By on November 19, 2009

the real thing: red 900 convertible

The old Saab was virtually perfect. 1988 900 model. Turbo. Convertible. It was as if the vehicle had been taken through a 21 year time warp right to my lot. The prior owner had become tired of frequent $85/hr fixes and now needed a four door instead of two (in Orwellian speak). He traded it straight up for a 1990 Volvo 240 that had also been cared for so that part of my work was done. But what next? This beautiful red Saab had only 150k original miles and had plenty of life left thanks to a healthy maintenance regimen and the use of OEM parts. The owner was downright wonderful and it was now my responsibility to make sure this level of care carried forward to the new owner… and hopefully beyond.

The first thing I always do is visit enthusiast sites. Not really just to sell it. But to find out more about the car itself and what enthusiasts generally liked about that particular model. Most unique trade-ins I drive for a while and play around with. I quickly went to Saabnet and found a very hard core group of enthusiasts who would be willing candidates. Apparently the Saab 900 has a history almost as unique as it’s customer base. Improvements begat changes that went far beyond cosmetics… and apparently Saabs can be owned reasonably if, and only if, the owner is very loyal and attentive to the car’s needs.

So, I threw in an advertisement on Craigslist with the heading, “Only Saab enthusiasts should reply to this ad.” Rude you say? Nope. I’m not going to be selling this classic to someone’s 16 year old kid. Unfortunately discouragement can only result in more bees going towards the honey, and none of these bees would be the enterprising type. Questions like, “Does it have a turbo?”, “Do you think this car would be reliable for my teenager?”, and the lowball offer du jour soon filled my email box. It was time to shift gears.

Sometimes I call friends who also know mechanics that specialize in a particular brand. They in turn have customers whose love and loyalties are true to that brand. That would have been my next step. But luck and fortune were literally right next door. My neighbor has owned several classic Saabs over the years. He loves to tinker, problem solve, and even use the occasional sledgehammer if all else fails (it happened once). He has helped me innumerable times in the past. So I offered him a free 60 day test drive.

If he wants it, I’ll offer him a price that he can’t refuse ($1500 plus some gardening tips). I always provide a hefty discount to any enthusiast who has the skills and appreciation for that type of automotive history. It’s always worth the investment. Over the past couple of months I’ve had two 1991 Suburbans that were truly loved (diesel and non). A 1985 Lincoln Town Car with 45k. The Saab. The Volvo… and a Mercedes.  I’m busy prepping the Lincoln which was rescued from C4C thanks to errant paperwork and a lack of insurance for the now deceased owner.  Anyone know a hardcore fan of 1980’s Lincolns? Anyone in your ‘family’ named Gambino, Soprano, or Hoffa? Anyone?

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37 Comments on “Hammer Time: Finding A Good Home for a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo...”

  • avatar

    I’ll give you $1,501.  Would make a nice garage mate for my 9000.  I hope my wife doesn’t mind parking outside…

  • avatar

    Anyone know a hardcore fan of 1980’s Lincolns?

  • avatar

    …and apparently Saabs can be owned reasonably if, and only if, the owner is very loyal and attentive to the car’s needs.
    Boy, ain’t that the truth.  In design terms they’re excellent, but the maintenance is problematic.  If you lined up every relatively-modern car, sorted by their ability to endure owner neglect, you’d get the Toyota Corolla on one end and probably this car, or one like it (eg, the blown, Sensonic-equipped models, the B235 9-3 and 9-5) on the other.   Not many cars highlight the difference between “reliable” and “durable” better (or worse).
    It’s like being in a wonderful relationship with someone who has occasional-but-significant mental health problems.  Most of the time, they’re a wonderful companion that you love spending time with.   When things go wrong, though, it’s a test of that relationship.   Owners of older Jags I’ve talked to say the same thing.
    I eventually sold mine because I have two young children and needed something that I could trust, but it was a tough parting.  My son (of three) misses the car and still gets excited when he sees one.  My wife misses it too, though she admits the Sienna that replaced it is better in the rational, holistic sense.
    I agree that you’re right to add the proviso, not just because the seller thinks it’s special, but because it’s something buyers should be aware of going into ownership.  This is definitely not a Toyota Corolla** and you’d want whomever is buying it to understand that the ownership experience will be different.  It’ll save heartache, and I think people will appreciate the honesty and forthrightness it implies.
    ** It’s not an older Kia, Chrysler or even an older Acura or BMW, either.  The ergonomics, seat comfort, boost and Saabness lets you forgive things that you’d curse in something more pedestrian.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree.  I am on my fifth Saab, a 9000 with 122K that drives as well as it did at 25K.  After hundreds of thousands of miles in a 9-3, two 9-5s and two 9000s, I have learned that these cars can be cranky but they respond well to regular care and feeding.  Day-to-day reliability is generally good, but not assured. 

