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Saab 99 Turbo - 'Thoroughbred and Classic cars', April 1979

Saab 99 TurboWe have already given our impressions of the new Saab 900, which we tried in Sweden, and by now the 99 Turbo will have been superceded by the new model. Nevertheless, its importance and comparative rarity on our roads make it well worth sampling, and we make no excuses for doing so.

Jet black, with alloy wheels which just give the suggestion that here is some thing rather special — these are the order of the day for the Saab 99 turbo. None of your gimmicky stick on stripes on this car.

They would be totally out of place For if there is one thing that the Turbo is not, it is gimmicky. It is a superb piece of very potent automobile engineering. To begin with the Saab ‘s not styled its shape is evolved from aerodynamic research, Saab being an aircraft manufacturer. I happen to like its shape because it is purposeful, and perhaps, because it does not slavishly follow every other manufacturer in the world. But the most impressive aspect of the car is, naturally, its turbo-charged engine.

Saab have always been noted for advanced thinking in engineering terms, but here they have, perhaps, been particularly brave, They can claim to be the first manufacturer to use a turbo-charger in volume production, and there is no doubt that other manufacturers are looking very hard into the many advantages offered by the turbo-charger.

What are the advantages? The internal combustion engine is, unfortunately, sadly lacking in efficiency large amounts of fuel being necessary to overcome frictional and thermal losses and turn the engine over before the remainder can power the car. By way of example Saab’s own 2-litre engine at part load at 90km/h on a level road consumes 27mg of fuel per engine revolution. A full 17mg is used turning the engine, and by thermal and frictional losses, leaving 38 per cent to move the car. A comparable six cylinder unit uses 72 per cent of the fuel (25mg out of a total of 35mg) to turn the engine, leaving only 28 per cent for nor mal driving. Thus turbo-charging is an obvious answer to the quest for more power in a world which is running short of petroleum — perhaps making the multi-cylinder engine as redundant as the pre-selector gearbox when syn chromesh came in. Previous use of turbo-charging has been on rather racey machinery to boost top end performance. This is not the case on the Saab — a smaller, lightweight Amer:ican turbine has been used which comes into operation around 1500-2000rpm. This means that torque is given a substantial boost resulting in useful power being available for overtaking manoeuvres. A special by-pass arrangement prevents an excess of l5psi building up to the detriment of the engine.

Saab 99 TurboThe arrangement boosts power from 118 to 145bhp at 5000rpm which is fairly modest. Top speed tomes out at 120mph, with 0-60 time in under 9 seconds. This is impressive enough for a 2-litre family car offering the versatility of the Saab, but mere figures cannot adequately describe the sensation or the sheer pleasure derived from driving the Saab 99 Turbo, Nor indeed do they even do justice to the amount of useable per formance available to the driver in nor mal conditions. That I was able to drive one car in the supercar category the week before and then drive the Saab and still remain impressed with it speaks volumes.

In fact the Saab smaller overall, yet having more passenger space, luggage capacity and but a third of the price (f795000) — struck me as being pretty remarkable value.

Too many of the supercar bracket are just too bulky to make full use of the power they possess in speed restricted Britain. But the Saab driver can revel in the car’s mid range overtaking ability, and enjoy the cross-country stuff — you might even observe a smile of satisfaction creeping across a normally stern countenance,

The Turbo as indicated earlier does not come in with a bang power is built up gradually with the turbo coming on song” past 40mph, while the car runs up to 100mph in a sparkling 26 secs. Not surprisingly there is a rev limiter at 6000rpm for the engine revs so smoothly and sweetly that one might easily overdo things.

With this amount of power being transmitted to the front wheels, rapid take offs will have the wheels spinning madly they II still be spinning when you change into second fighting and scrabbling for grip. On wet or greasy surfaces you may have to hang on to the steering a bit, but the negative offset steering does a lot to keep the car straight. In short it is a rewarding car to drive well. The steering is weighted about right but needs 4 1 turns for a 38ft turning circle In practice this rarely feels excessive, though at low speeds on full lock there is a curious tendency to remain there, requiring the steering to be “helped” back The brakes are firm but progressive and extremely powerful — in fact just right for the car. They pull up straight and true on loose and slippery surfaces too All this means that extremely fast cross-country journeys can be achieved, for, as well as being fast and sure, the car exudes a feeling of well being to driver and passengers alike which is difficult to put over in words.

The seats are extremely comfortable with good lumbar support (they look attractive tool) and the driver’s seat is heated — a real luxury in cold weather. There are excellent Kuffan seat belts front and back that hold one as securely as a mothers embrace, and a really easy-to-use sunroof is a welcome touch. The heating and ventilating system is effi cient, but the central crashpad horn push is difficult to use while the window winders are badly placed and require four turns. The hatchback lifts to reveal a large boot, or a huge rear estate capacity with the seats folded. There are rear fog lamps, front headlamp washers and wipers, while the ignition key lives on the floor between the seats where it locks the gearbox into reverse as a safety meas ure There are bright corner lamps at the front for use in murky conditions — a feature I wish more cars would adopt rather than unnecessarily dazzling head-lamps.

This is a very very impressive motor car, well worth buying if you cannot run to the revised 900, and probably well worth hanging on to given its significant contribution to automobile history.

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