i now own a swedish car from a dead manufacturer

Up until now, I’ve been a BMW guy. In the span of 2.5 years (maybe 3 years) I’ve owned 6 BMWs, mostly vintage cars. I recently sold my pride and joy, a restored 1973 BMW 2002. It makes me sad every time I think about it, but when I don’t think about it, I’m fine. Maybe that means it didn’t mean that much to me… I drove it maybe once a month and I was about to move to an apartment without any dedicated parking so for the sake of the car I had to sell.

Now 4 months later, I finally have bought another car. A 1989 Saab 900 Turbo with maybe the a factory Airflow body kit installed.

This purchase was a lot of firsts for me.

  • First Saab
  • First time buying a car sight unseen (more on this later)
  • First time buying an out of state car
  • First big joint purchase with my wife
  • First time buying a car without a dedicated parking spot (street parking only)

Why Saab

This was my first large joint-purchase with my wife, so we talked about what we wanted out of a car. Here were the requirements.

1) Keep the car longer than a year.
2) Reliable
3) Good MPG
4) Cheap-ish

As one can see from my vehicle list, I have the tendency to buy and sell cars pretty often. I’m not a car flipper, I just get “bored” of my cars. So the first requirement will be the hardest to accomplish.

I’ve always thought Saab died because they made crappy cars that were unreliable, but I was suprised to see them on quite a few lists of reliable classic cars.

I decided to do a bit more research on Saab. Here are some major takeaways.

  • Saab started out as airplane maker, then got into cars.
  • Saab 900 was best selling Saab
  • Saab 900 was built so strong it technically didn’t need a rollcage.
  • Saab 900s are relatively reliable. Body rust is more likely to cause issues than mechanical (if regularly maintained)
  • 1989 GM took 50% Ownership
  • 2000 GM took full ownership
  • Aftermarket community isn’t that big (compared to E30), OEM parts are harder to find and more expensive.

As BMW E30’s value went up and it’s becoming harder and harder to find a good condition and non-modded E30, I decided a change of BMW scenery was at hand. After my research about Saabs and specifically, the Saab 900 (turbo and non-turbo), I decided I would give a Saab 900 a chance.

So let’s see how the Saab 900 fits the requirements.

  • Keep the car longer than a year - Never worked on a Saab before, lots of quicks to get use to, likely to keep a year
  • Reliable - It taken care of mechanically and no body rust, Saab 900s can last a long time
  • Good MPG - People have said to get 25-30 MPG, which in my book is pretty good.
  • Cheap-ish - Good canidate was around 4k.

Purchased sight unseen

Saab 900s seemed to range from a few hundred dollars (not running) to 15k for very low mileage, manual, collector quality cars.

The middle ground seemed to be from 3 - 5k.

My finds:

Car Site Cost Location Description / Thoughts
White Saab 900 Base Craigslist $2000 San Jose, CA I found a local Saab 900 for 2k but needed work according to the seller. The seller was also very slow at responding and became quite short with me when I asked more questions so I decided to pass on this car.

Bronze Saab 900 Base Ebay $4,050 Kansas City, MS Lowish milelage car 89k miles. The final bid on the car was $4,050. I put in a bid at $4,100 which I decided to revoke after getting a carfax report which stated the car was totalled in the 90s and rebuilt. I didn’t want to deal with that. Other than the bad title, everything else about the car was great!

Black Saab 900 Turbo Craigslist $2000 Portland, OR 250k miles with broken odometer. Some paperwork was available but it didn’t seem like the owner had too many records. There was a decent amount of rust. From the driving videos, seemed like the transmission mount was bad since the shifter was shaking like crazy.

White Saab 900 Turbo Saabnet $4,950 Florida Seller stated 150kish miles. He did a lot of work on the car and said he had receipts to go along with it. Car had minimal rust. Carfax revealed a odometer issue. Car was reported to have aropund 130k miles in early 2000s then suddenly dropped to 60k miles and currently at around 150k miles. So the car should have over 200k miles. Seller didn’t admit to it so I couldn’t trust him on anything else.

Grey Saab 900 Turbo Saabnet $4,500 Olathe, KS This car had the Saab Airflow body kit installed. Seller said he thinks it’s original from the dealer, has an Airflow badge in the back. Car needed some cosmetic work, but mechanically pretty sound. Has some surface rust, but no rust in important places. Car sat in airplane hanger from 2004 to 2019. Carfax and mechanic receipts back this up.

Initial Thoughts

Overall, the car has been great! I’m excited to own my first Saab.

Delights

Driving it a bit, I’ve really enjoyed the car. The 4 cylinder 16 valve turbo charged engine is peppy for a 30+ year old car. It handles very nicely for being a front-wheel drive car. It can get up to highway speed pretty easily and stay there without any issues.

Concerns

When I got the car, there were some electrical issues. 1989 was the only year the C900 had a passive restraint system where the sea tbelt automatically moves back and forth. The drivers side seat belt was not functional but the previous owner insisted it was. I believe him, electricals in old cars can be finicky. The driver’s side window also does not roll up or down, I’m thinking it’s a regulator motor.

Being one of the first cars to put a turbo into a day-to-day driver, I have some concerns about the longevity of the turbo. But we will cross that bridge when we get there.