The "classic" Saab 900 is based on the Saab 99 chassis, though with a longer front end to meet U.S. frontal crash regulations. The 900 was produced in 2- and 4-door sedan, and 3- and 5-door hatchback configurations; in addition, from 1986, a cabriolet (convertible) model was produced. There were single- and twin-carburetor, fuel-injection, and turbocharged engines, including both Full-Pressure Turbo (FPT), and, in European models during the early 1990s, Low-Pressure Turbos (LPT).
Overview ("Classic" or First-Generation)
The Saab 900 is a front-engined, front-wheel-drive compact car with a longitudinally mounted, 45-degree slanted, L 4-cylinder engine, double wishbone front suspension and beam-axle rear suspension. It was originally introduced in May 1978, for the 1979 model year.
Like its predecessor the 99, the 900 contained a number of unusual design features that distinguish it from most other cars. First, the engine was installed "backwards", with power delivered from the crank at the front of the car. Second, the transmission, technically a transaxle, bolted directly to the bottom of the engine to form the oil pan (albeit with separate oil lubrication). Thus, power from the crank would be delivered out of the engine at the front, then transferred down and back to the transmission below, via a set of chain-driven primary gears. In similar fashion, Minis also had their gearbox mounted directly below the engine; however, the Mini gearbox and engine shared the same oil, whereas the Saab 900 (and 99) gearboxes contained a separate sump for engine oil.
Refined over several decades of two-digit Saab models, the 900's double wishbone suspension design provided excellent handling and road feel. The rear suspension comprised a typical beam axle design, stabilized with a Panhard rod. However, the attachment points between the axle and chassis made up an unusual configuration that, in essence, consists of two Watt's linkages at either end of the axle: A lower control arm attaches the axle to the bottom of the vehicle, while an upper link attaches at the top but faces towards the rear, unlike a typical 4-link design with both lower and upper links facing forward.
Early models did not have sway bars; they began appearing on certain models in 1985, and, in U.S. and possibly other markets, became standard on all trim levels by the late 1980s. The sway bars decreased body roll, but at the expense of some ride comfort and when driven aggressively, increased inside wheelspin. The front and rear bars' diameters were unchanged throughout the model's run.
The 900 utilized a deeply curved front windshield, providing the best driver visibility, calling attention to the marque's aircraft legacy. The hatchback, or Combi Coupé cars were exceptionally spacious, if not universally loved for their aesthetics. Also underscoring their aircraft lineage, the 900's dashboard was curved to enable easy reach of all controls and featured gauges lit up from the front. Saab engineers placed all controls and gauges in the dashboard according to their frequency of use and/or importance so that the driver need not divert his gaze from the road for the shortest possible time and by the smallest angle. This is why, for example, the oft-used radio is placed so high in the dashboard. In keeping with the paradigm of its predecessor - the 99 model - the 900 employed a door design unique in automotive manufacturing, entailing an undercutting sweep to meet the undercarriage, engendering a tight, solid unit when the door was closed. This feature also eliminated the stoop in the cabin at the footing of the door, as seen in automobiles of other manufacturers, thereby preventing water and debris from collecting and possibly entering the cabin or initiating corrosion, as well as enabling passengers to enter and exit the cabin without need to step over several inches of ledge.
The 900 underwent minor cosmetic design changes for 1987, including restyled front-end and bumpers that went from a vertical to a more sloped design; sheetmetal body parts were unchanged. Being a small car factory, for economic reasons, Saab kept the basic undercarriage more or less unchanged throughout the 900's production run.
The Saab 900 could be ordered with different options. One highly sought-after option was called the Aero or Sports Package, or, as it was known in the U.S. "Special Performance Group" or, correctly, Sports PackaGe (SPG). The Aero/SPG incorporated (depending on the market and model year) a body skirt; a sport-suspension (1987+) that included shorter, stiffer springs, stiffer shocks, and swaybars; leather seats; premium stereo, and air conditioning. Each of these features could, of course, be ordered independently from Saab's Accessories Catalog for fitment to standard models. Power output varied by model year and market but 900S and 900 Turbo models produced after 1985 were fitted with a 16-valve engine (Turbo of course receiving a turbocharger), while the basic 900 kept the earlier 8-valve engine.
A 1989 Saab 900 SPG owned by Peter Gilbert of Wisconsin, was driven over a million miles, before being donated to The Wisconsin Automotive Museum. Peter Gilbert claimed a million miles out of the turbocharging unit in addition to the engine itself. He was awarded by Saab with a Saab 9-5 Aero.
Saab 900 sedan (US)The 1979 900 was available in three versions: The GL had the single-carb 99 hp/73.5 kW engine, the GLS had twin carburetors for 106 hp/79.5 kW, the EMS and GLE had fuel injection for 116 hp/87 kW, and the 900 Turbo produced 143 hp/107 kW. A five-speed transmission was introduced in the EMS and Turbo for 1980. The only bodywork originally available was the three or five-door hatchback style, which was seen as more modern at the time.
The 900 sedan was introduced in Geneva 1980, as a result of dealer pressure. This introduction corresponded with the phase-out of the old Saab B engine in favor of the lighter Saab H engine. In the early 1980s, most 900s were produced in Trollhättan. However, coinciding with the production of the 9000, more 900's were produced elsewhere. The Valmet plant in Finland, referenced below under the 900C, also produced the non-convertible as evidenced by one previously owned by this author and imported by the SAAB US distributor. The plant in Arlöv (now closed), near Malmö, also produced some 900s.
A big change for 1982 was the introduction of Saab's Automatic Performance Control (APC), a.k.a. boost controller. The APC employed a knock sensor, allowing the engine to use different grades of gasoline without engine damage. Another new feature that year was the introduction of central locking doors (on the GLE and Turbo). Asbestos-free brakes were introduced in 1983, an industry first. A new model also appeared that year in Sweden — the GLi, which used the fuel injected engine.
The year 1985 saw the introduction of the 16-valve DOHC B202 engine. With a turbocharger and intercooler, it could produce 175 hp/129 kW in the Turbo 16 model (less for catalyst-equipped engines). The Turbo 16 Aero [designated SPG, Special Performance Group in North American Markets] had a body kit allowing the car to reach 210 km/h (130 mph). A different grille and 3-spoke steering wheel appeared across all models.
The dual-carb model (and "GL" nomenclature) was gone for 1985. Now, the base 900 had the single-carburetor engine, while the 900i added fuel injection. Two turbocharged models were offered: The 900 Turbo had the 8-valve engine, while the T16S had the 16-valve intercooled unit. The 8-valve turbo had the intercooler the next year, while the 16-valve cars had hydraulic engine mounts. 1986 also marked the introduction of the 900 convertible in North America. Facelifted 1987-93 Saab 900 sedan with flush headlights and integrated bumpers (US)A new grille, headlights, and so-called "integrated" bumpers freshened the 900's look for 1987, though the sheet metal was unchanged. Several common parts for the 900 and 9000 were introduced for 1988 model year, including brakes and wheel hubs. A water and oil cooled turbocharger (replacing the older oil-cooled unit) was also introduced to improve the unit's durability.
In each of the seasons 1987 and 1988, there was a special 'one-make' race series, in the UK, called the Saab Turbo Mobil Challenge, sponsored by Saab Great Britain and Mobil. It was run by the BARC.
The 8-valve engines were phased out in 1989 and 1990, with the turbo versions having been removed in North American markets by the end of 1984; North American 900S models received the non-turbo 16-valve engine for 1986. A non-turbo 16-valve engine replaced the 8-valve FI unit in the 900i (900S in North America) as well, while the carbureted engines were dropped. Larger pinion bearings were fitted to manual gearboxes for 1989 to improve their strength and reliability. A low pressure turbo engine was available in European markets in 1990 as well. Anti-lock brakes were introduced in 1990, and were standard on Turbo models and - along with a driver's side airbag - were standardized for all North American market cars.
A 2.1 L (2119 cc/129 in³) (B212) engine was introduced in 1991. This engine was available in the United States until the end of the original 900, but in most of Europe, this engine was replaced a year later with the earlier B202 because of tax regulations in some European countries for engines with a displacement of more than 2000 cc.
By 1990, the Saab 900 no longer offered the mesh wheels. There was also a change in the door locks, which carried over to the 900NG.
Front seats from the 9000 were standard from 1991 on and electronically adjustable ones were available as an option.
"Classic" 900 production ended on March 26, 1993, with a new GM2900 platform-based 900 entering production shortly afterwards. The final classic convertibles were still sold as 1994 models, with the Special Edition commanding top dollar in the resale market even today.
In all, 908,817 Saab 900s were built, including 48,888 convertibles.
Saab 900 convertible prototype with luggage rack, later available as an accessory.Saab 900 Turbo convertible (US)In the mid 1980s, the president of Saab-Scania of America, Robert J. Sinclair, suggested a convertible version to increase sales. The first prototype was built by ASC, American Sunroof Company (now American Specialty Cars). Similarly, Lynx Motors International Ltd produced two "convertible" models, just prior to the official 1986 launch.
