Saab Central - Features

Classic Saab 900 - Buyers Guides

Top Gear 1997

"Stylish, practical, and reliable, yes, but our photographer has one for the size of the boot!"

Saab 900 - Boot!The old Saab 900 proved that it pays to be different. Its unusual looks and innovative engineering attracted buyers who dared to stand out. Yet it didn't sacrifice practicality for quirkiness - a huge boot, solid front-wheel drive roadholding and fine build quality mean that used 900s are always snapped up. And although they were once the preserve of old duffers, the younger market is now leaving its XR3is and GTi's for the rapid 900 Turbo and swish convertibles. With early F/G-platers coming in at around 3,500, you get a lot of car for your money. The only notable downside is potentially pricey parts and servicing. So keep running costs at a containable level by seeking the help of a recommended independent specialist. 900s run and run, and there are many cheap 150,000-milers out there that can be bought with confidence of continuing reliability. But always stick to cars with a full service history to avoid ending up with a worn-smooth pup that's been around the clock several times.

Choosing

With a longer wheelbase and a new front end, the 900 was born in '79 as a development of the 99 Combi Coupe. The commonest early survivor is the GLS hatchback with its 108bhp twin-carb engine. V, W and X-platers can be had for banger prices, but most have done 200k miles by now and will be pretty ropey. Post-'85, or, even better, post-'87 cars are less prone to electrical problems and engine oil leaks than the earlier models. 900s of this era drive nicely and have comfortable interiors, supportive seats and great heaters. Too firm a ride and tight rear space are the only flaws. Do avoid the unloved two-door, though.

Base model 900s only have heated seats, PAS and a pollen filter as standard, so seek out cars with extras - leather, sunroof and air-con help resale. But don't pay more for autos, and avoid Turbo self-shifters completely - they weren't really designed to cope with the power.nThe injected 900i introduced in '86 makes a sturdy workhorse with its two-litre, 118bhp lump and choice of all body styles; plus they're ever so cheap at two grand for an E-plate with 100k miles. More lively, though, are the 16-valve 900s introduced from February '89, giving 133bhp from two litres (dropping to 128bhp in '90 with the addition of a catalyst). The 16-valvers deserve their reputation as the best all-rounders - with no turbo worries and a selection of higher-spec Lux XS and SE variants giving added value. Best buy is the '93 SE with electric windows, sunroof and mirrors, plus air-con, alloys and CD player - ours at under 8,000 for a K-plate 50,000-miler. The addition of a light pressure turbo in late 1990 gave extra oomph with 145bhp, but, if it's performance you want, look to the proper turbos. The eight-valvers, built since 79, are fast with 155bhp, but faster still are the 175bhp 16-valvers introduced in late '87. All are fun, and early cars can be great value, Parts are dear, though, and insurance is frightening at group 17 for a Turbo 16v, Most desirable has to be the three-door Carlsson Turbo 16S with its three-spoke Aero-style wheels, body add-ons, leather sports trim and 185bhp -they're rare, and worth a 400 premium. Demand for convertibles is up and values are strong - the Turbo 16v S is the one to have. Shun the high price of broadsheet classifieds, reject scruffy cars and buy from respectable first or second owners. A genuine full service history is vital, as Saab clocking is rife.

Checking

On anything under 10 years old, body condition should be good, reflecting the 900's built-in integrity. But do check closely for hidden accident or vandal damage, including badly stuffed turbos and rips in convertible hoods.

These cars have a well deserved reputation for mechanical reliability, but when problems arise, they can be very expensive. Non-turbo eight- and 16-valvers are the least complicated and often do gigantic mileage's without worry. Gearboxes are the first area likely to give trouble. Listen for a howling noise similar to diff whine at cruising speeds. A slight whine in fifth above 60mph means the 'box is starting to go, but if it's noticeable in third then the damage is severe. If caught early enough, gearboxes can be fixed by replacing the pinion bearings, but a whopping 13 hours of labour is needed, including removing the engine. A full gearbox change will set you back over 2,000.

Power steering glitches result in heavy or sticky steering responses from rest. The pump should contain clean oil, not dark gunge. Exhaust systems are expensive to replace on all models, so ensure they're sound. The exhaust manifolds on eight-valve turbos can crack, but blowing is only apparent on a cold engine. All engines need checking for rattling timing chains and noisy camshafts, while blue exhaust smoke can point to hugely expensive maladies. Turbos are a more specialist buy and require a responsible owner if they're to last. Letting the car idle for a couple of minutes after a hard run will prolong turbo life by allowing the unit to cool properly. A shot turbo is indicated by a small cloud of white smoke after full throttle application from tickover. The secret to buying a decent Turbo is to look for oil changes at regular 6,000-mile intervals, using synthetic oil only, If cosseted, 900 Turbos will last just as long as any of their normally-aspirated stablemates - one Saab 900 owner we know of has just given his car its first blower swap after a monster 197,000 miles of use.

Buy

Loved Turbo soft tops at sensible money. 900i l6V 5dr easy to sell. Turbo 16V S offers both performance and good kit cheap. High milers supported by service history.

Avoid

Suspiciously tired cars showing low mileage's, as they're probably clocked. Accident damaged or ill- maintained Turbos. Vandalised convertibles. Tarted-up bangers. Three-door cars, especially finished in duff colours.

Example Prices - for a 91 H 900i 16v at main agent +VAT

Service - Main agent, all prices include parts, labour, VAT

Insurance groups

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