ROAD TEST MISCELLANY, July 1982
The Saab 900GLs
A 2-litre of many merits
IN MAY we made complimentary remarks about the Saab 900 Turbo, tested in automatic transmission form, which is a way of indicating that “Turbo” is no longer associated solely with “boy’s racer” machinery, as Renault will endorse. Since then I have been trying out a Saab 900GLs four-door saloon, which is normally aspirated through twin 150 CDSEVX Zenith-Stromberg carburetters, to see how this less complicated model would look to those not needing Turbo performance or with less money to invest. When I collected it I was glad my name was Buddy and not Botham, because the famous cricketer had written off a couple of Turbos at Thruxton shortly beforehand. The GLs turned out to be a compact four-seater of many merits.
The Swedish aeroplane and car company has a high reputation for good quality, especially in the durability sense, and from being two-smoke cars associated with rally road-burning, Saabs have emerged to provide comfort allied to “character”.
Indeed, I would say that the comfort of seating and the smooth-running of the fore-and-aft-mounted and 45-deg.-inclined, four-cylinder 1,985 c.c. engine are the Saab’s more notable attractions. The twin-carb version of the 900-series has 108 b.h.p developed at 5,000 r.p.m. with which to drive the front wheels, which are turned by good rack-and pinion power-steering, but this, too low-geared and with a restricted lock, the turns lock-to-lock being 3.6. The 90 x 78 mm. engine performs smoothly down to 35 mph. and under in the highest of the four forward gears but when decent acceleration is required it is necessary to drop into third gear, maximum torque, of 121 lb./ft., being developed at 3,300 r. p.m, The gear shift is quite adequate but somewhat baulky. The same can be said of the cornering, but f.w.d. gives surefootedness. The test can was shod with XZX Michelins, the tyre size being a generous 165 SR15, on 15″ wheels.
This carburetted GLs (the single-carburetter GL is an alternative model) does not exceed a top speed of 100 m.p.h. by any great margin, nor is acceleration, at over 13 seconds from to 60 m.p.h., exactly breathtaking. Yet the car, somehow, contrives to take its driver and occupants on long and difficult journeys with far less effort than many larger, and larger-engined, cars. This is in part due to the aforesaid very comfortable seats, the front ones having multi-adjustments, heating, and well-placed built-in head-restraints, but is also a combination of that smooth engine, which does not get really noisy until well opened-up, and coil-spring suspension that absorbs road irregularities most effectively. The excellence of the all-round servo disc-braking also contributes, as does smooth clutch engagement. The substantial hand brake has a well-contrived ratchet release but, working on the front wheels, needs to be fully applied on hills. The clearly-read instruments, and an indefinable but very real sense of integrity which a Saab conveys, are also strong factors in reducing fatigue when unwelcome runs have to be made, such as driving quickly from Donington Park to Mid-Wales via the long suburban going through Walsall and Wolverhampton in time to see what BBC Television would make of that exciting Monaco Grand Prix!
On a haul of that kind, away from motorways, this restful Saab 900GLs easily averaged better than 50 m.p.h. without having to push it very hard, or the passenger being aware of its progress. Even driven in such a fashion, the steady-reading large needle of the fuel-gauge drops remarkably slowly, fuel consumption being 29.4 m.p.g. on a less pressing run and 27.4 m.p.g. on faster journeys, with a tank capacity of nearly 14 gallons. With the safety-padded thick-rimmed steering wheel in the straight-ahead position the instruments are revealed as having big dials very clearly marked, to indicate speed, distance, fuel-contents, engine-temperature and time, but no tachometer is fitted. There is a discreet safety-belts not in use warning and fascia switches are illuminated when the car’s lamps are in use. The big bow-window windscreen is set well forward and the drop of its sill is slightly non-symmetrical, a faint link with those high-scuttle Saabs of yesteryear. There is a noticeable lack of interior stowage facilities, merely a lockable cubby before the passenger, front door pockets and a useless indentation on the curved screen-sill, with a coin well beside it.
The Saab’s three pedals are off-set to the left on the r.h.d. can so there is nowhere except under the clutch pedal to put one’s left foot and the ignition-key uses a lock placed down on the centre console, which can be a trifle fiddly, but it locks the gear lever in the reverse location as an anti-thief device, and, in fact, can only be withdrawn with the lever in this location. The boot has a useful capacity. It can be opened without the key, if required. There is additional space beneath it, so the provision of a thin Michelin emergency tyre, legal, but only suitable for speeds up to 50 m.p.h., seems unnecessary. With the ignition on, the running lights come into play, as expected on Saabs and Volvos. All the doors open fully, for very easy ingress and exit and they possess effective “keeps”, but the boot lid had to be slammed shut and there were sometimes reflections in the screen. Thick loose-mats are used in the front and rem compartments, the carpeting is good, and mud-flaps are fitted behind front and back wheels.
The Saab has two steering control stalks, the 1.h. one for turn-indicators and flick-action lamps dipping or flashing, the r.h. one for wipers, including intermittent action and washers, and the headlamps have their own wash / wipe. The lamps are switched on or off from a rotary fascia-switch. The heating system works well, controlled by three rotary switches, one for the two-speed blower, one for volume, and one for setting the direction of the flow; the last-named switch has seven settings, but in the absence of an instruction book the full subtlety of these was lost on me. There are also a number of swivelling vents, with their own on-off controls. Door handles, window-winders, and the interior ‘run are of high quality. A pull-out choke lever lives behind the gear lever, the latter being gaitered and having a not entirely foolproof pull-up sleeve to protect reverse.
Helped by the choke, the Bosch starter gets the engine to fire quickly. Two internally-adjustable exterior mirrors are provided and thumb-pushes on the steering-wheel sound the horn. Unduly noisy electric fanning of the radiator may startle the uninitiated after parking the Saab when its coolant is close to boiling point.
There is a non-retractable rear-mounted aerial for the excellent Philips PLL radio-stereo set and another sensible item which gives character to the Saab is the bonnet, easily opened with a near-side release-lever and well-placed safety-catch. The lid then slides forward before dropping over the radiator to give full access to the engine and accessible fillers and components. After 1,234 miles no oil was needed. The engine ran on slightly on 4-star Texaco after the ignition had been cut but one suspects multi-grade service-station delivery pumps. The filler, of “water-bottle stopper” type, is on the off-side, beneath an unlockable flap.
There is little need to say more, because the Saab in Turbo form was praised in these pages only last month, except that I liked the GLs very much, even if, with its very substantial and protruberant front and rear bumpers, it did remind me on an 0-4-0 Hornby loco. . . The car tested sells for £7,425 (curiously, the Hatchback is slightly cheaper) and the GL 100 b.h.p. The Saab 900 series cars commence at £8,895, with the 99 GL two-door saloon selling for £5,950. Sunroofs are available on four and five-door cars. Saab are fortunate to be situated been in the riverside town of Marlow, and enquiries should be directed to Saab (Gt. Britain) Limited, Saab House, Fieldhouse Lane, Marlow, Bucks., SL7 1LY. W.B.