End of term: 1990 Saab 9000i

My love affair with the attractive and leggy Swede is over. After 14 months of happiness, the old girl has moved on to someone new. And although it would be wrong to suggest the relationship was filled with burning flames of desire, I’ll miss her reassuring and comforting nature. It’s time to say farewell to the Saab 9000. Gone, but not forgotten.

Having originally purchased her to replace the Honda Accord aka the original PetrolBlog Shed, I soon realised that the Saab was more than just a shed. The way she had been cared for throughout her 22 years of existence meant she had aged wonderfully well. Like a fine wine, the Saab had matured beautifully. She initially wore her 128,000 miles well and by the time she departed at 142,000, she was looking better than ever.

The unfashionable Saab

The 9000i is arguably the least desirable 9000 and therefore one of the least desirable Saabs. This in turn means that the 9000i is loved by very few. Such is the image of Saab in the UK that the 9000 is shunned by those looking for bangers on a budget. The cost of maintenance normally outweighs the value of the car, so they’re often stripped for spares before being sent to the big Swedish graveyard in the sky.

Saab 9000i in car park

Which is a shame as I found the 9000i to be one of the most rewarding and satisfying cars I have ever owned. It excelled in only a few areas, but I never once dreaded a long drive in it. In fact, as a motorway mile muncher it was simply superb. The seats are undoubtedly the comfiest I have ever parked my bottom on and soft suspension presented a beautifully relaxed driving experience.

But it was in Britain’s inclement weather conditions where it really came into its own. No matter what was thrown at it, the Saab would shield me from the worst. The heated seats, which were rarely switched off, were easily my favourite feature. After a long day or with the prospect of another lengthy journey ahead of me, the heated seats would somehow make things feel better. For me it had the same effect as being greeted at home by a blazing woodburner after a long, cold walk across the moors.

Built-in reassurance

An old Saab has a built-in reassurance factor that other manufacturers simply can’t recreate. It looks like a tank and when you own one, you realise that it could probably take one on. And win.

The doors shut with a reassuring thud and the switchgear feels like it would outlast the human race. The overall feeling is that the 9000 was a car built to take on the Swedish winter. A car that was built to exacting standards and then priced accordingly. Legend has it that Saab lost money on every 9000 it sold. Own one and you can see why.

1990 Saab 9000i interior

Throughout the course of ownership she averaged 30.32mpg, a figure calculated using the Fuel Calc app, but also backed up by the Saab’s digital display. In fact, the Saab was accurate to the nearest 0.2mpg. You see, it wouldn’t be in a Saab’s character to deceive you. A Saab would never lie. It’s the little things that mean a lot when you own a 9000.

Like the illuminated seat belt fasteners. Or the carriage-style interior lights situated behind the rear seat passengers. Or the way in which the lid on the central cubby box would pull back to rest on the rear seat, providing two perfectly flat cup holders. Or the soft and silent manner in which the full beam/low beam stalk would operate. Examples of the small things a Saab does well. Things that don’t come to the fore during a 60-minute test drive, but over the course of a year help to make a car an immensely satisfying car to own.

Perfect winter companion

Saab 9000i on winter tyresBy far and away the best times were had during the winter months. Following a couple of harsh winters, I took the opportunity to fit a set of Goodyear Ultragrip 8 winter tyres. At £58 per corner they represented exceptional value for money and I’d recommend them to anyone thinking of taking the winter tyre plunge for the first time. On a few occasions I was grateful for the additional grip they provided, including one potentially nasty moment on the M5. I also distinctly remember driving to a launch early one morning with a thin layer of virgin snow on the local roads. Such was the level of grip provided by the Goodyears, I was driving at normal speeds. Incredible.

There didn’t appear to be any additional noise generated by the winter tyres and there was no drop in fuel economy. In fact, the only issue was an increased amount of understeer, a problem accentuated once the temperatures rose again in the spring. At which point I sourced a set of orignal Saab Ronal 15″ alloy wheels and fitted them with Bridgestone Turanza boots. Good if somewhat unremarkable tyres.

