Like Your Turbocharged Sedan? Thank the Saab 99 Turbo

Turbos aren’t limited to high-end performance cars like Porsche 911s anymore. You can find turbocharged engines in pickup trucks, luxury cars, hot hatches, and entry-level sedans like the Mazda3. But as with any technology, automotive or otherwise, someone had to help bring it on a mass-market level. And in the late 70s, that car was the Saab 99 Turbo.

The Saab 99 Turbo helped democratize turbochargers

To be clear, the 1978 Saab 99 Turbo wasn’t the first production car with a turbocharged engine. That would be the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair. And, other automakers, such as Porsche and BMW, had released turbocharged cars before Saab, CarThrottle reports.

The side view of a green 1978 Saab 99 Turbo by a harbor
1978 Saab 99 Turbo side | Saab

However, the Saab 99 Turbo wasn’t intended to be some high-performance variant, though that is a bonus with turbos. Instead, the Swedish automaker designed it to be a mainstream daily-drivable car, Hemmings reports. Basically, it’s one of the first truly mass-produced turbocharged engines, Automobile reports. And that’s why, rather than peak power, the 99 Turbo’s engine has a broad powerband. Which, incidentally, is a hallmark of the best modern forced-induction engines.

Speaking of power, by modern standards the Saab 99 Turbo doesn’t have a lot of it. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 145 hp and 174 lb-ft, sent to the front wheels via a 4-speed manual. However, that makes it more powerful than the contemporary Mustang II King Cobra, which has a 5.0-liter V8, Automobile reports. And with it, the Swedish coupe goes 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds. Plus, it could out-run contemporary BMW 5 Series’ in the ¼-mile, Hemmings reports.

However, because it’s a Saab, the 99 Turbo has some other interesting features.

The turbocharger isn’t the only thing the Saab 99 Turbo offers

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For one, Saab mounted the 99 Turbo’s engine “’ backwards,’” Autoweek explains. The clutch is actually at the front of the car, which gives more interior space. Another contemporary oddity is the wraparound windshield, which became a Saab trademark.

The 1978 Saab 99 Turbo's red velour front seats and wood dashboard
1978 Saab 99 Turbo interior | Bring a Trailer

The Saab 99 lineup also has more safety features than you might expect from a classic car. Even the non-Turbo models have front and rear crumple zones and a collapsible steering column, Autoweek reports. Also, the ignition switch is on the floor in-between the front seats to prevent knee injuries during collisions.

1991 Saab 900 Turbo SPG
1991 Saab 900 Turbo SPG | Bring a Trailer

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Although it isn’t fast by modern standards, the 99 Turbo still makes a decent commuter. The handling is sharp, Autoweek reports, though the steering is a bit heavy. And in truth, its successor, the 900 Turbo, is the better performance car. But the 99 Turbo rides well over long distances and has good luggage space, Hemmings reports.

It’s still an affordable if rare classic coupe

Unfortunately, the Saab 99 Turbo wasn’t in production for long. In the US it was only available for 1978, though it survived overseas until 1981, Hemmings reports. As a result, it’s rare, and because it was Saab’s first mass-production turbocharging attempt, there were some teething issues. Throw in model-specific parts and you have a recipe for significant attrition. Hence why many surviving 99 Turbos use later 900 parts.

The rear 3/4 view of a red 1978 Saab 99 Turbo
1978 Saab 99 Turbo rear 3/4 | Bring a Trailer

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However, despite its rarity, the 99 Turbo is a fairly affordable classic car. A good- to excellent-condition example typically goes for $6k-$11k, Hagerty reports. And aside from some pristine examples, most 99 Turbos go for less than $10,000 on Bring a Trailer.

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