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Reprinted from Saab Soundings Vintage Views is a Saab Soundings feature dedicated to the history, preservation, and enjoyment of early Saab automobiles and their derivatives. Through this column, we will share with you the tradition and heritage that has become synonymous with the name Saab.

VINTAGE

Saab 900 Spotter's Guide: Charting The Changes

The name Saab an acronym for Svenska Aeroplar Aktiebolaget (or, "Swedish Airplane Company"), conjures up an image or brand identity unlike any other in the automotive world. Saab's special spirit has been an integral part of the marque since the birth of the innovative and idiosyncratic Saab 92. As a result of Trollhattan's aircraft-inspired engineering philosophy which focused on continuous improvement long before it became fashionable this spirit soon manifested itself throughout the entire Saab 93/95/96 and 97 (Sonett) model range. The Saab "soul" was further perpetuated by the popular Saab 99, but with more than 340,000 sold on these shores, the name Saab is truly synonymous with the designation 900.

The Saab 900 was introduced in 1978 as a 1979 model and, at the time, marked "the culmination of the most ambitious development ever undertaken" by the Swedish automaker. It was an extension of the new car concept created by the Saab 99 literally, the new 900 was 8.4 inches longer and boasted a complete redesign from the front seats forward.

With the introduction of the all-new 1994 Saab 900, it's only appropriate that we celebrate the unprecedented success of the original 900 series. Come with us then, as we accelerate down memory lane in full turbo boost, of course and chart the major changes of the legendary Saab 900.

As the 1979 900 introductory advertising proclaimed, the then-new Saab 900 offered "The New Look of Performance." At the time, it was the longest, sleekest Saab ever Saab passenger car, that is.

  1. Model Year 1979 900 U.S. Importation 11,297:
  2. The Saab 900 was introduced in a variety of 115 Hp (110 Hp westem and Rocky Mountain states), naturally-aspirated and 135 Hp, turbocharged models which included three-door GLi, EMS and 900 Turbo variants, along with the 900 GLE and Turbo 5-doors. An optional automatic transmission was available on all models except the Turbos. Low and high-spec versions were distinguished by different front grilles.

  3. Model Year 1980 900 U.S. Importation 12,906:
  4. Saab 900 Turbo models benefitted from a five-speed, manual transmission, which was also added as a running change for the 900 EMS. A mini-spare and plastic fuel tank were specified for all cars, necessitating changes to the trunk floor.

    New front seats with improved backrests and adjustable head restraints were offered in all variants, and 1980 models are easily identified by their new double rear light clusters. By 1980, all naturally-aspirated models were powered by the 110 Hp, "Lambda" emission control engine which required unleaded fuel only. A five-door Touring Package Option was added, which included metric TRX wheels and tires, air conditioning sunroof, electrically-controlled outside mirrors and rear headrests. Automatic transmission availability was expanded, and all models were now graced by the stylish, high-spec grille. A point of historic interest: the Saab 99 which was offered concurrently with the Saab 900 was dropped after the 1980 model year in the U.S. market. In 1981, a new 900 four-door sedan replaced the five-door hatchback in the U.S. market. The distinctive TRX wheel and tire combination is easily recognized

  5. Model Year 1981 900 U.S. Importation 7,759:
  6. For 1981, the big news was the replacement of all 900 five-door hatchback models in the U.S. by the four-door sedan. In addition, the new "H" engine bowed. It featured a camdriven distributor and belt driven water pump. Model designations were simplified, and badging became simply 900, 900S or 900 Turbo. The TRX wheel and tire combination was expanded for all 900S and 900 Turbo models, and the five-speed manual transmission became standard. New exterior mirrors and wider lower body side mouldings were also added as standard equipment.

  7. Model Year 1982 900 U.S. Importation 16,946:
  8. New for '82 was the debut of advanced, Pirelli P8 low rolling resistance tires, except for the 900 Turbo three-door which returned to Pirelli P6's. The four-door sedan became available in a "base" 900 trim level. TRX wheels and tires were abandoned in favor of conventional, 15inch designs, including a new 24spoke alloy version.

    During the summer of 1982, 400 25-Year Anniversary 900 Turbo sedans were brought to the U.S. all in Slate Blue metallic with manual transmissions. These limited edition four-doors were further distinguished with Slate Blue, color-keyed alloy wheels and front spoiler, a black rear spoiler, upgraded Sony stereo, deeppile Sierra Tan carpet mats and an appropriate 25th Anniversary steering wheel emblem and key fob.

