Our Saab 9000 Aero

I’ve been asked about the Saab 9000 Aero we bought a few weeks ago. How’s it going? What’s it like? Can we see pictures?

The answer is ……. well……. complicated.

First, let me get the negatives out of the way. They are significant, annoying and even a little embarrassing. This is not the post I wanted to write about this car, but I’m going to write it as both a reminder and as a warning.

Negative #1 – The engine.

There’s no elegantly loquacious way of saying this, so I’ll just say it: Our car doesn’t have an Aero engine.

An automatic Saab 9000 Aero should have a B234L engine and ours has a B234E engine. The engine was changed at some stage and an Ecopower engine was installed. No, I didn’t know this until I had the car inspected for registration and yes, I’m quite pissed off about it. Combine this key incident with all the smaller incidents noted below and it’s fair to say that I’m a little less happy than I should be with what is actually quite an enjoyable car. Right now, it’s tainted.

9000Aero7Right: Something here is not as it should be.

Didn’t I notice this as I drove it home from Sydney? No.

The car does have a new turbo, a TD04, which spools up quicker. Combined with a manual boost control valve, the car does deliver better performance than a regular Ecopower 9000 (we also own a 1994 Saab 9000 CS with the standard Ecopower setup). It’s not as smooth running as I imagined an Aero should be. Not by a long shot. But I didn’t twig to the engine being a transplant.

This is not as bad as it could be, however, and that’s because our car has an automatic transmission. If we’d bought a manual 9000 Aero, I wouldn’t be writing this publicly. I’d be getting legal advice. As it is, I’ve already invested so much in the car that I’ll say my piece here and do the remedial work at as little cost as possible.

The difference between the B234L that our car should have and the B234E that we’ve got is minimal and restricted primarily to software. I can make the changes very economically and I’ve already had a chat with my mates at Maptun about doing that. It’ll be quite cheap and very, very effective. We plan to keep this car for a long time so re-sale’s not the issue but when that time comes, our car will have Aero+ performance, despite not having a genuine Aero engine.

On a matter of principle, however, I maintain my anger. I was a very up-front buyer in this transaction and I acted in good faith every step of the way. I checked out and trusted the reputation of the seller and acted in such a way that respected that reputation. I feel severely let down by the seller in that regard and have written to him with this engine issue and others (yes, there were other issues) squarely in the gun. No response so far, but we’ll see if that changes.

Learn from my mistake – even if the transaction is for a low value, as this one was, if it’s a specific model car and the type of equipment is important, take time to make sure everything is as it should be. Even if you know/trust the seller or if people you know/trust have a relationship with that seller, make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.

9000Aero8Right: The new turbo, a savings grace. The tell-tale engine number is just out of shot.

Our car will turn out OK. Better than OK. But the experience has left a slightly bitter taste so far, which is unfortunate.

Note: I’m quite sure that the seller is a decent bloke and that what we’re looking at – at least in some small part – is an oversight of disclosure rather than an attempt at genuine hoodwinkery. That’s why I’m not naming names here. I’m quite sure that the engine was replaced for no reason other than it was necessary to do so. Why would you with a B234L?

What I’m angry about is the lack of disclosure, oversight or not. An engine is at the heart of a car’s character and despite the similarities between my engine and the original engine, a buyer deserves the decency of being told what they’re getting, especially when it’s one enthusiast to another, even if they don’t know each other personally.

I’ll say it again – please learn from this and make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting. This is an embarrassing and annoying development for me, but I’ll make it right and if someone learns from it, that’s a good outcome from a bad situation.

Negative #2 – The Value Maxim.

I have had a theory about used cars for a long time now. I wrote about just a few weeks ago when talking about the Lancia Fulvia. The theory goes like this:

Any given model of vehicle in good condition is worth X dollars. If you buy it for X-minus-Y dollars then you’ll usually spend Y dollars (at least) getting it up to your desired condition.

