The mid-late 1990s saw the emergence of an engineering marvel in the Saab 900 SE Turbo. It was a front-wheel-drive hatchback with a turbocharged inline-four that made 182 horsepower. More than that, it had what Saab called a “Sensonic” clutch, which made manual gear shifting possible without a clutch pedal. Saab 900 SE Turbos can be considered novelty cars and maybe even collector’s cars. If you have one, chances are it lost a few ponies over the past 25 years. Here are a few ways to get them back.
Try upgrading the Saab’s turbo
Saab 900 SE Turbos come with Garret T25s, which are mid-size turbos. Many Saab owners suggest bumping it up to a TD04, which is a stock Mitsubishi turbo. It bolts directly onto the Saab’s engine and requires very little modification. Depending on which one you get, the TD04 is good for 350 horsepower, according to Speedingparts.com, and they can be found on eBay for less than $200. At that level of power, the Saab’s automatic transmission may not hold up, so converting to manual may be a worthwhile investment.
A bigger downpipe for the Saab means more airflow
The next step to upgrading your Saab 900 SE Turbo is a big 3-inch downpipe. Downpipes can increase horsepower by design. A downpipe allows the turbo to spool quicker because of the amount of air it provides at a faster velocity. More air equals more power, and a downpipe streamlines the process. Downpipes range from around $150 all the way up to $750 depending on brand and material, so make it count. Some owners make their own. It will also change the growl from the engine into a deeper and more dramatic bellow.
An upgraded intercooler will allow your Saab 900 SE Turbo more power
Saab communities recommend replacing the entire exhaust system with 3-inch piping. However, sticking to just the 3-inch downpipe and adapting it to the car’s 2.5-inch exhaust works just fine as well. After that, they recommend an upgraded intercooler. Those can be found on eBay as well, and the communities recommend the largest you can fit. An upgraded intercooler isn’t absolutely necessary, but after the tune, the turbo might run hot enough to need it.
Give the Saab 900 SE a tune
Now the engine needs to know what to do with all this airflow. All of these upgrades are bolt-ons, but to make it work together, you’ll need some professional assistance. Get a stage 3 tune, which is good for 240 horsepower at the wheels. If you want more, you’ll have to spring for the full 3-inch exhaust, and then it gets expensive. If you bought the 350-hp TD04 and the 3-inch exhaust, you need an upgraded fuel pump, injectors, and pistons. That will net around 350 wheel horsepower.
Is it worth it
A Saab 900 SE Turbo with 250 horsepower sounds like insanity, which probably means it totally is worth it. However, a 350-hp Saab is like planting an insane asylum on the moon. The great thing is none of this is terribly expensive. For roughly $1,000, including the tune, downpipe, and turbo, you can have a fun and interesting car you can use to romp around in the mountains. It just needs the suspension to complete the package.