The Trollhättan design department, headed by Björn Envall, based its version on the 3-door hatchback while the Finnish plant used the sturdier 2-door version, which also looked better and was therefore selected for production. The initial production was not planned to be large but the orders kept coming in and a classic was born.
The new car was shown for the first time at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in the autumn of 1983. The first prototype aroused enormous interest and in April 1984, Saab decided to put the car in production at Valmet Automotive in Finland. The production of the first 900 convertible started during the spring of 1986.
The convertible usually had a 16-valve turbocharged engine, some with intercooler, but it was also offered in certain markets with a fuel-injected 2.1 L naturally aspirated engine from 1991 on.
Influenced by General Motors (GM), in 1994 the "New Generation" (NG) 900 SE, based on the Opel Vectra chassis, was introduced. While this design contained styling cues reminiscent of the classic 900, the GM 900 was fundamentally a different car. For many fans of the marque, the GM 900 marked the end of Saab's technology-driven design philosophy and, in their view, the beginning of the dilution of the SAAB brand.
The cabriolet/convertible, however, was made on the 'classic' chassis for an additional year. This model is affectionately known as "The Goose", as, in some markets, the emblem on the back of the SE version reads "Saab 900 SE", which looks a bit like "GOOSE."
In US and Canadian markets, commemorative versions were produced for 1994 featuring special charcoal metallic "Nova Black" paint, a wood dash, black leather piping on the seats and higher-performing engines.
1986–1989 2.0L B201 Intercooled turboSaab introduced a turbocharger in 1978 in its 99 Turbo with the B engine (based on the Triumph Slant-4 engine designed for Saab by Triumph). This engine was also used in early 900 Turbo models, which in export markets made Saab a household brand.
The B-engine was further designed into the H engine, which was used through 1993 (and 1994 cabriolets). The H-engine is very durable. Due to a fairly standardized engine management system, the H-engine can be easily tuned to 197 hp/147 kW; with further bolt-on modifications, to the 247 hp/184 kW range. Saab used Bosch-made mechanical K-Jetronic continuous fuel injection in the fuel injected and 8-valve turbocharged versions, and the Bosch LH 2.2 and 2.4 and Lucas Automotive electronic fuel injection systems were used in the 16-valve versions. The 2.1 L I4 16-valve engine used the Bosch LH 2.4.2 electronic fuel injection system.
What set the 900 Turbo apart from its turbo-equipped competitors, especially in the early- and mid-1980s, was the development and use of the Automatic Performance Control (APC) boost controller. The system allowed the engine to run at the limits of engine knocking. The system had a knock sensor attached to the motor block and if knocking of any kind was present, the APC-system would decrease the charge pressure by opening a wastegate, a bypass to the exhaust. This enabled the use of various octane fuels and also made the use of the turbocharger safer for the engine. Some 900 Aeros and Carlssons had special APC controllers in red and black enclosures (so-called "redbox" APCs) that provided more boost and increased power to 175 hp (130 kW) or 185 hp (138 kW) without a catalytic converter.
At first, Saab used a Garrett turbocharger (T3), which was oil-cooled. From 1988 through 1990, watercooled T3s were fitted. In 1990, Saab fitted Mitsubishi TE-05 turbochargers in the SPG models only for the USA; for other countries, and for the USA from 1991, all 900 Turbos were fitted with the TE-05. Also watercooled, the TE-05 was slightly smaller than the Garrett T3s, providing improved throttle response and quicker spool-up. The TE-05 is unique in that its exhaust inlet flange utilizes a Garrett T3 pattern. 1984–1993 2.0 L B202 T16Engines:
- 1979–1989 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B201 NA, single-carb, 99 hp (74 kW; 100 PS) at 5200 rpm and 163 N·m (120 lb·ft)
- 1979–1984 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B201 NA, dual-carb, 106 hp (79 kW; 107 PS) at 5200 rpm and 165 N·m (122 lb·ft)
- 1979–1989 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B201 NA, FI, 116 hp (87 kW; 118 PS) at 5500 rpm and 168 N·m (124 lb·ft) at 3700 rpm
- 1979–1985 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B201 Turbo, 143 hp (107 kW; 145 PS) at 5000 rpm and 235 N·m (173 lb·ft)
- 1986–1989 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B201 Intercooled turbo, 138 hp (103 kW; 140 PS)-155 hp (116 kW; 157 PS) at 5000 rpm and 235 N·m (173 lb·ft)
- 1984–1993 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B202 16-valve turbo, 160 hp (120 kW; 160 PS)-175 hp (130 kW; 177 PS) at 5500 rpm and 255 N·m (188 lb·ft)-273 N·m (201 lb·ft)
- 1987–1993 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B202 16-valve, NA, 124 hp (92 kW; 126 PS)-128 hp (95 kW; 130 PS) at 6100 rpm and 170 N·m (130 lb·ft)-177 N·m (131 lb·ft)
- 1990–1993 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B202 16-valve low pressure turbo (LPT), 143 hp (107 kW; 145 PS) at 5600 rpm and 202 N·m (149 lb·ft)
- –1994 — 2.0 L (1985 cc) B202 16-valve intercooled turbo (FPT) in the convertible.