Such is the case with our 9000 Aero. I thought I could beat my own theory, but I was wrong. A good 9000 Aero in Australia is worth around $7,000 and we got this car for $3,300. But even before I picked it up in Sydney I had to get Steve at Saab Salvage to do around $1,200 worth of work to it. (Note: unlike the engine situation, I checked all this out before completing the transaction and authorised the repairs).

There were various bits not working or simply not present. Things like the electric motor on the driver’s seat, which is essential as both Mrs Swade and I will drive this car regularly and I’m around 8 inches taller than she is.

The washer bottle needed replacing. The central locking wasn’t working on one of the doors. There was a small plug leak off the distributor. One sun visor was hanging down. The A/C compressor needed replacing. The list went on…..

There are still a few items from the list that are yet to be done. The steering rack, which works perfectly but has a small leak, will need attention eventually. The front bumper also needs a little bit of cosmetic work (plastic welding and paint) but I’ll live with those for a little while.

We could have got another 6 months out of the tyres, but I figured it would be better to replace them while I was in spending mode. And I desperately wanted a functional, modern stereo, so that went in a few weekends ago.

Bottom line, we got the basics of a good car at a very good price but there’s been a lot of small things and a few bigger things to address. We’ll probably go just over X dollars by the time it’s all fixed up, but we’ll have a very well sorted Saab 9000 Aero by then – the perfect car to do our East Coast of Australia drive later in the year.

The lesson learned – Swade’s Used Car Theory ™ holds up once again. Genuine bargains are rare and any car worth having will cost you X dollars to acquire and fix.

To the good bits, then…..

Even decidedly mid-level modern cars have passed the best 1990’s cars in terms of performance and efficiency. They did that some time ago. The progress has been amazing. You can get a Hyundai at bargain price that’ll run rings around some of our favourite cars from 20 years ago in terms of technology, mechanical flexibility, comfort, safety and competence.

9000Aero1The thing I’m coming to love about the 9000 Aero, however, is that you get what is still genuine performance along with quintessential Saab styling and functionality. And despite what I wrote in preceding paragraphs of this article, you can get all that authenticity for a wonderfully affordable price.

We’ve got two front airbags (that we hope to never use), ABS, an electric sunroof, cruise control, power steering, power seats with memory, incredibly good looking seats, incredibly comfortable seats, faux woodgrain, all the radio stations in Hobart (not to be sniggered at given the radios on our recent cars), iPod/iPhone control, Bluetooth, digital climate control, massive storage space in the rear, Super Aero wheels, PLENTY of usable power and all of that wrapped in a wonderful looking, still-contemporary body.

In short, we want for nothing.

We’re very experienced with the 9000 as a model. We’ve had a 9000 of one variety or another for the last five or six years. The reason I’m so happy to buy another one is because they’ve been very reliable, they eat up highway miles like a cookie monster and they’re big enough to carry as many artist’s frames as Mrs Swade needs.

This particular 9000 is our first Aero, a model I’ve wanted to own for a long time now. I can still remember a story on Saab a few years ago wherein former Saab Designer, Bjorn Envall, said that the Saab 9000 Aero was probably the best Saab the company ever made – “the rest was compromise” (his words, not mine). That’s always going to be a subjective notion, but the 9000 has been our favoured family Saab for a long time now and as much as I like the 9-3 and 9-5 (which I like a LOT, especially in wagon form), I’ve never felt compelled to go more modern than the 9000 for our own needs.

The main differences between the Aero and our previous CS that I appreciate most are the engine (yes, even this engine) and the interior.

We’ve only had it a few weeks, but I drove it more than 1,000kms to get it home. It was a highway star, as expected, and it has proved itself very tractable around town, as well. The power isn’t huge off the line, but then that’s not the point with the 9000 (or any Saab, to be honest). The TD04 turbo is doing its job nicely and as with all 9000 Aeros, the power to accelerate when in motion is dramatic and intoxicating. It’ll only improve when I bring that engine up to spec.

