Given that all subsequent Saabs were built on platforms shared with other brands, the Saab 900 may well be considered the last “true” Saab. It represents the culmination of the classic Saab style, with its swept-back windshield, fastback, giant hatch and longitudinal engine orientation. No wonder that this one is in such great shape still; lovers of these cars know there will never be a true replacement for them.
I spotted this 900 in the same parking lot where I found its 9-4X relative not too long ago. While it’s a very similar car to the 1992 900S that Jim Grey showed us last year, this pristine Saab was just too perfect to pass up. Whereas the boxier 9000 was somewhat of a design departure for Saab, the 900’s design was a direct evolution of styling that dated back to the Saab 99 of in 1968, and even hints at the original Saab 92 of 1949. Left largely unchanged over its relatively long sixteen-years (1979-1994), the “Classic 900”, as it’s come to be known, helped expand Saab’s loyal owner base in the U.S.
Unlike Jim Grey’s 900S, this example is a simpler base-model 900. Its combination of headlight washers, driver’s side airbag, and 24-spoke wheel covers lead me to say with confidence that this is a 1991. The “16-Valve” trunk badge identifies the naturally-aspirated 2.1L under the hood.
In his recent sighting of an earlier-model 900, Paul commented on how rare these “Classic” 900s are becoming. That’s certainly the case where I live. However, one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that Saab owners tend to hold on to their cars for a long time and take care of them. I have a strong feeling that this 900 is a one-owner car, based on some observations.
First of all, its female driver appeared old enough to have had a driver’s license in 1991. It also features one of the green Massachusetts license plates, which were last issued in the previous millennium. Finally, there’s its vintage-looking “Shaw Saab” dealer badge on the rear. Shaw Saab was located about two miles up the road from where I found this car; it’s now Herb Chambers Lexus. I could be wrong, but there’s no doubt that this 900 is in loving hands, and will hopefully grace our streets for many more years.
Related reading: 1971 Saab 99 CC Saab: The Eulogy (History)
I cannot look at one of these without reliving my brief but torrid love affair with a black Saab Turbo in 1985. I test drove one and was completely smitten. Unfortunately, it proved to be a few thou beyond my modest means as a newly graduated lawyer. I still remember the literature telling me that “only idiots use red lighting for instruments. We make aircraft and know that red lighting does you no good in traffic conditions, green is much more visable.” Or something like that.
I remember two of SAAB’s advertising slogan’s from back in the days of my youth in the UK.
One was; “Go Swift………Go Safe………Go…….SAAB”
About as perfect as you can get.
Then, after what seemed like decades of the above they switched to:
“SAAB……..nothing on Earth comes close”
which was playing up their aeronautical heritage with visuals of their Viggen (sp?) fighter prominent in the ads.
Probably particularly memorable to me because this was during the formative era of my life but I think I have never seen better advertising slogans than those.
I was enjoying this CC…until “the green Massachusetts license plates…were last issued in 1987”. A common myth! The green plates were actually issued until 1993 or so, and the stock took until 1997 to run out for good (fleet vehicles and pickups)!
The confusion stems from the fact that the Spirit of America base was introduced in 1987. However, it was not initially used for normal passenger issues – only for vanity and extra-cost “reserve” plates. ALL normal passenger plates were green until some time in 1993.
It was September 1993. I got one of the last ones. One, because after the green plates, all subsequent Mass. registrations required both front and rear plates.
MT beat me to it this time. While the Spirit of America plates were first introduced in 1987, they were used only for specialized types of plates at first (e.g., commerical, handicapped, vanity, reserved, etc.). Green-on-whites continued to be used for all regular passenger car series plates until around 1993 or 1994, and the last of the stock of the green-on-whites wasn’t completely exhausted until around 1997. See also discussion under the following posts:
When this car was new in 1991, every single vehicle in the state with a regular passenger car series plate had a green-on-white plate.
Brendan wrote “last millennium”…I think we can all agree that’s true.
