Shed of the Week: Saab 9-3 Turbo

Say you had two ways to go from London to Sydney. One would be via a succession of tedious commercial flights connected by long waits in airports. The other would be in a rocket-powered aircraft that might get you there in a tenth of the time - 'might' being the key word there. Which would you choose?

Your answer to that question would tell us a lot about your personality, and also give us a pretty good clue as to whether you would light the blue touchpaper on this week's Shed, an innocuous looking and fairly leggy Saab 9-3 Coupé.

In the last big Euro-war, the British Navy had a few ships that looked harmless but were anything but. They were called Q-ships. After the unpleasantness had come to an end, motorists in search of a cheeky thrill created the Q-car, an aftermarket-fuelled sub-genre of hopped-up motors that looked slow but weren't.

The Q-car was very popular in the 1970s and 1980s before mainstream manufacturers realised that they could build quick cars themselves. And that was the end of that, until ten minutes later when owners realised that they could make these new quick mainstreamers even quicker by the judicious application of money and parts.

It's getting harder and more expensive to create Q-cars these days, but Saabs have always been most amenable to the tuner's not-so-tender touch. The horsepower outputs of hotter models start off high - 200bhp HOT Saabs at Shed money are remarkably common - but they can be made very high indeed with surprisingly little trouble.

So, a 270hp Saab isn't that unusual - but a 270hp Saab for £1300 is. This car has been debadged and then showered with a smorgasbord of lipsmacking add-ons, listed below in the reassuringly understated ad.

A Stage 3 tune on one of these should, as the vendor thinks, take the power up to something approaching 270hp, with an increase in torque of probably a third to something over 400Nm, or nearly 300lb ft in old money. The midrange hit is hard.

It is without doubt a serious machine, but you'd never know it unless the bonnet was up. Apart from the small boost gauge perched inconspicuously on the centre console, it's pure repmobile right down to the cloth seats. Which makes it all the better when some upstart in a beancanned Audi tries his luck on the dual carriageway and you leave him choking on a black cloud of unburnt hydrocarbons, granulated rubber and hot clutchplate dust.

This particular car is a pre-2002 one, which means it's Cavalier- rather than Vectra-based. The handling won't be inspiring, then, but when you've got this much grunt on tap, you can ramp up the excitement simply by crushing the throttle and giggling like a girl at what happens next.

Why are high-power Saabs so cheap and so often shunned? There'll be plenty of folk on the forum under here who will be only too happy to explain the many ways in which a turbocharged Saab can bring misery to your life. Many of the ways will be to do with major mechanical items like the turbo, secondary air injection pump and, well, the whole engine if you don't take care of the oil. Sludging was a big problem in this era of performance Saabs. The clutch may struggle if it's put under regular pressure, and the gearchange might make you wonder if it came in an IKEA flatpack with a few essential screws missing.

Less major but still fairly annoying potential glitches include malfunctioning locks, squeaky suspension, seized rear brake calipers, rattly trim pieces and general electrical woes. The vendor mentions rust, but not that much. Some say that these Saabs were a bit better rustproofed than contemporary Vauxhalls. The MOT history throws up nothing too scary, and you've got all this year to get used to its little ways before the next test comes up in January.

So, do you feel lucky? Do you fancy taking on the idea of a 163,000-mile Saab with a 270bhp stage 3 powerplant? Look on the positive side: if it does go bang on a B-road one winter's eve, you'll have had plenty of fun up to that point, and you'll also have a nice little parts bin to dispose of on ebay.

The top Vikings, who as you know came from places like Sweden before they were called Sweden, always went out in a blaze of glory. When dead, they were set alight on floating funeral pyres and then cast off up the river to end up who knows where. You just had to pray it wouldn't be at the bottom of your garden, causing a stink.

Surely a similar end would be appropriate for this Viking warrior of a car? If names like Ragnor Lodbrok, Eric Bloodaxe or Björn Ironside appear anywhere in the stacks of service history invoices we're promised by the seller, you surely owe it to their glorious memories to buy it, max it out everywhere and then laugh heartily and slap yourself on the thigh if/when it expires, hopefully spectacularly. The Viking gods would have wanted it that way.

Here's the ad.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (109) Join the discussion on the forum

  • HardMiles 22 Jun 2018

    Yes she’s! 10/10. That’s what PH is all about!

  • Mogul 22 Jun 2018


  • Cambs_Stuart 22 Jun 2018

    Turbo Eco Coupe? Always had a soft spot for these.
    But not sure I'd be brave enough to take on a tuned, 17 year old car with over 160 miles. Really like to hear from whoever does buy it...

  • Tin Hat 22 Jun 2018

    Jolly good shed, Saab always providing a dashboard with character

  • only1ian 22 Jun 2018

    Saab are a much missed marque for me. Loved that they played on their aviation hertiage. Comfy seats, aircraft inspired dash and a night panel button!

    This shed clearly also has a reheat button and is a potential afterburner!

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