63k Mile Driver: 1991 Saab 900

Pity poor Saab! After being bounced around from Saab AB to Saab Automobile AB, to GM, to Spyker and then to NEVS for ostensibly, electrification, Saab is pretty much down for the count these days as its future is murky at best. But it wasn’t always that way. Even in 1989, as GM made a partial acquisition of Saab’s car business that brought change to the storied Swedish marque, the Saab 900 was clearly still one of their greatest hits and most fondly remembered cars. That being the case, let’s examine this 1991 Saab 900, located in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, and available here on eBay for a current bid of $3,750, seventeen bids tendered so far.

The Saab 900 was produced from 1978 until 1998 primarily at Saab’s Trollhattan, Sweden plant in two and four-door sedans, two and four-door hatchback models, and a convertible. On average, 58K model 900s were produced per year making it one of Saab’s best selling models.

This 1991 900 has 63K miles and has spent the majority of its life in Dallas, Texas. The seller states that this example has “the best body in the nation, no rust”. Pretty strong praise it would seem. The original paint and clearcoat are listed as “perfect”, and the gray finish does present itself well. It has a deep shine and no evidence of fading or clear coat peeling, a pretty good feat for a Texas-based car. Even the black plastic trim is still true with no gray oxidization evident.

Unfortunately, there are no images of the 2.1-liter four-cylinder, in-line, 140 HP engine. Even though an FWD layout, the engine is longitudinally mounted like an RWD designed model. The seller is pretty open about his Saab’s condition stating, “1-Temp. heat control(water valve) needs replaced. 2-Hydraulic valve noisy until hot ( no its not the timing chain). 3-Cruise control- forget it, do they ever work? 4- AC marginal was converted to R-134 and there lies the problem. Not satisfied, install a Sanden compressor there good! The attention-getter is the valve train noise which is probably due to a needed adjustment.  The seller has performed the following maintenance: Muffler, shocks, gaiters on both half shafts & steering rack. Finally, the seller states that the Borg-Warner 37 automatic transaxle shifts smoothly with no slippage.

The interior is truly pristine. The light gray fabric upholstery, which is a dirt magnet, looks fantastic. There is no sign of wear or stains, much less rips, tears, splits, etc. The dash pad and headliner are exactly as designed, no issues of concern. Being a base model 900, this Saab does not have a sunroof or power windows.

The seller states that he is 78 years old and wants to “scale back” his collection so he’s offering this Saab for sale. This vintage is considered to be desirable because it predates GM’s complete control of Saab which occurred in 2000 and ultimately led to the brand’s demise and sale. Always, unique, and a bit quirky, a Saab is like no other car. Cost of ownership can be outsized due to maintenance and parts are becoming a bit more difficult to secure but for a Saab purist, it’s worth the effort. At this point, the price appears to be reasonable, let’s see where it goes over the next two days of bidding.

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  1. art

    This SAAB is great. Love the 900 series. This one looks great from most every angle but both very “foggy” headlights are oddly out of place with an otherwise un-faded, unblemished vehicle. I thought these were still glass in this era. I had a new 1994 Volvo 850 Turbo wagon and it had glass lenses.
    Have to do some research.

    Like 2
    • BTG88

      The lenses are glass. Maybe ‘foggy’ due to sand blasting in TX? I replaced mine on my ’91 SPG, but that car has over 200k on the clock.

    • Stan Marks

      There are so many HD Lite lens cleaners, on the market. Although, save your $$$ and use some gritty tooth paste with a terrycloth rag. It works well.

      • Stan Marks

        BTW… If the lens are cloudy, on the inside, you’re stuck. Unless you purchase new ones.

  2. Kurt W. Krauss

    They are glass. Don’t understand why foggy unless it’s condensation inside. Also this was fairly recently for sale in Texas – asking was $10,5. This appears to be a no-reserve auction. Wonder where it will end up. The BW37 is a deal killer for me; I’ve owned ca. 24 Saabs over the past 40 years both new and used including many OG900s. Only two were automatics which were troublesome and not that fun to drive. The manuals are the ones to get and if you shift into first before putting into reverse to remove the key, you will have many, many miles of use from them.

