I’ve been writing for CC for nigh on five years now and authored over 350 posts. I realize that’s peanuts compared to many distinguished CContributors (not to mention our dear Editor, whose copious output remains a daily source of amazement and joy), but still I thought I had bagged and tagged nearly all of the major Asian and European makers by now. Nearly is the operative word: I had not yet caught a Saab. For shame!
Trouble is, catching one of these sweet Swedes is easier Saab than done. There aren’t too many around in my current neck of the woods, but when there’s a will, there’s a classic 900 sitting patiently in a decently-lit car park. Sure, I would have preferred an early model 99 (I saw one in motion once last year, but failed to document it) or something from the two-stroke era (one can dream), but at least this 900 is not the sad Scandinavian Opel substitutes that Saabs later became.
However, the challenge of finding a subject to post having been overcome, the next hurdle now becomes: what in Thor’s name can one write on the 900 Turbo that hasn’t been written already on CC? There are few European cars that have been featured more times than this one. Just look at the “related posts” section at the bottom of this article: the 900 Turbo has had its day, as well as its morning, its evening and its night on CC.
So what can be said about this Saab that has not yet been written on these very pages before? Most of the 900s seen on CC so far have been three-door liftbacks, but the one I found is the slightly less common four-door saloon. Those came a bit later in the model’s life: the 900 was launched in 1978 as a 3- and 5-door hatchback, but the notchback only made it to dealerships in 1981, right when the pendulum of automotive fashion was moving from hatches back to the old three-box paradigm.
What a strange design it is, though. It’s so familiar, yet when you look at it now, it’s marvelously complex and quintessentially “Saab.” It’s like a reluctant notchback, with that droopy rear end and that curiously arced rear window. This car went completely against the ‘80s styling trends that prevailed when it was born and that should have dictated a far more rectilinear, bulky and raised rump.
Instead, we have a pouty butt that looks reminiscent of the Renault 12 or the Isuzu Florian. I guess Saab never fully updated the 99 (launched back in 1967, though the 4-door only appeared in 1971), but just facelifted it here and there over many years and added 801 to the numeral for good measure. This scheme was attempted by many other carmakers, but only the wizards of Trollhättan could keep a ‘60s design looking reasonably fresh for this long.
Our feature car has Saab’s own 2-litre 16-valve DOHC 4-cyl., which should be churning out something like 173hp by that stage of its long production life. It’s mated to a 5-speed manual, naturally, sending all that cavalry to the front wheels.
Saab is perhaps the only carmaker that only produced FWD designs in its first 50 years – until the GM badge-engineering machine made a few SUVs wear a Saab emblem, just prior to the marque’s demise. I’d rather not think about that – what a waste…
As per many exotic saloons of a certain age, this Saab is LHD. Most Alfas, BMWs and Jags of the ‘90s I’ve encountered in Japan were also like this – yes, even the RHD-from-birth British cars. This tradition is starting to change a bit: I surveyed a Benz dealership recently, and most cars on the lot were right-hookers. But the fancier and sportier ones still favour wrong-hand drive.
And a Saab 900 Turbo is a fancy car by default. Few Saabs made it to Japan, compared to Volvos. That’s likely due to the importer, a department store chain called Seibu, which imported various marques including Citroëns, Fiats, Saabs and Ferraris from the ‘60s until the mid-‘90s. The importer’s logo is usually on the rear window – sure enough, this Saab has one right under its third brake light.
Many car marques distributed by Seibu were eventually poached by Yanase – including all GM brands, such as Saab – who also successfully imported boatloads of Volvos, BMWs and, to this day, Mercedes. But even then Saab never really took off, so sightings here are very rare, even with the newer GM-designed stuff.
Rare though it may be in Japan, the Saab 900 sure has had more than its fair share of attention on CC, so I hope you’ll forgive my piling on yet another article on this sweet Scandinavian sled. The more the merrier, right? At least, this’ll be the first of 2021 – a decade after Saab’s passing.
COAL: 1983 Saab 900 – My Saab Story, by Jerseyfred
COAL: 1993 Saab 900 S – Saab Story #1, by Saabaru
CC Capsule: 1991 Saab 900 – The Quintessential Saab, by Brendan Saur
Vintage Review: SAAB 900 Turbo, by Yohai71
Cohort Outtake: Saab 900s – Kissing Cousins?, by Perry Shoar