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 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.
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.
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.
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.
By 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.
It 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
1990 Saab 9000i 2.3-litre
Details of scoring can be seen here.