      Durability is another story – my previous 9000 had 235K on the odo when I sold it.  The original, unopened engine did not burn or otherwise consume oil, the transmission was original and only one clutch replacement at 190K, paint, interior fabrics, electrical accessories, you name it – they all endured over a dozen New England winters with negligible wear.  I still see it driving around my town and it looks just as good.  Sure I had to replace some ancillaries (fuel pump, water pump) and it did leave me stranded once (ignition switch), but the reward comes in the things you mention – seats, ergonomics, turbo engines (particularly the B234) – but also fuel and space efficiency, and yeah, that Saabness that keeps sucking me back in.

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      Well, I’d been driving around MY kids since they were 10 and 7 in my ’01 9-3, and they still ride in it (one even drives it), even though they’re now bigger than I am.   Still on the original clutch and shocks, no transmission issues, just uses a little oil. 

      I’ll admit that in 166k miles it has stranded me a total of two times–one for an ignition cassette, replaced under warranty, the other the fuel pump finally gave out at around 150k.  I’ve just put 3k miles on the car in the past month on long trips at 33 mpg on the road.   It hasn’t been the cheapest to keep up nor the most reliable car on the planet, but I still have no hesitation to head out on the road with it. 

      Oh and BTW, we’ve put close to 100k miles on our 2004 9-5 wagon in the past 4 years, again driving from New England to the Florida Keys and the midwest.   It has not stranded us a single time. 

      My son would love that ’88 convertible–an ’88 was the car he was driven in as a young one, but after 230k miles we sold it as well.  It’s still running last time I saw it at the indy Saab shop where it’s a loaner car now. 

    • 0 avatar

      This is an honest assessment of Saab ownership.  A well-looked after Saab will provide fairly reliable transport, but the owner must be an attentive one.
      My 9000 Aero has been a fantastic car.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a nice blend of a lot of things… and those seats.  Oh, those seats.  (All Saab seats have been good, but I look forward to sitting in my car.)  Also, the torque in the B234 is addictive.
      Many people seek my input on car purchases since they recognize that I’m a bit of a car nut.  I rarely suggest Saabs as most people wouldn’t appreciate them.  In fact, many would grow to hate them, and then me perhaps.  To most I recommend a Civic or Accord.  To others, an Outback.  People who would appreciate a Saab (or any other of a number of soulful cars) don’t need to ask me for advice.
      ’93 9000 Aero, 5spd, Cirrus White/Black, 116K miles.

    • 0 avatar

      @ psarhjinian…
      That’s it exactly. The 99 9-5 wagon we owned was a wonderful car, best I’ve ever owned for long distance road trips. The seats were right up there with BMW sport seats (I love me my extendable thigh support) as the best ever. Even with that relatively low power engine, the plentiful midrange torque made it deceptively quick and always smooth to drive…

      And yet, it took not all that many times when the car just died for no discernable reason with the wife and the then 2 year old in freeway traffic when we had to give it up (wasn’t even the DIC, according to our saab indy…)
      If it had been my car, we’d probably still have it …

  • avatar
    John Holt

    If TTAC ever offers a “premium” paid subscription feature (that RF was toying with a while ago), Mr. Lang should consider offering an exclusive listing of his cherry trade-ins.  I’d love to see the good stuff that floats through your lot.  Opening it to the general public means it will end up in the hands of ruffians.

