Back in October, fresh from a holiday, I decided to use a 1989 Saab 900 as a daily driver. I wanted to see if it was possible and I wanted to showcase our classic car workshop, which maintains it.
In the warm glow of a balmy autumn this struck me as publicity gold. In freezing, snow-dusted January, less so. But I have persevered.
January has really tested the mettle of the venerable Saab. It has been chance to redeem itself after disgracing itself in December. Back then, after planning a trip to Hull to see Classics Driven to make a video of the car, it developed a faulty heater thermostat and starting problem caused by a faulty wire. Or an aversion to Hull, because once fixed it did it again just before a rescheduled trip to Hull in early January. Then miraculously fixed itself.
In between these niggling stumbles the car has been faultless, so there really must be something about Hull.
I chickened out of using the Saab over Christmas and New Year, for no other reason than I wanted to drive my smooth, automatic Alfa 166. But January has been a chance to put some miles on the car – much needed after 229,000 miles of course.
I’ve been using the car for my daily commute where the early start and low temperatures have brought the superb heater and heated seats into play. With the lowered, stiffened ‘S’ suspension driving the Saab on our local rural Worcestershire roads is a little like walking over gravel in socks but after a while it becomes the norm. Only stepping back into the 166 reminds me how thing could so easily be.
A crawling run into Birmingham in the rush hour revealed one of the car’s weaknesses, an annoyingly notchy gearbox that feels like stirring a stick though gravel. At low revs the Triumph-derived slant four is noisy and unrefined by modern standards, in contrast to its in-gear performance under power.
The Saab has a surprisingly narrow cockpit, so best you know your passenger well, but by contrast the ‘combi coupe’ hatchback is cavernous. This combination makes it bizarrely perfect for food shopping: parking in Tesco’s ludicrously narrow bays is a doddle and it eats loads. The boxy, big-bonneted Saab also sticks out like a sore thumb in any car park, making it easy to spot from a distance.
When an understandable booking mix up between cinemas in Stratford, London and Stratford, Warwickshire meant a last minute dash from the latter to Solihull to see The Revenant, the Saab’s road-munching reputation was put to the test. With just 45 minutes to get from Stratford to Solihull, the car came good, arriving with 15 minutes to spare despite traffic jams. Not quite effortless, but I can see why James Bond briefly ditched the Aston for a Saab.
I’ve always loved the 900 but pressing it into daily life 27 years and 229,000 miles into its life is beginning to feel perfectly normal. Time may have overtaken it but what made it good then – safety, solidity, comfort, 35mpg and performance – are still relevant now.