A Place Saabs Can Call Home
Finding The Unusual In Unexpected Places

It’s the unexpected and unplanned that often yields the best Speedhunting experiences, and the way in which I stumbled on a Saab specialist in Kuala Lumpur was exactly that.

I was happily shooting away at One 911 Autoworks when, looking out the shop’s back entrance, I noticed the unmistakable silhouette of an old Saab in the distance. I know that car culture in Malaysia runs deep and there is a lot to be seen, but Saabs? A Swedish car in the heart of the tropics? I never saw that coming!

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But it wasn’t just one Saab; a quick look around the block revealed more cars parked alongside the building.

You could say that I’ve always had an appreciation for these cars. I’ve worded that sentence carefully, because Saabs are somewhat of an acquired taste. I mean, the design of the 99/900 is something only its maker can love, although the 3-door coupe was a little easier to digest than this sedan model.

That said, these cars brought a lot to the market. Their oddball styling held a certain appeal, but they were also mechanically very interesting, being among the first production cars in the late ’70s to be fitted with a turbocharged motor. That badge on the side meant a lot, it was synonymous with power even if the looks made you question it. It was partly down to the reputation the Porsche 930 Turbo had garnered since its introduction in 1974 – anything with a ‘Turbo’ motif was seen as fast.

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The shop had the whole Saab line-up arranged in chronological order.

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The mid-’90s is when the new 900 was produced, and you can sort of see where Saab tried to capture the spirit of the then iconic version of the car, but sort of failed by being a little too conservative.

That said, it still had all the right attributes when it came to performance, safety, innovation and build quality to keep it going through to the early 2000s.

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Which is when the 9-3 came, as seen here in convertible form. The rest is history.

Digging Deeper
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But back to the interesting cars that were parked out in front of YHS Autonet, as run by certified Saab guru, Mr. Soon.

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There were a bunch more older 900s in the group – a couple that were in reasonable condition, and another two that looked to be well past their sell-by dates.

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As I found out later on while chatting to Mr. Soon, many of the cars parked up around the shop are there to be parted out. They’ll donate what good they still have left in order to keep models in better condition running for years to come.

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Irrespective of the make and model it’s sad to see cars in this sort of state and being picked over for spares, but that’s just something that has to happen. Because it’s not like you can call up SAAB and ask if they have a part in stock!

Which brings us to Saab’s demise five years ago, when after 67 years in business the company filed for bankruptcy and stopped making cars. Granted, nearing the end of the road Saab was building some seriously uninspiring machines, but thanks to poor management by parent companies as well as some terrible collaborations, the worst was unavoidable. It’s never nice to see a brand axed, especially one that had stood out for its uniqueness.

Where were people supposed to get their quirky cars from now though?

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Well, the answer is clear – you look after the older cars that helped shape the brand into something so recognizable yet refreshingly different.

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And it was on that thought that I took a step inside the workshop…

Driven By Passion
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When you’re running a business restoring older cars, the more spares you can hunt out and stock, the easier your life will be. With models that span all the way back to the ’40s there are a lot of Saab parts you could stockpile, but Mr. Soon specializes in 900 series car and those that came after. It’s something you can easily see once you look at all the parts that are laid out on shelves and hung from the walls.

From seats and trim to A/C and audio units, the more I looked the more I found. Mr. Soon has obviously been at this for quite some time judging by the sheer amount of stuff he’s accumulated.

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Not surprisingly there were quite a few turbos stacked in a corner too.

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Here are a couple of engine covers from the more modern 2.3-liter transversally-mounted four-cylinder that powered the 900, and later the 9-3 and 9-5.

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There was even a late-model 9-3 with its hood up so I could compare what the later 2.0-liter variant of the engines looked like. These were good for 210hp, but a little playing around could unleash considerably more power.

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Towards the end of the shop there was another refreshed 900 sitting on one of the three lifts.

While routine maintenance is YHS Autonet’s bread and butter, the shop often gets requests to upgrade engine and mechanicals for increased performance. It was cool seeing this B235 with its cover removed, revealing the cams and chain drive system.

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When Mr. Soon opened up the front of this old 900, I immediately went in for a closer look. I love how Saab even had to make the way the hood was hinged and operated totally different from any other car out there. Once you pull the release the whole thing slides slightly forward before lifting upwards and at the same time sliding down over the headlights. Crazy stuff!

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All that theater reveled the B201, Saab’s single cam 8-valve turbo motor that powered 99/900s from the late ’70s. Curiously, this was an evolution of an old Triumph slant-four engine which Saab/Scania improved on with time. They became very well known for their low-end torque.

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What surprised me, aside from its longitudinal orientation (the right sort of orientation!), was the exhaust manifold design and position of the turbo.

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After looking at this car for a few minutes I totally get why it has a following. If you like oddballs, this would be right up your alley.

There were plenty of posters of 900s adoring the walls of the workshop.

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But it was Mr. Soon’s office, which doubles up as an engine build room that had the real memorabilia on display.

That included a ton of Saab factory tools laid out on Saab workshop tool hangers. To the right collector this sort of stuff would be priceless.

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Every nook and cranny was filled up with neatly organized and labelled containers holding everything from bolts and washers through to head studs and valves.