- 1991–1993 — 2.1 L (2119 cc) B212 NA, FI, 138 hp (103 kW; 140 PS) at 6000 rpm and 180 N·m (130 lb·ft)
- –1994 — 2.1 L (2119 cc) B212 NA, FI, 138 hp (103 kW; 140 PS) at 6000 rpm and 180 N·m (130 lb·ft) in the convertible.
900 GLi Gold
The Gold special edition was available in the UK in 1981 as the first 900 4-door saloons, these had Turbo Spec Velour Interior finished in either Blue or Black with Gold pin stripes, twin air vent bonnet and fuel gauge showing tank contents in Litres.
The tjugofem (= 25 in Swedish) Saloon was released in a batch of 300 to celebrate SAABs 25th year in the UK. These had the 1985cc 8-Valve engine with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. Interior trim was blue turbo velour with a special gear knob with the cars number. Exterior the model was a standard non-turbo apart from alloy wheels, Tjugofem pinstriping and Turbo style rear spoiler.
900C was built in Uusikaupunki, Finland and in Arlöv, Sweden just outside Malmö, was a late 1980s carburetted model. It used an eight-valve B201 engine with a single carburetor producing 100 bhp (75 kW; 101 PS) . Prototype 900 SPG in Mother of Pearl White. Vehicle shown with US-spec headlamps as originally equipped by Saab for media test drives and reviews.
900 Aero or 900 SPG
In 1984, Saab introduced a high performance model known in Europe as the Aero. In North America, the model designation became SPG (Sports PackaGe but bizarrely called Special Performance Group) due to a model and trademark conflict with GM. The Aero/SPG was the first Saab to be delivered with the 160 bhp (119 kW; 162 PS) 16-valve turbo motor. The concept Aero/SPG vehicles were met with huge acceptance by the motoring community. These prototypes were painted a striking mother of pearl white and had red leather interiors with matching red dashboards. Unfortunately, in testing, the pearlescent white was found to be too difficult to repair in terms of color, and as such, this color was never offered to the public for sale. Only 29 of these prototype Aero/SPGs were manufactured and are considered quite rare by collector standards. The factory retained, and subsequently crushed, 22 of the white prototypes. The remaining seven vehicles were employed as press vehicles for the series launch. Four of the prototypes were sent to the United States. One was wrecked in 1993. The other three are owned by collectors in California, New York and Rhode Island. The three European SPG vehicles are also collector owned, one of which receiving a comprehensive restoration between 2007-2010. In 1985, the first year of consumer production, the Aero/SPG was delivered in black and in silver (in markets other than USA). In Australia the 1985 silver models had a dark red interior, including full red leather. In the US the black cars were featured with tan leather interiors. In Canada and in the rest of the world, the cars were black with red leather interiors. 1985 was the only year of the Aero/SPG when a color other than dark grey was available on the SPG in North America. Production of the SPG was extremely limited and paint color availability varied by year. The final year of production was 1991 in the USA. In total, over the course of six years, just over 7,000 SPGs were built and imported to North America. In the rest of the world, Aeros were equally rare—especially those loaded with leather interiors, A/C and other luxuries considered standard by upscale North American consumers. The SPG is fondly regarded by car collectors and Saab enthusiasts.
The EP was a special Ecopower model for the Italian market. It uses a 16 valve low pressure turbo (LPT) engine and has a pre-heated catalytic converter. It was sold outside Italy with a 900S badge.
1985 SAAB 900CDIn 1977 Valmet had created an elongated executive model of the 99 combi-coupé named "Finlandia". With the introduction of the 900, the concept was transferred onto the new chassis. The "Finlandia" was 20 cm (7.9 in) longer than standard, by adding 10 cm (3.9 in) to both front and rear doors, but only the rear leg room was larger. The idea behind the car was to produce an executive car which would appeal to the Nordic market as an option to big German and American sedans. The first cars were sold as the Saab 900 "Finlandia". These cars made between 1979 and 1982 were combi-coupés, and didn't have the 'CD' designation. Very few examples of these early models were exported. After the more representable 4-door sedan was introduced, the CD designation replaced the nickname and the Swedish Saab headquarters started to officially offer the car for export. The 900 CD was made at the Valmet factory in Uusikaupunki, Finland. At least in the domestic market the cars were essentially built to the buyers wishes. The list of optional extras for the CD included a leather interior, reading lights, rear blinds, footrests, and even an in-car telephone. However, due to the cars special nature and demanding customer base, the trim and technical specifications of some examples can be unique. The Uusikaupunki factory clearly had high aspirations for the car. Valmet even developed a prototype of an even longer, seven seat limousine as a concept car of an official state car.
