Driving a legend – Saab 900 Turbo

You’ve all most likely seen this image before. It’s one of the better known images of the Saab 900 Turbo.

The photo was taken for Saab’s 50th Anniversary marketing campaign, back in 1997. A calendar was made featuring this image and a number of others like it. Remember the Saab 99 EMS in motion, or the Saab 92? All of those shots were taken around the same time and all were used in the calendar.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Nicklas A at the Saab Museum here in Trollhattan. Whilst the majority of vehicles used in the calendar were owned by Saab itself, Nicklas has the rare privilege of being one of the few private owners whose vehicle was used in the photoshoot – his 1980 Saab 900 Turbo in black. The same car as in the image, above.

The car was purchased new by Nicklas’ father back in February 1980, from a dealer in Gothenburg. Nicklas was just five years old at the time and his kindergarten teachers were worried that he was telling lies at school when he told the other kids his Dad was buying a Saab Turbo (this was quite a boast for a 5yo in 1980 as the Saab was the hottest car in Sweden (and elsewhere)). Dad picked him up from school in the new car the day it was delivered and Nicklas’ integrity was restored 🙂

Mr A kept the car for 10 years and returned to his dealer in 1990 to trade it in on a Saab 9000. The trade-in figure offered to him was too low for his liking, and with a teenage Nicklas now only a few years away from getting his license, the car was stored until Nicklas took possession in 1993.

Nicklas used the car as his daily driver for the next four years and it was during this time that Saab came calling. Back in 1990, Nicklas’ father had bought his Saab 9000 from ANA, the big Saab dealership near Trollhattan. The salesman he dealt with back in 1990, a true Saabnut named Claes Robertsson, remembered the black 900 (from 16 years earlier!) when he heard that Saab were looking for a suitable car for the photoshoot. Claes put the company and the customer in contact, and before you can say “Spirit of Saab” there was a man with a camera knocking on Nicklas’ door. The photographer took the car and gave Nicklas a Saab 9000 Aero to play with for the day (which must have been a massive treat when it was brand new!). The result of that exchange is the calendar shot, above.

In 1997, Nicklas moved into central Gothenburg. The car was beginning to age and parking it securely was a more difficult proposition in the city. A decision was taken to move it to a friend’s property in southern Sweden, where it could be stored and eventually, renovated.

That renovation didn’t start for some time, though. Life moved on. Nicklas met a girl, got steady employment, had some kids, did the “growing up” thing that many of us do. Around 2007, though, he got the 900 itch once again and the restoration of the car began in earnest.

There was a little bit of rust to repair before the body was repainted. There was a fair bit of dedication involved in this, too. This early 900 hood, for example, features twin vents (most 900 owners would be used to seeing vents on one side only). The condition of the hood should have seen it condemned to the scrapheap but it was restored in order to preserve the ‘two-vent’ originality of the car.

The job was finally finished in 2010 and Nicklas has been enjoying his weekend warrior ever since. The turbo was replaced a few years ago, but everything else is original and aside from routine maintenance, nothing more substantial than a head gasket has needed to be done over the years.

I had the distinct pleasure of driving the car back to the Saab Museum after we’d taken it out for a few photos. This early 900 Turbo is very much like a Saab 99 Turbo. The engine is the same, but it’s mated to a 5-speed gearbox instead of the 99’s 4-speed. The interior of the car is the same as in the 99 Turbo except, of course, for the 900 dashboard. Seats, door trim, gearshift, steering wheel – all from the 99T. The bonus with the 900 is the addition of power steering, which makes it much more pleasurable to drive at slower speeds than the 99.

And driving it really was a blast. The car was rock solid. We had it idling or moving slowly for some time during the photo shoot, in 28-degree weather, and the temperature gauge didn’t move (a phenomenon uncommon to 99T owners like myself). The car is a credit to Nicklas and his father for the way it’s been preserved.

As I tend to do whenever I see a highly desireable car, I enquired as to whether Nicklas was open to receiving offers for it. He graciously declined, but offered to place me third-in-line after his two sons in his will. I won’t hold my breath 🙂 . It seems this 900 Turbo that was purchased brand new by his dad is destined to pass on to the third generation in the family, along with the calendar that made it famous.

I’ll have to take some personal consolation from the fact that I have his contact details for the 75th anniversary calendar in 2022.

Click any of the photos in this story to enlarge.

Notes for the gallery –

(1) the drivers seat has a different pattern, but was chosen this way deliberately by Nicklas’ father (anyone who’s owned a 99T with the ‘lederhosen’ seats will understand why) and the seats have been like this since new.

(2) The rear seat loudspeakers are original equipment. Very 1980.

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  1. What a great car.  I had a 1979 900t black just like that.  It was one of the first 900t brought into the USA.  I miss that car.  Brings back old memories to see that great red interior…so cool.

  2. Niklas is a lucky man ! His 900 is a real legend and we’ve all admired this famous photo of the black 900 riding fast in the woods . Nice report and photos Swade .
    Thank you !!

  3. Amazing car, great story!!

    The one car that got me into SAAB’s was an ex-girlfriend’s father’s 1979 SAAB 900 Turbo. The car had the same color interior as this one here but was red outside. Her father had brought the car new upon graduating law school, and kept it ever since. It was in the mid 90s that I dated her, and I remember vividly how her dad pampered that car. I was into Volkswagens before and when I met his SAAB I instantly thought of how much cooler the Swedish car was, with the large curved windshield, the long forward-opening hood, and the slant engine. I fell in love with that car right then and there.

    Although my own SAAB is an NG900 I lust after a Classic like the one in these pictures…

      1. Yeah, we dated seriously for a few years, then I joined the Army and she went to college.

        Although I can’t say I do not miss her, I am now married (not to her) and can’t have her. The SAAB on the other hand…

  4. This story is another great example of what Inside Saab is all about – connecting Saab the company with its cars and owners.  The Classic 900 Black Turbo is an icon and that status was helped by this now-classic picture.   Hearing the backstory about where the picture came from made my day.  I have to admit that I’ve alwasy wanted to see front angles of that Saab!  I’m also glad to hear that the car has been restored and there are plans to keep it in the family. 

    I bet the Saab Museum wouldn’t mind displaying it every so often! 

    Finally, where was the shot taken with that turbo sculpture in the background?

    1. Steve, the photos were taken down by the power station, just out of Trollhattan.  If you’ve been here, you head down to the locks but turn off to the right about two-thirds of the way along.  Saab took some great photos and video of the 9-4x and 9-XBH concepts here a few years ago.

      Am pleased you all enjoyed the story.  And the next owner of the vehicle, Nicklas’ young son, is in one of the photos, too, peeking over the dashboard 🙂

  5. Too bad the great photo of Nicklas’ beautiful 900 Turbo doesn’t have a soundtrack! I loved the throaty exhaust notes of the 900’s I owned in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

  6. Thank you all for the nice comments! Its a pleasure to see the interest of “our” car. I’m sure it will be desplayed again soon at any STCS or any offical Saab event soon again. Be there 🙂

  7. This story exemplifies the Spirit of Saab. All credit to Nicklas and his father for keeping such a stunning Saab icon on the road.  

  8. Thanks so much for showing the interior.  That really brings back memories of my C900.  I really enjoyed the interior of my C90..   The climate control was simple knobs.. no arms to breaking or programming to figure out.     Not sure what happened to Saab on the way..