Looks like Brendan corrected it. Thanks!
Saw one on a flat bed yesterday. Same color, too.
I owned an ’88 900 S 16-valve sedan for about six months in 2003. It was somewhat of a heap, despite only having 100k miles, but I loved it anyway.
I can’t decide which year I love the most. 1988s got better brakes from the 9000, 1989s lost the seatbelt warning squawk (a negative in my book) and Turbo sedan option. But the 1990s got ABS and an airbag, but 1991s, while losing the chrome trim, got headlight washers, the 9000’s seats (maybe only with the power option) and fourteen more, much needed horses. The ’92s and ’93s got gauges which were not as nice to look at, also. The gearboxes were also improved in 1991.
I prefer the two and four door sedan versions of the 900, as I feel like the whole hatchback design is played out and doesn’t fit the car as much as the three box design. Make mine a 1990 sedan, I guess, and I’ll swap in the old seatbelt buzzer. I don’t mind the naturally aspirated engines one bit.
I own a 1993 900S. My opinion is the 2.1 16 valve has exactly enough power, anything less would be inadequate. I like the gauge design of the 92-93. It doesn’t look as dated and 80’s-esque as the graphics on the earlier version. Somewhere in the early 90’s they switched from Bridge of Weir leather to a Scandinavian source and the former is more durable.
When did they start offering the rear spoiler on the base?
I like all of the body styles, I could never pick a favorite. IMO the 2-door hatch looks the coolest, the 4-door hatch and sedan are both awesomely weird and the 2-door notch recalls the 99 most closely, which is my favorite Saab shape.
I’ve driven both 16V and Turbo cars (but never an early 900 or 8V) and both are great. I consider them pretty close to perfection for this class, at least in terms of what I personally look for in a car.
I have an ’87 four-door that I shot…I now have impetus to finish it…
I absolutely LOVE IT!! I’m interested to see that she parked it leaving the key in the ignition – one can only remove a SAAB key when the gear shifter is in reverse, as it doubled as a transmission lock long before such a thing was mandated, and that one is in first. When I had a ’74 99 “Wagonback”, I left the key in most of the time, knowing that nobody knew where to look for it. No center console in those days, so the key was in the floor between the seats.
Also, many folks misunderstand the idea behind the key-in-the-floor thing. Many think it is just a quirk, but, in reality, it was a mid-’60’s era anti-theft device, because it locked the shifter in reverse, and who would steal a car that is locked in reverse?
Typical SAAB out-of-the-box brilliance.
The interlock on my 1993 is busted and you can remove the key even when the engine is running and my Saab mechanic said this is common. Evidently if you don’t know to put the car in reverse to remove the key it is quite easy to bust the interlock with force.
I always thought that SAAB put the ignition key on the floor so it wouldn’t be a hazard in a collision; no key sticking from the dash to impale your knee.
Anyway, whenever I hear reference to a black SAAB 900, I immediately think of this
So common when I was younger, and so rarely seen now. The last I remember was a friend’s in college; it was a 1985 and he had inherited it from his parents. He finally got rid of it around 2007.
To me these old Saabs, while not my personal taste, are like vintage Dansk kitchenware on wheels. Yes, I know that’s Danish, not Swedish. But you can see why people bought them, for their sleekness and innovation.
Delayed CC effect, I saw one of these three weeks ago but didn’t have my camera with me. Same red color, too!
You should’ve left a note on the windshield asking if you could buy it. (I do that sometimes on Volvos I deem to be clean and worthy.)
Did you get to talk to whoever was driving it?
Yeah I’ll be honest, I was quite infatuated with this car. It has been a dream of mine to one day own a Saab of similar vintage, although I’d probably opt for a Classic 900 turbo convertible for the added fun factor.
I sadly did not get a chance to talk to the woman driving it, but I’ve seen this car before in the exact same parking spot too. It’s likely that I’ll see the car again, and I actually would like to casually ask her about it.