900 Springtime in Sweden [SIS]
In 1988, Saab commissioned 288 special convertibles, one for each of its United States dealers, as part of the 1988 Dealer Meeting in Sweden. Dubbed the Springtime in Sweden, or "SiS" model these cars are differentiated by their Aero/SPG-like bodywork and 3-spoke wheels. Each car was painted black, with buffalo grey leather interiors and black convertible roofs. Each car was marked with a special "Springtime in Sweden" emblem that was attached to the lower left of the glovebox door. The emblems were all identical and are not serialized. All were Turbo models. Of the 288 built, four were automatics and the remaining 284 had 5-speed manual transmissions. Emblems on the exterior body were deleted in the scheme of the SPG, with only the word SAAB and the Saab-Scania roundel on the trunk appearing on the car. The car was fitted with the standard Saab grille for the period, but did not feature the miniature "turbo emblem." The SPG suspension was not fitted, and aside from the SPG body fairings and dash emblem, the SIS is identical to a standard 1988 900 Turbo Convertible in the black/grey color combination. The cars were sold, one to each dealer, however some dealers used the opportunity to trade their SiS convertible with other dealers in an effort to get other car models (specifically the 9000CD) for sale. Contrary to popular belief, the SIS was not given to the dealers for free. Dealer's paid for their own car, the invoice price even reflected the increased cost of the SPG bodywork. Each dealer did however receive an Orrefors crystal vase, engraved with the Saab-Scania logo, packed in the trunk when the SIS was delivered stateside as a surprise gift. Please note: Some individuals in an attempt to portray provenance of their vehicles, point to a sticker inside the driver's door that reads, in part, "AERO." This sticker was at one time affixed to ALL c900s and does not designate the vehicle as being of the SIS series. The only true/false indicator of an SIS is the inclusion of the glovebox badge and/or the original window sticker.
The Enduro was a special version of the 1980 900 Turbo assembled by Saab Australia; only eleven 900 Enduros were made along with a full body kit as a spare.
The package consisted of large fibreglass wheel arches to accommodate the extra track width front and rear, front air dam and rear fiberglass spoiler fully 2 inches (51 mm) wider than normal. Extra gauges (oil pressure [0 to 500kPa - 0 to 75 psi], battery voltage [10 to 16 volts] and ammeter [-50 to +50 A]) were mounted where the radio usually was. The radio was moved to a new lower centre console that was not fitted to the 1980 model as standard.
The cars were fitted with either gold or black-centred (depending on body colour) Simmons 'P-4' 3-piece composite alloy 7.5x15" wheels. The overall outside edge-to-edge distance is 4-inch (100 mm) wider at the front and 9 inches (230 mm) at the rear over a 900 Turbo of the day - mainly to decrease the roll centre height and improve turn-in response. Tyres were 225/50VR15 Pirelli Cinturato both front and rear.
Suspension was improved with 290 mm (free length) by 17 mm 368 lb 7.1 turn springs up front and 300 mm (free length) by 16 mm 484 lb 9 turn springs at the rear. Steering caster was set to +2.25 deg +/- .25 deg, camber to -1.75 deg +/- .25 deg and toe in was 2.5 mm +/- 0.5 mm.
To increase performance, the wastegate was set at 17 psi (1.2 bar), which delivered a claimed 175 hp (130 kW) from its 8-valve B201 slant-4 engine. Upstream water injection came standard.
Paint was a 2-pack Dulux Acran enamel and came in at least four known colours: "Aquamarine Blue Metallic" and a very light green (almost white) referred to as "Marble White". There was at least one Enduro painted in "Solar Red" and a fourth in "Acacia Green Metallic". The hood, side window frames and rear deck were painted in Dulux GT Satin Black. Large "ENDURO" stripes were emblazoned on the hood, the rear deck and along both sides at sill level, although not all vehicles were treated to the "Enduro" hood graphics.
900 'Lux' with ToppolaThe Lux was a special model available 1983 and 1984. It came in a two-tone paint, usually Slate Blue metallic on top and silver below.