    Also during mid-year, 1982 Saab 900 Turbos benefited from the revolutionary Automatic Performance Control (APC) system, which controlled turbocharger boost pressure as a function of fuel quality.

  9. Model Year 1983 900 U.S. Importation 22,777:
  10. The quickest way to identify a 1983 Saab 900 is by its new front parking lights, which were integrated within the headlamp bezels. Front and rear bumpers gained a wider decor strip, and a protective belt line molding was added to the bodyside. Inside, the center console was restyled, as was the parking brake handle. Saab's greatest innovation for 1983 was the specification of environmentallyfriendly, asbestos-free brake pads. By winter, Saab delivered an optional Exclusive Appointments Group for 900 Turbo models, which included leather seating surfaces, a front console, an electric sunroof and standard fog lights.

  11. Model Year 1984 900 U.S. Importation 31,638:
  12. Model year 1984 was a year of further refinements for the Saab 900. The updated parking lights introduced the year before were now joined by a redesigned grille. Bumper extensions were added to the bodysides. The 900 logo disappeared for one year from the rear of the Turbos. The 900 Turbo models also sported a new, three-spoke steering wheel and the Exclusive Appointment Group front console as standard equipment, while a new exhaust system was specified as well.

  13. Model Year 1985 900 U.S. Importation 38,720:
  14. Major product news in 1985 came with the introduction of the 16 valve, Turbo engine. Rated at 160 Hp, the new engine included such advances as LH fuel injection and hydraulic valve lifters. A new wheel program was introduced, including a 15-spoke alloy design for the Turbo, and 1985 was the year when the then-new Griffin corporate symbol first graced the hood of the Saab 900. The Saab product line was revved up even further with the introduction of the 900 Turbo threedoor with Special Performance Group. Affectionately known as the "SPG", though never officially designated as such, chassis improvements included front and rear sway bars, recalibrated gas-filled shocks and V-rated Pirelli P6 tires. Easily recognized by its aerodynamic side skirts and three-spoke alloy wheels, leather upholstery, fog lights and an electric sunroof rounded out the package. All badging was removed xcept for the Saab logo. By Spring, a 900S two-door sedan was added to the range. While originally intended as a throwback to the 99 EMS for the U.S. market, it instead featured an equipment level which was equivalent to the 900S three and four-door models, except that it enjoyed the upgraded Turbo seats and front console. This is the 900 Turbo Convertible as it originally appeared in the U.S. during the surnmer of 1986. Each dealer only received one.

  15. Model Year 1986 900 U.S. Importation 36,973:
  16. The 900S gained a naturally aspirated, 125 Hp version of the 16 valve engine. In the U.S., the 900 Turbo Convertible added great excitement to the Saab line a Silver model was supplied to each dealer that summer. All 900 Turbos received ventilated front disc brakes, along with SPG stabilizer bars. Perhaps the quickest way to identify a 1986 Saab 900 was by its small, sidemounted tum indicator lights located behind the front wheels on the fender, along with its high-mounted rear stop light.

  17. Model Year 1987 900 U.S. Importation 36,194:
  18. The 1987 Saab 900 is easily distinguished by its many styling changes, technical upgrades and equipment additions. All models received a front and rear facelift with flushmounted headlights, new parking light clusters, a chrome grille, wraparound bumpers and an integrated front spoiler. The 900S received the ventilated front discs and stabilizer bars from the Turbo, and the Exclusive Appointment Group was redesignated Leather Package (since the electric sunroof was now standard on all Turbo models.) The Special Performance Group gained 5 Hp, requiring premium unleaded fuel, and an even more aggressive, lowered suspension was added. The 900S threedoor was the first Saab to feature motorized front seat belts, in compliance with passive restraint phasein requirements. The 900S two-door was dropped, but 900 Convertible production came on full steam.

  19. Model Year 1988 900 U.S. Importation 28,321:
  20. In the interest of improved durability, a water-cooled turbocharger was specified for the 900 Turbo in 1988. All 1988 models benefitted from the new Saab 9000 braking system, while electrically heated, exterior power mirrors were added to all variants except the entry level Saab 900 model. Wider wheel arch moldings distinguished the popular Special Performance Group. By mid-year, motorized front seat belts were added to 900 Turbo three-door models to comply with the passive restraint phase-in requirements. The package included a knee bolster and a four-spoke steering wheel. Saab dealers enjoyed the springtime in Sweden, and a special edition of the 900 Turbo Convertible black with SPG trim, was commissioned in honor of the event.