  • avatar

    Pics Please.
    OK. $1,502 and a Christmas card with a pic of it every year.
    ( Taking dog off your pant leg now)

  • avatar

    I have one of these, a lovely Nocturne Blue ’92 Turbo Convertible. 194K miles on the old girl now. And even though I only drive it 2000 miles a summer, and maintain her religeously, something is ALWAYS broken on it. A classic 900 is a car with a never-ending todo list. You will never, ever, have everything working at the same time, best to leave something non-essential broken, that appeases the Saab-Gods somewhat. Perfect for the person who likes to tinker in the garage, bad, bad, business for anyone who has to pay a mechanic.

    As I tell my fellow Saab Club nuts (who all think the 900 is the end-all and be-all of autodom), a classic 900 is NOT a reliable daily driver at this point, it is a very pleasant hobby!

    If the car is as nice as you say, you should have no trouble at all getting $5-6K for it with an advert on Saabnet. ’88 is a desireabl year, still has the small spoiler, no funky ATE ABS, no power seats, a little simpler than the later cars. The car in the picture is an ’86, but I am sure you know that.

  • avatar

    1987 Saab 900 Turbo SPG edwardian grey.  I’ve owned 3 900’s, and this was the coolest.  But my current 2006 93ss (2003 –>) is by far the best, although not as cool.  An INCREDIBLE used car value.   

    • 0 avatar

      All Saabs are incredible used car values.  Give me an ’04-’05 9-5 Aero wagon with a stick shift…  That’s likely what’ll replace my 9K Aero.  (Or a Viggen)

  • avatar

    Wow,  now this makes me feel warm and fuzzy as I just purchased a 94 NG900 with just 100k on the odo for my winter driver this past weekend. This is Saab number 5. Past stable mates were 86 9000, 97 NG900, 2000 9-5 and a 06 9-3. Just had to give the 94 a new muffler and get the oil changed to synth with the Saab filter. It will run for another 100k. Saab people are certifiably nuts, that’s why I switched to Merc’s in the past year….

  • avatar

    1985 Town Car, eh?  My ’86 is getting up there… 321,ooo miles, and these Minnesota winters have not been kind.  Does it have the digital dash?  Sunroof?  Sajeev: I’ll arm-wrestle you for it.
    I second the request for photos.  and the TTAC/Steven Lang “Preferred Customer” network.

  • avatar

    The Town Car sounds fun.  I’m trying to keep ahead of work on my ’89, but I become less enthusiastic about it the more miles it gets (171,000 now).  A low mileage one might recharge my batteries.

  • avatar

    I sold Foreign Cars for almost 25 years and sold more Saabs in NY than most dealers sold Toyotas. The punishment people would endure owning these cars was astonishing. Other than electrical, the 3Speed automatic transmission was useless past 50,000 miles. Almost any Saab with an automatic had some issues with the transmission. The 5speed manuals were not exempt  from problems either. This is a car that you could love to drive, but knowing all along that there were high if not highest of maintenance costs involved. Having a home with a yard to park a parts car would be more than helpful. Did I mention the Turbo problems?

  • avatar

    I’ve always liked the look of Saabs, but the stories of how much you have to baby them have kept me away from giving them a serious look.
    That Town Car on the other hand, would be right up my ally.  My earliest memories of being in a car are from when I was five or six in the mid 80s in my parents’ burgundy on burgundy velour Grand Marquis (with a burgundy landau top of course), sitting up front pretending to be Batman while my mom (who of course was paying the role of Robin) would drive me to or from kindergarten.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Grand Marquis, Crown Vics, and Town Cars sense, but I really prefer the 80s vintage unapologetically boxy variety, and perhaps early conditioning had led me to my preference of seeing such cars in various shades of triple-red.

  • avatar

    Very nice Hammer Time report!
    But please note: plurals do not take apostrophes: Most unique trade-in’s

  • avatar

    Mr Lang, it would be interesting to know, from a mechanical point of view, just how and why the Saabs are so high-maintenance, literally? I mean, they are built to endure harsh scandinavian weather? They seem like quality products, at least to me. Just how is it possible for an entire brand to slip into that old Jaguar trap?


    “It’s like being in a wonderful relationship with someone who has occasional-but-significant mental health problems. ”

    Somehow, somewhere, that sentence is so incredibly funny. I laughed reading it. Only a true motorhead would compare car-ownership to psycho-bitches. Or the other way around. Only a true afficionado of high-maintenance women would compare them to the struggles of owning a Saab. Incredibly funny, nonetheless.

  • avatar
    black turbo

    Between myself and my dad, we have seven Saab’s. The newest is my ’00 9-3, the oldest are a pair of ’87 Turbo Convertibles. We love our cars, but they are not for everyone. Most of the people I know do not understand why we endure the constant minor failures associated with owning an old Saab (or 7), but that doesn’t make us love them any less. My cars bring me joy absolutely every time I drive them, whether they have problems or not.
    As far as the reliability criticisms, I have nothing to complain about. I have had fuel pump failures, but I do not attribute those failures to reliability. I fuel pump is a wear item, and having an original unit in a 15+ year old car is a risk that must be taken in order to experience the joys of actually driving the car.

  • avatar

    ’88 & ’89 were great years for these cars. Ive had a few. The only Jekyll & Hyde that started with these, and still remains to some extent in alot of brands is the difference between the sticks and automatics. Not only drivability, but durability. Colors and climates are apparent too. A black car from the sunny south with an automatic will be sure to be one toasted weinie. The dash, leather, cooling system, AC, turbo, head gasket will probably make the car fubared. Lighter colors from more temperate climes fair much better. And the beauty of these is even with a fried autotrans(they are unrebuildable and sucked anyway), replacing with a virtually bullet-proof mannytranny is relatively easy and cheap. So what is it? And hows the dash and leather? 

    BTW…the picture is of a very rare ’86?…Ive never seen a red one. I thought they were all silver.

  • avatar

    So, I threw in an advertisement on Craigslist with the heading, “Only Saab enthusiasts should reply to this ad.” Rude you say? Nope. I’m not going to be selling this classic to someone’s 16 year old kid
    Me.  I don’t sell anything to people of Irish ancestry.   Just the way I roll.  16 year olds, Irish, blacks, orientals.  No difference.

  • avatar

    I tried to sell a 1974 Mercedes 240D with the “It’s not like other cars, there is a starting procedure.  Only respond to this ad if you are smart or German.”  I got about five younger professionals to come over and look at the thing, all of them ran away when they saw the twist, turn, pull, hold, pump and tug procedure.  Eventually sold it to somebody smart.
    Which calls into question why I replaced it with a 1993 900S Convertible?  The fifth Saab I’ve ever owned, and the third Saab I currently own.  Very rewarding to drive, but things will always be broken.  Door locks? No.  Trunk lock? No.  Tires: Slow leak.  Engine oil: Fast leak.
    The price was right, and who needs door locks when the top is down?

  • avatar

    Indeed – used SAABs offer perhaps the best bang for the buck out there. Picked up my Viggen last year at what has got to be a fully depreciated price of $5K. I bought it knowing I’d have to replace some parts due to wear, but I absolutely am in love with this car. It’s as practical and fuel efficient as it is a blast to drive. Do I know my local iny SAAB shop guys pretty well by now? Yes, yes I do. But I knew that going in. I’ve made a commitment to treat my Viggen well and drive it for as long as it will have me.
    It looks great. It has a humongous trunk. It’s incredibly comfortable – best seats in a car I’ve ever had by far. It’s very safe. With easily installed aftermarket parts it can be made to handle very well (Thank you Nick Taliaferro at It is ergonomically superior to any other car I’ve either owned or sat in. The Night Panel button must be used to be appreciated, and unless you own a SAAB you’re SOL. And that turbo. Ohhhh….that turbo. Getting one’s foot into Viggen boost truly must be the auto equivalent of taking a huge hit off a crack pipe. Wait a beat, then hang on for dear life as the scenery blurs. Pure awesome. Oozes soul out of every pore. I hope to drive it for many, many years to come. There’s just no other car I want. Or need.