9000Aero9I don’t want to sound superficial, but the good feelings you get as soon as you open the doors and look at those Aero seats are more than enough to justify the purchase. The car makes you feel like a king even before you sit in it. As an aside, the seats aren’t the most comfortable seats ever, but they’re very, very good.

I’ve always been a fan of the 9000’s interior layout and in the higher specification that comes with the Aero, with automatic climate control and woodgrain, it’s even better than what we were used to with our plain-Jane CS. Our steering wheel has a bit of pitting around the leather rim so I’d love to replace that with a 1/2 leather, 1/2 wood wheel from the Anniversary model. They’re getting hard to find, but it’s on my list.

The bottom line…..

Despite my experiences immediately after buying this car, our 9000 Aero has now got everything I wanted in a 9000 in terms of looks and equipment. I’ll sort out the engine and performance side very soon and I’m quite confident that this car will be providing very pleasurable family motoring long after my negative feelings have subsided.

That’s the good thing about a car like this. The character, comfort and competence built into it from the factory lasts for the life of the car. Memories and feelings, depending on the individual, are temporary.

I’ve learned my lessons. I’ll move on and enjoy.

——

Apologies for not having better photos. I’ve just got the car Tassie registered and will get some better shots soon. Promise.

9000Parliament

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22 Comments

  1. Hi Swade, don’t feel too bad about this. You still got a great car at a great price. The truth of the matter is that Aeros in good condition that have not been mucked about with are rarer than rocking horse doo doo (to use your own words). The best one can hope for is to find a reasonably sound one, and bring it up to snuff. Does it make financial sense to do so? Probably not, as in this market, it likely will never be worth what you put into it. But if you are doing it for your own enjoyment, it is totally worth it.

    This is what I went through with my Aero. I deperately wanted one as my dad had one in 1995 and this was the best car I ever drove in my life. I have spent close to USD 8K on mine buying it (although the purchase price was low at USD1500), but I do not regret it for a minute. I have a huge smile on my face every time I get into it, and the car swallows the family like no other car short of a mini van can. I remember reading a review of the Aero written in 1997 which stated that the 9000 Aero was the real “sport utility vehicle”, and I agree 100%. In fact, I feel it rides and handles much better than by 9-3 SC with sports suspension.

    I had the engine and turbo of my Aero rebuilt. I also did a full suspension rebuild using Abbot racing parts – this was the best investment I ever made (though not cheap). Highly recomended! I also just spoke to Maptun yesterday about a new exhaust, and have decided based on their advice to go with stage 2 software and the Maptun 2.5 inch exhaust (the guys at Maptun felt it was the best balance of comfort and performance – the JT3 system may be a little too loud for us).

    Do keep us updated on how things go. Am in particular intersted in why the engine is not smooth. We have had four different 9000s of different types and years in the family, and each had a very smooth engine. Hopefully it is down to the software not being optimized for your hardware……

    Thanks so much for these and the other posts – really love reading your blog!

    Greetings from Budapest,

    Ed K.

  2. Hi Swade,

    Congrats on the new car – I saw a 9000 here a couple of days ago and it looked great! (Not many survived the TWO scrappage schemes we had here in the last 15 years). As mentioned above, I wouldn’t worry about the engine – these things happen. Look forward to seeing how the car is developed by your good self – not sure about those blue hoses btw..! But anyway, great looking car. Here’s to many happy miles!
    Best of luck,
    Geoff

  3. I’m struggling to find any difference between the B234R Aero engine and the B234L. It looks as if the differences are in the external detail as supplied assembled. If these were swapped from the original engine, then no difference.

    The same is not true of the B235E, B235L & B235R. The B235L & B235R have higher duty exhaust valves, but otherwise no difference.

    I don’t think you have anything to concern you.

    1. That’s my initial thought as well.
      Provided the engine was changed and not the CPU/exhaust/turbo, your B234E will think and act like a B234L. I am no expert on 9000 trivia, but I’m sure someone can confirm this.

      The smoothness thing may have to do with wear in the balance shaft system.

