The international reader stories keep on coming… read about Marco Fernandez’ love for SAAB and the 900NG in particular. The next exclusive SAAB mug goes to Spain!
“As a child I was always fascinated by cars. Toy cars at first, the collection of Matchbox miniature cars and especially the Scalextric, all of which I have fond memories of.
I can’t really call myself an automotive guru (and it hasn’t been priority for me to become one either!) and I’ll probably won’t have the opportunity to drive all the different cars I actually admire, but I really love them and SAABs in particular!
“Ni un seductor Mañara ni un Bradomín he sido…
…y amé cuanto ellas pueden tener de hospitalario”. (A. Machado)
While studying architecture in the ‘80s everything related to design, technology, creativity and craftsmanship became a priority for me. One way of understanding life.
In the late ’80s and early ’90 my passion for SAAB developed and it was actually the 9000 and especially the 900 that got me hooked. The combination of simplicity and doing things differently without forgetting the functionality, had me fall in love.
In 2000 I could finally afford to buy my first new SAAB (so far the only brand-new one) with a dual purpose: to work and to enjoy… a MY01 9-3 TiD which I still own and have enjoyed more than 300K kilometers with.
I also had a fabulous 900 MY91 for a few years. The car had had several previous owners and while I really enjoyed driving it, it had too many issues. A car that gave me feelings of “Vecchia Signora”. It was like going out to dinner with Silvana Mangano: unique, beautiful, cultural but tricky.
900 “Tommy Norlin Edition”
It was the summer of 2006 and was really longing for another 900. And I found one! The “Tommy Norlin”, named after its first owner of Swedish origin who imported the car first to Chile and later brought it to Seville (Spain). Quite a journey… A 900 of the new generation that emerged in late ’93 by the master hands of Envall and Hareide who knew how to integrate the foundation of the brand with the synergies that would occur with the purchase of 50% SAAB shareholding by US giant General Motors rationally and intelligently. As we know the 900NG became the 9-3 in ’98 and was produced through 2002.
This 900 will always be considered as an evolution of the previous model: “The real 900” and I certainly think so personally. The shapes became more rounded, more nuanced and smoothened. Technological innovation also advanced but many purists feel that too many shared components from GM, particularly the Opel Vectra, made the 900NG less “SAAB”.However, for those who have enjoyed the two generations of 900’s, there is a brutal leap in quality and above all, reliability.
As an example of what I found most remarkable it is undoubtedly the engine. Brutal. The 2.0T with Trionic 5 management for me has been the swan song of the mark as to achieve excellence in managing supercharged SAAB engines. I think that one can break anything in this car before destroying this miracle of technology that is its engine. I’ve personally driven many, many miles with it and even on circuit tracks, taking it to its limits but it never gave the slightest sign of fatigue. Unfortunately the rest of the car has some minor shortcomings that prevent 100% enjoyment but I guess “nobody is perfect”…
Another aspect to consider is the chassis and the suspension system. I find it very comfortable for long journeys and always have a good time at the wheel. On a sceptical note, unlike its classic predecessor with the excellent chassis, I am sometimes noticing excessive oversteering but that can be mitigated through the installation of a rear stabilizer bar 22 mm.
The gearbox also has left a SAAB imprint to remember. For a relaxed driving conditions things work perfectly. However, in my case I have suffered repeatedly from linkage mismatch problems and I had to spend a small fortune to improve this aspect.
I find the 900NG series to have more than adequate brakes. The 288 mm front discs very effectively put this “Made in Trollhättan” car to a full stop. And with an aggressive driving style the ABS circuits kick in quickly.
The interior look of the car for me is very good and especially transmits ergonomics and functionality. Everything is very well thought out and located within reach with large and colorful buttons.
There is a clear improvement over the previous 900 regarding the position of the ignition switch in the center console on a turret instead of a recessed portion where dirt constantly accumulated and then spilling it over into the lock mechanism itself.
The position of the legs, especially the right one is perfect. I remember the annoying rubbing against the sharp console in the classic 900. On long trips this was becoming too uncomfortable.
In this aspect also the 900NG enjoys very good quality of materials and finishes. Take for example the dashboard that still looks like new. You cannot say the same about the previous 900 especially in climates with hot summers and strong solar radiation. The detachment of the roof liner is also common in warm climates like Spain, but even more pronounced in the previous 900.
Also to note is the improved dashboard: much clearer to read and especially at night. You can say the same (much improved…) of the air conditioning system. For extreme climates like here in the Andalusia region, the AC just has to work perfectly. The first 900 didn’t really have a fault-free system, especially the complex hydraulic hatches certainly needed to be improved. Having said that, I really think that the AC in the 900NG is the best I have ever enjoyed in any car that I’ve ever owned.
The exterior is a good example of the evolution of its predecessor. It presents a sharper, smoother forms, but the 900NG lost the iconic clamshell hood. This new model is much more conventional and less sophisticated. The same is true of intentionally curved windshield from the previous model and standardization of the new. The bumpers are more integrated into the car assembly line. I guess one could say it is in line with the aesthetics of its time but lost some the radicalism and personality forms of the previous 900.
I am really happy though with rims on the new 900. SAAB succeeded with the unique and just stunning wheel designs they also had in previous years. Looking at the continued creativity and design on this front, it seems SAAB didn’t (or didn’t want to…) fall victim to the drastic cost reductions that the automotive world had gotten so accustomed to in those years.
In summary, although I should note that my views are not at all impartial (my degree of affinity with SAAB starting to get a little over the top…) it is a hard comparison between the 900 classic and its more recent descendant. My 900NG is just a fantastic car that I have enjoyed (and I hope to continue enjoying) for many years.
On the other hand, many factors make it unfortunately likely that this model is not going to go down in history of classic cars. Although arguably the SAAB DNA isn’t 100%, it certainly is a car to be enjoyed. The few owners who still have a 900NG should cherish these rare, but fun and beautiful SAAB’s. “Sign of the times”.
Author: Marco Fernandez, Spain.
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