  • avatar

    I THIRD the idea of some way of contacting you Mr. Lang.  In 6 months I will be looking for a vehicle because my significant other and I will have to take jobs that are at different schools.  (We’re both teachers who work in the same building and car pool but once I get my masters degree and move into administration I won’t be allowed to work as her supervisor, for obvious reasons.)  The only vehicle besides a 150cc scooter that I have access to is a 2004 F150.
    I grew up LOVING huge Detroit land yachts, but actually I love big executive cars period.  That Town Car is right up my alley and would plaster a big smile on my face.  Rear drive rules!  Panther platform, LT1 powered GM B-bodys, old 70s and 80s Chrysler’s, Old 80s Mercedes Benz, if it’s V8 (or diesel) powered, drives the rear wheels like God intended, and isolates you from the road, SIGN ME UP!

  • avatar

    Social Studies, wise-arse.  My first wife was somebody who would do something like you just did which is why she’s my EX-wife.

  • avatar

    Somehow, somewhere, that sentence is so incredibly funny. I laughed reading it. Only a true motorhead would compare car-ownership to psycho-bitches. Or the other way around. Only a true afficionado of high-maintenance women would compare them to the struggles of owning a Saab.

    I actually wouldn’t consider a Saab to be the equivalent of a high-maintenance psycho-bitch: that’s more Alfa, Lamborghini or Ferrari’s prerogative. Owning a Saab was like living with someone who’s loving, creative, attractive, etc, etc, but every once in a while stops taking his/her meds and/or has a nervous breakdown.  It’s quite different from constant high maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, well, perhaps. Psycho bitches are a compulsive guilty pleasure of mine. And the problem is all the really good sex. Can live without ’em, can’t live without passion… On the other hand, I own a Citroen DS, so what do I know?

  • avatar

    I’ve been scouring eBay this morning for some more parts for my ’88 900 SPG.  I agree with your assessment of Saab owners and the ridiculous things they will put up with for their cars.  It’s so worth it.  I bought mine in March with 135k on the clock; it’s around 150k now and i’ve replaced a TON of things, and there are a ton more to go.
    Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.  There’s no other car quite like the C900.

  • avatar

    I had an ’87 900S sedan.  It was a fantastic car– so fun to drive.  I forever regret trading it in, but when I did, shortly thereafter my friend got a call from the very enthusiastic new owner (he’d lost his cell phone in the back at some point).  He gushed about how great the car was and mailed my friend his phone.
    Maintenance and parts were quite expensive, but as long as you keep up, you are rewarded.  It never left me stranded, but I kept a toolbox in the trunk.

  • avatar

    Boy, does that 900 take  me back.  I bought a new 1985 900 Turbo Sedan.  We sold it after putting 148,000 moderately trouble-free miles on it.  Worst fail was the hydraulic clutch that failed after being shipped back from Germany at 56,000.  Second worst was a fuel-pressure regulator.   In May,  I found a 2005 9.3 convertible at a local Volvo dealer with 47,000 miles for $14,700 so I’m reveling in Saabness again.  Had to have the electric window anti-pinch feature reprogrammed and replaced the expansion tank fill cap.   Wonder when something will fail on it?  I’m still reveling in Saabness.

  • avatar

    Oh SNAP!

    I know a guy named Guido who would love.. a nice black on black Linc…

    Or at least a white on white.. with white walls…

  • avatar

    One bloke I knew has a Saab & a Mtisubishi AWD, he says the SAAB handles better than the AWD. He drove to Whistler BC for ski lots.
    So is something there, not withstanding the high maint.
    One man’s poison is another man’s treasure.
    I came close to owning one but never did happened.
    One of m bro went away,  his Saab was given to some fnd’s kid. next i heard it has to be towed awa, because the Dad got estimates that was Astronomical numbers.
    His kid is kind of the few bricks short of a full load,  so gave him a Saab will  spell SAAD.

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