These are cool. They were quite the fashion statement for a while. Surprised to see the manual windows, I always figured they came fairly fully loaded.
Yeah Saab did still offer a base model 900 like this one. I doubt many buyers went for it.
The base was actually an incredible deal. In 1988 when I got mine, the base was about $5,000 less than the S with leather, and the S with leather was about $5,000 than a loaded turbo. I think my base was $14,400 and the S was about $19,500 and the Turbo around $24,500. The base was around the same price as a VW GTI. The turbo was in BMW and Mercedes territory.
Love this Saab! My first Saab was a 1988 900 base model, Navy Blue with a light blue interior. I think the 1988 was actually better looking than this model, as it had chrome window trim, chrome door handles (I think), and very attractive stainless steel hubcaps!
That said the 8-valve engine was definitely slow and I’d agree with the other commenter that the 16-valve engine was pretty perfect.
Equipment on the base ’88 was crank windows, automatic heated seats that worked perfectly, power locks and power antenna, removable cassette deck/radio, air conditioning and that’s about it.
The key between the seats with the reverse lock on the transmission certainly started off as a cool feature and became second nature, but was in my view a flawed design. With no cup holders in those days, I would rest cold drinks in between the seats directly above the key. Unbeknownst to me, condensation was collecting in the ignition only to freeze the ignition in the winter. I’d regularly be sitting in my car, heating my key with a lighter multiple times before I could turn the key!
Each time I’d put the car in reverse, the gear would clunk, until the reverse gear developed a noise at around 35,000 miles. I didn’t get the car in to the dealer until after the warranty ran out at 36,000 miles, and I had apparently lost a tooth in the reverse gear. When pressed, Saab covered 60% of the labor and 100% of parts on the repair, and I always assumed they’d seen that problem before.
Other than that, the car was very reliable and one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. The only car I’ve ever driven 100,000 miles (well almost 100k, I had it from 46 miles to 97,xxx). I definitely think the 900 it had a great handling balance. It was truly incredible on curvy roads with uneven pavement. Unflappable unless you had to slam on the brakes, in which case the rear would come around.
I had a ’99 9-3 turbo 5-speed stick, 5 door which had way less body roll, but was not as solid at high speed. And I had a 2003 (I think) 9-5 wagon which had incredible handling but a terrible 5-speed auto and a low driving position and some interior cheapness that contributed to the end of my Saab ownership.
Now I really miss Saab and want to find another 900 base just like mine!
In 1993 or so, I had a friend who drove a first-generation bare-bones Tercel and finally could afford to replace it; he’d made the finals of (although didn’t win) the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. I tried to interest him in a 900 just like this one on the display floor. To my dismay, he ended up getting a Saturn coupe.
For some bizarre reason, John Gardner put James Bond in a 900 turbo for the first few ‘continuation’ novels starting with ‘Licence Renewed’ in 1981. IIRC, one of the novels features a track race between the Saab and the baddie in a Shelby Stang. Of course, Bond won.
Those books were part of the reason I became a Saab fan. It was a very interesting choice of car in retrospect. When I was twelve it made perfect sense…
Same. You’re not a 1969er as well, are you?
What do you think of the latest effort in putting Bond behind the wheel of an FF Interceptor?
I decided long ago that I’d wait for “Saab week”, “Swede week”, or what-have-you to tell my Saab stories. Despite my mere months of total Saab ownership, writing it all down will be a bit of an undertaking.
Short version: I’ve had three, all of which put me through untold amounts of hell, and all of which were sold at the first opportunity. They weren’t bad cars; I just seem to have some sort of Saab curse on my head.
I’ve heard nothing negative about any of them from subsequent owners… it was ME that those cars hated, apparently.
Saab #1: 1989 900 turbo vert, auto, white paint/black top/red leather – 140K – supposedly just had a bad keyswitch, got it running and found the tranny was shot. Replaced it with another, which also turned out to be junk. Found Saab #2 while looking for another replacement; ended up parting the car out.
