Blog : Saab 9-3 SE Turbo – Reviving The Swede

Mike Humble:

Robust & Uniquely Styled - So very Saab

My Rover 420iL went to a good home with no fuss to nice chap called Mr Foy, he was the second person to view the car after the first viewing turned out to be nothing more than the dreaded Sunday morning tyre kicker. After knocking £25 from the asking price, I`m quids in too! – though not by much I might add. Speaking with Keith only just the other day, we both love what my long suffering other half calls “The Chase” – the rigmarole of buying a cheap car, NOT the quiz show hosted by Bradley Walsh – allthough I do profess, I watch that programme and quite enjoy it too.

The bit that grinds my gears is the selling, the phone calls asking stupid questions like what’s the lowest price for cash? Or what the colour is – it really does drive me insane, especially when I go to the effort of formulating the advert to include almost everything a buyer would need to know. I loved that Rover, but as mentioned in a previous post, the car lacked soul , so once again I scoured the internet and local ads for a car with that certain something that could light my fire.

Lovingly cared for by previous pilots - So very Saab!

After driving Keith Adams utterly sublime Alfa 156, we both decided that was the car for us. The noise, the styling and the road manners all ticked the right boxes but my main problem was the budget  I had set myself. After viewing one or two, I came to the conclusion that most for under a grand tended to be a bit poorly, scruffy or being sold for all the wrong reasons. One of them had 9 previous owners in just 7 years, so after much soul searching and equally much reluctance, I opted not to go down the Italian road but head for Scandanavia instead.

Initially, I had toyed with the idea of another Saab 9000 – a wonderful barge of a car that is still a total joy to own and drive, but just like Alfa’s, they tended to be wrecked or overvalued – and besides, there is not exactly oodles of them out there these days. So to move things to the present, I have bought a dead 9-3 SE Turbo from a known trader for very very little money. It has a dead turbocharger and wont run, but it also has a full service history, its in a lovely colour (gunmetal) and everthing seems to work along with heaps of lovely MOT.

Works Supervisor inspects the dead Garrett GT17 - Erm... So very Saab!

The sump will be coming off and cleaned through along with the oil strainer, and as I type, there is a nice cheap & tested second hand Garrett GT17 whistling it’s way to me. I supose deep down in my heart I knew it would be another Saab, but one day I WILL get hold of that dream car of mine – the “classic” 900 Turbo 16!

Mike Humble


  1. You poor man. I used to have one of those. A dead turbo was only the start of 2 years of total misery and near financial ruin. Guess what car I run now? A trouble-free Alfa 156!

  2. The selling / buying game is a nightmare.

    The selling part can be ok if you have time on your hands and aren’t prepared to rush for silly money.
    You do get silly questions like “What’s the least you’ll take” or “Would you take ?” without even seeing the car!
    Then the ones that come to tyre kick and you can tell they aren’t even interested. Why waste everyone’s time?
    Eventually you will get somebody who will buy the car.

    The buying part scares me with cheap second hand cars, as you don’t know what the seller is hiding, and there is always something.
    I’ve all but given up on buying privately, and keep an eye on local dealers as they usually give the car a good look over themselves before selling on.

    Good luck with the Saab!
    Was tempted by a late 90s 9-5, but have heard horror stories about them.

  3. Late 90’s 9-5?

    They can be ok… My Dad’s mate has a Griffin V6. It’s done 110k with a relatively short faults list over that time…. The Electric’s had an episode at some point, the screens dieing on the dash (common, apparently).. But most recently.. POP! Head gaskets blown!.. It’s being repaired though, rather than scrapped. Last time I was at a scrapper there was 2 9-5’s in there, one a Y plate and the other an 02 and neither had any body damage and even had BOTH keys in them, not 1 key per car you understand, but 2 keys per car!.. The V6 is lovely though, same high torque as a Skoda Fabia vRS but for a whole 2000rpm rather than 100rpm, lol! Over taking monster!

