The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
3/7/18 12:29 p.m.


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story by chip lamb

During the late 1980s and early ’90s, a turbocharged Saab 900 was among the must-haves on every über-yuppie’s wish list. It was this attraction—and especially the appeal of the top-of-the-line, three-door hatchback SPG model—that best combined the apartment-slogging capabilities of a station wagon with the get-up-and-go of a Porsche 911.

However, Saab didn’t always put out the ideal carport dressing for young urban professionals. From humble yet well-engineered two-stroke beginnings, Saab enjoyed a fairly robust degree of success through the 1960s and early ’70s in America. By the end of that decade, however, the brand had little to offer all but its most doggedly faithful.

Due to the lack of imagination in their primary export market, the Swedes countered by wooing Robert J. Sinclair, renowned marketing director and longtime Western Region director for Volvo, away from the Gothenburg-based company. Saab hoped that he could turn Saab-Scania of America into a turbocharged brand for the ’80s. Sinclair quickly simplified Saab’s confusing spread of barely different variants of the new 900 model, banished the aging 99 from American shores and, using powerful and effective advertising, made the product range desirable to a new breed of Saab enthusiast.

This success allowed for numerous product improvements to comfort and convenience, likewise led by Sinclair’s demands to take the brand upmarket. This cycle bore out over 60 consecutive months of sales increases during the first half of his tenure.

With the introduction of turbocharging for the 1978 model year, Saab engineers were kept busy back home, continuing to refine the delivery of increased power. A largely new four-cylinder engine for 1981 was followed closely by the Saab Automatic Performance Control system the following year.

This system allowed for greater boost and increased compression by opening the wastegate when ignition knock was detected. The Swedes had also experimented with a 16-valve cylinder head for competition purposes during the 1970s, but the refined production version was not released until 1984.

All of this technology helped make the company’s B202 twin-cam hot news for 1985. A limited-production version of the 900, carrying the SPG badge in the U.S., was the top model: It sported Special Black paint, unique side panels, three-spoke light alloy wheels, a tan Bridge of Weir contoured leather interior and a full slate of power options. To say that the SPG was a splash in a very still automotive pond is a remarkable understatement.

Production of the SPG continued throughout the following six years, and it was always the top rung of the 900 ladder. Meanwhile, Saab kept releasing additional handling, performance and aesthetic refinements.

By the end of the model’s run in 1991, the SPG had spawned a loyal following of performance-oriented buyers. Faster turbocharged cars have come along since the SPG, but this limited-edition Saab has aged well and now makes a great old-school daily driver.

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Chris_Webb
Chris_Webb New Reader
3/8/18 4:05 p.m.

SAAB 900s were common where I grew up but I didn't  run across the 900 SPG until '87 whereupon I fell in love with its un-sports car, sports car aesthetic and vibe. This was a great car. 

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed SuperDork
3/8/18 8:09 p.m.

One of my all time favorite cars.

SPG123
SPG123 HalfDork
3/8/18 8:43 p.m.

Much love for C900.s. Still have 2 SPG.s in the yard. But the next resto is a Turbo Convert.

 

procainestart
procainestart Dork
3/9/18 12:53 a.m.

The five-speed manuals used in the 900 series are relatively durable...

<insert maniacally laughing eye-rolling emoji here> Only in a parallel universe are 900 transmissions "relatively durable." Here in this universe, there's no argument that they were not the cars' Achilles heal. On second thought, as boat anchors, I'd be inclined to agree with the "relatively durable" estimation. At least you don't have to pull the engine to replace the gearbox when the pinion bearings go south. Oh, wait... 

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
3/9/18 8:25 a.m.

I picked up my Turbo for cheap due to bad pinion bearings. Eventually I will get it reassembled

DWNSHFT
DWNSHFT Dork
3/9/18 9:27 a.m.

Years ago a friend let me drive his 900 turbo to dinner with five of us in it.  I shifted into second and he said "floor it" so I did.  And got wheelspin when the boost hit.  I've always been fond of them since.

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