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My short, albeit refreshing visit to this cool little shop ended with the most important question of all: Why Saab? It turns out that Mr. Soon was hit by the bug a long time ago; he was drawn in by the uniqueness of the cars and brand and the link they always shared with rallying, racing, performance and innovation. Sounds about right – it’s these sort of traits that lure in car guys and develop passions.

It’s just too bad Saab is no longer.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: speedhunters_dino
dino@speedhunters.com

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37 comments

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1

Saab. even the Italians are not as quirky as them.

2

I really like these weird things. The older 900 Turbos more so than the yawn-inducing 93's and 95's.

There was a 900t Carlsson Edition parked up outside my old house for ages and it did look awesome and it was pristine! I'd love to see what kind of special edition cars and sports versions might have been in the works before they went pop.

3

At first it was like holy ish thats the car that ran over me while I was trying to get some cash out last week, but honestly all of these cars look a little rapey so maybe it's all of them.

4

Nicceee, I want a saab 900 turbo

or a 9-3 coupe or do a soft top to hard top keeping those soft top lines, conversion

Nice articles you guys are lit. <3

5

SAABs on Speedhunters who would have thunk it?!

My first car was a 1986 pre-facelift (better-looking imo) 900 turbo 16s Aero with 90k miles on it. That car looked and sounded RIDICULOUS and accelerated like a rocket ... about 5 seconds or so after you floored it ;) ... FWD saved my life on many an occasion. I loved that thing.

C'mon Speedhunters, hunt us up some nicely-modified old SAABs or ex-race cars please!

Author6
Dino Dalle Carbonare

I'd love to feature some! Not much here in Japan unfortunately

7

I used to worked near this shop & I always drive by just to see all the old Saabs parked outside.

8

I just feel like saying,
Black Saab rules!

9

Didn't we find a way to remove the spammers from this site? Why are they back?

10
A Man Called Ove

Volvo owners, am I right?

11

Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Thanks for sharing!

Author12
Dino Dalle Carbonare

My pleasure!

13

There are a few 9-3 Aero 2-doors that I see in the neighborhood. It's a cool ride.

Author14
Dino Dalle Carbonare

US? or Europe?

15

I guess technically they aren't 'Aeros' after some looking into it

16

US of A.

17

Articles like this are why I love Speedhunters.

Author18
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Thanks man! These are some of the best posts to put together : )

19

No" that 9-3 wasn't the first of it's name. They swapped names during the previous generation, around 1998? Apparently changing the name to include a '3' to associate it with the BMW 3 series and the Audi A3

20

The photo with the valve cover removed is actually a B202 block from a 900 fitted with a B235 head for better compression and flow.

Author21
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Love it when our readers come in with so much knowledge! :)

22

How much for a 900??

Author23
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Where?

24

Great to see some love for Saabs, we had one in our family for many years.

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25

Good to see some love for Saabs, we had a 99 for many years.

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26

Great to see some love for Saabs, we had a 99 for many years.

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Author27
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Cool color! I have to say, that grille looks so much better than other ones I've seen. What year was it?

28

That was a 1972 I think, the grille was chrome originally but my dad modernized it, I'm not sure if the bumper was chrome too at first.
BTW comment section doesn't work very well, posted yesterday, got message, post unsuccessful or something, now it appears three times haha.

29

Own a 1975 Saab 99 myself, help maintaining 900 Classics in the family. Found in a barn, now back in driving condition making many miles and having some mods. When working on them, and after that talking to friends and see their cars and discuss the maintenance, you get to know the sofistication that goes into a Saab. Everything is logical. From the engine, to the panels, the interiors, the layout and all the connecting elements. Made to work on in the convinient way, providing loads of room and mostly common sizes with tools. Besides that the quality is extraordinary, safety wise. Thick metal, heavy though, all sorts of safety features like standard seat belts in the 50s, brake disks all around in the 70s. By the way; the Triumph (slant four)engine was an original idea of Saab and Ricardo engines. Triump later came in to help and finance the development, and later made a V8 out of two blocks. Saab continued with their B engine, a evolution.

Author30
Dino Dalle Carbonare

Post some pix!

33

In process

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34

I fell in love with Saabs after seeing a three cylinder 95 compete equally with a 427 vette, far behind in the straights and passing in the curves. I later owned a 96 and loved the rally feel of driving fast in the woods. An even later 99 turbo convertible, with the monster turbo lag kicking in still never felt out of control. And with the top down you could still put a large suitcase and golf clubs in the trunk.

35

I too have had a few. Fav was an early (1986) 9000T16 5 dr.
Fitted a 4" straight through exhaust, opened up the air box to max. capacity and played around with the electronics to loosen the restrictions. Also fitted poly bushes all round, incl gearbox and engine mounts.
Made 225kw & 320Nm at the wheels with 250k kms on the clock, and a good 0-100km/h (0-60) of 5.2 seconds without breaking the gearbox.
Club raced and rallied for a few years before I eventually did kill the gearbox (pulled the main shaft out of its bearing).
This was followed up by a Y2K 93S - not a race car but good for 200k kms in 4 years and comfortable. A blight on GM for killing these off.

36

Thanks for the post on the Saabs, brings a tear to my eye

37

I am owner of 9.3 Linear.
Please give the address of this workshop to visit.
Thank you.

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