We’ve featured beautiful show cars and fast race cars, but not all project cars need to fit into these boxes. A Do-It-Yourself attitude is all you need, especially when it comes to this '88 Saab 900 Turbo.
A show car is easy to look at, and a race car is easy to understand. They are made that way by default. The show car is made to capture your attention and show an artistic flair, even if that flare isn’t that tasteful. A race car is made to work at the limit and do nothing else but doesn’t always bring attention or comfort for daily driving. These are simple ideas that we can wrap our heads around. However, much like Hollywood’s ideas for good and bad, it isn’t all black and white in the automotive world, either.
We don’t mean that in the literal sense, even though Alex Romchuk’s Saab 900 Turbo is silver. Not every car is meant onto to hit the track or display in an event. Some cars are simply made to be driven, tinkered with, and driven some more. You especially see this in a market where the aftermarket isn’t quite as strong. Volvos quickly come to mind but so do Saabs here in the US.
Despite its diehard fanbase – with its cult-like in its following of the brand – you’d think there would be more high-performance Saabs racing on tracks and showing up slammed out on bags. You don’t. In fact, it’s seemingly rare even to find a newer, GM-based Saab or “Saabaru” running around town. So, seeing a 900 Turbo like Alex’s is a rare and fascinating treat to see.
It’s not perfect, it’s not a restoration, his 900 Turbo is a streetcar that not many expect. People look at it and assume it’s just another 900 Turbo that’s on cut springs with a set of wheels, Japanese style "fender mirrors" that are actually drilled into the hood (the hood on this Saab covers the upper front fenders), and handmade hood pins.
An unwary challenger would think nothing’s been done to it under the hood, but they'd be wrong in that assumption. “I’ve needed to change the turbo to keep beating Subarus,” explained Alex jokingly, “With all of these eBay parts on my car and black intercooler piping there’s no way a Cobb Access Port (tuned car) has a chance.”
That’s where most of the parts sourcing comes from in the performance Saab world: eBay, Craigslist, and forums. Much of what is done is all by fabricating their own parts, taking parts off other cars and making them work, or modifying what’s already on the car; at least that's the case here in the US. Over in Europe, it’s easy to find these parts, and one could import them if they were willing to pay that much for it. In doing so would probably take away a lot the charm of owning a Saab.
When it comes to wheels, though, they are a somewhat uncommon wheel bolt pattern in the US at 4x108. Even so, finding a set of Enkei J Speeds in 15x8 +25 are too hard to resist. This did require a set of 4x108 to 4x100 adapters to make them work, and a set of two-inch flares cover the rear tires. While the wheels were off, a set of slotted rotors clear the brake pad gases and debris without the worry of cracking you get with drilled rotors. To get the stance, however, there's a set of custom springs with a set of Bilstein dampers. Polyurethane bushings on the sway bars and control arms improve suspension compliance over stock rubber.
“I don’t have any awards or trophies on this vehicle because I’m not one to enter my car into a show,” Alex admits, “My accomplishments have been more like changing the turbo and making some ‘Mickey Mouse’ intercooler piping, then hearing it exit straight out of the hood.” It features modified three-inch intercooler piping he sourced with silicone hoses.
The off-brand 6062 turbocharger does feature an HKS Blow-Off Valve. Since a turbocharger, especially an aftermarket one, adds heat to the oil, a 25-row oil cooler was added with -10an fittings. Even with this improved turbo, it still runs on 87 octane fuel.
Inside is still stock save for a few custom touches. A Barum steering wheel on a Momo Hub Adapter allows for better grip over the stock Saab wheel while an SPG shift knob just feels better while shifting gears.
An aftermarket boost gauge allows Alex to check boost pressure to make sure he’s not about to blow a hole through the block by going above 17-psi. Of course, when someone sees a Saab 900 Turbo, they can’t help but like it, “When I’m minding my own business and someone either throws the ‘chaka brah,’ peace signs or even says ‘sick ride,’ I just get happy because I built this for my eyes. It’s cool that people like what I made happen.”
His most recent addition is a surprising one, “Well, I recently built a bed in my whip because there’s so much room!” he laughed out, “I was actually inspired from a night where I blew up a queen size mattress in the car and made some memories.” Though, when working with an older vehicle and dealing with eBay parts, not all those memories will be sweet.
“A low point for me is actually just recently when I popped my head gasket,” he explained, “It makes sense because I eBay turbo’ed it and my temp sensor broke.” Fortunately, getting a head gasket isn’t a gold-digging expedition like some older cars, and it’s not even a long-distance one thanks to modern shipping options. You could nearly overnight one from Sweden if need be, but you usually don’t as stock parts for the Saab are quite easy to find and typically very durable. Something one would expect from a company that also made jet aircraft in their best years.
There is a beauty and functionality to a car that’s been worked on by its owner – whose hands are cut, dirty, and weathered by oil and grease. Especially one where there is very little aftermarket support. Easy access to direct fit turbo kits, coilovers, and body kits have taken some of the charisma away from custom cars. Cars like Alex’s 900 Turbo require someone who’s willing to take risks and do something not many people do these days.
Just go and figure out how to make it work with only their two hands and a brain.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If there's anything specific you would like to see in the future, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS