Ownership Verified: My 1990 Saab 900 SPG


Active Member
Mar 18, 2008
Cedar City, UT
'90 Saab SPG, '84 K5 Blazer, '67 Fairlane 500
Well, where to even begin.

My other two cars, the '67 Fairlane, and the '84 Blazer, as much as I love them to death, (and NO, I am not selling either) both need lots of money thrown at them to make them viable daily drivers again.
The Fairlane, more or less, needs a transmission, and the blazer needs over $1000 worth of tires. Both of these are expensive requirements, and in the case of the F-lane, labor intensive.
On top of that, both cars, particularly the blazer, get abysmal fuel economy, and as a college student having driven these two vehicles back and forth between school and home over the last 3.5 years, i just can't afford the fuel any more.

it is unavoidable that this fall, I would have to spend lots of money on a car, either to fix the old ones, or to buy a new one, and as I posted a while back in the Fairlane's thread, I went for the "new" car.
Probably a stupid idea, but I blame my dad for pushing me into it lol. (as he is a Saab lover of old; Bought a new 900 Turbo back in 1980, and drove it an obscene amount of miles before selling it to my Aunt)

Anyways, On to the car:
It's a 1990 Saab 900 SPG, with the smaller Mitsubishi TE05 Turbo on it.
Looked like this when I got it off the car dolly around 1 in the afternoon:

Not running due to a blown head gasket. It would dump coolant onto the ground about as fast as you could pour it into the engine, not a good sign.
We towed it into the garage, got the hood off, (easiest hood removal I have ever done BTW, 2 bolts and it's off) took a bunch of ref pics, and tore into it.
Went from this:

to this:

in about 5 and a bit hours all told.
As you can see, the head gasket was in a bad way, the tear in the coolant passage was obviously the cause of the coolant leak, but the blown compression ring on cylinder 4 was definitely not helping matters.

At this point, my dad and I called it a day, put it roughly back together, and parked it in the driveway for the next 3 weeks while I drove the Blazer back down to cedar.

Fast forward to this last weekend, and it was a 4 day school holiday. (had Mon and Tuesday off for "fall break" AKA: Hunting season)
I left cedar a day early on Thursday, and that Friday I had the Saab back in the garage, and in bits again so that I could start cleaning.

These pics were taken about 2/3rds of the way through the process, the Head was done, as was the exhaust manifold, the throttle ody and the block itself. the Intake was under-way, and I still had several miscellaneous parts left to go (like the EGR and Turbo) As you can see, some of the cam bearings were not exactly in the best of shape, but I elected to just throw it back together anyways, and run it. If the car serves me well enough, I plan on doing a 2.1 head/intake anyways later

In total, I spent a good 8 or 9 hours cleaning parts with wire-brushes, a can of old, bad gas, a squirt bottle filled with gas, and an air-gun cleaning parts, and over the next 2 days, I worked with my dad to get it back together.
no pics from this process, since I was in a bit of a hurry, and basically couldn't be bothered lol.

Saturday morning we took out all the valves, cleaned them, and put new seals in using a OHC style spring compressor from CarQuest, and a custom tool made out of a piece of galvanized tube. (looked like a O2 Sensor socket)
Once the valves were done, we cued the proverbial music, and started putting this thing back together.
By about 2:30 Sunday afternoon, it was filled with coolant, fresh oil, and started. Oddly enough, even with the hell we went though putting it back together (several parts were put on in a slightly wrong order, which made things very difficult later on) the car started right up with absolutely no difficulty at all. cranked it for a minute or so with the coil disconnected to get some oil flowing, connected up the coil, and after a few more cranks, it fired right up and ran fine.
we timed it, got as much air out of the coolant system as we could (we had drained the block completely dry, so there was a LOT of air in the system) and I took it for a test drive.
This is where the first problem reared its ugly head. Every time I clutched in to stop or go around a corner, it would stall. we replaced every single vacuum line we could find (and some were leaking very badly by this point) and tried again: Problem was still there, and more, the car was not making anything like the power it should have been. (though boost was where it should have been, according to the gauge) Also: For the life of me, I could NOT find 5th gear. It was as if it just was not there.

by that point, it was starting to get late, so we bagged it for the day. My dad had to work that Monday, so I was on my own from then on.
Monday morning, I went out, and immediately went after the IAC valve to clean it.
After having cleaned the IAC valve, the car would no longer idle, so I tweaked the idle setting up, and went for a drive.
This fixed the stalling issue 100%, and the split vacuum line I noticed while taking the IAC out, and replaced, seemed to fix most of the lack of power.
I drove it around a bit, then took it to get emissions and safety tested, then it was off to the DMV to get plates :D

The car passed with flying colors I might add.

