Final Drive: SAAB 900 Turbo 16v
Model Year: 1991
Bought for: $16,995 in Sept 1999
Sold for: $3,000 in Dec 2012
Thirteen years is a long time in partnership with anything. It’s no less emotive than when it’s with a car and the split up has become inevitable. In my case not by choice either which only amplifies the pain.
This is not just any old second car, occasionally rolled out at weekends to annoy those who actually have a purpose to their journey. No, this, for much of its relationship with me, has been the every-day-use car. One that has never let me down, ignoring that one occasion with the wife that I put down to a girl thing; neither wanted to be usurped as being the most important female in my life.
In saying that, is she really female? This is a phenomena that is new to me. I’ve never been one to assign a gender to my cars, but since I started the trials of selling, I’ve been turned by a rather passionate lady extolling my car’s many delicate virtues and it struck me that, much like my wife, if treated tenderly she did indeed respond well. So it has sort of stuck.
There’s undoubtedly something of the gut pain one has when wrenched away from loved ones. Or, as was often in my case, wrenching themselves away at a brisk trot, back turned and facing a mother imploring her to run faster.
But anyway, I’ll definitely miss her, the smell of leather and fuel as soon as you open the door. The creak of hide as you slide into its still very comfy drivers seat. The idiosyncracy of its ignition placement. That whine of the turbo as it spools into life. The joy of the second gear kick-down. For sure I’m going to miss the manual box, clunky and long travelled it may be, but with it comes involvement, and a reason to drive smoothly and efficiently at pace. It forces you to take note of the road, else be dragged into the abyss of boredom and laziness that autos and other latter day gadgetries afford a man. However smooth and excellent they maybe today, in my opinion an automatic will always be trumped by a manual for sheer connection, to the road as well as to your driving style. All drivers should be forced to take the test in a manual is what I say. The skills learned and abilities improved can only benefit our urban society.
But I digress.
AAS 60C, or arse-sixty-see as I’ve taken to calling her, a 1991 Saab 900 Turbo 16v, pre-GM ownership. For a car that’s age is beginning to nudge the idea of a quarter century, it still looks good. The original paintwork has taken to the Aussie climate rather well and it gleams at me in the morning sun. Looking at it objectively, it is in good nick this one. No major exterior signs of any collision or corrosion. She makes me proud. Its engine is strong enough for couple more hundred thousand klicks, if regularly serviced too.
The smell of 98 octane fuel is a pleasant one as you close the door, alarming initially I grant you but I came to adore it, hooked you might say. I sit motionless for a second drinking it in. The cockpit’s ever so slightly biased toward the driver and its beginning to look its age in aesthetics, but functionally all still sound. The CD is an after market affair that works well enough but the lights have mostly died out for night time use, so it then becomes a hit and miss affair. And there’s a rattle in the ventilation system that has always been there and can only be cancelled out by exactly trimming the air duct controls. Idiosyncratic you might say.
I reach down to my left and insert the key in the centre consol. It starts energetically with maybe a hint of chattering tappets. I let the oil work itself around the engine before I pull away.
Let’s face it, this is a twenty two year old car, twenty three if you add the year it was built prior to registration, so the creaks and rattles that come through the facia and rear quarter have to be expected. Much often turns out to be for ancillary reasons; a clunking seat belt holder for instance or a loose parcel shelf. Nonetheless this is an old car and should be treated with some care, just in case. That being said, in the main it still feels tight.
The steering wheel is so much smaller and skinnier than more contemporary cars and loses nothing for it. The feel you receive through its thinly padded rim is one that inspires trust and respect. And it’s the same minimalism throughout the cabin, for there are no signs of airbags, cup holders or blue tooth connections in here. It’s because of this that what looks small on the outside, a latter day Ford Mondeo dwarfs it, it almost makes up for when inside, thanks to the absence of all that safety rubbish. Saab, as Top Gear showed us, had not forgotten its safety responsibilities, damn near wrapping the whole vehicle in a roll cage.
Not that a generation junior would agree with me after a first acquaintance with the brakes. They are certainly not as well assisted as anything they would have learned to drive in, but once you get used to the extra effort and travel required, they are effective enough.
At the lights, if the revs are kept up it pulls away strongly and still a match for most V6’s. But woe-betide if your timing is out, the lag will reduce you to a snails pace for an interminable few seconds before finally and, satisfyingly, hitting its sweet spot with such panache that you can almost forgive it.
Find a clear, winding stretch of road however and it hunkers down at the back and acts as if its rear wheel driven. If you get your line right through a series of sweeping bends, using the gears to full effect and taking care to keep the engine working in the power band, it flows as sweetly as any spirited 5 door wagon of today. It’s the sense of involvement you feel with a car of this era though that really shines. In a few years you’d be hard pushed to find a new car that comes with a manual transmission, and we as drivers will be the worse for it.
But you don’t drive this car like a sports car, no, she’s too boat-like, as my GTi driving friend once remarked. It’s more of a Grand Tourer. More sedate but rapid when the moment comes. Its ability to overtake in the 50-70 kph range is still a marvel and one that brings a smile to your face.
That said, when faced with a series of speed bumps, its low stance makes you wince every time you scrape over some of the more severe ones. Its ride is a tad firm for Sydney road conditions but thanks to its excellent seats you’re never troubled that much.
I drive for fifty kilometres and notice I’ve gone through a quarter of a tank, so spirited driving does come at cost. But for a price of an expensive handbag this fair lady comes with a lot of bang for your buck.
Over the years I tried a few places to maintain my Saab, from Ultratune to the original dealer, whose mechanics as it happened set up their own garage a few years after I bought the car. It was there, at Saabtech, I found real maintenance value. Its all well and good saving on a service by going to a local non specialist, but ultimately using Saab experts paid off in quality and a better driving experience.
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