Saab #2: 1990 900 turbo vert, 5spd, white paint/black top/tan leather – 95K – barn find whose discovery led me through all sorts of mis/adventures. Eventually received all the best of Saab #1 (including the red interior), and was sold to a neighbor for summer cruising and parade use for her business.
Saab #3: 1988 900 turbo vert, 5spd, black paint/tan top/tan leather – 31K – bought it almost exclusively because of its hard boot cover, which the neighbor was willing to pay good money for. Clearly the most desirable of the bunch, if one was willing to tolerate its slightly cobbled-together nature. One notable oddity: the like-new navy blue top I installed, to replace the ratty tan original.
I intentionally used up all my leftover Saab parts on #3, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to buy another after it sold. So far, so good!
Couldn’t resist posting one more 🙂
Further weirdness: The black Saab arrived with these gold wanna-be BBS rims installed. I always thought a black 900 with cross-spokes would look good… until I actually saw it all together. Yeesh.
I happened to have a set of ’91+ directionals on the rack with almost-new oversize tires mounted, so I slapped them on instead. SPG wheels they weren’t, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Ended up selling the mock BBSes to some kid with an old Audi, who kept saying “cheers” to me repeatedly as we did the deal. Just excited to get them, I ‘spose.
A former work acquaintance has a late 80s/early 90s 900 convertible as his daily driver. I asked him about it last year and he said it was his second (he bought his first new) and that he’d driven it daily for many years. I commented that it looked to be in great order and he replied that was an illusion – the majority of features (a/c, p/w, central locking, alarm, roof etc) have long since ceased to function, and it keeps costing money mechanically. Despite this, the owner loved it to bits and couldn’t think of anything he’d like to upgrade to. I guess he typifies really well the Saab owners who (like Brendan notes) tend to hang on to their Saabs for a long time!
I have a mate who received two 900s from various members of his family. When driving, I was struck by how narrow it felt inside. They both eventually fell away.
Interesting about the narrow feeling – back in the ’90s I was seriously looking at an E30 BMW 325i to buy. The main reason I pulled out was the gutless engine (must have been an ETA), but the secondary reason was how narrow it felt inside. I imagine that’s the feeling you experienced with the Saab. My old Mk I Escort was narrower, but didn’t feel it. Weird huh!
Yep. My cars have mostly been larger, but I did enjoy some time with a 76 Toyota Crown and a 74 145 Ovlov, which both felt right. So too does mum’s 08 Corolla.
Great looking car, always did like this bodystyle.
I agree that this vintage Saab was that last true Saab, but for me the quintessential Saab was the the 1977 Saab EMS notchback that I purchased new. The 900 vintage looked a bit bloated to me in comparison, though I would not refuse a good one if the opportunity arose.
I had a ’93 one of these in gunmetal grey. I loved the way the car looked and the comfortable seats. Was less enamoured with the imprecise shifter, saggy headliner and clunky suspension. I drove it for less than a year; in that time I had to replace the alternator, ball joints, exhaust, starter…and then the electronics started to go bad. I traded it in on an ’04 Bonneville which was much, much cheaper to fix, although less fun to drive. I now have a ’98 318i; considering that it is (was?) a contemporary of the 900 at that time, I’m surprised how much more solid and well-engineered it feels; although the 1.8 liter doesn’t sound as nice as the whirly-sounding 900 did. Overall, I feel that this design appealed to a wide swath of individualists who didn’t recognize that the germans (and even other Swedish manufacturers) were making overall better cars by the end of its lifetime. I vowed never to buy another old European car again; but as you can see, I did.
“less enamoured with the imprecise shifter”
And I thought I was the only one. Classic 900s are the one vehicle in which I consistently have an issue with finding gears – fifth in particular. Many is the time when I went 1-2-3-4-3-oops-5
The last time I was in Massachusetts, which was around 2002-2003 I think, the streets of Boston were littered with Saabs. They’ve always been very popular here, too, but I’ve never seen such a remarkably high concentration anywhere outside of Beantown.