    On the 9000 front? Decent ones for little cash are out there, I know that for a fact as my Parents just sold what was a VERY good 9000 2.3lpt Anni for £300. It had a couple of very minor blemishes but nothing serious.. they can’t be the only ones.

    As for Turbo’s.. I’m nervously waiting for my Skoda’s TDi’s whistling wonder to go crunch… It’s getting quite audible, apparently a bad sign.. ok once warm though but on a cold morning you’d think it was auditioning for the X-Factor.

  4. @ bobby.

    I might be able to help you there.

    If you go on ebay there are people selling 250 watt adhesive sump heaters and also block heaters. The former are pretty cheap and run off mains electric, on my safrane the difference between the two in summer weather is 2mpg, it’ll be more in the cold. The latter are more expensive to buy & fit, but warm the whole motor. The 250 watt sump heater I fitted costs me only 3.5p per hour to run..
    However if you fit one and use it on a time switch before you start the car in the morning, not only will the car heat up faster, but the oil will be more mobile and might help eke out the life of your ailing turbo. Even getting both will be cheaper than a new turbo.
    As a guideline, in winter weather my car does 16mpg when its dead cold or freezing. Thats in comparison to between 23-35 when its warm (35mpg on a run). Fitting a sump & block heater will pay for itself, even without the benefit of nice smooth toasty oil for your superannuated turbo.

  5. Bought one of these new on a Y plate in the same colour. mistake was the 2.2 TiD diesel -not the most sophisticated lump.

    Rear ended at 5,000 miles by a Suzuki Vitara with a bull bar. Made a mess but car and me survived.

    Engine managment light came on while driving to Adrdossan foir the Arran ferry. there followed a sequence of 2 months of turbo shut down until I’d had enough. Bought a ZT-T.

    Still like the look of these though and am preparing to go into mourning for Saab. GM -hold your head in shame!

  6. I agree about private buyers. I’ve successfully sold many cars privately over the years but had to contend with the one’s that don’t turn up to view and others that offer less dosh. But if I said no, they would often come back with a better offer. More recently I have traded my cars in as I enjoy “jousting” with the Salesmen! I usually manage to get a reasonably acceptable deal after a bit of negotiation.

    Anyway, good luck with the Saab – it looks nice and has that rarity on our roads which make it more appealing when you see one.

  7. I had one of these once. Ok when relatively new, a moenypit towards the end of its eight year life with me. Replaced with a 156 SW, which I still have and is now ten years old and a dream car to own and drive (is there a theme developing here?!).

  8. Saab going down the pan, a Chinese company to swoop in and grab a bargain, no doubt to try and sell a range of self-developed hatchbacks in Europe.

    Any of this sound familiar?

    Will Saab AB group refuse to licence the Saab automobile name?

    Can we expect the 9-5 to be built as the Saewe 950?

    I found this interesting piece of info on wikipedia, which brings the whole thing full circle to the MGR connection:

    “Since 1998 the British aerospace company BAE Systems had been the largest shareholder in Saab (AB) following its acquisition of a 35% stake from Investor AB by its predecessor, British Aerospace. In January 2005 BAE reduced its shareholding to 20%”

  9. As i understand it the current SAAB ‘range’ are basically Opels. So i suspect we’d have a situation where SAAB Aero don’t licence the name and GM take back all their technology (much like Honda did with the R45), That doesn’t leave a great deal left for anyone to buy up. I think It’s unlikely any Chinese firm will buy them, Geely have Volvo Cars and SAIC MGR, it’s unlikely their government would allow them to buy another.

    Frankly i’m surprised SAAB Auto have lasted as long as they have, they build an even smaller range than MGR did!

    It’s not really surprising British Aerospace own shares in what is after all another aircraft company.

