So after selling the Sidekick, I assumed the ownership of my partner John’s Saab 900. It was the last year of the long-lived original 900 platform, having originated in 1969 as the Saab 99.
It was an interesting looking car, a three-door hatch in a gunmetal grey colour. The interior was a comfortable grey velour, and Saab’s legendary front bucket seats with integral front headrests were as comfortable as their reputation would lead one to believe.
Great seats. For sitting while waiting for a tow
Mine was a non-turbo 2.3 liter engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. I would say the engine was pretty gutsy from a performance standpoint, definitely a league or two above the smaller fours in either of my previous Suzuki products. The shifter itself was rather odd, it felt imprecise and needed to go into reverse in order to remove the key from the ignition on the centre console.
I also remember thinking the interior sure looked old-school for a vehicle made in the early 90s, although the general interior quality was not bad. The headliner, however, was starting to droop (something I’ve since learned is a common affliction of 900s of this vintage).
While the trunk area of this car was huge, the interior itself was rather small. However the visibility was great; I think the best of any car I’ve ever had.
I’d like to say that this car was great and I had many adventures with it, but sadly that wasn’t the case. Only a few months after John gave it to me, I was driving down a street in Prescott (where I was working as a reporter at the time) and I suddenly heard an awful clunk and then a scraping noise. The entire exhaust from the manifold back was dragging on the ground behind me.
After that, the car became a maintenance nightmare. First the alternator quit on a trip back from Kingston, then the starter went as I was driving back from my garage to have the alternator replaced. After that the front CV joint on the left wheel broke, then the electronics started doing funny things, blowing fuses and leaving important features like the cruise control and then the windshield wipers inoperable.
I was close to the end of my rope with this car. It had left me on the roadside three times in eight months, and cost me more than $2,500 in repairs. I was done.
Around that time I started looking for other vehicles. I’d always liked the 2000-2005 Pontiac Bonneville and found one within my price range at a used car lot in Ottawa. I paid $6800 for a 2004 one with a leather interior (but, curiously hubcaps instead of alloy wheels, and lacking a spoiler). It was a daily rental but, I reasoned still had some life in it at 160000 ams.
The used car lot gave me $600 on trade for the 900. Ironically, about the same amount John wasn’t willing to let it go for a year before.
More than anything, my 900 was an important lesson about the cost of ownership of an older European car. It sated my appetite for any sort of vehicle from across the pond for quite some time – but not forever, as a future COAL will illustrate.