Shed of the Week | Saab 9-3 'Aero' cabriolet

When Saab first started putting serious turbo boost into its motors, many a sage journo commented at the time that 200hp was without question the practical upper horsepower limit for front-wheel drive cars. End of.

Eeeh, how things have changed, as Shed's post-mistress commented on a very hot day recently when she accidentally stumbled upon the great man in his workshop, naked and bent spread-eagled over an A35 engine bay.

A bit of an old hippie, Shed's always been one for letting it all hang out. In the hope that it might generate some extra whizz in their love life, he once told Mrs Shed that he was a libertarian. Unfortunately for him, Mrs Shed is not the sharpest tool in the box. In a fit of misplaced jealousy she marched straight round to the local library and smacked the comely assistant upside the head with her wildebeeste handbag. Ever since then Shed has refrained from using words of more than three syllables in her company.

Anyway, if Shed could get away with it he'd happily use this week's Shed for a spot of in-the-buff naturist motoring. He's always been partial to a fast Swede, and particularly a topless one. This remapped 9-3 certainly ticks his box.

Nowadays you young drivers don't have to make sure both of your front wheels are on similar surfaces before you recklessly boot your FWD hot hatch into hyperdrive. If you did that in one of the first turbo Saabs with your right hand front tyre on a wet bit of tarmac and your left-hand front on a dry bit, arm-knotting amounts of torque steer were very much on the menu, alongside the pickled herring.

Those early journos didn't foresee the advances in traction control that, right now, mean a 320hp front-drive Civic is a production reality. Saab probably did foresee those advances, but even though they hadn't arrived by the time the first high-boost Turbos bombed onto the stage, it didn't stop them putting out cars that in poor or changeable conditions could only really be driven quickly and safely (at the same time) by Swedes, or of course Finns. You needed the other sort of ESP - extra-sensory perception - to anticipate and deal with the crude power step. Turbo really meant something back then.

The 9-3 was not warmly received when it went on sale in 1999. Whatever you think about the politics, the B/H slant four petrol motor that the 9-3 inherited from Saabs dating back to 1981 was not only strong enough to run right through to 2003 but also man enough to take big hits from the tuning stick. This car is claimed to be putting out 270hp. We won't bore you with the details of how it achieves that because the vendor is happy to do that in his ad, but a recently fitted recon turbo plus a Stage 3 hop-up from the highly respected German engine tuning and suspension firm Hirsch are bullet points worth highlighting.
Hirsch upgrades were/are expensive, but they were good. Shed seems to remember that they were an official part of the Saab offering and therefore didn't invalidate your warranty. Last of the line performance 9-3s like the Turbo X 9-3 effectively had Hirsch upgrades thrown in.

It's not so much about power with remapped Saabs as it is about lag reduction and torque curve en-fattening. A Stage 3 with the correct downpipe should deliver getting on for 380Nm, or around 280lb ft. That will get you down the road pretty smartly almost irrespective of which of the intermediate gears you're in, as long as the tacho has 2000rpm or more on it. The other good thing about even quite strong retunes on already fast Saabs is that they don't seem to have much effect on the fuel consumption.

It's also cheering to see that the vendor hasn't neglected the handling side of the equation. 270hp would be a bridge too far on a stock chassis, so the work done on this one might mean that the allegations of a handling character bypass that are normally levelled at this model can be set aside. The seller's reassurances about sludging, or the lack of it, make good reading too. The ad has a nice oily whiff of marque and model knowledge about it.

You might be the sort who wonders why this car's factory turbo failed. Shed on the other hand is the sort who likes to see a new(ish) turbo on the service history, paid for by somebody else. The 5-speed manual is presumably original, which is a pity in one way as it was never much cop to use, but at least the mileage is low so hopefully there's more life in it yet.

Generally speaking Shed reckons this car will get you about the place in a very pleasing manner. Shame about the cyclist hitting the front wing and screen, but there are plenty of other cyclists who haven't hit it. No, we don't know what's means by that, either.

The car was MOT'd last month, with the only advisory being a bit of edge wear on the offside front tyre, acceptable enough in such a poky car. You can never be 100 per cent sure but the history does seem to indicate a car that's had whatever it's needed, whenever it's needed it. Some structural corrosion in the nearside rear was picked up and addressed in September 2017. Shed doesn't want to tell you your business, but prospective buyers might want to check the offside rear area.

Don't go expecting old-school Saab quality on the inside, especially in this car which appears to have a cigar burn on the passenger seat, or shake-free driving on a bumpy road with the top down. If it's rigidity you're after, look elsewhere (but not between Shed's legs when he's bent naked over an A35).

Which takes us back to the opening anecdote, and a real headline about a drugs bust that Shed saw in a newspaper the other day. 'Dealer had crack in buttocks', it said. Well, it made Shed laugh anyway.

Here's the ad.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (68) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Tin Hat 05 Jul 2019

    Styling still looks fresh, great shed!

  • Cambs_Stuart 05 Jul 2019

    Good advert and a really nice shed. Looks just the job for the summer.

  • nicfaz 05 Jul 2019

    Great shed. These things are quick in a straight line (think Renaultsport Megane), though corners might be more challenging!

    Recon turbo is a worry because you’re at the mercy of whoever did the recon. Also polybushing is a worry because it will have ruined what little NVH prevention the car had in the first place. But for £1300? Great fun.

  • redroadster 05 Jul 2019

    Worst car I ever drove over an uneven bumpy rd ,then I bought the next version it was far better and I think has also aged v well .

  • mrpenks 05 Jul 2019

    I had a non-turbo version for 6 months. It handled like a shopping trolley and torque steered everywhere. God only knows what this will handle like.
    It also felt cheap and nasty inside - the GM cost cutting could be felt everywhere.
    Not a car I remember fondly.

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