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.
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.
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.
The 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.
I 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.