By on July 12, 2019

Portland seems to be a relative hot spot for old, well-maintained Saabs, and Rare Rides covered this Portland-based 99 previously. And while that little blue sedan racked up 195,000 miles, today’s 900 has covered several times more than that. Just how far can an old Saab go?

Though Saab’s 99 model remained in production from 1968 to 1984, its eventual replacement, the 900, started production in 1978 for the ’79 model year. Saab saved as much cash as they could and based the new 900 on the old 99. The 900 was larger on the outside than the 99, and had a slightly longer wheelbase. Its dimensional revisions allowed for an important advancement and continued sales: A new, longer front end which was compliant with American crash legislation.

Introduced with the 900 were a new series of “B” inline-four engines, all of them two liters of displacement. In 1979, the singular B engine was available in three different versions based on fuel management. The base model GL had a single carburetor and 100 horsepower, while the middle child GLs upped the carbs to two, and horsepower to 108. Upscale EMS and GLE trims were blessed with the convenience of fuel injection, and 118 horsepower. The pinnacle was of course the Turbo version, an idea which Saab tried out (with success) on the old 99. The Turbo upped the power ante to 145. Transmissions on offer were a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

For the first couple model years, only the three- and five-door hatchbacks were available. Saab didn’t want to give in to the bland of sedan, but caved to dealer pressure for the additional body style. That was the first of many incremental changes Saab made to their 900. An engine here, a trim tweak there, and a big facelift in 1987 brought the 900 to the appearance most people think of when they hear the name.

The 900 remained a 99 underneath until the 1995 model year. At that point the New Generation 900 debuted on the GM2900 platform it shared with the Opel Vectra and Saturn L. The 900 name went away for 1999, when the updated GM2900 version became the 9-3, and set up the beginning (or middle) of the end, as it were.

Today’s Rare Ride is an upper-middle trim EMS, from the very first model year. Finished in a fun shade of green, the interior wears multiple tones of lime, dark lime, and emerald. The odometer reads a shocking 690,949 miles, made even more incredible via the dealer’s report that this is the second odometer. The first odometer was changed out at 200,000 miles; for non-maths people, that’s very nearly 900,000 miles traveled under the care of a singular owner.

If you ignore the circa 2004 aftermarket audio, all looks excellent and period-correct, carried off on stunning Inca wheels. This testament to the longevity of the Saab 900 is yours for $4,500.

[Images: seller]

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45 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Very Special 1979 Saab 900...”


  • avatar
    NoID

    Does it come with a Carfax report?

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I loved those old Saab’s – even the 96 (or maybe especially the 96). What a pity. If the brand hadn’t been gutted by GM, it might have been attractive to a company like BMW or VW.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      They were circling the drain in 1989. VW had Audi, which was as direct a competitor to Saab at the time as could be. BMW had the 3 series, which wasn’t an antique and could be sold at a profit. GM management may be comic relief for solvent sniffers, but Saab wouldn’t have existed very deeply into the ’90s without their ridiculously bad decision making.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Agreed. GM actually saved Saab from dying a lot sooner, and (with the 9-7X aka TrollBlazer a notable exception), the GM-based ones were pretty decent.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          What of the Saab-baru 9-2X? Ive always been curious as to how Subaru reliability stands up against Saabs.

          And by reliable I mean “160k miles, neeeds new engine, $2000 obo”

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          I don’t think Saab had anything fresh on the drawing board in the late 1980s/early 1990s. They did have some fresh engineering- there was an engine management system that used a “wasted spark” in the exhaust stroke in each cylinder to measure the oxygen content of the exhaust… kind of a clever idea although not clearly superior to conventional oxygen sensors.

          Volvo had their new, very modern 850 platform/all-new car and they had their all-new modular engine. The 850 was cheaper to produce than the 240 and 740. That car and the engine in it made them a viable independent company for several more years, They made enough money to later develop the S80 and S40 platforms- and to be appealing to Ford when Ford was shopping for more makes (Ford bought Jaguar around the same time too).

          But I don’t think an independent Saab through the 1990s, had GM not bought them when they did, would have looked anything like that. I don’t think they had the financial wherewithal.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Didn’t GM buy Saab because Jack Smith hooked up with a secretary at GM Europe and needed a good cover story for a lot of executive trips over there? That was always the rumor at the General.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Gosh I love that interior…

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I approve of the lime green velour.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I think the engine power outputs and induction options in this article are for European market cars with no emissions controls. The US-spec 1979 Saab 900 Turbo was rated at 135 hp. It’s unlikely that they went through the expense of certifying three different naturally aspirated options considering the volume of cars they sold. I believe that all US 900s had fuel injected engines.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Long ago I worked for Menzl’s Towing, in Milwaukee. One Saturday night, I was dispatched to retrieve one of these Saabs from the near North side, who’s owner was arrested for DUI. I put the thing on my flatbed, as was the the normal procedure. Once I got the car to our holding yard, it was our custom, if we had the key, to actually drive the car into a one of our tight indoor parking spots.

    I will never forget the sense of frustration I felt trying find where the ignition switch was located. It was dark, and using my flashlight, I looked EVERYWHERE on that dashboard and on the steering column…could not find the damned switch.

    Eventually, I put the car back on my flatbed, and carefully set that damn thing down in an easily accessible parking space…with great care.

    Back at the dispatch office, I told the other guys about my problem…they laughed their asses off…eventually telling me the ignition switch in Saabs was down low between the front seats…in the console. You can barely see the switch on one of the pics above..right near the handbrake. Damn Swedes! Why??????

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I would say the Swedes were having a bit of fun at the repo man’s expense ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Why????? Well, because they were right and everybody else was wrong. I had a 99 EMS 3 door hatch with a similar set up. Get in, put the key in (between the seats) and start the engine. Next, release the parking brake. Lastly put it in gear and get going. You hardly had to move your right arm to do all three things in sequence. And putting the key where it was in the Saab would have spared my brother a crescent shaped scar from where his knee met a dash mounted key in an accident, if he had been driving a Saab. I still miss the seats, too. Oh, and being able to see out of it through genuine windows and windshield was a nice feature often lacking today.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        The key-in-the-knee-in-a-crash was exactly the reason Saab put it where they did. Of course they could have just put it slightly higher in the dash or the steering column, which usually worked on many other makes and models…

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    Wonder what their point was, putting the ignition switch down there?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Supposed to make it easier for rally drivers to jump into the car and start it at the same time.

      What was really comical was when they relocated the ignition switch in the Saab 9-7X (Trollblazer) to between the seats.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I have always heard the primary reason was that it’s more out of the way in the event of a collision. That’s probably somewhat true as compared to a column-mounted switch; it definitely has to be true as compared to a dash-mounted switch.

      @ PrincipalDan – Have there ever been Le Mans-style starts in rally? I’m thinking you heard that theory from someone who was conflating Saab and Porsche lore (ignition to the left of the column for, in theory, a split second’s advantage during a Le Mans start). I could be wrong.

      Saab kept this feature to the end, yes? I recently did a day-long drive in a 9-3 Aero Convertible, which had it. Really fun drive, incidentally. I hope the aging relative who owns it stays healthy enough to drive it for a good while yet, but I’ve (politely) asked for right of first refusal when she gives it up. (Her late husband and she were big car people, owning a ’66 Stingray and Sunbeam Tiger among other interesting cars, so the Saab has been excellently maintained. It’s picked up a few parking scrapes, though, which I fear are her fault and not her parking garage neighbors’.)

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Was on a road trip during late June and got saw TWO Saab 9-3 convertibles in a parking garage in Nashville, TN on the same Sunday. Although given the hoity-toity nature of the restaurant next door I imagine they were someone’s Lazy Sunday cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          That was not we, though my relative definitely fancies herself as hoity-toity. :-) Our trip was late-May, and we started our drive a couple of states away.

          This particular Saab technically is a daily driver, but it hasn’t had a particularly hard life. Purchased post-retirement, so it’s never served as a commuter car. Winters: garaged in an apartment building and far enough south never to have seen salt. Summers: garaged at a summer house and used almost exclusively on the highway.

          With my own money and buying new, I’d have gone for the lower-spec 2.0T convertible. The Aero has more power than my 1980s-speeds-calibrated brain really can use on a public road (the 2.8 turbo V6 that I believe later made its way to the Cadillac SRX), and the suspension/wheel/tire set-up is not pothole-friendly. As a used purchase, though, I think either spec makes a fantastic Lazy Sunday car.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      It was a combination of safety and it probaly made it easier to design interior bits between LHD and RHD cars.

      I wouldnt doubt that someone at Saab had driven a competing Volvo at some point, and found Volvos key location to be dangerous. On my own 240s the key was right next to my knee (and most keychains would bonk my knee while I drove).

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Thanks for doing this story. I love Saabs and miss them terribly. I live in the land of successive yardstick deep snow drifts. Minis, Saabs, and Tornados were the only ones who never got stuck (4x4s got over confident and slide off the road – except Travelalls for some strange reason).

    I worked as pump jockey just before the wholesale conversion to self serve. I remember the day I observed more FWDs than RWDs – I knew it was a milestone that would never go backward. Sadly, I was saddled with a decrepit 3rd hand Renault 5 Le Car, instead of the Saab I lusted over. It was all could afford.
    :-(

  • avatar
    vvk

    Thank for this article. The car looks amazing!

    My 1986 900S had about 320k miles when I sold it. Nothing broke in the last 5 years of ownership. Once I figured out that it loved 20W-50 motor oil, the car was dead reliable, smooth, quiet, wonderful to drive, a tank in the snow. Best steering feel of any car I have ever tried, with the possible exception of Peugeot 106. Lots of superb memories!

  • avatar
    albert

    A. The statement about the unchanged wheelbase from 99 to 900 is false. It changed from 2475 mm to 2515 mm.
    B. The ignition key position between the seats was chosen because it is a much safer position than next to the steering column where your knee gets damaged by the key in case of an accident.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    I guess you either loved them or you didn’t. I had a 9-3 convertible as a 2-week rental in L.A. and hated it. Everything was “different” with no clear reason why. It wasn’t notably fast (it was turbocharged) and it sure didn’t feel premium. Putting the top down took up all the space in the trunk. Couldn’t wait to get back to LAX to turn it in. Maybe the quirkiness made sense somewhere for someone but it wasn’t in California and it didn’t to me.

  • avatar
    la834

    The 4 door sedan that was new for 1981 wasn’t an “added body style” in the US; unfortunately, it outright replaced the 5 door hatchback which was no longer available after the first two years. This was unfortunate as the 5 door was the most practical version of this practical car, with a hatch door that opened all the way down to the trunk floor and fold-flat rear seatbacks. The sedan lost some of that functionality. The 5 door did continue in other markets.

    The radio up high on the dash was a forward-thinking feature; today you can get single-DIN head units that include a big fold-out touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that’s bigger than the slot the radio fits into, perfect for beaming your satellite navigation from your phone as well as calls and music. Many other cars then and until recently had the radio down low where a CarPlay receiver is inconvenient, if not dangerous, to use.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    This thread wants me to go back and find the Top Gear send off to SAAB episode. It was a well done piece. I joke with my bro-in law architect that he should be driving a 900/9000 vs an E90

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Saab lost the plot when they stopped being unique. They did nothing better than anyone else.

    They needed to be killed off sooner than it happened.

    High mileage cars are cool, but should not be construed as representative of a brand. One common thread among high mileage cars is that they are typically low powered vehicles.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    With 900k miles I doubt that is the original upholstery.

  • avatar
    myllis

    Saab made also model Saab 90. It was sedan and mixup of 99 and 900. Engine was H-series 100hp 4 cylinder and gearbox was 4- or 5-speed manual. Total production was 25.830 between 1984-1987. Top Range model was Saab 90 Lumikko -> Saab 90 Snow Weasel, Only 20 Snow Weasels were made. All 90 were made in Saab Uusikaupunki, Finland.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Us Americans did get the Saab 90 in the mid 80’s, it was the 2 door sedan version of the 900 hatch called 900S. I had a neighbor who owned a silver one with the 900S 16 valve badging on the trunk lid.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Awesome article! I had the 1982 version, and loved every minute of it!

    • 0 avatar
      oldowl

      Same here, a 99L in lime green. The only car I still miss. Sigh.

      • 0 avatar
        quinnduffy

        Ohmigod – I had a lime green 1976 EMS hatchback as my first car back in around 1989. I loved that car. It had some interesting bits on it – a plastic deck spoiler, some cool yellow and blue pin-striping stickers, factory tach, heated seats!! I rebuilt the engine, added headers, an oil cooler… if I could find that car again…

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    If this car were closer to where I live I might be interested in it. Would want to negotiate for a little off the price but that wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    My buddy — let’s call him Gooch — had a slightly later fuel-injected 900 in black with a maroon interior. Smoooooth, reliable, and it felt SUBSTANTIAL to drive in a way no other small car at the time did…plus there was enough space in the hatch to sleep in the thing. When his station in the world improved, he moved on to a used 9000 and gave the 900 for free to his buddy — let’s call him Mouserat — who had just been “blessed” with a child he could not afford and needed a car. Naturally, the 900 started requiring expensive repairs shortly thereafter, and Mouserat told anyone who would listen how Gooch had done him wrong.


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