Gas Station Classic: 1986 Saab 900 Turbo – Sixteen Candles

I received my driver’s license on my 16th birthday in the fall of 1985.  Just like Samantha Baker, my dream car was not in the driveway either when I awoke that morning although on the bright side my family did remember that it was in fact my birthday.  However, 32 and a half years later, the same exact car that I was hoping to awaken to was next to me at my local gas station in Northern Colorado, being driven by a pleasant bearded fellow…

Oh, what would I have given to be able to pilot a new 1986 Saab 900 Turbo into the school parking lot that day.  But there was no way that was going to happen at Casa de Klein, not that car, not any new car, not at that time anyway, the $19,000 base price in late 1985 dollars was well out of range.  Still, this was one of the cars I was in love with at the time and spent a fair amount of time at the dealership looking at.  Dark red over tan leather, three-door, 5-speed manual, turbo, what could have been better?

Powered by a turbocharged 2-liter 16V 4-cylinder engine producing 175hp and backed by a 5-speed but only weighing around 2800 lbs, these could really scoot back in the day. Front-wheel drive, excellent visibility, and a wonderfully upright seating position made for excellent all-weather capabilities along with all-day driving comfort.

Looking inside brings back lots of memories, I’d spent lots of time trying that steering wheel on for size while gazing at the gauges in the showroom of Livingston Saab/Peugeot/Pontiac on Topanga Blvd in Woodland Hills (Wow, that dealer kind of chose the trifecta of doom, didn’t he?).  The little turbo gauge at the top right of the panel, everything else arranged just so nice and high without anything buried way down low, the stick shift falling to hand just ahead of the ignition between the seats…

This particular example showed a bit over 210,000 miles on the odometer, chatting with the owner while we filled up revealed that the engine was original, but the turbo had likely been rebuilt along the way.  Back then the turbo on this engine was only oil-cooled and not yet water-cooled.  He also told me that last summer he had driven it all the way to Alaska (and back), he wasn’t 100% positive it would make it, but it did so without any trouble.

The icing on the cake for me was probably the wheels.  While not original to this car as they date from an earlier year and weren’t offered anymore for 1986, this style, named “Inca”, is one of my favorite alloy wheel designs of all time and was introduced back in 1977 on the original Saab 99 Turbo at the Frankfurt Auto Show.  They were then used on the 99 and 900 Turbo until the early 1980’s.  It’s a nice touch to see them on this particular car.

We finished filling up at around the same time; I heard him twist the key and the engine started right up with that characteristic Saab burble.  He put it in gear and pulled out ahead of me, doubtless enjoying driving what should have been my car (dammit!).  Who knows, if this had in fact been my first car, my COAL series may have been a very short, one-post event instead of what it turned out to be and I’d still be at the same gas station at the same time but filling up this car instead of a different one.