On the way back from the emissions place, I got on the interstate, and managed to actually find 5th. Turns out all you have to do is pull the reverse lockout ring up, to get the shifter past the gate, then go up and away with the stick, then slide it back towards you, while pushing lightly forward, and it'll slot in nicely. lol...

There is a rubber bushing on the shift linkage which is almost certainly shot, but it'll have to wait. Since I now technically had 5th gear, the car passed my requirements for me to drive it back down to Cedar City.
I packed all my shit into it, including lots and lots of tools, and off I went.
The drive was not eventful in the slightest, the car ran the 200+ miles at 75+ mph just fine, even though it probably hadn't had a run that long or hard in at least 8 years.
18 MPG or so, I estimate. (the ODO, predictably, doesn't work in the slightest, and hasn't since at least 1999 lol) not nearly as good as it should be, but I suspect the car still isn't running quite right, (the surging under low-boost throttle is gone now though) and it was a quite windy day as well.
Still 18 mpg is much better then the 12 or so the blazer would have gotten in those conditions lol

Anyways things that are still broken:
  • Drivers side window. Motor seems to be fine, but the regulator is locked up pretty good. as a result, the window is perhaps 1/16th of an inch from being fully closed. Not enough for water to get in, but enough for the wind whistle at speed to be incredibly annoying.
  • The Radio. It is still a OEM Clarion unit, and the damn thing is in lockout mode. (due to the fact that I pulled the battery) Naturally, being a 22 year old car, the little card with the lockout code is long gone. I called a dealer up in SLC to get a new one, and got one, but the radio does not like it. There are a number of time-consuming solutions to my problem on the various Saab websites, and I am currently trying each one out. I could get an aftermarket one that is better, but then I not only loose the awesomely shitty 80's factory option equalizer, BUT I would have to spend money. I have none at the moment, and I need my cassette adaptor music :cool:.
  • The dome light also does not come on when the doors open like it should, but it does when you hit the switch to force it on. I suspect a bad ground somewhere in the dash.
  • The Tach sometimes forgets that I have, in fact, started the car up, and the engine is indeed idling. It usually catches on after about 5-10 seconds. Again, I suspect a bad ground.
  • The SRS light is on, and the horn does not work. My aunt had the horn on the steering wheel bypassed to a button on the column, which will work for now, but I need to fix it properly. The two problems are related, and they are both caused by wear and tear on the horn contact ring. A new one: Expensive. So it'll have to wait. For now, I just pulled the damn bulb out.
  • The hatch gas shocks: They are simply shot. I am currently using a piece of PVC Irrigation pipe as a prop-rod for the hatch. It works, but I need to fix it right.
  • And last, but not least, the Tires. They still have good tread-life left, but I have seen less dry-rotted OEM rubber under the hood of my Blazer. This is a safety hazard in my opinion, and the S&E shop that passed this saab should have failed it based on the tires alone. These are right at the top of the money-spending priority list, right under food, tuition, and rent.

Here's a few more semi-random pics of the car in the garage, and later here in Cedar, including a shot of the actual rear window louvers that originally came on the Saab my dad bought brand new back in 1980, and a shot of those same louvers mocked up on the car. (the original mounting hardware has now been found, but it was too late to actually put the louvers on before I left for Cedar)

Well. That was long winded, but that just about covers it. Hopefully, this car will prove to be a better thing to be pissing my money away on for a while, whilst I save up to fix the other two. I expect the Blazer will be back sooner, rather then later (since it really only NEEDS tires...)
The Fairlane will be back too, eventually. I've got a line on a couple cheap Toploader 4 speeds from a friend that should do nicely to get that one going again :mrgreen:

One last thing, the Proof pic, as if it's really needed to show I own this car at this point, but I suppose we need to follow ze rules.
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My other two cars both need lots of money thrown at them to make them viable daily drivers again.

And you thought buying an old Saab was a good idea? :lol:

Just kidding, I love this thing. You've done some amazing work here.

