Blending quality engineering with quirky design, the 900 is a unique proposition. Chris Randall helps you find the best
Classic Saab 900 Review
Saabs have always been just a little different from the mainstream. The 900 is a perfect example of that and is often seen as the thinking man’s alternative to other family and middle-ranking executive models.
There’s a real solidity to the way the 900 goes about its business, with every control having a meaty directness to its operation. There’s no slack or slop here, just positive responses that inspire confidence whatever the road or weather conditions, and as a classic that makes for an ideal everyday driver.
The 900 corners with little body roll and resists understeer well, and with good bump absorption long journeys are relaxing and stress-free. Steering and braking are very assured too. It’s a great motorway mile-muncher.
Solid construction does add weight, which blunts things a little, but a 900 feels acceptably brisk and is rarely found wanting in the cut and thrust of everyday motoring. And if you want extra go, the addictive turbocharged shove of the 175bhp Turbo 16S is on hand to provide the thrills. That feeling of solidity is found in the cabin too, where you’ll enjoy first-rate comfort and ergonomics, even if the aircraft-related comparisons that were so beloved of the advertisers are a little wide of the mark in reality.
The view out of the curved slot-like windscreen might seem unusual at first but you soon come to appreciate the clear dashboard layout and chunky, well-placed controls. Factor-in impressive levels of refinement – engine, road, and wind noise are commendably low – and if you’re faced with a long journey after a tough day at the office, the 900 will soon soothe-away the stresses.
It’s easy to see why so many executives were attracted by the quirky Swede back in the day, and it makes just as much sense today.
Saab 900 Turbo 16S
Top speed 126mph
Gearbox 5-speed man/3-speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The 900 resists corrosion well, but it isn’t completely immune so you’ll need to check a few areas. One place is around the transmission tunnel which accumulates road muck, but rust also affects the wheel arches, sills, and the double-skinned sections of the bonnet. The front bulkhead and valance can go too and check the area around the fuel filler cap, the front and rear screen surrounds, and the bottoms of the doors.
It’s worth taking a look underneath, as the fuel tank and rear crossmember are susceptible to rotting out, while the jacking points and the corners of the boot floor are other weak spots. Check the support beam for the radiator along with the battery tray, and ensure that there’s nothing nasty lurking behind the bodykit on Turbo 16S models.
Regular oil changes are the key to engine longevity, with all units capable of big mileages before a re-build is required. Timing chains should last in excess of 100,000 miles and they can be replaced with the engine in situ. Tappets on 8-valve models are adjusted by shims and it’s a fiddly job, while 16-valvers use hydraulic items. Watch for corroded and leaking radiators, leaky water pumps, and for signs of oil around the bulkhead which is usually caused by leaks from the rear crankshaft seal or oil pump cover – fortunately, both can be renewed with the engine in place.
The top-model 300SE and 300SEL had air suspension, which was high-tech stuff for the early 1960s. The ride it gives is quite remarkable, but problems can be very expensive indeed to fix, and parts are not plentiful. Buy an air-sprung Fintail with your eyes wide open, and have the phone numbers of a specialist and your bank manager close at hand.
Turbo models are just as reliable as their normally-aspirated brethren with conscientious maintenance, although excessive blue smoke from the exhaust should ring alarm bells. High under-bonnet temperatures can lead to brittle pipework so examine it carefully, and listen for the ticking that indicates a cracked exhaust manifold.
A 900 that suffers from difficulty engaging gears, jumps out of gear, or whines excessively, has succumbed to a common problem. Some cover many miles without issue but it is a known weakness, often caused by failure of the pinion bearing that was beefed-up – not entirely successfully – on later models. The chain drive from engine to gearbox rarely gives trouble though. Turbo power can exacerbate gearbox issues, so be extra vigilant on these, and check for clutch slippage as well. Clutch master cylinders are a weak point on most models, and you should also listen-out for clicking CV joints. The three-speed automatic is reasonably robust, albeit not the smoothest unit.
Wear and tear aside, the suspension is largely trouble-free although you do need to check for corrosion around the mounting points. Problem areas are the lower front suspension turrets, rear damper top mounts, and the mounting points for the rear trailing arms. The handbrake operated on the front wheels on pre-1987 models, so watch for sticking calipers. Leaks from the power steering hydraulics or a tired rack are the extent of any steering issues.
The solid interior is a real plus point, so serious wear and tear will be obvious.
Sagging headlining is common and is fiddly to sort, and check the dashboard for cracks around the speaker grilles. A damp passenger footwell is a sign that the heater matrix or control valve has had it. Ensure the motors for central locking, sunroof, and windows still work.
Practical, refreshingly different, and offering solid build and impressive durability, the 900 gets our vote. It’s a classic you can use every day whatever the road and weather conditions. There are plenty to choose from, so avoid neglected examples and you’ll enjoy some Swedish charm.