Bangernomics: Death-defying experiences with a tuned Saab 9000

For a grand total of £250, our staff writer once took the plunge with a knackered 9000 Aero 2.3-litre. As you might imagine, total chaos ensued…

It’s coming to that time of year where those with large houses and investment portfolios go skiing. Now, I personally am not interested in the boasts of those who rent a wood cabin to guzzle copious amounts of wine and take dozens of group selfies. Nor can I be bothered by their screams upon hitting a tree, cracking their leg and exposing shards of gleaming shin bone as they cry for an air ambulance. However, what I have always approved of – and whisper this quietly – is the skiers’ wheels of choice. Saab.

Of all the Saabs to be packed with winter sports equipment and egos, my favourite has forever remained Björn Envall and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s über-retro 9000. Laced with the neon-lit, backstreet charm of a corrupt 1980s accountancy office, Saab’s first all-new car since the 99 currently strikes a curious chord with contemporary aspiring petrolheads. Which is strange, as the Swedish tank is really rather dull. Quite frankly, a standard 9000 is like eating wool. Luckily, the one I once owned was far from standard.

More greats from the Swedes!

A little bit about the 9000…

Originally a joint effort for major manufacturers to pool resources and engineers, the 9000 shared a platform with the Lancia Thema and Fiat Chroma; bywords for anxiety and divorce. However, the Saab was rather more advanced than its Italian brethren. Mainly, if you suffered a crash, you could survive without facial-reconstruction surgery.

Mind you, while the Swede was safer and better engineered, the Lancia owner enjoyed more automotive adrenaline – mainly because the Thema caught fire most days – while the Fiat driver could play Connect 4 with the Chroma’s various warning lights. These may have been encumbering drawbacks when new, but as these three 1980s stalwarts breach classic status, the Italian variants’ somewhat questionable dependability gives them vivacious personality.

To be honest, even the top-whack 9000 Aero was devoid of character. After undertaking a long journey, new owners fought the urge to wander blank-faced into oncoming traffic. Everything was too efficient, over-engineered, slickly designed, reliable and well crafted. Much to the Saab fraternity’s horror, it was just a car – albeit a very good one.

Don’t think the dependability aspect has withstood the test of time, though. Christ, no. My experience with a £250 1995 Saab 9000 Aero 2.3 taught me a number of life lessons – such as:

  • How to put out a fire
  • How short a tyre’s lifespan can be
  • What is indicated by each pitch of frenzied screaming from your passenger
  • How to put out larger fires
  • Why Highway Code braking distances are not to be trusted
  • All the reasons for not attempting a handbrake turn
  • How easy it is for your partner to find another lover
  • How not to apologise for ending up in your neighbour’s front garden

Life with a Saab 9000

On a par with enduring a whirlwind romance with Aileen Wuornos, my venture with the Saab was short and sweet yet laced with a brooding notion that I would soon be dead. I lost all confidence in long-distance journeys and could travel only when the roads were dry.

Coincidentally, my ownership of the 9000 Aero overlapped with my ex-housemate’s custody of an almost identical model – and he had no end of trouble with his. The 9000 in question was so putrid that not even other staff members at the publisher where we both worked would touch it. Mine was no better, but it held an ace card. Regardless of whatever my housemate may have told you down the pub, my 9000 was faster – by a long way. Not necessarily through my own work, though; the previous owner had ‘adjusted’ a few things…

Back when I was starting out as automotive journalist, my editor sought a home for his rather dilapidated and sickly Midnight Blue Saab. There were no takers, so rather than see its unimpressed face being fed into the local scrap merchant’s oily palms, I gathered some courage and took the plunge.

On the test drive, I approached the A1 slip road and planted the accelerator. Prompting amusement and trouser soiling in equal measure, undulated torque steer caused the 9000 to shoot across the dotted junction and change lane regardless of actions fed into the steering wheel. Quite clearly this was no standard 9000 Aero – and, naturally, I had to have it.

Under the bonnet was a racing injector pack, mated to work undertaken by Abbott Racing Motorsport. This thing was a weapon, a £250 monster with comfy seats and the practicality of Rambo’s knife. Churning out in excess of 320bhp, 0-60mph could be breached from a standstill in less than seven seconds – when it wasn’t eating all my money and going wrong each time I turned the ignition key, that is. There was an explosion roughly every ten minutes.

Just a few breakdowns, then…

Right from the off, this thing had it in for me. On my second day of ownership, the exhaust fell off. I fixed that at much expense, then the engine developed an almighty misfire, followed by wheel-bearing trouble and turbo issues. Coughing up over £1800 for repair work and servicing on a £250 car makes little sense to anyone bar the most devout enthusiast, but that’s how badly this car got under my skin.

It got worse. The highly-strung 2.3-litre engine devoured its ignition pack around about the same time as coolant began to leak from the underside. Front tyres lasted barely three months of daily use before perishing, while the gearbox developed notchy, rather unpleasant noises.

If I had been treating the Saab with unsympathetic bursts of moronic driving to demonstrate its abilities, then fine, I could have understood so much going wrong. Yet, while enjoying the power on occasion, it was never asked to perform out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing like this:

At one point, all I had to do was travel to the next village for groceries, and the damn thing cut out just as the stench of burning wafted from the passenger-side fuse box. Like a man, expecting an all-out explosion, I ran away and hid in a hedge. Coated in soil after ten minutes of intimacy with a large rhododendron, I approached the Saab with caution.

Strangely, after I’d wiggled some fuses, it started and nothing more was said. Right up until it repeated the episode, this time in Peterbrough’s bustling city centre. And again when disembarking a ferry to Ireland. That was entertaining. I apparently made the local news.

I was already growing weary of living in fear of the next commute when, on a wet road in the dark, a simple roundabout manoeuvre proved too much. The acrid stench of a burnt clutch is rarely welcoming, but it marked the end of my time with the 1995 Saab 9000. It had been a bastard problem child from the word go, and I had suffered enough. My life’s sins had been atoned for.

This wasn’t the end of Satan’s Saab, however. Discovering that I had become a broken man, my editor graciously offered to buy the car back. It was proof there was a God. With more money than I had to chuck at it, the new-old custodian brought it back to health and ironed out all the niggles. Apparently, it now drives brilliantly, and is still capable of eating a BMW M5 for breakfast while also able to go more than 20 miles before expiring.

Wherever it is now, somebody has the best of both worlds – power and unruffled style. Something I just couldn’t quite get out of the blasted thing. Would I have another 9000? In a heartbeat. Despite the maladies and issues, I look back with such fondness at the situations it put me in, that I feel somewhat empty without it.

All credit for the ‘Bangernomics’ term goes to journalists Steve Cropley and James Ruppert.

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