Saab 99 and was also available with the turbo engine. The reputation of the predecessor carried over to this model. The front end of the car had been extended to the A-pillar, the passenger cell and the rear of the practical "Combicoupé" body were taken over almost unchanged. With a few external changes, but many further developments in detail, the 900 was built as a modern classic by 1993. Even today, used 900s offer a lot for the money - in addition to tangible practical value, above all an aura of the special.
The disadvantage of the 900 is the potential high costs for parts and repairs. Therefore, it makes sense to keep the operating costs within reasonable limits by consulting an independent specialist with a good reputation in the event of problems. Due to the somewhat volatile sales policy, many current dealers and Saab centers only received their contract after the time of the old 900 - their mechanics are therefore not very familiar with these vehicles.
The vast majority of vehicles on offer have over 200,000 km on the clock. In contrast to other makes, this does not have to mean anything, because 900s achieve high mileage - even cars with high mileage can be bought with confidence in continued reliability. To do this, however, you have to choose a car that has been looked after and has a complete service book - and continue to carry out maintenance at the scheduled intervals. Unkempt and neglected specimens should be avoided at all costs if you cannot or do not want to take any risks.
With the exception mentioned, the engine in the 900 has a displacement of 2 liters, which is distributed over four cylinders. It is installed lengthways and inclined at 45 degrees to the passenger side, has a cast iron block and an aluminum cylinder head. The coupling is at the front in the direction of travel, the valves are controlled by a chain. In the course of the long construction period, different versions of the engine were developed.
The first models of the Saab 900 were mostly equipped with a single or double carburetor engine that achieved 100 or 108 hp without a catalytic converter. These cars are largely extinct in Germany, the remaining specimens are collector's cars, which elude a normal used and used car evaluation. Some of the carburetor models have been retrofitted with a G-Kat, which can be obtained from the 1st German Saab Club.
The 900i with 8 valves and K-Jetronic (85 kW / 115 PS, from around 1985 also available with a regulated catalytic converter and 81 kW / 110 PS) is a brave workhorse and is available in all closed body shapes - it is also the cheapest option To drive Saab 900. However, the consumption of 9-12 l / 100 km normal gasoline is relatively high. In return, the accessibility of all components is good and the service friendliness is also best for do-it-yourselfers.
The 900i 16V from 1988 with 93kW / 126 hp are livelier. The sixteen-valve cylinder head is a much more modern design, which allows higher compression and better gas exchange and thus a better degree of efficiency. Later there was the same engine with a displacement of 2.1 liters and 100 kW / 136 PS (indicated on other markets with 103 kW / 140 PS), which was particularly popular in convertibles. These sixteen-valve naturally aspirated engines are likely to be the best all-round engine, without the hassle of turbo, with good equipment and low fuel consumption (8-10 l / 100 km).
The soft turbo or light pressure turbo (LPT) achieved 104 kW / 141 PS without APC and intercooler. The focus of development was high torque, which is still a high priority at Saab today. The engine can be found in many 900 of the last years 1990-1993. It is possible to upgrade a soft turbo engine to the technical standard of the full turbo model.
Those who value high performance are best served with the full turbo, which is an eight-valve unit with 107 kW / 145 PS without charge air cooler, 110 kW / 150 PS with charge air cooler (114 kW / 155 PS on other markets) and 103 kW / 140 PS with Charge air cooler and G-Kat. Very early versions without APC (boost pressure control via knock sensor) with also 107 kW / 145 PS are likely to have largely died out. The 16 V Turbo achieved 129 kW / 175 PS without and 118 kW / 160 PS with a catalytic converter, and there were also factory-installed, retrofittable tuning levels up to 136 kW / 185 PS. All turbos are more like the old style with tough turbo lag and heavy thrust from around 2,500 to 3,000 revolutions - which is not detrimental to driving fun if you are not driving a tightly winding serpentine route. Then somehow you are always in the wrong gear. However, the high torque puts a lot of strain on both the power transmission and the front tires. The gasoline consumption of the turbos is very dependent on the driving style and is between 8.5 and 15 l / 100 km, whereby the eight-valve engines also need more gasoline than the more modern sixteen-valve engines.
The 900 has a very peculiar design - the gearbox sits under the engine and is locked to the differential. The gearbox housing also forms the oil pan. The gearbox is driven from the clutch via a triple chain that is included in the gearbox's lubrication circuit.
Most 900 have a five-speed manual transmission. Only in the first years of construction were there a few models with a four-speed manual transmission.
The automatic transmission (Borg-Warner) is also installed under the engine. Due to the tight space it has only 3 gears and no torque converter lockup. This is neither beneficial for driving performance nor for fuel consumption - it does not justify a surcharge, on the contrary. Turbo engine with automatic gearbox should be avoided, because with the enormous torque the automatic switch is clearly overwhelmed and quits the service prematurely. A conversion to manual transmission is possible, but quite labor-intensive; a manual battle vehicle from a similar model year should be available.
Model years and facelift
Occasionally encountered and very similar in technology to the Saab 900 are the last models of the predecessor Saab 99 up to 1983/84 and the Saab 90 built as a transition and entry-level model from 1984/85. The latter is effectively a Saab 99 with the 900 Sedan rear.
A tip for lovers of classic cars is the year of manufacture 1979 and partly 1980 for the Saab 900, as the old B-engine was still installed here (afterwards: H-engine). The cars also differ in many details from the later years of construction: wheelbase, front suspension, exterior mirrors, fittings and interior fittings as well as trim strips and grill. Such parts have become rare and are most likely to be found in Scandinavian scrapyards, while almost all wear and service parts are still available.
For the 1987 model, the only major facelift was made on the 900. The bumpers no longer protrude angularly into the airstream, they have been rounded and merge into the front apron. The headlights were adjusted and tilted forward at the bottom. The old model is generally called "Steilschnauzer", the newer model is known as the "Schräschnauzer" headlights.
Technically, the 1988 model year marks a step forward. These vehicles are better in terms of construction and workmanship, and are even less prone to rust, electrical problems or oil leaks in the engine and transmission. The gearbox was improved and the braking system was taken over from the Saab 9000 at this point, the handbrake now acts conventionally on the rear axle. From this model year onwards, ABS could be ordered.
From 1990 the program was streamlined, the eight-valve engines were discontinued, but the soft turbo engine was often used. A driver airbag was introduced shortly before the end of production.
Five-door models with the weaker engines are popular as a safe family car and well-equipped three-door models with turbo and convertibles as collector's cars. The sedan (Saab name "Sedan") from 1981 with two and four doors offers a through-loading option, the rear seat can be folded down just like with the hatchback models (Saab name "CombiCoupé") with 3 and 5 doors. The trunk lid, however, is not very large and does not reach down to the bumper as in the three- and five-door models. The sedan was mainly produced for the US market. The convertible, which is very popular, is based on the 2-door.
Equipment and extras
The basic equipment is limited to power steering, five-speed gearbox (in the first model years there were occasionally four-speed gearboxes) and mostly tachometers and Saab specialties such as heated seats, a pollen filter and headlight washer system. Among the solid colors there are some very typical colors that look strange today. Dark blue, black, white or red are the most common of these. The 900 has a comfortable interior and very good seats. Especially in the "Contour" version with the "semicircles", the press often praised them as the best car seats in the world. All 900 have powerful heating and good ventilation.
Extras are easier to find in the newer years of construction and help to sell the car again later: central locking, sunroof, electric windows and metallic paint would be nice and leather and air conditioning are wanted for the turbos.
Well-preserved leather is a must for convertible buyers, but even in the closed bodies you can often find leather upholstery that can also be easily retrofitted, since only the two front seats and the rear bench are involved, everything else is the same as in the models Velor upholstery.
Cruise controls were sometimes even standard, and retrofitting is also possible here.
Air conditioning systems are in demand for new cars in line with the current trend, but when the 900 was built there were only R12 systems. The air conditioning can also be retrofitted quite easily.
Well-preserved original wooden dashboards and wooden steering wheels or the three-spoke "Aero" rims and other parts from the Saab range of accessories are popular and sought-after.
The 900 Turbo 16 S is the most popular among the turbo models. It is sometimes referred to as "Aero" or "SPG". The "16 S" model is recognizable by the slight lowering and the airflow kit, which means that a top speed of 5 km / h can be achieved. The ideal equipment of the three-door S is: black color, leather, air conditioning and manual transmission. Sometimes such cars are charged (and occasionally paid) fancy prices that cannot be justified.
The demand for Saab convertibles is very strong - a real collector's car. In contrast to the closed bodies, there is often a specimen with a low mileage - but most vehicles have been used as everyday cars and have signs of wear corresponding to their age. Due to the special status of the convertible, there are many expensive offers, especially in spring, in which the substance and care history of the car are out of proportion to the asking price. With patience, time and persistence, a solid 900 / I convertible can also be found at a reasonable cost. Anyone who wants to drive an open Saab should include a copy of the 900 / II or better 9-3 in their considerations. These models have a better price-performance ratio and are sometimes even traded more cheaply than top examples of the predecessor model discussed here.
High prices are particularly demanded for convertibles built in 1993, which actually makes no sense, except that their equipment (airbag) was very good, as in many discontinued series. Among the special series there was the "Monte Carlo Edition" with an engraved badge on the dashboard and bright yellow paintwork and the well-equipped TOP models with soft turbo and airbag from 1993.
Due to the different evaluation of the Saab 900 turbos and convertibles in the European markets, there are also a number of vehicles / convertibles in circulation that were imported from southern Europe (especially Italy). Some of these cars do not have a regulated catalytic converter, which can, however, be retrofitted with a certain amount of effort. Unfortunately, the history of these imported cars, from mileage to maintenance history, is often unclear and often doubtful. Every now and then one also comes across specimens that were quickly prepared with a lot of improvisation for sale to Germany.
WATCH: Control is good, trust is important!
Due to the unusual appearance and the high new price, many of these vehicles were bought new by freelancers. For some people, letting the car be dumped was part of their lifestyle. Despite first ownership, you have to study the bills and the checkbook carefully - but it is easy to spot unkempt cars. Scratches and dents should be avoided as repairs are very expensive. Slight accident damage in the front area is not uncommon, because the massive bumpers almost invite you to park something on contact and the length of the body (longer than the Saab 9000!) Is often underestimated from the driver's seat. The rounder bumpers from 1987 onwards are painted depending on the exterior color and engine type, so scratches are all the more visible. Unfortunately, these parts are quite expensive and difficult to obtain second-hand - so be careful. The angular bumpers from the previous model years, on the other hand, are readily available and inexpensive to get used.
Karosserie + grate
Well-maintained cars have a good body condition regardless of their year of construction and mileage. The paintwork was always thick and hard-wearing, and the rust protection was good. However, neglect and accidental damage can lead to rust pockets. The most common rust spots are the front doors, the front wheel arches, the area of the drive shaft tunnel on the front axle and, sporadically, the bonnet. Unlike many other automobiles, the Saab 900 often turns rust into a beauty issue first, before real inspection problems.
Mechanically, the cars are built to be very durable and are of good quality assembly, but if there are problems they can be very expensive. With good maintenance, many vehicles achieve gigantic mileages beyond 300,000 km without any major problems.
One exception is the transmission - the Saab 900's Achilles heel, at least in the heavily motorized versions. The basic construction of the gearbox was four-speed, intended for the 80 hp of the first 99 and therefore very durable. That is why most of the 900s need a more or less extensive gearbox overhaul for around 200,000 km. The first signs are a howling sound similar to a singing differential at country road speed. If you can hear that in third gear, the damage has already progressed. If you get there early enough, it is enough to replace the bevel gear bearings, but that takes 13 hours of work and the engine has to be removed. A complete replacement transmission from Saab costs over 3000 euros. One should be a little suspicious of overhauled gearboxes. Possibly only what was completely worn out was exchanged for the sale of the vehicle and everything else remained in place. A transmission overhaul on the Saab 900 is a matter of trust.It can't hurt to find out who performed the overhaul and possibly ask the overtaker.
Special features and weak points
Defects in the power steering result in sluggish or tough reactions after a cold start. The container should have clean oil, not thick black broth. The hoses and the steering itself tend to leak. The cost of a new steering gear is around 650 euros without installation.
The exhaust is now quite cheap in the accessory trade, but it only lasts as long as that of other makes - 2 to 4 years depending on use. Earlier original Saab exhausts were more durable. Occasionally, cracks form in the exhaust manifold, especially on the turbo engines and less often on the 900i 16V. Discovered early enough, you can try welding, because a new part costs around 450 euros for the turbo at Saab and around 300 euros at independent parts dealers.
All engines should be checked for rattling timing chains and loud lifters. Eight valve engines do not have hydraulic valve clearance compensation, which is often forgotten. The valves must be checked every 30,000 km and adjusted if necessary. To do this, the camshaft has to be removed and the washer plates replaced - which is unfavorable for do-it-yourselfers. Worn timing chains are difficult to replace, Saab supplies closed chains, for which the engine should be removed (it can be done with a lot of effort and the risk of oil leaks without it), there are also chains with locks from other suppliers. In addition to the chain, the plastic of the chain guides also wears out. These cannot be exchanged without removing the motor.
900 turbos can be just as durable as the weaker ones, but require regular and careful maintenance. An oil change with fully synthetic oil and a filter change every 10,000 km is an absolute must if the loader is not to give up the ghost prematurely. After hard use (motorway) you should let the engine run for a minute in order to cool down the loader. A broken turbocharger can be discovered by briefly depressing the accelerator pedal fully from idle while the engine is warm. A small cloud of blue or white smoke suggests that the big bills are coming. This can happen even 100,000 kilometers ago, depending on how the turbo has been treated so far. Blue smoke from the exhaust generally indicates expensive defects, if the turbo is not defective, the cylinder head is worn out and must be overhauled. The cylinder head gaskets also tend to burn out, many 900 have already installed the second or third head gasket, which is considered to be a wearing part on the Saab. The original Elring seal lasts longer than reproductions. Problems can arise with turbos with frequent replacement of the head gasket. If the cylinder head is planned every time, the compression of the engine can increase and cause thermal problems. The motors then ring at high loads and low speeds. Good fuel therefore makes sense with turbo engines. Even if the catalytic converter is designed for regular gasoline, it can make sense to treat yourself to the good piece of Super 95 or even more knock-resistant types of fuel.