  10. ‘As i understand it the current SAAB ‘range’ are basically Opels’ … as much as Opels are basically Saabs and Cadillacs are basically Holdens. Apparently, Saab still have an active engineering department (even in the midst of their current crisis) which contributed to GM products generally. It always puzzled me why GM didn’t launch their latest platforms under premium branded (Saab, Cadillac) cars – there would at least be a chance then that Opels would be perceived as being based on Saabs rather than the other way around.

    nb., Saab have recently filed for financial reconstruction (ie., bankruptcy protection). At the same time, two of the workers’ unions filed a demand for Saab’s bankruptcy due to unpaid wages, which has caused something of an argument between the Unions’ central offices (in favour of the demand) and their own local offices (against). Saab’s prospective Chinese suitors seem to be (financially) supportive, stumping money upfront to license the unfinished underpinnings of the next 9-3. Overall I think Saab’s in with a shot of pulling through, if only because they don’t have Kevin Howe at the helm.

  11. It always puzzled me why GM didn’t launch their latest platforms under premium branded (Saab, Cadillac) cars. I can’t vouch for the Caddy chassis, but unfortunately the SAAB chassis were not class competitive dynamically, hence the evolution of design being from Opel outwards.

  12. GM had as much of a clue what to do with Saab as VW does with Seat.

    They replaced the hatchbacks in the range with saloons at a time when saloon car makers are embracing the hatchback.

    The reliability started to get a bit suspect.

    In the US they introduced an estate/hatch based on an Impreza estate, and an SUV based on some big Chevy.

  13. I’m not sure you can say the 9-2X estate thing was ‘based’ on an Impreza, it ‘was’ an impreza but with SAAB badges and a different bumper moulding.

    They certainly lost their uniqueness when GM took over, Volvo’s are all basically Ford platforms these days, but they still retained a lot of their individuality. The jet fighter cockpit feeling was one of the first things to disappear in SAAB’s, Scania dashboards still retain that look and feel.
    I’m sure there was one of the SAAB estates that was just a Vectra estate from A pillar backwards?

  14. ‘Unfortunately the SAAB chassis were not class competitive dynamically, hence the evolution of design being from Opel outwards’ – wasn’t quite what I was getting at. The classic 900 chassis was very old by the time it was replaced – it basically dated back to the late 60s. But the new 900 (in 1993) was based on Cavalier underpinnings, which inevitably led to people regarding that car as being based on the (then five-year-old) Cavalier. Had they put their weight behind the new 900’s development and pushed the 1995 Vectra’s development forward the 900 could have been based on those and the subsequent Vectra marketed as being based on the same platform as a Saab, rather than the other way round. Would have worked for gullible buyers … and motoring journalists. Ultimately it probably wouldn’t have made much difference to the Saab’s capabilities, given the Vectra’s dynamic shortcomings, but it’s marketing I’m thinking about rather than reality!

    I don’t think any Saab was a Vectra estate, but GM did only launch three properly new Saabs during their 20 year tenure – I agree that they didn’t know what to do with them.

  15. The issue was more that GM tried to launch a successor to the 900 series which was based on already creaky technology, used an ancient range of engines, and only gave a nod to SAABs legendary build quality. SAAB’s reputation (and that of Volvos) was built on quirky, comfortable, fast cars with innovative technology, which ran and ran, due them being virtually hand-built. Ford managed to retain a lot of Volvo’s character, and it would seem that Volvo has also managed to maintain a lot of the quality and reliability traits (albeit with mass-produced and costed-down vehicles), which marked the brand out as a high-quality brand. GM failed spectacularly with SAAB, failing to grasp that the key ingredients that made SAAB what is was were – being bullet-proof, individual, stylish, fast and safe. The tales of woe I have encountered (and experienced at first hand) with SAAB products, and especially the GM-sourced elements of them (2.2 TiD engine being the main culprit, the front bulkhead on the 900/9-3 being another) completely eroded my opinion of the brand. I, and many others no longer envy SAAB drivers, we pity them. And this is a key contributer to the brand dying in the way it is now. Like Rover, past glories cannot make up for poor product.

  16. @Mike That’s good news then! I always fancied a 9-3 turbo, but the horror stories put me off – might take the risk with a cheapie one day! It should make a nice motor, looks in damn good nick and a cracking colour too. Are you going to fit the modified steering rack location thingy you can get (from Two Stroke to Turbo I think)?

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