The Saab 9000 was the company's flagship model for over a decade. Saab had planning to design the new car as far back as 1974 although the project did not get underway until 1979. Saab teamed up with Fiat and Lancia to produce a joint car (something which has become more common recently). The base car was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and the three cars that were produced from this were the Saab 9000, the Fiat Croma and Lancia Therma - the Saab was far more successful than the other two cars. By the time the separate companies had finished modifying the design less than ten body parts remained interchangeable.
The Car - Evolutions
The 9000 was the first Saab to have a transversely mounted engine, this allowed the car to be more spacious than the Saab 900 with a slightly shorter overall length. The transverse engine, combined with split folding rear seats, as well as a large hatchback boot meant that the car was one of only two (the other was a Rolls Royce) which was classified as a 'large Import car' in the U.S.
The initial car was introduced with a 2000cc engine (around 135 hp - accounts vary), a turbo version (175 hp) available. These engines(like all of Saab's engines) were stress tested to destruction and as such were very reliable, soon gaining a reputation for being able to cover hundreds of thousands of miles with little mechanical problems.
In 1985 Saab introduced Saab Direct Ignition which had a new cylinder head with one coil per spark plug - meaning no moving parts and no distributor - this also coincided with a D.O.H.C 16v version to come out which had around 160hp.
The four door 9000CD was brought out in 1988, this car soon became their luxury car, with higher spec commonly fitted than to the five door.
In 1989/90 Saab introduced the 9000 Carlsson, available in both 4 and 5 door. The car was a special edition made to celebrate Saabs former glory on the world rally championships. The name was chosen after Eric Carlsson - the Swedish driver who won the World championship for Saab driving a Saab 96. This car had a different, more aggressive body kit, an uprated engine and exhaust system (engine output was 200 hp) along with custom interior with leather/suede seats and a leather steering wheel with the name printed. The Carlsson was revised when Saab introduced the 2300cc engine, and using this the cars output went up to 230 hp with a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds.
In 1991 the 9000 got a major facelift, with the rebadged 9000CS, the car had a new front and rear. The body frame was redesigned to provide even greater crash safety. They also introduced CFC-free air conditioning (Saab was the first manufacturer to provide this).
There was a special edition in 1997 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Saab. soon after this the new Saab 9-5 is introduced to replace the 9000, but the story of the 9-5 and its GM related birth is another node.
The Saab 9000 was always a slightly quirky car, betraying its aircraft heritage less than the 900 it still managed to remain individual through the 80's and early 90's. The turbo engines were always fast and the cars often were used well past 200,000 miles. The interior always looked as if it was based off a cockpit (it was designed by the same man who does Saab aircraft cockpits) and the cars gained a loyal following, most of which have never changed off Saabs since.
In 1986 three standard production cars set two world records as well as twenty one international speed records by driving round the Talladega Speedway in USA for over 24 hours straight, the fastest car averaged just over 213Kph. This record has now been broken by three Saab 9-3s.