18MPG is pretty bad for this car. I wonder what could be causing it. At first I thought it might be an O2 sensor, but the emission check should have picked on that...

Keep us updated.
Well done, I think you have the most interesting collection of cars on FG. You need to get those louvres on.
Thanks. it's a fun little car so far, but I am really starting to miss my v8's and their low-down torque. I feel like I have to rev the crap out of this thing to go anywhere.
It's running better every day though. I suspect that the injectors are probably not working quite up to spec, that or the timing is still off. It's just a hunch though, no proof as-yet.

I found some more vacuum lines that need to be replaced, all heading over towards a canister embedded within the passenger fender, just in front of the door. I'll probably be attacking those tomorrow morning, as well as trying to find the evap canister, and replacing the vacuum lines going to/from that as well.

On the radio front, pulling the radio from the car and letting it sit for 24 hours has done nothing. It still beeps when I enter the correct code in. just about the only solution I still haven't tried at this point is to let it sit there, beeping, for at least one hour before re-setting it, and entering the code again. I'll try it tomorrow while I replace the vacuum lines.
:thumbsup: Wohoo more Saabs! Hope the transmission is in good shape; those were the major weak spot of that generation 900.
Oh I love these things to bits. Ever since I was 12 and our family got an 8-valve 900i in the same colour and body shape as yours. That odd shape, the engineering, the quirks. Great cars if you acquire a taste for them. For some reason I have a particular memory embedded from my childhood years in Finland about them. The gearbox. Every 900, 99 or 90 I ever rode in made this distinctive whining noise a bit like a hair-dryer or like old Minis. Always in 1st or 2nd when you accelerated prriiiiiiiiiiiiiii-IIIIIIIII. Anywho.. Yeah as above, hope your gearbox is ok, they do tend to go.
The car needs to be polished. Look at the faded paint on the door and rear quarter. Knowing you though, that will never happen.
:thumbsup: Wohoo more Saabs! Hope the transmission is in good shape; those were the major weak spot of that generation 900.

Yeah, not so much on this one as the earlier ones. 1989 saw beefed up pinion bearings, which were the common cause of failure in those gearboxes.
Ohhh, jealous. I learned how to drive stick on my Dad's '90 900 Turbo (non SPG). I loved that car. Absolutely loved it. It was simultaneously daft and utterly brilliant. The latter especially in the winter on proper tires. I remember taking it for a semester of undergrad to Waterloo. We had a storm so vicious they had to cancel final exams one day (the only day in my entire time there that ever happened). Cars were utterly landlocked by 3-4 feet of snow. The Turbo just shrugged it off and drove brilliantly through it.

I'm sure everyone out there has their own opinions of this car, but there's one thing you could never call it: boring.

I miss it desperately.

EDIT: oh, how cute. Yours blew a head gasket, too. My dad's did the same thing only months after he bought his as well! :mrgreen:
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Funny that the English wikipedia categorizes the 900 as "Entry-level luxury car/Compact executive car". Over here it is (or was) an average daily driver for the average joe that wanted economy and safety. :p Shows you how different markets can be.
Wow that dashboard is wrecked. Sourcing a replacement over there can be a pain, as can replacing it :)
The transmission seems to be more or less fine as far as I can tell, but the shifter is way out of adjustment, probably due to the wore out rubber bushing in the shift linkage. This makes it difficult at times to get into first and second, and makes second slightly notchy. Of course, it goes without saying that I think this is also the cause of the difficulty getting into 5th as well, especially since once I am in gear, it's fine, just hard to find them at times lol.

The dash though... god that thing is ugly, I cannot wait till I can fix it, but rather then a replacement one, I've got some ideas involving body filler and either a cloth material of some type (perhaps suede or leather) OR sanded down bedliner. I have seen good results with both on the various Saab forums, so I might go either way. Bedliner will be cheaper...

The paint though, that actually probably will get polished next time I go home. I would have done it already, but I just didnt have the time before I left for cedar.
With my other two cars, the paint was long since beyond saving, but this one I think I could at least make somewhat shiny again with little more then a bit of effort and some polish.
The clear-coat is mostly gone though I think. it's flaking off in big chunks on the hatch :(

In other news, I decided that the fuel filter, probably having not been replaced at any time in the last decade (judging by the rust on it) was due for a replacement. The filter might even by why i feel like there is not as much power as there should be, and why the fuel economy is so awful.
Unfortunately, due to that rust, it looks like I wont be able to replace it here. While I do have the wrenches needed to do it, I don't have a reliable, safe way to get the car high enough for me to effectively apply the force necessary to break the rusty bolts and lines loose.
I'll just have to deal with it, and wait till I can drive it home for Thanksgiving break and so I can do it there.