  21. Model Year 1989 900 U.S. Importation 24,490:
  22. In response to dealer demand, the 900 Turbo four-door sedan was reintroduced to the U.S. model range. The 16 valve engine now at 128 Hp in naturally-aspirated form was standard throughout the entire 900 series for 1989, as were stabilizer bars and gas shocks. By 1990, the 900 Turbo three-door with Special Performance Group evolved into what can be best described as the classic stealth Saab. Output was up to 175 Hp, and like all 900s for 1990, a driver's-side air bag and antl-lock braking (ABS) were standard After the next mode1 year, the SPG was deleted

  23. Model Year 199O 900 U.S. Importation 14,561:
  24. Major technical advances introduced in 1990 ensured that the 900 would remain a competitive force. Anti-lock braking (ABS) was now standard on all cars, including the entry level 900. A driver's-side air bag was also added to all models, and motorizedbelts were consequently deleted. Buyers who stepped up to the 900S were provided with leather seating surfaces, electric sunroof and standard fog lights. Power went up to 175 Hp on the 900 Turbo with Special Performance Group.

  25. Model Year 1991 900 U.S. Importation 15,440
  26. The naturally-aspirated, 16 valve engine in the 900 and 900S was enlarged from 2.0 to 2.1-Liter, and power increased to 140 Hp for 1991. Both models. also received the Turbo-style black window trim. Headlight wipers and washers were added to all Saabs for the American market, as were 9000-style front seats. For spring, two new versions of the extremely successful 900 Convertible were added. A Special Edition Turbo in Platana Grey metallic or Monte Carlo Yellow was offered, and both included SPG exterior trim. More significantly, a naturallyaspirated 900S version of the Convertible was added and sales soared.

  27. Model Year 1992 900 U.S. Importation 14,829:
  28. Look to the wheels and you'll easily distinguish the 1992 Saab 900. A three-spoke, asymmetric alloy design was offered on 900 Turbo models, while 900S variants rolled on a new 15-spoke alloy style. The 900 continued to feature steel wheels, but aesthetics were improved with a new 16-spoke, full wheel cover. More readable instrument graphics gave the 900 series a cleaner instrument panel appearance. 900 Convertibles were easily identified by a new, wraparound rear spoiler, which extended forward to the A-pillars. In the spring, tan and blue Convertible tops were added to supplement black. The 900 Turbo with Special Performance Group was deleted from the program.

  29. Model Year 1993 900 U.S. Importation 9,936:
  30. For the second time in its U.S. history, the 900 nomenclature was reformulated for easier identification. Since the specification levels were now closer than ever, the 900 designation was dropped. The 900S was now offered at the lower 900 price point and included velour upholstery as standard equipment. Leather became an option. In the spring, a 900 Turbo Commemorative Edition was offered. This special Saab was only available as a three-door Turbo with a manual transmission, in black, of course. With 185 Hp it was the highestperforming 900 ever, and along with an improved suspension, it became the quintessential Saab 900 Turbo. Only 325 examples were produced, each one numbered with a Commemorative Edition plaque. All included a wooden instrument panel facia and special alloy wheels with polished outer rims and gray centers.

  31. 1994 Model Year

While 1994 will be best remembered as the year of the allnew 900, the model launch includes a five-door hatchback variant only. The first-senes 900S and 900 Turbo Convertibles therefore soldier on. Introduced in May of 1993 as 1994 models, buyers had the opportunity to get into a '94 Convertible months before the popular soft-tops would normally be available. Starting late in the summer, all 1994 900 Turbo Convertibles featured the wooden instrument panel fascia as standard equipment. In the "Saab Scene" section of this issue you'll find details on a final 900 Turbo Convertible Commemorative Edition which was introduced in September. Like the threedoor Commemorative, this special Convertible is powered by the 185 Hp Turbo engine with a manual fivespeed transmission. It includes the Commemorative alloy wheels and wooden instrument panel fascia. It is available only with special black metallic paint, tan top and tan leather upholstery highlighted by charcoal piping. A total of 500 Commemorative Edition 900 Turbo Convertibles will be imported.

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