Saab 900 1st Generation
|Assembly||Trollhättan, Sweden Arlöv, Sweden Uusikaupunki, Finland (Valmet Automotive)|
|Successor||Saab 900 (NG)|
|Class||Entry-level luxury car/Compact executive car|
|Body style||2-door convertible 2-door notchback 3-door liftback (hatchback) 4-door sedan 5-door liftback (hatchback)|
|Engine||2.0 L B I4 2.0 L B201 I4 2.0 L B202 I4 2.1 L B212 I4|
|Transmission||4-speed manual 5-speed manual 3-speed Borg-Warner T-37 automatic|
|Wheelbase||2,517 mm (99.1 in)|
|Length||4,685 mm (184.4 in) 4,680 mm (184.3 in) (S & Turbo)|
|Width||1,690 mm (66.5 in) 1,695 mm (66.7 in) (Turbo SPG Hatch)|
|Height||1,425 mm (56.1 in) 1,400 mm (55.1 in) (Turbo Convertible & Turbo) 1,405 mm (55.3 in) (Turbo SPG Hatchback)|
The Saab 900 was 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. 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, 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.
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 1984 saw the introduction of the 16-valve DOHC B202 engine in Europe. 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.
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.
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.
First 1979 Saab 900 Turbo engine view
Saab 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.
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. Hällberga bildemontering Sweden junked one in 1999(Owners own remark). In 1984, 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 Wheeler dealers Saab from Turbo Series 1 (TV)