Are old Saabs good or bad to own and maintain?
Saabs have always been quirky cars. Innovation has always made the Saab stand out from the first model to the current series.
The models I will be looking at here are the 9-3, 9-5, (still current) and 9000 series. The oldest of these three is the 9000 which although no longer made, are still available used, often in prime condition and have many of the innovations used on later models.
The Aero version is still a thoroughly modern car, very powerful, with luxury everywhere you look inside and out.
If you want to drive a real luxury car with heated seats, airbag and lot's of power but don't have a lot to spend?
The 9000 can be purchased for a few thousand dollars, and if you buy the right car, you will think you have won the pools! Inside the luxury version is top quality seats in leather or a soft fabric, heated seats, air bags, sunroof, wood-grain trim like a Rolls Royce, wonderful instrumentation layout and very good visibility..
Saab ( Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag) is a well respected automotive company that has been making top end luxury cars for a long time with a history in the design and manufacture of high end aircraft. When it comes to building strong modern cars, they do it very well indeed.
The thing is, that old ones have a bad reputation for needing major and expensive repairs, and if you love the car you need to know how to get around these problem the easy way.
Buy a good one!
The answer is the same advice I gave on buying and owning a BMW 5 series, which is simply DON"T buy one without a complete service history and a working knowledge of what to look for in the way of problems.
The earliest models of Saab are very rare and sought after as a collector's car so I will mention them here as well.
They were a two cylinder two stroke motor of only 750 cc mounted transversely or sideways in front of the front axle and very few cars have survived partly due to the small number made, and the fact that the motor was vulnerable in front end collisions.
These early Saabs were cheap to purchase and needed to be very good value to compete with the well established Volvo of the time........ not an easy ask!
The next model that was introduces to the USA market carried the Ford V4 motor and was very popular providing 65 horsepower which made it quite nippy with a usable 4,700 rpm providing a zero to 60mph time of 16 seconds flat, considered quick at the time.
In 1964 Saab went on to introduce the new Saab 99 and the inclined four cylinder Triumph motor was used. The motor was inclined, as it was in reality half of the new V8 that Triumph were developing!
The motor was strong and reliable at only 1.5 litres. At the same time, in line with it's focus on safety, ( no doubt born of being an aircraft company historically) Saab removed all asbestos from it's brakes by 1981.
As you may know by now, Saab sold half of the company to GM in 1990 and the other 50% was acquired in 2000, so the late model Saabs are using the Holden Astra or Vauxhaul Vector running gear for the last few years, but has been sold to the Dutch specialist automotive builder Spyker in 2010.
Pictured is a friend's beautiful 9000 Aero (which I have driven)
It has among other things a massive amount of power for it's size produces by a higher throughput turbo than the standard 2.3 motor.
The earlier 900 series ran for 14 years and was a development of the earlier 99 which is not being critiqued here as it is just too old to be in the hands of other than dyed in the wool Saab enthusiasts, who know how to find the bits needed to look after a car of this vintage.
The models I believe are of most interest for the used Saab buyer are the 9000 aero, and the 9-3 and 9-5 built at Trollhättan from the mid nineties to 2001.
The 9000 series was styled by the Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro with the motor mounted transversely allowing more passenger space than the 900 although it is slightly shorter in overall length.
The 9000 aero was well ahead in design with airbags, strong body shell and passenger protection built in to the whole design.
The 9000 was also the first front wheel drive car fitted with ABS along with it's many other safety devices.
The first 9-3 built in 1998 was almost identical to look at as the 900 with a high mounted third brake light and the grill being the only noticeable difference cosmetically, but with over 1,100 improvements ranging from suspension to active head restraints it is a much tighter chassis to drive with much better handling and is a massive improvement over the 900.
The SE version has a lot more than the standard model which already has many luxuries not found in other cars.
The saab 9-5 has seen 3 different companies involved in it's construction, and the current model is a gem.
Early 9-5s had problems with:
- oil delivery. If oil changes were constantly missed or overdue the sump would build up sludge and block the primary oil filter inside the motor resulting in a loss of oil pressure and thus oil delivery to the camshafts and crankshaft often causing serious engine failure.
- transmission failure: Same deal. A lot of torque delivered from the turbo motor means service intervals are important. Those who ignored transmission service paid the price.
- electronic problems: such as the display unit losing pixels. There are only a few electrical problems, one being the main display. No longer an expensive fix, as rebuilt and replacement units are now starting at around $150.
- coil pack failure: This is simply a mileage thing unless the motor has been overheated. The location of the coil packs means they can get too hot and begin to fail. New ones are expensive.
- camshaft balancer failure: Once again, nothing wrong with the design, but poor servicing can be very expensive when it comes to repairs if servicing has not been carried out in time.
All of these problems can be traced to infrequent servicing, poor servicing or in some cases incomplete servicing.
As I noted with the BMW 5 series, full service history is a must, as high performance cars that have been serviced poorly can cost as much as 3 times the purchase price to repair.
Soft leather pockets, individual heat and cooling swivel ducts, it's comfortable and roomy.
This is the interior of the 9000 aero. As you can see, the car is beautiful inside even by today's standards. There is ample legroom and space between passengers.
More by this Author
Self knowledge and self worth are vital personal attributes when starting a workshop or auto repair shop. You need to enjoy dealing with people in general. If you enjoy the mechanical work that is great, but if you...
Early BMW cars are still a great buy, but you need to know about their design faults and recalls.
Troubleshooting the sounds your car suspension makes can save you a small fortune. Before you spend a dime, read this first.