One or two issues along the way

Saab 9000i number plate lightsIt wasn’t all plain sailing of course. Within a couple of months of picking the car up, she started to idle erratically, a problem cured instantly by a secondhand air flow meter. Then in March she needed some work for the MOT, including a CV boot and two number plate lenses. As the screws of the latter were rusted on, it was impossible to change the bulb without breaking the units. No problem, other than the fact that new ones had to be flown in from Sweden. The result – a £50 bill for two units and a few days without the Saab.

The only other issue was a sudden loss of coolant in May. Again, the problem was cured easily with the help of a new water pump. And that would have been the last issue had there not been a series of minor hiccups when it came to moving her on. The decision to sell the Saab was hard enough in itself, but when it came to physically letting her go, things didn’t go quite according to plan.

Letting her go

I dutifully listed her on eBay with a starting price of £400 and no reserve. Having paid £450 for her more than a year earlier, I figure that if I could at least get back what I paid, I’d have done alright. After a slow start, a flurry of activity with a minute or so to go resulted in a winning bid of £435. With the winning bidder making contact earlier in the week, I knew this would be a good sale. Or at least it should have been.

The seller, a pleasant chap from Cornwall wanted to pick her up that afternoon. No problem at all, but after a prolonged period of inactivity I wanted to give her one final wash and a quick trip around the local lanes to charge the battery. The wash went well enough, but the quick trip turned into a horror story. Within half a mile of leaving home, the steering suddenly became heavy and incredibly noisy. Fearing the worst, I limped back home to witness the entire supply of power steering fluid dumped on the lane. To compound matters, the temperature gauge started to rise to abnormal heights. This wasn’t going well.

Knowing that the buyer was a few moments away, I was put in a rather uncomfortable position. Here I was with a car that had been the epitome of reliability for the past year and yet today, of all days, she decided to blot her copybook. It didn’t look good for me.

Things got worse when the buyer arrived and started complaining about the journey from hell and terrible trouble arranging insurance for his new purchase. I nearly tipped him over the edge when I explained what happened. But to his credit, he took it with good grace. After all, it could have happened to him on the way back, which would have been worse for him and much worse for me.

At one point we both stood there, hands in pockets, staring at a wonderful old Saab that wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted to sell it, albeit reluctantly, and he wanted to buy it. He could tell from the condition and the box of history that the car was honest and genuine. He went home to battle with his insurance company and I went indoors to cry. Okay, I didn’t weep any tears, but inside I was heartbroken. I was now stuck with a broken car that I wanted gone. Once you’ve made your mind up about a sale, you just want to move it on. And I couldn’t.

Iced up and bonnet up - Saab 9000iI won’t bore you with the details of the week that followed, but the buyer and I came to an agreement. He took the car away at a reduced price and fixed the problems himself.

I knew he was going to look after it and wasn’t about to strip it for spares. This in itself was preferable to unleashing it to the dogs of eBay again, where it could end up anywhere.

Less than a week after the failed sale, it drove away for the last time, requiring Popeye-levels of strength to turn the wheel. But even that was after the doors decided to freeze up following the first frost of the winter. Oh and she had a flat battery too…

Like an old friend

I’ll miss it, that’s for sure. Long journeys and cold mornings were an absolute pleasure in the Saab 9000i. For a period earlier in the year, I was doing over 3,000 miles a month in her not once did she miss a beat or kick up a fuss. From base camp on Dartmoor, we went as far afield as Manchester, London, Northamptonshire and Kent. And each time she was brilliant, making a mockery of her £450 price tag.

I won’t miss her manners around town though. The gearbox wasn’t particularly great and when combined with a typically heavy clutch, it made for pretty unpleasant city driving.

1990 Saab 9000i rear

A testament to regular and quality maintenance and a car that was properly engineered. Look after an old Saab and they’ll look after you like an old friend. In the end, it was just time to let her go. Move her on before the memories turned sour. The problems experienced during the sale either mean I let her go at precisely the right time or she was pleading with me not to let her go. Who knows?

Thanks for the memories, old girl.

PetrolBlog Score:

1990 Saab 9000i 2.3-litre

  • Pint of milk: On a cold and frosty morning perhaps, but not for B-road thrills: 4.
  • Filling station forecourt: The original 9000 is an increasingly rare and wonderful sight: 8.
  • You don’t see many of those: Just 60 left now, so it’s rare that you’ll see another one: 9.
  • Bangernomics: A purchase price of £450 gives the Saab 9000 a perfect ten: 10.
  • PetrolBloggyness: A PetrolBlog hero that provided a warm, comfortable and effortless 14 months: 9.
  • Total for the Saab 9000i: 80/100

Details of scoring can be seen here.

 

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

23 comments

  1. December 11, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    Excellent tale Gav, this is the real meat and potatoes of PetrolBlog.

    For me, the early 9000s are more desirable than the later ones, partly for the less heavy-handed styling. I love the rear screen, for example. Almost as if the car was designed as a saloon but became a hatchback half way through the process – and all the better for it.

    Such a shame it played up right at the end, but sounds like it’s gone to a good home. Didn’t see you selling this one to be honest, but I expect the ZX will make up for it in many ways!

    Reply
    • December 11, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Thanks Antony. Enjoyed writing it. As you say, it’s the heart of PB.

      Didn’t see myself selling it either, but I just sensed the time was right. Besides, the Citroens need some love.

      Next up, I think a long overdue introduction to the ZX is required.

      Reply
      • December 12, 2012
        Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

        I look forward to reading it!

        Reply
  2. December 12, 2012
    Graeme Thomas

    A most riveting tale, as usual Gav,this brings back fond memory’s,in the ’90’s., I worked as a Service Manager for a SAAB dealer,which to be honest, were the best of times,in late ’93 i had a ‘New’ 900S 2.0 as a company car,due to my lowly stature,i was not allowed a CS,the epitome of Saab then,the 900 was quite honestly ‘Crap’ a Vauxall Cavalier in Drag, i found out later,I decided to opt out of the company car,shortly after & bought a low mileage,mint white 9000I XS 2.0.,{The 2.3 was notoriously unreliable!!!},i ran this car for over 3years, and sold it to a Saab enthusiast,{there were such people then} although, i did lose a considerable amount of money,i still recall the car today, as one of my top ten cars.

    Reply
    • December 12, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      What happened to the days when Saabs were driven exclusively by nice people?!

      Reply
  3. December 12, 2012
    Rafael

    Well, I´m trying to sell my 9000 but after reading this, how can I get rid of the poor thing?
    I agree with you. More than a car, it´s an extension of your house. The heated seats seem a frivolity here in the south, but in winter I use them every time I take the 9000.
    It´s a very satisfying car to own, it´s a shame it´s not so to drive.
    I only hope mine doesn´t break down while its new owner comes to collect it!

    Reply
    • December 12, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ha. Good luck with the sales.

      Presumably the air con is used more frequently than the heated seats?!

      Reply
  4. December 12, 2012
    Peter Counsell

    As Antony notes, this article scores very very highly for its own Petrolbloggyness.

    Reply
    • December 12, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ha. A bit like the 9000!

      Reply
  5. December 12, 2012
    Darren Elc Daw Cafferty

    I used to have an 1989 ‘F’ reg 2.0 non turbo which was plagued with problems including a broken Ring Gear, thanks to a faulty Starter Motor that cost £630 to replace and had to be flown in from Sweden, took 3 weeks to get that and then after fixing it the Gearbox started a nasty sound similar to Ball bearings in a Dustbin being smashed around. But it was one of the most comfortable cars I’ve ever driven, she had the Black Leather seats and they were heated as well, lovely 🙂

    Reply
    • December 12, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ha!