    Like 1
  3. That AMC guy

    I’ve had some experience with these (not as much as Kurt, above!) but on older 1980s models. Although the 900 was made until 1998, the original 99-based car was only made until 1993 (2004 for convertibles). After that they are based on a completely different GM platform.

    Saab 16-valve engines have hydraulic valve lifters (or cam followers if you like), so if there is valve clatter it’s due to a collapsed lifter, dirty or worn out. As I recall the 2.1 engines were known for head gasket leaks due to pitting of the cylinder head surface and the factory “fix” was to smear JB Weld on the pitted surface to smooth it out. (Probably a problem taken care of on a 30+ year-old car.) Other than that these engines are pretty bulletproof and can rack up hundreds of thousands of miles with normal maintenance.

    Cruise control problems are pretty common. Could be as simple as the switch on the turn signal stalk, and the electric vacuum pump used to operate the throttle is another common failure point – as would be 30-year-old vacuum lines.

    Transmissions and rust are the things to watch out for on these cars. Rust looks not to be a problem here. Automatic and manual transmissions are both fragile, though the manual is much preferred. (Starting in 1989 the manual trans was strengthened a bit with larger pinion bearings.) The automatic trans is a front-drive version of the ancient Borg-Warner 3-speed transmission, basically a 1950s design. They’re not very efficient and the engine will wind up pretty high cruising on freeways, and usually not good for much more than 100,000 miles. Some guys do convert the automatic trans over to 5-speed.

    I’m pretty sure 1991 models have a funky ABS system which can be $$$ for parts. A pressure bulb (frequently referred to as a “bomb”) is used rather than a conventional brake booster. A tip I recall reading is that the part for a Buick Reatta can be substituted for much less money than the Saab part if a replacement is needed.

    Since the AC has already been converted to R134a, in the U.S. it is legal at the federal EPA level to convert to a hydrocarbon refrigerant such as EnviroSafe which will restore the air conditioner to, and even surpass, original R12a performance levels. You’d need to check state and local regs though to make sure The Man in your area has no objections.

    This car does look great, the dash is not even cracked! Anyone buying one of these will want to log onto Saabnet as a support resource:


    You’ll also want to buy the Bentley 16-valve service manual for the 1985-1993 900:


    Anyhow, that’s my take on it based on limited experience. I’m sure there are Saab experts here who can go into a lot more correct detail.

    Like 8
    • BTG88

      1994 for convertibles. The 2.1 head is preferred, especially among those looking to improve the performance of their 2.0 turbo engines. This is due to the improved flow dynamics.

      Like 2
  4. Kurt W. Krauss

    @That AMC Guy – you are 100% on the mark with all of your comments.

    Like 5
  5. That AMC Guy

    Thanks Kurt, though of course that should have been “1994” instead of “2004” for the last old-generation 900 convertibles.

    Back in the 1980s when the Saab 900 was viewed by many as a yuppie-mobile on par with BMW, a buddy bought one with automatic trans. I used to kid him by asking how he liked the Studebaker transmission in his car. :)

    Like 5
    • Kurt W. Krauss

      The BW37 was never up to the standard of the rest of the car. This example is tempting because of the overall condition although the engine noise described is concerning; if it’s only a lifter why not have that repaired?

      Like 1
  6. Jay

    Saab story after GM sold it off

  7. gerardfrederick

    It appears, wherever GM was involved, death was around the corner. Detroit management had a way to destroy European makes, they for example used Opel´s bank account as their own, bankrupting this Once world class company.

    Like 2
  8. Jim Motavalli Staff

    Unfortunately, the non-turbo 900 automatic is the slowpoke of the bunch. This does look like a very nice car.

  9. Craigo

    I bought my now ex-wife a very low mileage 1988 Black Saab convertible with beautiful tan leather interior. This automatic turbo convertible looked great and was a lot of fun to drive.

    One of the best cars that I ever owned.

    Like 4
  10. The One Member

    Good luck finding parts, I junked a perfectly good 2007 Aero cause they don’t make computers. Tried used ones, reprogrammed, a couple K spent for nothing. This car was cherry, new tires brakes. oil change was days old..

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