      1. Actually, if you look into the electronic parts catalog, the B235L and 235R are the same base motor and have the same cylinder head (same article number), for the same batch of engines (there are minor modifications over the years). Same with most(?) inlet and exhaust components before the turbo. I.e., _IF_ the external details that differ are swapped, and they belonged to compatible batches, I would say it’s still an Aero engine – as long as all part numbers still matches the original spec.

        However – blue DI cassette?

        BTW, I just bought a 9000 2.3T -93 that I’m now rebuilding, as I came to the conclusion that the 9000 is THE car that makes me feel most satisfied in everyday driving. I’ts not about being good at any specific thing, it’s probably the sense of control (which isn’t misleading) and that there is very little to annoy you in the drivers environment.

    2. I was thinking the same thing… I’m not sure what’s “wrong” in the photo of the engine. I have a 94 Aero, and aside from the blue paint on the ignition cassette and blue hoses, nothing stands out as being wrong… the difference between the b234 motors was mostly the turbo itself and software…

  4. Hi Swade,

    Great to hear that you’ve got a 9000 aero. Very hard to find a good one and I’d suggest that in the wet damp NW of Europe, bodywork is a greater challenge than getting the engine up to snuff.

    Wishing you many hundreds of thousands of happy kilometres in those great seats and look forward to hearing about some of them.

    Simon

  5. I’ve heard the later autoboxes are better than the earlier ones. Hope you got a good one, but I’d be cautious still about putting too much torque through it.

    On my 91 9000CD turbo, I toasted mine after doing as little as adding an improved dump valve. Rather than replace it, I swapped in the 5-speed. It was more robust, better fun and about the same price even factoring in that I needed to perform a full service on the new transaxle and put in a new clutch plate.

    The other issue I had was with motor mounts. I’ve been through three sets before I found this trick.

    http://townsendimports.com/Web/engine_folder/motor_mount_mod_9000.htm

  6. Hi Steven

    Thank you for your article and your experience with the 9000 “Aero”, it is still beautiful car :-)! Last November my purchase experience was exactly the opposite. I helped a friend in purchasing a 9-3 Conv., 2001 60K Km. It was a 2.0T SE at a good price of 8,900 CHF in excellent condition optically and mechanically and always well maintained. I inspected the car before buying and am also a test ride and all was well. The car was also tested by the state authority for transportation and so it was a perfect purchase. During my inspection I noticed that the car also possessed additional equipment that the seller had not registered. The car is a special “Design Edition” model with two-tone leather interior, as in the “Viggen” models and has a “Hirsch” suspension and exhaust system. Wow, some nice extras for no extra money :-)!
    In June we took this car to the Saab Festival in Trollhattan. On this occasion we wanted to install from Maptun a performance upgrade. This gave a problem because the software could not be downloaded. A few days later it worked at Maptun in Örebro. The reason was, it was already a performance upgrade from “Hirsch” loaded and this had to be overwritten. So the car was already tuned and we did not realised! Anyway, we left with Maptun „Stage l“ upgrade and now the car runs with smooth power, but also beasty if you want it :-)!

    All in all, a beautiful car at a good price with many extras and no nasty surprises.

    By the way, maybe we’ll meet us at the east coast. I’m traveling from Cairns to to Adelaide during 06. October to 29. December (maybe some days in December in Tasmania as well) … unfortunately in a camper and not with one of my 2 beloved SAAB’s … ;-)!

  7. Hi Steven,

    I am still driving my 98′ Anniversary with Maptun stage 1 upgrade [and Aero seats]. This pokes out nearly as much as a Aero,

    Firstly: Engine transplant:

    In the UK the 9000 Aero had a B234R engine. As far as I know the Aero engine was different inside as well. But truthfully one on the best people to ask is Neo Bros as they tuned these for many years & will tell you the facts.
    Drop them an email from Swade, sure they would be glad to help!!.

    The B234E and B234L, I thought was fitted in the t & T models.

    I did a head transplant on a 1992 griffin many years ago & the head ports were different, hence the BHP be came higher on the replacement head

    Second: Smoothness.

