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Saab 900 Turbo – A Forgotten Classic

Saab, though now a bygone car company, was once a respected manufacturer with a reputation for sound engineering and good-ol’ Swedish safety standards. Though it eventually met an untimely demise and was sent to an early grave, it’s story isn’t all doom and gloom. We need not mourn just yet—certainly not while the brand’s flagship Saab 900 is still on the road.

The successor to the 99, the Saab 900 was a front-wheel drive, mid-size luxury car known for its quirky mechanics, intriguing design language, steadfast durability, and cult following.

Introduced to the world in 1978, the 900 “Classic” was originally dreamt up as a placeholder for a more refined Saab, a theoretical vehicle that would be considered worthy of the 99’s decade-long inheritance. Ironically, the 900 not only outlasted the 99’s legacy but also rivaled that of its successor’s, the 9000.  

It was built to endure the Swedish winter, by engineers who were concerned with creating a car that was as safe as it was heavy—the reason why they’re often referred to as “Swedish Bricks”, along with Volvo, naturally. Add a healthy dose of thoughtful ergonomics and respectable performance, and you were in for a good time, and a long time. Built to last, the 900 was an investment for people of all walks of life; it was a bare-bones vehicle with everything you, your kids, and their kids needed to get from point A to point B for decades to come.

If you wanted to get from point A to point B faster, however, there was a better option—the 900 Turbo. Though initially available in 1979, the turbocharged 900 wasn’t in its prime until 1984, the same year Europe saw the release of the new intercooled 16-valve DOHC B202 power plant. Good for 175 horsepower in the Turbo 16 variant, the revised motor was robust enough to put the Saab’s performance on the map. Performance enthusiasts were then gifted the 900 Turbo Aero (SPG in North America) shortly thereafter, a modified turbo model with a unique body kit that funneled air more efficiently around the car, allowing it to reach its new top speed of 130 miles-per-hour.
On top of perfected aerodynamics, it was also fitted with a stiffer suspension, beefier sway bars, and the craziest three-spoke wheels you’ll ever see. For comparison, the SPG was pushing out of its small-displacement four-banger roughly 85 more horsepower than the VW Rabbit GTI of its time. In other words, it was as much of a durable commuter as it was a front-wheel drive hot hatch ready to spool its turbo at the drop of a hat.

Saab’s backwards, longitudinally-mounted engine had clearly proven its worth. Paired with a five-speed, three-pedal setup, it’s easy to see why the Saab 900 Turbo (and its SPG variant) are a hot commodity on the used car market today. If well-maintained, Saab’s turbos could last well into 200,000 mile territory without issue, with the gearbox lifespan surpassing that number. Well-maintained variants can be found for less than $15,000 on the classifieds too—many of which haven’t even seen six digits on their odometer yet. Sedan, convertible, hatch, naturally-aspirated or turbocharged, sans “Aero” wheels or with—there’s a Saab 900 for everyone. The hard part is picking just one, though we’d argue in favor of the turbocharged hot-hatch pioneer.