The actual Saab 99 Turbo launch car was an almost iridescent pearl white. It stunned the 1977 Frankfurt Auto Show. The unique body colour dramatized Saab’s revolutionary solution to every auto manufacturer’s problem of maintaining performance in the teeth of increasingly strict emissions controls, in Europe and more importantly, the USA.
The new model wasn’t just turbocharged for high speed like a sports car. It was turbo tuned for low speed torque in a proper sedan intended for daily, including urban, driving. After a decade of upping the power of the Saab 99’s Triumph Slant Four engine (always suitably doctored by Saab’s own Zenith-Stromberg CD carburetor), and brief tests using the Triumph Stag’s V8, Saab was the first manufacturer to dare this holy grail.
Turbocharged cars (like the Porsche 911) were notoriously difficult to handle at low or variable speeds – but Saab devised the first ‘closed loop’ catalyst system, monitored by an oxygen sensor, to control the fuel injection on its existing 2 litre engine. The Saab 99 Turbo’s acceleration pattern had never been seen. There was no jerk when the Turbo cut in at just 1500 rpm, and though it went faster and faster as the boost increased, the really dramatic effects were on overtaking and mini-sprints from street or highway corner to corner.
The 99 Turbo shrugged off the kudos of accelerating from a standing start and substituted stability and inspired handling at practical mid-speeds. It was a fundamental change of attitude, and brilliant engineering. The Saab 99 Turbo wasn’t pretty or even fashionable. It was striking in a jolie (aide’ kind of way, right down to its extraordinary `Inca’ alloy wheels. First-time drivers stepped out, puzzled by their own ease and comfort with such power at their disposal. They stayed struck, and delighted.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Sweden
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1977 (until 1980)
ENGINE: 1,985 cc turbocharged Slant Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 123 mph (198 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Saab 99 Turbo was designed as a three-door ‘Combi coupe’ – among the first family cars to be turbocharged since the 1963-4 Oldsmobile Turbo Jetfire – but in due course two (only) turbo limousine versions were produced (as part of a long wheelbase special edition), and called the Saab 99 Turbo Finlandia.