Junkyard Gem: 1983 Saab 900 Turbo

I’ve found quite a few interesting Saabs in Colorado junkyards lately, including a 96 and a 99 (unfortunately, a discarded Saab 92 has eluded me until now – at least in the United States), and now it’s time for the arrival of the factory hot-rod Saab that gave car buyers more horsepower per dollar than anything they could buy from Germany at the time: the 900 Turbo. I found this car a few weeks ago in a yard just south of Denver.

Saab sold the original version of the 900 in the United States for the 1979 through 1993 model years (then the name 900 went to a car based on the Opel Vectra and closely related to the Saturn L-series), and the early 900s were very similar to their 99 ancestors. Saab was an early adopter of turbos, and so the 900 Turbo was available here for the entire 1979-1993 sales run.

This engine, a 2-liter slant-four derived from a 1960s Triumph design (and the cousin of the engine used in the Triumph TR7), was rated at 135 horsepower in 1983. That was a lot of power for a small car in the Late Malaise Era, and it gave the 1983 Saab 900 Turbo a power-to-weight ratio similar to what you got in the Mitsubishi Starion and Porsche 944 that year.

Thanks to electronic fuel injection, turbochargers finally worked well for everyday driving (although the Maserati Biturbo was stuck with blow-throw Weber carburetors in the States until 1986), and it wasn’t long before TURBO became a magic word.

Yes, in 1984 you had Ozone and Turbo breakdance while Ice-T is making its film debut. A few years earlier, with the not-so-stellar reliability of the (carbureted) Turbo Trans Am, Boogaloo Shrimp’s character would have been renamed. While it’s possible, based on the fact that at least one boombox from the 80s was built from a Saab 900 dashboard, that Turbo’s name was inspired by Saab.

Saab should take credit for doing so much to push turbocharging into the daily driver mainstream.

You could get a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission in your new 1983 Saab 900, but it added $370 (about $1,075 in 2022 dollars) to the cost of the car and made it much less fun to drive. This one has the 5-speed manual gearbox; I take it E next to fifth gear stands for ‘efficiency’.

The five-door 900 Turbo costs $16,910 with five-speed manual transmission, which comes in at about $49,055 today. A new BMW 528e cost $23,985 (now $69,580) that year and offered only 121 horsepower. That’s 14 horses less than today’s Junkyard Gem, though the 528e’s long-stroke six-cylinder inline engine nearly matched the 900 Turbo’s torque (170 vs. 173 pound-feet). BMW would sell you a 533i with 181 horsepower that year, but the cost was $28,985 ($84,085 in 2022).

The interior of the Saab was not as luxurious as that of the 5 Series, but it was nice enough.

The rust-free, crash-free body plus the clean interior tell us that the owner or owners of this car took good care of it. He covered nearly 190,000 miles in 39 years. Saab 900 coupes and convertibles are hip these days, but it was unlikely that anyone would have spent real money saving a hatchback sedan from this car’s fate.

Saab was born to fighter jets and the owner of this car had some ties to a jet engine school here in Colorado. Sounds logical!

The Saab Viggen jet was about the coolest plane around in the mid-1980s and Saab used it to sell a lot of 900 Turbos.

The world loved the 900.

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