If you were to walk into a boy’s room in the early 80′s and look around the walls you would likely see posters. If the kid was into cars the posters would likely contain images of the Countach, the Testarossa, possibly a Vette or Cobra, maybe a Jag E type or a Porsche 930 Turbo. Another car, unlikely as it may seem, that I remember seeing on a few of those walls was the odd little Saab 900 Turbo.
No raging, mid-mounted Italian 12 cylinder or blistering V8 lurking beneath a mile-long hood. No gorgeous curves or evocative bulges. The 900 was a strange-looking, upright little beast with front-wheel-drive and a little inline 4 cylinder engine. Like a Honda Civic or Toyota Tercel. It was often a hatchback and didn’t even have an independent rear suspension.
As an update to the 99, the slightly sporty little family car was one of the first to offer a turbo engine in production (outside of the monster 930 in the poster above) and four-valve-heads.
The little slant-4 motor-that-could has an interesting story too, it turns out. Saab
freaks enthusiasts recently lamented the final discontinuation and sale to China of the little old H-Engine (not really an H boxer engine like a Porsche or Subaru, it’s just a name) a couple of years ago. The cast-iron block, 45 degree tilted motor had been continuously refined for over 40 years. Prior to the mid-60′s, and the model 99, Saab motors were furious little 2-strokes, little hornets in blue-smoke clouds. While a few models had used 4-stroke motors borrowed from Ford, the cars were mostly known for the two and three cylinder 2-strokes of the model 92 based cars. When the company decided to move to a “modern” 4-stroke for the new 99 model it looked to Triumph(!) of all places.
It’s 4 cylinders are tilted at 45 degrees because it was designed as half of a V8, an engine later used in the Triumph Stag. At least for a little while, before it broke. And they all broke.
Which most of the little 4s did as well, which is why Saab eventually brought the engine’s production in-house. The cast-iron-block then became a very reliable and durable platform on which Saab bolted on a turbo as early as 1977 and a 16 valve head in 1984. Both of course boosted power output, but in contrast to bigger engines or more cylinders, these refinements were such that only nerds could love. And as a front-wheel-drive car, the added power introduced another motoring term to the broader public. Torque steer.
Continuing their mission of odd, they were also one of the very few convertables of the time. Don’t try the upside down thing with the rag top though, not recommended…