1980s / Saab / Swedish

One that got away: How I nearly bought a Saab 900 Turbo built in January of 1980

You wouldn’t guess this by looking at my current fleet of cars, but I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Saab enthusiast. I was understandably excited when, driving home a decade ago, I spotted a black Saab 900 parked on the side of the road with a big piece of cardboard that read “FOR SALE” stuck on the windshield. There were also fliers under the passenger-side wiper that read:

“For Sale $400
SAAB 900 Turbo
Engine and turbo work great
All electrical, lights, lock, windows work great
Needs work on power steering and bearings

Take one!”

I called the seller and made an appointment to come check out the car later that night. A closer look revealed that it wasn’t your average 900 Turbo. It was built in January of 1980, which means it was a very early model. It had several early production details including a five-speed emblem on the bottom right side of the hatch, a double-vented hood, the old Triumph-based B engine, the early grille, Inca wheels and a few interior bits and pieces borrowed from the 99.

The Turbo had a 105,000 miles (about 170,000) kilometers on a working odometer, and I believe those miles were original because the interior was in very good shape. It had some rust on the body (notably below the rear windows) but nothing major, I’ve seen worse on 900s that were much newer. I drove it briefly around the neighborhood the seller lived in and the engine was in fantastic shape, with the extraordinary amount of turbo lag that characterizes the early turbocharged Saabs, and the transmission shifted smoothly. Wheel bearing and power steering issues were relatively minor, so I immediately decided I had to own this car.

In 2005 I was a senior in high school (and driving an Alfa Romeo Milano on a daily basis) so it took a couple of days for me to gather $400, a huge sum at the time. Once I did, I called the seller and immediately noticed he’d changed his voice mail message. “Hi, this is _____. If you’re calling about the Saab it’s gone. I repeat, the Saab is gone.”

Damn, someone must have beat me to it! Curious, I called again about an hour later and this time the seller answered. It turns out another interested party was test-driving it and, in the man’s words, “the car stopped dead in its tracks, there were parts everywhere on the road.” One of the axle boots was ripped — I’d noticed that when I looked under it — and the axle had finally seized.

The sad part is, the seller decided to pull the ad and immediately junk the car. He gave me the address of the self-service junkyard that took it, and I found the Turbo there a couple of weeks later with a newly-acquired dent on the quarter panel. The junkyard refused to sell complete cars so I pulled the five-speed emblem, the grille and the hood, and left the rest.

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2 thoughts on “One that got away: How I nearly bought a Saab 900 Turbo built in January of 1980

  1. Nice old Saab and would have been well worth saving, but that is the later “H” engine not a “B” engine so maybe not as early as you think, or it has had an engine swap?

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