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Cosmetically Challenged: 1978 Saab 99 Turbo

1978 Saab 99 Turbo

If it weren’t for taking the plunge on vintage BMWs, pre-GM Saabs would likely be my drug of choice. From the hatchback funkiness to the liberal use of turbocharging, old-school 99s and 900s just rub me the right way. Unfortunately, finding examples in any condition of the iconic Saab 99 Turbo takes more than a stroke of good luck, which is why this rough-looking ’78 example may actually be worth throwing a bid at if you’re on the hunt for one. You can find it here on eBay with a Buy-it-Now of $2,200 and the option to make an offer.

1978 Saab 99 Turbo Engine

The 2-liter turbocharged engine gave this Swedish hot-hatch a robust 143 horsepower, not a bad number for a foreign make with a modest footprint in the US in the 1970s. Giving enthusiasts a car that combined racy looks with performance to back it up was becoming a rare sight in the malaise era of the ‘70s and ‘80s, so the original 99 Turbo was likely a sight for sore eyes when it arrived. Combined with the factory’s “Inca”-style alloy wheels, front air dam, rear hatch spoiler, turbo gauges and unique steering wheel, and it’s easy to see how the 99 Turbo was a visually and mechanically pleasing package rolled into a versatile hatchback shell.

1978 Saab 99 Turbo Interior

This particular 99 has clearly seen better days, cosmetically speaking. The air dam is long gone, much like the paint; there are dents all over the body; surface rust is blossoming in multiple locations; and the Inca alloy wheels, though present, are filthy. The interior is surprisingly decent for a car that looks so tired on the outside. The seller does acknowledge there is rust or some form of damage on every body panel, so this example will definitely require some time in the body shop after its mechanical sorting is complete. Oh, and it definitely needs a Turbo badge on the grill.

Rusty 1978 Saab 99 Turbo

Despite their immense appeal, I’ve heard a fair amount of horror stories from other project car owners who found that mechanical complexity abounds in old Saab vehicles. Not necessarily overtly cumbersome or expensive mechanical systems, it seems to be more that they lacked the straightforward simplicity of other sporting cars from the era. Of course, fixing Saabs may come naturally to you, in which case you should definitely rescue this 99 Turbo from any more time spent off the road. So tell us, is the sound of a turbocharged Swedish powerplant enough to make you want to tackle this restoration? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Chris in San Diego

    Would definitely give it a good look if not for the massive distance to get her home. However if that were somewhere in CA, AZ or NV I’d be all over it!

  2. pursang

    The guys over at should be all over this, Owned a 92 900 turbo three door years ago and loved that car.

  3. Kustombart

    I have owned a 3-door ’84 900S, white with Inca wheels. They look very good when clean.
    I also owned an ’88 900 turbo16S, that was seriously quick, 175hp and a truckload of torque. Those engines run 200k miles easily when treated right. They can also be tuned to 250hp with increased boost, tuned exhaust and chiptuning. In 4 and five door cars, these engines are easy to find here (Netherlands). I’d use a 900 turbo16 as a donor and swap out mechanicals with the 99. Then paint it an original red metallic or green. Lovely cars, Saabs!

  4. Ken

    I had one of these years ago and a number of other 99s. Great fun but somewhat delicate transmissions. Definitely a bit on the crusty side. Interior is interesting mix of faded colors. As noted engines are pretty darn pullet proof if kept up decently. Looks like air dam is missing, so wonder about the stock oil cooler that came on the turbos.

  5. 57Wayne

    Not bad for a $500 car. I’ve had several, still have a 9-5 aero wagon and ’91 Beryl green 900 turbo conv. Oh..and another 900 turbo conv with bad rot around the shifter for some reason. The hatch is cool as the seats fold flat and the floor of the load surface is the same height as the top of the rear bumper. Loaded lots of stuff in those!
    Still, this is a bit overpriced in my opinion. Check inside the front strut towers for rot. A good fabricator /welder can repair them sometimes. Other times it is not worth it.

  6. cory

    you seem to suffer the same form of addiction as i do, alternating between saabs and bmw’s . i dont really know why but i have always been drawn to the 900s i have owned three black 900 turbos. the last one being a 85 900 spg. sadly all in about this condition. if this is a true turbo car, then i am sure it will be snapped up for this price. the 99s turbos are pretty rare. i would love to have it, but … wait for it … i just bought another bmw.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      What’s your latest acquisition, Cory? Would love to hear about it. I like SPG’s as well – how would you compare the driving experience?

      • cory

        the newest vehicle in the fleet is an e46, 330ci black and tan, M wheels, sport suspension, by far the best driving vehicle I have owned. as for the driving experience, a BMW is the representation of a correctly engineered car that drives perfectly because it was designed properly in a logical manner. a Saab is a car designed by idiots and put together in a way that makes no sense but still works well.

        the Saab has some pretty solid handling, it does feel heavier than the BMWs do. one of my favorite parts of the saabs is the turbo lag, while it is probably a nuisance to most people I miss the days of early turbos. putting your foot to the floor, reading a magazine, catching up with some old friends, and taking a quick nap while waiting for the turbo to spool up. but when they did finally kick in, it was loads of fun.

        sadly, I think saabs will fade away into history, I doubt there will be much of a collector market. the cars were a nightmare to maintain. Leaving all the horror stories out, they had some really odd things, such as belts on the rear of the engine, the transmission under the engine etc, that made even basic maintenance a challenge. I will likely own a few more, but the challenge of finding good clean examples that have been maintained continues to increase and parts supplies are drying up.

  7. Tom

    Won’t happen, but this car screams out for an AWD restomod swap to be an ultimate sleeper!

  8. Steve

    I had one of these in the UK as a daily driver from ’95 to 2002 , regretted selling it ever since , smooth 2 litre turbo hardly ever let me down over 50k miles

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