Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible | Shed of the Week

Turbo power, a manual gearbox, and less than £1,500? Get set for spring with a Saab Shed…

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, 17 February 2023 / Loading comments

Believe it or not, Shed is quite community-minded. When he’s had enough ale to overcome his stage fright, he will sometimes graciously agree to broadcast selected snippets of experience and knowledge by way of a talk in the village hall.

The title of his most recent lecture was ‘Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow: How The Internal Combustion Engine Works.’ As is often the way with many village hall talks, attendance was low. In fact, the only people who turned up were Shed and the village postmistress. The talk went ahead anyway with just a small re-arrangement in the running order of the four sections. By the end of the evening, they were both breathing heavily but they agreed it had been worth the effort. 

This week’s Shed espouses the Blow, Squeeze, Bang, Blow variation of the Otto cycle that we usually call turbocharging. The idea of harnessing exhaust gas to power a turbine which then forces the fuel/air mix into a combustion chamber in a cromulent manner is not new. Turbochargers were used in aircraft and ships as long ago as the 1920s and in trucks from the 1930s. It took a while for it to catch on with car manufacturers, but Saab was one of the early adopters with its Garrett-turboed 99 Turbo Coupe of 1977.

Today, that car’s output of 135hp doesn’t sound like a heck of a lot from a 2.0 litre turbo, but it pricked up a few neck-hairs at the time. As Saab gradually realised that their engines were strong enough to take more puff, turbines and pressures began to grow. By 1980 the 99 Turbo was up to 145hp. By 1990 they’d rammed 217hp into the 1990 9000 CD Carlsson, a 1,400kg car that would smoke through the 0-60 in an unworldly 7.4sec if you could somehow tame the torque steer.

Our Shed, a 2006 9-3 Aero Cabriolet with a small but neatly efficient Mitsubishi L-14T turbine, actually produced slightly less horsepower than a 1990 Carlsson at 210hp, and it weighed about 300kg more too, but advances in traction control systems and tyre compounds allowed the 6-speed manual to put down the exact same 0-60 time as the Carlsson. Plus it was somewhat easier to drive on a damp road than the earlier car.

This Aero is a manual. That made it 20kg lighter than the auto, faster than it at 143mph vs 140mph, and more economical in normal use at 31mpg vs 28mpg. It also took less time to cover the 0-60mph, at 7.4sec vs 8.3sec. Automatics weren’t so great back then. 

This Shed presents well from most angles. Metallic grey was a good body colour for these, especially in combination with the (in this case slightly grubby) cream leather. Obviously, it has the usual signs of wear and the back end has taken a particular shoeing over the years, with a wee crack here and a melted bit there, but as you know Shed has no interest in what’s behind him unless it’s a rapidly advancing Mrs Shed clutching a cast-iron frying pan. The roof mech, which when new raised and lowered the snug triple-layer hood in a creditable 20 seconds, definitely won’t last forever. Nor will the front tyres, but prices for consumables and parts on these Saabs won’t break you. The MOT history tells us that there was a ‘close to excessive’ oil leak in 2019 (it hasn’t been mentioned since). Other than that, there’s nothing scary to report.

Yes, we know it’s another Saab, but here’s the thing. Since the SOTW limit was raised from £1,500 to £2,000 Shed has noticed that most of the £2k vehicles he’s now viewing don’t, in all honesty, seem to be £500 (or more) better than the sub-£1,500 ones he was looking at before. He would never suggest that some dealers might be trying it on in these inflationary times. There will be some standout motors that appear to justify those near-£2k prices and that will appear here as a result, but to his crusty old peepers this Saab is just too tempting to ignore at £1,489, even if the clean MOT pass does have under two months to run.

So, bang-up motor or blowout? You be the judge.

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