Contemporary Swedish class on a tight budget...
Saab stood for “Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget”, which means Swedish Aircraft Corporation Limited in the Scandinavian language. Founded in 1937, its parent company specialised in aerospace and defence hardware. Saab joined Scania Trucks in 1968 and went through many difficulties under GM ownership in the early 1990s. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2011 (in South Africa, Scania is still active with a wide range of commercial vehicles).
With homework, you shouldn’t be too worried about parts availability on this 9-3, and used prices are low, making it a calculated risk.
The 9-3 was based on the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra but had many improvements to its crash safety and suspension. Driving comfort was excellent, from the seating to instrumentation and trim. Despite limited sales, the convertible was particularly popular and most of the cars available on Gumtree are drop-tops. The sedan’s boot is quite large at 300 litres and the spacious rear seats fold to allow 1 056 litres.
While previous models used a 2,3-litre engine, this version scaled down to a GM Ecotec 2,0-litre with mild turbocharging to produce between 110 and 155 kW, and 240 to 300 N.m of torque, depending on the model. Our test unit delivered 129 kW using a Garret turbo set at 0,7-bar boost. The engine was mounted transverse, driving the front wheels, and had d-o-h-c. Fortunately, the 16 valves were driven by a camchain. There was a choice of a five-speed manual or a five-speed auto.
Which one to get
The Convertible is likely to retain a higher value but you may prefer the sedan for security reasons. Before purchase, check that everything works, especially the powered hood if it’s a drop-top.
What to watch out for
With parts availability the biggest reason for the low prices of 9-3s, we had a look at possibilities. One that stood out was Masterparts, which will source many components but note this excludes body panels. The option is always there to use panel beaters to repair bodywork. Breakers yards can be contacted for spares from cars that have been written off.
A search for windscreens and taillamp lenses resulted in some interesting offerings at reasonable prices from Australia. Of course, shipping may double the price, but it could cost much less than local producers charge for some of our newer vehicles.
Workshop manuals are available from various suppliers. Many parts are on offer, both new and used, on eBay, including replacement woodgrain dash panels, bumpers and grilles. Lastly, there is no shortage of Saab enthusiasts worldwide, so make use of their expertise for advice and locating parts.
Availability and prices
While sales numbers locally were low, making the car somewhat rare, there are always a few for sale, mostly in a good state of repair. The prices vary considerably but takers are few so we would encourage haggling.
After such a colourful history, it would be a pity if there was no future. Initially, the Swedish consortium NEVS (National Electric Vehicle Sweden) had joined forces with a large Chinese manufacturer to produce electric vehicles under the Saab name. It lost the rights to use the name and now builds the vehicles – based on the 9-3 – under the nomenclature NEVS.
Way back, in February 1959, we tested a very different Saab with a similar name, the 93B. This had a water-cooled, three-cylinder, two-stroke engine of just 750 cm3 capacity and produced 25 kW at 5 000 r/min. It had a three-speed manual gearbox and took 32,4 seconds to reach 100 km/h before topping out at 119,7 km/h.
If you're interested in the bigger 9-5, we tested an SE Turbo in August 1998 and the wagon variant exactly two years later. Both used a 2,3-litre turbopetrol developing 125 kW and 280 N.m.Second hand cars for sale