Also, I finally bought the recommended service manual for this car. That should make it a bit easier to do simple jobs...
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Yeah those service manuals are worth their weight in friggen gold.

My dad has that book, since he has 4 C900's to maintain. :lol:
Minor update, I was driving it around town today, and for some reason, it felt like all my boost went away. the gauge was still registering boost, (and almost as much boost as it should have read too) but at 3k rpm, the car fell flat on it's face, instead of taking off like a scalded hare.

I rolled down the passenger window, and heard quite a lot of whooshing noises when I went into the supposed boost.
as I thought, when i pulled over, one of the boost-side rubber connecting hoses had popped off. No problem, put it back on. I also went through the entire intake system, and re-tightened every single hose clamp, a good move on my part, as most of them were not quite as tight as they ought to have been.

As a result, on-boost power is better then ever.

Every day this car gets a little bit better and more like it should be lol.

In other news, I found out yesterday that apparently the radio needs either a signal from the cd changer or equalizer, OR it needs a loop-back plug installed; without one of these things, the radio goes into a "stolen" mode, and no amount of entering of the correct lockout code will unlock the thing.
I went out to check my setup, and found out that for some as-yet unknown reason, my equalizer is not showing any signs of getting power.
I pulled the radio out, and plugged in the loop-back plug, bypassing the eq.
of course, the lockout code STILL didn't work, but I am now going through the 24 hour reset process again, and I'll try it again tomorrow sometime...
well, no real updates.
the car is still running, if not as well as it ought to, and the radio is still not accepting codes. I've got a older alpine head unit that I have cobbled into the Fairlane that I am planning on hacking into the saab as a temp solution (basically until I can get the Fairlane fixed, and the saab sold)

In the mean-time though, I went out about 20 min ago, and took these:

So, last Friday, I saw this:

as I was driving home to start my (rather extended) Thanksgiving Break from school..
the first thing on my list was to try and get the old fuel filter out. This actually went surprisingly easily, once I had a 1.5 foot long pipe to put on the end of my wrenches. :evil:
Got the old filter out, and it actually looked fine, and was not plugged up at all, I replaced it anyways for good measure, and went on a test drive.

As might be expected, the car still had no power at all, my "fix" fixed nothing at all. At this point, my dad and I were quite stumped, as we had also checked the computer codes, and found that the computer was not detecting any errors with anything at all.
Then, almost on a whim, I decided to re-check the timing again, and make sure it was right.
It was.
Then I had a thought, what if, the very obvious port-hole in the timing cover for timing, isn't the place where you time the engine?

It seemed so obvious that that was the hole you would time it though, as unusual as it seemed to me, as there was no other obvious place for timing, and it was in, what I consider to be a "usual" spot.
When I first timed this engine, I noticed that with the timing gun set to zero degrees, and looking through that hole with the gun on it, there was a little stub sticking out of the flywheel just a few degrees out of where the timing was set.
The dizzy's position had been marked prior to removal, and placed back in the same place where it had been before I even started.
Since the little nub was closeish to the hole, I (mistakenly, as it turns out) assumed that when the gun is at zero, and the nub is centered in the hole, that indicated zero degrees timing. I used the advance feature of my timing gun to set the timing from there.

Anyways, back to this weekend, what if my original assumption had been wrong? The walk-though I used to replace the head-gasket made no mention of timing either way (other then to make sure you time it right)
at this point, I set to work investigating the flywheel cover thoroughly, and under quite a thick layer of grease, I found standard type timing marks next to the port-hole. (no pic as it's almost impossible to get line of sight on it, and none of the pics I attempted to get were clear enough to see it)
I then decided to scrap the timing gun, for the time being, and time it the old-school way of a vacuum gauge and a good ear to get back in the ball-park, and then use the timing gun to finish up and get some precision.