    Try changing the spark plugs, I found this helped greatly with smoothness.

    I remember a conversation I had with a tech guy @ Saab City London, many years ago. It was a buyer beware type conversation. He said that they [Saab UK] had instructed dealers NOT to sell replacement ‘Aero’ badges, unless the ,log book was produced, as many owners were putting Aero badges on lesser models for status.

  8. Thanks for your thoughts, all.

    WRT to smoothness, it may be a poor choice of words on my part. The car seems to be hunting a little for the right gear when going uphill in situations where I think it should have enough torque to stay in gear. It’s this occasional hunting that ends up making the drive feel less refined than it should. I’m 95% sure that we’ll sort that out with Maptun.

    Terry – your 9000 Aeros with the automatic transmission should have the L engine. The R engine was for the manual cars, and yes the R engine should have tougher internals.

    Ed K – your car sounds great. I’m sure we’ll be feeling as good about ours in due course. Just need to tidy things up first.

    Thanks again, everyone. It’s been a tough couple of weeks sorting all this out, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

    1. Should NOT be hunting. My 9000 stays in 4th and pulls like a train through most situation. Though the hills in your parts are a bit steep, driveway for starters ; )

    2. By the way Swade, the new TD04 install probably cost more than a third of the cost of the car, so you really should feel good about this transaction. Your car seems to be cosmetically in much better shape than mine – am going to be spending USD 2500 on body work and getting the car repainted at the beginning of next year. You really did get a good deal on this.

      As to the steering wheel, I would get it re-leathered if I were you. The wood/leather option is not as smooth to the hands from my experience.

    3. That kind of hesitation is usually found in the intake system: air flow meter/air mass sensor, boost control valve, blow-off valve, vacuum leak, etc. It could also be detonation, especially if the wrong plugs were installed (should be NGK R plugs).

      A good Saab tech should sort that easily.

  9. Money is money and I agree. Otherwise all I can say is envy. There are currently only 11 9000s available for sale in the US. (cars.com) Nothing closer than 1000 miles to me. So enjoy.

  10. Bugger. But it does look great and once you chip it, you will be ahead. A long way ahead of anything else in Tassie that tries to overtake you. Those wheels are worth a bit too. Get some Gliptone on the seats and it will smell fabulous. Looks great in silver and way younger than anything else it’s age. Lancia lost out on that one.

  11. Happy I came across this site. Always makes me feel better seeing people fixing/modifying these cars as my car does try my patience with things like the brake lights and central locks, but I think I finally fixed those. I just turned 225,000 miles yesterday on my 1996 Aero(silver and manual). It’s a great car, as I still have several original items like the transmission, turbo and radiator. The Saab Network and other forums have helped me tremendously. Looks like you got a good car. You can put on a strut brace, but sure you are aware of that.
    Regards,
    Mike – Albany, New York

  12. Hi Steven
    An auto? I thought you were allergic to them.

    For similar reasons that you give, I too will be seeking out a 9000 – preferably a hatch rather than a sedan, a manual and in navy blue. Probably endue with an auto, CD sedan in beige :-), it’s all about condition and a good one is few and far between.

    Cheers

    1. It’s the family car, driven by both myself and Mrs Swade. She drives auto only. I’ll still have a manual for my own car.

  13. Swade, you refer to the wood dash as faux woodgrain, but I’m sure that all the wallnut veneer accessories in the 9000/NG900/OG9-3 are genuine walnut veneer. I’ve installed all factory original veneer items I could lay my hands on on both my 9000 and 9-3 and from the way they are constructed you can see that it is real wood veneer glued onto an unveneered original item (door handle, shifter surround, ashtray door, etc.) or onto a purpose made substrate (door handle surround on 900/9-3). What gives it away is that for example on of my 9000 door cappings a small patch on a tricky corner has been filled with wood filler (from factory). Also, no two items have the same grain and same shade: if it was just printed vinyl, it would likely be all the same grain and shade. The passenger dashboard vent surround on my 9000 for example is a different dhade of brown than the dash.

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