Here’s this car’s Turbo twin (another mint, red ’91 2-door hatch):
If this person loves their Saab why are they drying it in the winter, New England is brutal to cars. Could this car be a Turbo? I thought only Turbos had the squishy rubber spoiler. Interesting mix match of options, this Saab has the base radio instead of the sound system with the light cluster that moves to the music. Since this Saab has crank windows (which is not terribly common) I wonder if it has power seats and heated seats. U.S vehicle laws do not require fender based turn signals (I dunno why seems like a good idea) or headlight washers and wipers, but I hear the Massachusetts safety inspection is so strict that those items has to be functional in order to pass. This sure is a lovely car, I like the Greenie and the owner must love it enough to replace the faded roundels.
My folks had a stripper model 87 900 with no spoiler and just a 900 badge. That car made us about $800 at one point because we got sideswiped by a Tempo and the bumper cover just needed some screws to stay in place. My dad let me and others paint the car with an art car theme at some point because at my young age I was inspired by Herbie and the movie Wild Wheels.The brake lines on that Saab rotted out by late 2002 and the car was only worth $250 by then due to 250K miles and loads of rust so we donated it to charity.
My grandparents had nothing but Saabs from when they moved to America in the mid-1960s to December 2000 when granny bought a Volvo. They had an early 90s 900 totaled by black ice and they had another early 90s 900 totaled by a horse in the road. Or maybe one of those was a 99. Anyway, they bought two used 88 900 Turbos which were a hoot and the last one just got turned into parts a few years ago. After fixing the rust at least once and cannibalizing numerous other Saabs the body was too rusty to put on a lift. I kind of learned stick shift in that Saab, much harder than a mid-90s Legacy.
My Uncle has a 93 900 with over 400K miles on the body shell and frame and it is nearly a 2 decade inhabitant of New York City. Recently he got hand controls installed in his 9-3 which is good, the 900 is loooong in the tooth. My Aunt may be inheriting a mid-80s Saab 900 sedan shortly with what she calls the gutless wonder engine, so that would be the family’s 7th 900 and umpteenth Saab.
“I hear the Massachusetts safety inspection is so strict that those items has to be functional in order to pass.”
The turn signals, probably, but I doubt any wipers other than the windshield wipers have to work.
In any case, this Saab only has to go through the basic safety inspection. It is exempt from the MA emissions test since it is more than 15 years old (take THAT, Californians…oh wait, we’re preparing for the millionth snowstorm of this year)!
Same thing in New York, 1995 and older do not have to pass emissions testing. Good luck finding a pre-1995 non commercial vehicle in daily usage in New York, it was hard enough when I left there 1.5 years ago.
As soon as you cross over the border from California to Nevada, Arizona, or Oregon you do not have to have your 1976-current vehicle pass smog. Kind of funny actually just how much a difference state borders make if you think about it.
I love how well the bright colors combined with the black trim that was so popular back then like on this beautiful Saab. The ’78 Porsche 911 SC and ’79 Volvo Turbos were leaders in that look. Others in the game were the ’77 Capri II and ’77-78 Rabbit and Scirocco.
But the 80s sedans did it best. Volvo 740T, Saab 900, Alfa Milano, BMW 3, Mercedes 190e, Merkur XR4ti and Maxima SE.
Cars were just the right side, relatively light and looked sporty. Each make had a distinctive look that defines the brand to this day. What a great era that was.
I sure do miss my 88 900 turbo. was my dream car from the the of 14. I got mine in 2005. set about repairing the years of neglect. owned it until late 2008 when it was flatbed towed home for the 8th time in a month. I sold it non running to a neigh not for the SPG rims. I loved that car,and hope to find another,better one next time. I sure learned how to repair it…….intil the last episode. replacing old sensors and relays. I finally gave up. bought a $400 Subaru that lasted 4 years and 50k miles……miss that car too!
Do want. It’s red.