Holy Shit

When I went to test the car, after timing it right it was drizzling rain.
All the way through first, and most of the way through second (till I backed off cause I was going Too Damn Fast) I could feel the front tires scrabbling for grip.
The boost hit hard enough for the inertia-reel seat belts to retract lol
The car was totally different. Wow.
But, the new found power made it blatantly clear that the shifter NEEDED to be fixed, I was going to destroy the gearbox if I didn't fix the shifter slop.

By this point, it was mid-afternoon on Saturday, and neither my dad, nor I felt like getting into the shifter then.
However, we had purchased some supplies to make a home-made vacuum reservoir when we went out to buy the fuel filter. This was necessary because the factory one was leaking like a sieve, and that meant that I effectively had both a MASSIVE vacuum leak, and no heating... or cooling, or vents of any kind lol

anyways, the new one ended up being a little smaller in diameter, but longer in length. (since we had to Dremel and hack the old one out, it wouldn't fit through the hole)
It was made out of a short length black 3" ABS Plumbing pipe, two matching end caps, and two fittings for the vacuum lines to attach two, and we threaded the fittings into one cap, and glued the caps onto the pipe.
once it all set, we vacuum (and boost) tested it, and put it in the same place the old one used to be.
Here's the finished, installed product:

Only took a few hours to assemble, and it's not only bigger volume then the factory tank and more durable, but it was significantly cheaper then a OEM tank.

Anyways, moving on, the next day, we tore the shifter apart:

Getting the housing assembly out required a special (expensive) saab socket to get the special 3 sided nuts out. We hacked up a old 7/16ths socket that we never use, and it worked just fine

^the nut, and the socket we made to get it out

This is the shifter assembly out of the car:

the black rubber bushing was halfway out of it's designated resting place at the front of the housing, and torn to peices besides.
Also, there is supposed to be a plastic/nylon bushing that goes inside the rubber one, and around the shift rod. the plastic bushing was in several pieces, and scattered all around inside the housing.
No wonder there was so much slop in the shifter.

Unfortunately, the only place that had these two parts, that could get them to me before December, was the Saab dealership up in SLC, and even they had to next-day air mail them in.

$32 for $10 worth of plastic and rubber...

anyways, we just finished up the install on that last night, but in the meantime, I managed to hack together a sound system using the aftermarket headunit that used to be in the Fairlane:

and the OEM Clarion speakers, only to find that the drivers front speaker was blown out, and no longer operational. Figures.
I just put one of the BMW E30 junkyard speakers that I was using in the Fairlane in it's place, and it works well enough for me. I'm no audiophile, so as long as I have something that resembles music in the car, I am happy.

I went on a short test drive last night to make sure all was working (it was) and then this morning, i went on a rather longer test drive :D

I went out towards the desert first:

Then I went back into the mountains:

The camera is mounted to the rear tail-light panel here, looking back at where I've been.
The road is Diamond Fork Canyon.

Also, as a side note, this is what the engine looks like now:
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The Saab's still alive, and still mine.

It's had a for sale sign up on it all summer, but I got no bites. This does not disappoint me however, because I don't really want to sell it.
Turns out, it was a good thing no-one bought it from me, as I now need it again. As I've posted in the Fairlane's thread, the muscle car is a bit borked at the moment, and it's just not a good idea for me to continue driving it until I fix the engine properly.

I bought four Bridgestone Turanza Serenity Plus tires for the car as well, since it would have been absolutely INSANE for me to continue driving on tires as dry-rotted as my old ones were.
My dad recently bought a manual tire mounting and balancing kit for his motorcycle that claims to be good up to a 35" truck tire, so I thought we would put it though the test, and mount/balance the tires myself.
When I was dismounting the original tires, the sidewall kind of folded during the process.
That is Normal.
What is NOT normal, however, is to see cracks around all the molded lettering that cut down 7/8ths of the way through the tire. :shock:
I was damn lucky to not have anything go wrong with those tires while I was driving on them.

BUT, it's all good now. the new tires are on, two did not even require any additional balance weights. We were able to locate the tire on the rim almost perfectly for those. The other two required a fair amount of weight to balance out, but they did balance eventually, and the car has no shakes even up to 100 mph

Other than the tires, it's business as usual for the Swede. I do think that either the fuel pump, or the fuel pressure regulator (or more likely, both) are on the way out though, as the car has been having difficulty starting when hot.

To end with, some pictures I took the other day at sunset, up near Yankee Meadows in southern Utah: