Launched in 1978 as a replacement for the Saab 99, the Saab 900 was longer, wider, and heavier than its predecessor. It was also a much nicer car, feeling more solid and luxurious. It was something of a departure from the scrappy, smaller Saabs that came before it, sure– but it was perfectly positioned to compete with the E30 BMW, and it, too, became a Yuppie favorite.
Throughout its life, the Saab 900 was offered as a two and four-door sedan, a three and five-door hatch, and even as a convertible. Now, that might seem like quite a lot of configurations for one model, but it goes to show how advanced the thinking behind the 900 really was. How many cars does VW build, for example, on its “A” (VW Golf) platform? Thirty?
Saab, in other words, was developing a shared platform architecture years before it became a standard practice in the industry– but it was still pretty weird in 1978.
Speaking of weird, the proliferation of body styles being offered was only where the 900’s weirdness started. You inserted the key just below the shifter, for example, instead of the steering column. The engine was mounted lengthwise, and pitched at a 45 degree angle. Power was transmitted from the “front” of the engine. The engine’s oil pan was integrated with the transaxle’s, and power went downwards through it by means of chain-driven gears before heading back towards the front axles.
That’s right– where the Saab’s contemporaries and competitors (on price, anyway) were often rear drive, the Saab 900 was not only a front driver, but a weird front driver. It used a double-wishbone suspension at the front, but something like a solid beam axle at the rear that used two Watt’s linkages per side to offer a kind of quasi-independent movement. Though different, the 900’s suspension was capable of maintaining a pretty accurate geometry over a wide range of motion, making it a fairly confident handler.
Inside, the Saab 900 lived up to the ideals of the classic “Born From Jets” ad campaign. As in aircraft, gauges were laid out according to their frequency of use, and the instruments were front-lit, reducing eye strain and helping to preserve the driver’s night vision.
The best version of the car, though, was the Turbo. Backed by a 5-speed manual transmission, the Turbo models delivered 175 HP (185 HP in the limited-edition SPG version). That’s not a lot of power by today’s standards, but in 1985 it was significantly more than the 127 HP offered in the BMW 325 or the 109 HP offered in the Mercedes-Benz 190E. Even the mighty Audi UR Quattro only made 160 HP in US trim, making the Saab 900 Turbo something of an 80s muscle car.
Saab picked up on this fact, and used it its ads. Even then, long before “the green movement”, Saab called its 900 Turbo “a muscle car with a social conscience”, highlighting the fact that its engines delivered more power and better fuel economy than many V8s of its era. It was just one more way that the Saab 900 could be considered ahead of its time.
Like the Volvo 240, it seems like everyone has a Saab 900 story. Mine involved my uncle’s silver turbo convertible, which replaced his RX7. That’s probably best saved for another time, though. Check out some of the photos, above, and a sampling of classic Saab ads, below, then let us know what you think of this classic Swedish performance car in the comments section at the bottom of the page.