The Carchive:- The '84 Saab 9000 Turbo 16

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It’s 21:30 in the Saharan dust-stained, unseasonably warm rural backwaters of East Anglia, and that means it’s time for our second rummage through the dumpster of time for this week. Welcome back to The Carchive.

From America via Germany we move straight to Sweden today, to remind ourselves what was being born from jets in 1984. And please, nobody mention that that was three decades ago.

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Our beloved car-heavy online organ Hooniverse has veritably radiated Saab love over the years, and there can not be a man jack among us who doesn’t know at least a bit about the 9000. Let’s get the really obvious bits out of the way first. Of the so-called Type 4 cars to reach the market, the 9000 and Lancia Thema were the only two to arrive in 1984 (this is the launch brochure). The Fiat and Alfa Romeo interpretations came later and wore very different suits of clothes.

The 9000 was also the first attempt Saab had made at moving into the Large Car class (even the EPA said so), and was stylistically quite a step forwards for the Swedish brand who had generally not strayed very far from designs which originated from decades prior.

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“The SAAB 9000 Turbo 16 is here- a distinctive and dynamic car that embodies all of the experience we have acquired over the years and combines it with innovative high technology. This is the car for the discerning motorist who demands superlative performance”

The name, “Turbo 16” got the image off to a good start, prominently reminding the buying public that a turbocharger and sixteen valves featured heavily in the recipe. Quite exotic flavours for the mid-1980s. It was also perhaps wise that Saab should choose to bring the Turbo out before the normally aspirated model; better to start at the top and work downwards than to offer a vanilla version and then add garnish.

Turbocharging had, of course, been a particular Saab forte since the masterful 99 Turbo of 1978, a car which brought the brand instant acclaim and put them on the radar of a whole group of motorists who might never previously bothered considering a car by the team from Trollhättan.

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 “The Saab 9000 is built from the inside outwards. Since the driver is the hub of all that happens, he has also been the focus of attention in all of the design work”

It was a good cockpit, there’s no doubting it. Though not especially elegant, the dashboard did make for a very well organised office from which to get on with the business of driving. And driving quickly. It was also still immediately recognisable as a Saab dashboard; the curved forms and gauge fonts being familiar to those graduating from a 900 or 99.

Yet there were hints of normalcy creeping  in, too. Due to certain hard points having to be shared with other Type 4’s, the ignition switch is where you might expect to find it on a Ford. but there were enough enjoyably eccentric features to please those who still wanted something a bit different, with joystick operated air vents and green glovebox lighting. The Night Panel was yet to appear, though.

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“The third generation turbo engine is built for high power, low fuel consumption and maximum reliability. Our turbo engine gives much more than it takes”

Power was something of a 9000 Turbo speciality. The 175hp that the turbocharged two-litre mill could routinely pump out, was a goodly amount, as was the 273nm of torque. It translated to zero to sixty dash of 8.3 seconds and 140 flat out, but somehow that wasn’t the whole story.

There are no figures for it presented here, but where the 9000 Turbo really excelled was in the ability to overtake at the drop of a hat. Any little section of straight was usually enough to snap past dawdlers as if they were standing still. Passing tractors on narrow country roads became a hobby. You’d overtake out of sheer fun, not necessity.

This also contributed strongly to the overall safety of the Saab. Head-on collisions when overtaking were much less of a risk in this car than, say, the normally aspirated automatic version which would come out later. I had one of those.

 It wasn’t fast.

The 2.3 litre engine that arrived in ’89 brought further power and fun to the party, with available horsepower swelling to 225 if you chose the row-your-own, Mitsubishi turbocharged flavour. Cars thus equipped, wearing little “Aero” badges, really were giant killers. Rather than preying on tractors and slowcoaches like drivers of Turbo 16s would, the Aero pilot could prey on, well, Turbo 16s.

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“Peak performance, lavish comfort and flexible load carrying facilities make the Saab 9000 Turbo 16 a unique car”

It was, really. There were faster cars, there were sportier cars. There were more charismatic cars. But the 9000 had such a rich vein of all-round talent that was hard to ignore. Spacious and deeply comfortable, it could cover long distances with consummate ease and in undeniable safety, with side-impact beams and heavy gauge steel used in much of the construction. It could be economical (if you really tried), and you could throw enormous loads in the back. It was difficult to imagine a set of transportation requirements that the 9000 Turbo 16 couldn’t offer a solution to.

I love ’em. Always did. That the basic design of the 9000 stayed around for fourteen years says something, surely; the average model life cycle for a European car is around half that.

And if I never own one again, well, At Least I Have The Brochure.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturers publicity material, photographed by me on the bonnet of Ye Olde Audi; that’s the Saharan dust I mentioned earlier that you see. Copyright remains property of, er, dunno. Saab? Spyker? ABBA? Who knows)

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