Advert of the week : Saab 900 T16S

Keith Adams

Saab's advertising was particularly focused during the 1980s...
Saab's advertising was particularly focused during the 1980s...

Only one aircraft manufacturer makes cars

Spare a moment for poor old Saab. Over the past three years, the once-proud company has endured a humiliating fall from grace that makes MG Rover’s seem like a pleasant walk in the park. First there was the confusion over its buy-out, then the on-off-on affair with Spyker, the hideous attempts to keep it in business, and finally the will-they-won’t-they Chinese take-over. Here at AROnline we feel the pain of Saabophiles everywhere – been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt.

Back in the 1980s, it was all so very different. Saab’s marketing was absolutely brilliant – playing up its connection with the (Volvo-powered) Viggen fighter, selling its turbos to individuals who wanted to be seen as thinking differently. And in the UK, we went for this in a big way – in 1988, the 900 was facelifted, and to show it off, this wonderful advert was created, cementing the automobile/aeroplane link for all it was worth.

Strangely enough, the timelessly styled 900 really did break the rules. The original car was launched in 1978, and was a very effective top-and-tail of the 1967 Saab 99. So, effectively at the time of this advert, the car was 20 years old. Could you imagine that happening today? However, thanks to the appliance of science and technology under the bonnet, as well as satisfactorily large Turbo badges, the 900 T16S oozed buyer appeal. It also helped that it looked good. Different, yes, but good.

Saabs were also very well made back then, and when buyers turned up in the showrooms to sample a 900 T16S at first hand, they loved the chunky controls, the doors that shut with that satisfying bank vault thunk that all rivals simply couldn’t replicate. The view through the wraparound windscreen was clearly special, too… Most buyers would be sold at this point, but it’s good to know that despite the age of its underpinnings, the 900 T16S was also rather a special drive.

And this advert manages to combine all of those factors beautifully – rather moodily – to leave the aspirational ’80s top gun really wanting to own a Saab 900.



Keith Adams


  1. He’s gonna go over the edge…….

    Oh,.. few,…… it’s ok… He Turned into a plane.

  2. Now THAT is a SAAB – not the GM-componented joke of a car that I once owned…….such a shame that SAAB/Scania couldn’t afford to keep making these wonderful hand-built cars (or something like) – it’s the kind of motor you could buy and keep for 20-odd years with very little to worry about. My 9-3 however, was as good as scrap after 8 years…..

  3. Really sorry to see SAAB going down the same road as Rover. Cars are getting blander by the day.
    Didn’t realise you still had this SAAB

  4. Sadly it’s all about volume and profitability you need a mixture of both to be a truly independant motor manufacturer Sabb suffered on both accounts and had to offset the redevelopment costs with the Fiat/Lancia/Alfa development share and of course the GM take over.
    With world safety and enviroment laws even if you have a long model run you still have to spend millions just keeping those factors up todate,
    For years the world has talked about the over production of cars and something has to give and maybe Sabb is a victim of this.

  5. Used to own a 1988 2 door 900 which I drove for 7 years, afrt 10 odd years of Peugeots have just bought a 2007 convertable, love it, has the same feel as the 900!

  6. It’s funny – I never liked SAABs when they were new but looking back on the 900 it does have a certain gawky charm. I can understand why someone would own one now.

  7. My Dad had three 99s and an early 900. The 900 was a white three door (Combi) in GLs spec. GLs meant twin carbs as opposed to the single carb GL.

    I can remember drooling over the Turbo as a young lad.

    The GM effort at replacing the 900 could & should have been more successful – they got the styling and image right (once they had binned that weird rear number plate, light arrangement).

  8. The EMS model was rather nice too. Fuel injected, 3 door only. In five door form the injected model was badged GLE and dressed in a less sporty fashion.
    Aah… It’s all coming back to me. Hours spent as a young lad studying the latest brochure.

  9. There was the original 99 turbo – usually a black 3 door (Combi). The 900 turbo replaced this but I’m sure they did a 99 turbo in two door saloon form alongside the 900 turbo. Despite its age, it even had the old dash, this 99 turbo 2 door was also surprisingly appealing.

  10. They did do a 99 turbo 2 door, and IMO the best looking of the lot, although the 90 was rather nice, and one of the nicest Saabs built.

  11. “Only one aircraft manufacturer makes cars”

    Although at the time this ad was on the TV British Aerospace had just bought the Rover Group…

    I remember driving a bog standard 2ltr Saab 900, i was really excited to get the opportunity, because the 900 Turbo was a legend, sadly the bog standard one i drove was a flat as a pancake, it was well looked after, just felt sluggish from a standing start, probably went ok on the motorway but was disapointing.

    On the plus side the ‘cockpit’ really was like a fighter cockpit, all the dash and controls just where you want them. The Wrap around dash was their trademark, and worked really well on their trucks too. It was superbly engineered, open the bonnet and even the wiring was very smartly routed in plastic conduit, most other cars of the time just had it wrapped in tape and draped anywhere. One feature i really liked was the doors that wrapped under the sill, so you could just step out without having the climb over a sill and get your trousers covered in crap.

