1986 Saab 900 SPG
This is the big one, the big Kahuna, the lustiest of my Car Lusts. One year and nearly 300 posts into this blog, we've finally reached my favorite car. I've made a point of only writing about cars that genuinely inspire my passion, and in the process I've repeatedly bared my various automotive psychoses. Well, this car cuts right to the quick of everything I am. It is an inseparable part of my very soul.
Yes, it's a Saab 900--best-known for its center console-mounted ignition key switch, and slightly lesser-known for its quirky unreliability. To unbiased observers, the Saab 900 has a weak chin and a truly curious hunchback profile that looks oddly lumpen and mollusk-like. Like a stranger Renault Fuego, if that's possible. Sure, Saabs of this era were known for their durability and winter traction, but what makes them even remotely lust-worthy?
Well, I'll take a stab at explaining it rationally. For one thing, Saab's performance heritage exceeds both its early quirky Swede reputation as well as its later faux-yuppie car image. The Saab Sonnett was an interesting little sports coupe, the Saab 99 was a genuine force in the rally world, and in the early 1980s Saab was as much a leader in turbocharging and intercooling as Porsche and Buick.
The Saab 900 was a practical little car, with front-wheel drive, comfortable seats, plenty of headroom, and a yawning cargo area hiding under its hatchback. With the addition of some forced-induction Vitamin H, advanced boost control, double-wishbone suspension, and a 16-valve head, the Saab 900 Turbo was one of the under-the-radar performance stars of the 1980s. By today's standards it wasn't particularly quick, but with 0-60 times in the high 7/low 8-second range and the ability to cruise at more than 130 mph for hours at a time, the 900 was a unique combination of utility and speed. Automotive journalists loved it; AutoWeek's Satch Carlson was a Saab Turbo devotee, and I believe Car & Driver's Steve Smith owned a sinister monochromatic black Turbo.
The Special Performance Group (SPG) option added an aerodynamic body kit, special wheels, sport suspension, and interior upgrades. The aero kit and special wheels look pretty dated to today's eyes, but at the time ... oh, the effect was electric. Back in 1986, remember, American cars were chrome-heavy and sat high on their haunches; the hunkered-down monochromatic aero kit look was brand new, pioneered by AMG on the Hammer, and was refreshingly purposeful. The Saab 900 SPG was one of the trend-setters; unfortunately after the look was applied haphazardly to every horrible car around, it has become laughable cliche. But it wasn't always so.
The SPG option debuted in 1986, and 1986 SPGs were available only in Edwardian Gray. The following year the entire 900 line received a freshened nose with a aero headlamps, meaning SPG fans like me who prefer the older look have only one model year with a limited production run to find. It's not that I don't like other Saab 900 Turbos--I lust after them nearly as fervently--but it's the Edwardian Gray 900 SPG that really fires the imagination.
None of the rational stuff matters with this car. At the end of the day, what really matters to me is the fact that while other Car Lusts get my blood running hot, the 900 SPG gets my blood boiling to a degree I can't describe without falling afoul of Amazon.com's decency standards. This car is my sickness. I wanted one when I was 10 years old. I've wanted one every day since then. I'll want one when I'm 80 years old. On some level, I wanted one when neither the Saab 900 nor I had yet been conceived.
So, why don't I own one? Well, I've come close several times to buying non-SPG Turbos, but the cars in my price range were invariably way too cobby to be useful. Finding the right car is tricky; until recently these weren't really considered collector cars, so late model 900 Turbos are often knackered, abused, have upwards of 200K miles on the clock. Specifically regarding 1986 SPGs, as my budget slowly increases, values of these cars have been rising even more quickly. I am convinced that when the time is right, I'll find my '86 SPG and keep it forever.
I would normally mock the two commercials below (aviator sunglasses! purposeful shifting!), but they really sum up how I feel about these cars. Notice how the second ad even uses the word "lust?" I'm the guy washing the boring car, but steamily staring at the passing 900 Turbo. Neither of these commercials features the '86 900 SPG specifically, but ... close enough.
The lovely '86 Saab 900 SPG pictured above belongs to a gentleman named Gordon, who discusses his car's restoration here. Gordon, I envy you.