Amazingly, the Saab 900 had a production run of 20 years, from 1978 to 1998, though the first generation 900 was superseded for the last 4 years by the second-generation model, which was essentially a re-skinned Vauxhall/Opel Vectra.
Just as remarkable is how little the 900 changed visually, though successive development of its 2-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine brought more power and higher performance from the base model’s single-carb aspiration, through twin-carbs, fuel-injection, turbos, intercoolers and a 16-valve engine.
The Turbo model was available right from the start, and while turbos are commonplace today, it was a bold and unexpected move for a prestige car maker in a mainstream model.
Turbochargers had a reputation for wild performance and fragility, but in the 900 Turbo Saab developed a svelte, fast and characterful car with great durability.
Over 908,000 Saab 900s were made, including another modern classic, the Saab 900 convertible – nearly 50,000 of them. These were generally equipped with the 16-valve turbo engine. The fastest 900 was the 175hp Saab 900 Turbo S.
Saab made a great play of its aeronautical heritage. It’s hard to imagine there was really much technological commonality between its military jets and its road cars, but it made for great TV ads – and the Saab Viggen and (less often seen) Draken are themselves stunning aeronautical icons.
The 900 has aeronautical cues in its design, including a deeply curved wraparound front windscreen and a curved dash with controls placed according to their frequency of use.
It was, and still isn’t, like other cars. The transmission is mounted under the engine, for example, driven by a crank at the front of the motor rather than the rear.
It’s a car that typifies the ‘curse of the classic’. It has taken a very long time for everyone to realise just how good it was – too late, alas, to stop the company that made it from going under.