      The Saab 9000 – probably the most comfortable car to break down in, in the world! 😉

      Reply
  6. December 12, 2012
    Marianne

    It brought a tear to my eye. I know the feeling very well at having to part with a beloved Saab.

    Reply
  7. December 12, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    They know you know. I had an ambulance once which had been totally reliable till the day the next owner came to pick her up and she wouldn’t turn over, with the battery door next to a wall, weighing 4 tons. Sorry to see the Saab go but I had forgotten that the ZX had been bought to replace!

    Reply
    • December 12, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ha! I love your vehicular history! I think you MAY have mentioned the ambulance before, but it always raises a smile! 😉

      Reply
      • December 13, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        But which one?

        Reply
        • December 13, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          Ha! You’ve had more than one ambulance?!

          There’s a blog post in this you know! 😉

          Reply
  8. December 13, 2012
    failcar

    Good read, but now we need a ZX intro and some AX GT pics, just because.

    Reply
    • December 13, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      They’re on the list! 😉

      Reply
  9. December 13, 2012
    mkl37

    A really interesting review of a very undervalued car. Its aesthetics conditioned by his boooooooring shoe-box brother, the Fiat Croma, and the efforts of SAAB for putting some of their personality on the 9000 give it a strange silhouette, like a giant Renault 11

    However… it’s attractive, SAAB always make it. They have an strange car, in other brands would be only an ugly car, in SAAB it haves soul.

    And its quality is obviously great, it’s a SAAB

    Reply
    • December 13, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Nicely summarised. Never thought of it as a giant Renault 11, but now you come to mention it…

      It’s funny isn’t it, I find the 9000 attractive, but it’s not an especially good looking car. Just something about it…

      Reply
  10. March 6, 2013
    Classic Hub

    Blimey. I’m well behind the times here! Was aware it had found a new home but was it really almost four months ago?! This was probably one of the best cars I’ve ever sold. I once drive it from West Wales to Norfolk to Croydon to West Wales in a weekend. What a way to cover distance! Only poor turn-in when driving quickly, and the iffy town manners let it down. Glad she (pretty much) served you well!

    Reply
    • March 7, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Well I think considering the amount of miles I did and the price I paid for her, she served me very well indeed.

      I have regrets about selling her, but I don’t really miss her. Money no object I’d have kept her, but you know what Citroëns are like. They need constant pampering!

      Hope your fleet is well and life is good in wonderful Welsh West Wales.

      Reply
  11. December 26, 2013
    Anthony Halpin

    Excellent write up! I have an imported 1990 9000 Carlsson (2.0) and I love it to bits. The car was imported from the U.K. by a multi – millionaire who apparently was in the habit of calling his driver ‘Chicken brain’, so obviously a nice guy. Unfortunately he didn’t spend much of his money on the car, so my ‘Chicken brain’ award actually goes to him.

    The problem with a lot of these old barges – I’ve discovered – is not the car, but the people. My Saab was well kept up ’till 2004 when it left for Ireland. You guys keep every receipt. We don’t. The 161,000 miles were documented and receipted up to that year, then nothing.

    Gearbox whine (which increases in volume with speed) is a worry, saggy headlining, and rusted out braided calipers are the big problems at the moment. It’s been sitting for quite a while (I’ve been slowly buying bits on ebay in the interim … it’s a bit like the Johnny Cash song tbh) but this is the best car I’ve ever driven. It’s probably one of the most complete cars there is.

    As for quality and safety, this was a philanthropic car company in the same mould as Volvo (my daily is a ’93 480s btw!) I only did about 7k. in the Saab after I bought it in 2008, but during that short time I got addicted to the boost … and the tank – like quality you talk about. I love the look of it too. Exciting? – no. Elegant? – you bet! I just love it. Understated, dignified.

    There’ll never be another car like the 9000!

    Reply

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