Depending on the driving style, turbos often need new brake pads and occasionally discs. After all, these parts are quite inexpensive. The brake calipers of the models up to and including 1987 with a handbrake on the front axle like to kick out, which is noticeable in a nasty crack when you step on the brake or pull the handbrake while reversing. However, this is a cosmetic defect and does not affect the function or service life of the brake. Occasionally the handbrake of such a model stops working on one side, then new brake calipers are due - the pair costs about 275 euros from a Saab parts mailer.
If the Saab is spongy or there are cracking noises from the area of the front axle, the support joints or tie rod ends are defective, as is the case with many other cars. It is easy to replace and the joints are inexpensive. Nevertheless, these noises should not be taken lightly - other sources of noise are the wheel bearings or the inner rubber bearings of the wishbones.
Bad idling and difficult cold starts are the result of poor maintenance and can often be fixed very cheaply - even if troubleshooting can be tedious. The control units for the injection system, on the other hand, rarely break; other parts of the injection, ignition or charging system are more likely to be defective. Many of these parts come from Bosch and can be obtained more cheaply from Bosch service or from Saab part dispatchers than from Saab directly. There is also a good used parts backup for Saab vehicles. Before you buy something, you should do a cross check with a part that is known to be working to be sure of the source of the error.
The ignition lock between the front seats is always a bit wobbly and on very old 900s they are sometimes so worn out that it doesn't matter which key you put in: they can be turned around with anyone. If reverse gear is difficult to remove, the reverse gear locking ring on the shift lever is worn out.
A sought-after extra is the air conditioning. This has to work, if it doesn't, you have to reckon with repairs between 200 (small air conditioning service) and 800-900 euros (new: compressor, hoses, condenser and filter dryer). It is beneficial if the system has already been converted to R134a, because then the system can be serviced more easily.
The electric sunroof is relatively slow and the engine (in the trunk to the right of the spare wheel) fails in rare cases. The mechanical sunroof, which can be opened and closed with a single movement of the hand, is almost better. The large hatch, which is opened through the sunroof, sits comparatively far in front and provides a very pleasant, almost convertible-like feeling of fresh air - a tip for connoisseurs among the 900 friends.
It is not uncommon for the mileage to be manipulated. The condition of the car and the kilometers on the speedometer should therefore match. This also shows that old bills and checkbooks should be valued, because this is the only way to get an idea of what the respective car is all about and whether its history is credible and understandable.
The convertible top should be free of cracks and without scratches and permanent kinks. Strong signs of wear on the catches of the locking hooks indicate a somewhat careless handling of the car. The standard convertible top hydraulics only need a short time to move the top back and forth; loud cracking noises from the top linkage are suspicious. Spare parts for linkage, hydraulics and sealing strips are extremely expensive, so defects should not be underestimated. The convertible top itself is much cheaper at specialized companies (car upholsterers) than from Saab directly. In the case of a replacement, however, the "Sonnenland" fabric quality installed by the factory should also be used again, because the well-fitting and tight hood is the great advantage of this open car from the north.
Conclusion: buy and avoid
- Well-maintained turbo convertibles at reasonable prices - as summer and fun cars with little loss of value for hardcore Saab fans
- Five-door 900i 16V with sliding roof and beautiful color - as a resilient, versatile family carriage
- Turbo 16 S in dark color with leather and climate - the cult car from Saab, available at architecture student prices ... (but not quite Bafög-compatible in maintenance)
- Other 900 with high mileage, few owners and regular checkbook maintenance - for individualists who want to invest little money, can do one or the other themselves and are not afraid of a little risk.
- Unkempt cars and cars with a suspiciously low mileage - watch out for the trap!
- Badly repaired accident damage with recognizable rust formation - Body work is expensive
- Burnt turbos - turbo mechanics are not cheaper either
- 2-door sedan - the most unpopular model in the 900, poor resale, just a question of price ...
- Used convertibles at moon prices - Convertible-specific parts are almost priceless
- Automatic - makes the car temperamental and thirsty, not even more durable than the manual transmission, poor resale
- Strange solid colors (baby blue or chocolate brown) - what should the neighbors think?
© H. Lehmann, Ladedruck (ätt) gmx.de
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