Saab 900 ‘Black Turbo’ – A cult car phenomenon

With its aircraft-inspired design, exhilarating performance and surprising practicality, the original Saab 900 “Black Turbo” was an indisputable legend of its time. Taking a cue from the sinister Darth Vader character in “Star Wars,” the Saab Turbo in dark livery became the vehicle of choice for high performers on Wall Street, as well as trend-setting executives in the areas of marketing, advertising and design.

The Saab “Black Turbo” phenomenon lives on as the inspiration for the 2008 Turbo X. Featuring the latest turbo technology with a 280-hp, 2.8L V-6 and XWD all-wheel drive, this all-black and very special high-performance model is widely regarded as the modern-day successor to the original 900 Turbo – a cult car that characterized Saab in the 1980s.

Saab’s tremendous growth in the early to mid-1980s was the result of a persistent strategy to move the brand upmarket in the United States, adding luxury features and increased performance. Under the leadership of then-president Robert J. Sinclair, Saab USA set new sales records for 60 straight months – reaching its zenith in 1986 with 47,414 cars sold.

The success of the 900 Turbo built on the introduction of turbocharging in the Saab 99, first unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show in the fall of 1977. At the time, Saab was alone in pursuing turbocharging as a realistic and reliable means of extracting more power and efficiency from a production engine.

An early Saab 99 Turbo road test in the UK’s influential Autocar magazine concluded: “It is not just its performance, but the way it delivers it. Its acceleration pattern is unique. Like a roller coaster running downhill, the Saab just gets faster as the turbocharger boost increases. It’s uncanny.”

The age of the turbo had arrived and, during the next decade, the black Saab Turbo was the defining image for the brand. Saab’s turbocharged engine development reached a high water mark with the introduction of the 1985 900 SPG (for Special Performance Group). Horsepower climbed to 160, thanks to the application of intercooling and a new 16-valve cylinder head.

The first-year 900 SPG stood out with special black paint, aerodynamic side skirts, ground-effect enhancing front spoiler and flat three-spoke aluminum wheels specific to this model. Later years saw even sharper handling, utilizing stiffer coil springs as well as further performance enhancements.

During the seven-year production run, more than 7,600 examples of the SPG came to the U.S., all of them three-door hatchbacks fitted with a five-speed manual transmission. Many are still on the road today, appreciated by car collectors and longtime fans as a perennial Saab classic.

Source: Saab press release with the introduction of the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X

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