  12. I too remember the doors that wrapped under the sill. Also, the ignition switch down by the gear shift – you had to select reverse before you could remove the key didn’t you? Heated seats too! Oh and yes. The always on side/driving lights. Cortina man was forever flashing to say ” you’ve left your lights on”

  13. I have a relation who has owned Saab’s for years and still has one bought new in 1998. Just now considering a change and would like another. I always liked them for their engineering quality and semi-rarity on UK roads which made them more appealing and unique. I hope they dont fade away altogether though. Very sad if that happens.

  14. “Also, the ignition switch down by the gear shift – you had to select reverse before you could remove the key didn’t you?”

    Yes it locked the gearbox in reverse, made the thing VERY difficult to steal!

    “Heated seats too! Oh and yes. The always on side/driving lights.”
    That’s just a Swedish thing though, Volvo’s did the same. The whole flashing other motorists to let them know their lights were on was so pointless, i think it was some throwback to 6 volt electrics. If they’re not dazzling anybody why flash?

  15. There’s an immaculate one on the bay for £4G, which seems pretty steep but if it’s as good as the advert says then well worth it. Hopefully this is a sign that the market has turned and the survivors will be saved from the crusher. Can’t really think of much else from the late 80s-early 90s, that’s as deserving of classic status. E30 M3s, have well and truly made it and Delta Integrales are getting there.

  16. Dennis:

    Actually, they were easy to steal, the pawl that latches onto the selector linkage is not the toughest of cookies to overcome. The lock barrel however is not so easy, the cut of the key was quite tricky to pick.

    Keith:its all squared with `er indoors for the SAAB to reside at Swiss Towers – as if her saying no bore any relevance 🙂

  17. I am a SAAB fan and former owner so I have tried to follow this story for a while now. There is only one thing with as many twists and turns as this story and that’s the Euro saga. I really hope SAAB survive but I fear its going to go the way of MGR and LDV, a quick lift and shift to China.

  18. @5 – Keith, with that, the SD1 and the Ro80 means that you own/have owned 3 of my favourite cars – that 900 is a real beauty – and is the optimum spec I’d go for – should I ever have the money to run a ‘fun’ car. If you now tell me that you also have a Lancia Gamma coupe, Lancia Delta Integrale and a Citroen CX GTi Turbo 2 – well, I’m gonna have to start taking a severe disliking to you. (Damn, forgot the Alfasud – that’s 4 of my favourite cars!!!!)

  19. “LOL – we’ll do it in the New Year. I need to get a new rad on it, flush the cooling system and sort the leak – the it’s all yours”

    But if it goes missing before then you know who’s nicked it.

  20. @18 – my 9-3 had headlamp wipers (didn’t work), and the gearbox ignition lock. Sadly (and this was an SE model) no heated seats, and I had to put the sidelights on myself. What was the bloody point of that? – what if a moose came round the corner?? It did have great front seats though. Also, disappointingly, no snow deflector underneath. What a let down!

  21. “no snow deflector underneath”

    Was that what the strange mudflap-type thing half way down the sill was for? I always wondered what it was.

    I love the classic 900, I’d like a 5 door Turbo in a nice metallic grey or green please. One day…

  22. The mud flaps half way down the sill were, I think, to keep the dirt off the rear disc brakes. Back then, few cars had rear discs.

    Anyway, here is the one I had:

  23. IMO the almost sinister black 99 3door turbo is the best, with its spoilers, driving lights and Inca alloys and almost despite the red interior, but the very rare purple/maroon 99 5 door turbo is also very appealing and I wouldn’t even say no to an early metallic blue 900 five door with powder blue (!) interior.

  24. @DeLorean’s Accountant Very nice 900 that!

    @Chris C

    Here’s a treat for SAAB 99 Turbo and SD1 fans – both of them feature in this fantastic video from the Human League. They were their actual cars at the time – . The Rover was a 2600 and survived until 1992. The 99 Turbo is an S reg I think – can’t make out the rest of the plate. Damn cool cars in 1982!

  25. Simon:

    UK spec 3&5’s had fuse no:15 removed. This stopped the daytime running lights functioning.

    My own one sports the fuse now, there was a mentioning of the function in the owners manual.

  26. Not only is SAAB’s fall from grace similar to Rover’s, but lets not forget the 80’s 900 was still using a development of the Triumph slant 4 engine.

  27. @30 – Thanks for clearing that up – I also removed a fuse – to stop the knackered headlamp wipers working, then jamming halfway back to the park position.

  28. Re Steve Bailey-
    I was offered a knackered SD1 3500 in 2005 that was claimed to have been in the Human League video, I wasn’t convinced and didn’t bite, probably just as well.

  29. Talking of fuses, my Saab wrote off a Maestro who ran in the back of it when the brake light fuse failed and the driver didn’t notice I was slowing at traffic lights – an Astra then drove into the back of the Maestro (although the Astra driver bizarrely claimed the Maestro had backed into her)Perhaps not surprisingly the rubber impact absorbing bumper on my Saab didn’t have a mark on it… Fortunately I had a spare fuse and the nice policeman let me go on my way.

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