Saabs in general are a bit like those bizarre ergonomic office chairs you can buy. Sometimes you wonder what on earth the designer was thinking, does it look like that just to make a point? No. It’s designed with a purpose that satisfies. In the same way, it’s not until you drive the Saab 900 Turbo that you get a bit giddy. You stop thinking like a practical person and something strange happens. The nerve that usually gets tickled by something red and Italian starts responding to this angular Swedish box from the eighties. Why? What’s causing this? Was I actually born to be a dentist? Nope, this really is a car to love. Forget the stereotypes, this car is designed to safely whoosh and jet propel you off to your destination, unscathed.
David Baughan’s Saab is a late eighties 900 Turbo S with the 16 valve engine. The 1985cc engine produces a committed 175bhp. There is nothing sweeter than the mechanical whine from the turbo, best applied as you boost your way through corners that gently open themselves up into long straights. For the eagerness of the engine, the steering ratio is large which can catch you out if you haven’t driven one before. After a while you realise the increased travel of the wheel makes you drive in a more calculated manner, making for a more relaxing journey without the need to stay poised for every apex. The 900 doesn’t want to be thrown around corners, it wants you to think about them. Saying that, it’s a solid machine with an engine that likes to be pushed.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s sporty; the superb composure on the road makes it a mile-muncher. I would happily point it at a 600 mile trip north without a second thought. “I like the fact that it’s a blast to drive. But it doesn’t necessarily yell. People talk about the Q-car status and this has definitely got that.” So here we have a solid, safe, comfortable and fast Swedish silver bullet that holds a torch to some of Bavaria’s best. But what of the marque?
The truth is, the famous cost of development and extortionate build times spawned a line of automobiles the world will never see again. These days even expensive well-built German things are designed to a budget, and that budget is probably controlled by someone with a very strict eye on any overspending. Saabs were built from the start to be uncompromisingly good. We were driving a four year old BMW and the 900 was as good in terms of build quality, solidity, quietness and design. The classic Saab 900 is a car built for the public by engineers who believed in better, whatever the cost. Safety being key, it’s no wonder traffic police used to be seen in Volvos and Saabs (after seeing so many crashes). “It’s very solid. For me it’s the security. These are tremendously strong. The roll protection in them is phenomenal.”
There are lots of little futuristic twists. That wrap around windscreen, the lack of sills and even the way the bonnet opens. Beyond these details, the Saab 900’s styling demands the subtle attention of someone who would notice the difference between a veneer and a real piece of wood. “It’s the quality, the quirkiness, I love the evolutionary cycle of them. It doesn't shout at you, it’s understated.”
Classics are often nurtured as flimsy but generally alright when it comes to their fizzy driving sensation and styling. The Saab is different because not only do you get a fabulous engine and a unique driving experience, it’s got the solidity and safety side covered. It still requires care to maintain this high standard. “I could have elected to have not had [engine work] done to it, but we would have been sat here saying “oh it’s clean, it’s great’. To actually to keep it to this standard you need to keep the investment running in it. What’s under the skin is important.” Because David’s car is only one of 263 sold in the UK (as the saloon 16v version) all maintenance is a worthwhile investment in such a rare, gorgeous and low mileage example. David told us a story of someone who managed to spend £8,000 on their Ruby 900 to rescue the underside from rusting away. You may think that’s a little excessive but you’d be wrong: “900s are rewarding in terms of appreciation”.
If you go on a generic car maker’s website today you will find a wonderful array of ascending model numbers with corresponding features. Saab didn’t build the 900 to fill a gap in the market. It is a straight up development from the 99. “When I got this I was looking for something to replace my 99 Turbo, and this was the closest I could get. Because I was getting married I needed something that would fit in with family life. The 99 Turbo was that little bit more demanding, whereas this has looked after itself. It’s never broken down on me in the ten years I’ve had it.” Ever wondered why you’re so able to recognise a Saab? It’s because they didn’t give up with the car they wanted to make from the beginning. “All that they did was chop the off the front nose [of the 99] and replace it with a longer nose, so again it’s just all part of this evolution.” Things changed, different safety regulations came along and before long GM put their foot down on the budget and build time. You’re not just buying the model number, driving a classic Saab 900 means owning a piece of the story that put Saab on the map. You’re buying into the engineering principles that makes Saab so famous as a unique and industry leading company.
Don’t pass up on your chance to own one. There won’t be a car like this ever again.