Friday, February 27, 2015

5k: Nordic Nomenclature: 2001 Saab 9-3 Viggen five-door

General Motors' top strategy during its mismanagement of Saab was parlaying the company's jet history into a vague aeronautic brand association. It doesn't add up: a logo that features a mythical winged beast (not showing its wings), and a home country with an air force 1.5% the size of America's (according to Global Firepower, a website that feels the way an army surplus store smells). This is especially true for the Viggen, so named for Saab's 37 Viggen "Thunderbolt" fighter jet. But whether it's named after a thunderbolt or a deadbolt, the 9-3 Viggen came with an upgraded engine and suspension and was one of the dearly departed company's most special offerings. Find this 2001 Saab 9-3 Viggen for sale in Yarmouth, ME for $5,000 via craigslist.

This is actually a great time to be in the market for a 9-3 Viggen five-door. With three posted to craigslist in as many days, it's a Scandinavian smorgasbord of snail-fed sedans. Take your pick:

A slightly modified 90k-mile red one in Florida for $12,500. Good luck with that.
A 317k-mile (yeesh) gray one with rebuilt motor in New Hampshire for $3,500.

And, of course, this one. It has exactly one spot of rust, 112,000 miles, and a rebuilt title after an accident that reportedly caused no frame or engine damage. Ask for pictures.

At 20 psi, 230 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque are merely instruments for teaching your junior Mavericks in the backseat what torque steer is. Saab's clever Trionic 7 engine management system withholds maximum torque sequentially in the first two gears, but it just isn't enough to quell that much twist. Zero to 60 happens in about six seconds thanks to all that power and a 3,100-pound curb weight.

If it is indeed an overgrown torque-steering hot hatch, it's a lovable one. Even under ownership by the star-spangled General, this 21st-century Saab retained its front-drive turbo funk, but in a more user-friendly way. A tall 0.66:1 fifth gear and 4.05:1 final drive ratio should keep you out of high boost levels on the highway, where you'll see fuel efficiency in the mid to upper 20s. Coupled with a 17-gallon tank, heated leather seats, and reworked body pieces for high-speed (as in 160 mph) stability, this Viggen is starting to look like a good way to cross the country. It sure is easier than flying.

See another turbocharged family mover that flies under the radar? Email us at

PhiLOL actually likes the tuna here, but abhors structural rust. Save the manuals.


  1. Hmmm. I always thought "Viggen" was the Swedish spelling of "Vegan". It did seem odd to name a car after people who don't eat animals or plants. Thanks for setting me straight DT!

  2. The Thunderbolt! 285 of these 5-doors were imported in 2001.Most rare is the '02 3-door, with only 71 imported to the States. I learned something new today; apparently, the torque steer is easily corrected. Who knew?

    2001 5-door for $4K

    2002 Convertible for $8K

    1. There's two kinds of torque steer: there's the "too much power for the tires" kind, like that. You can moderate that a bit with a decent FWD-compatible limited-slip diff, and the rest of it with the right foot.

      The other kind is more insidious, it's the little change in direction that comes with mild changes in throttle position, changes in the line into a turn even at moderate speeds, inability to go in a straight line down the freeway. This comes from poor suspension design, worn or too-soft bushings, bad alignment settings, sometimes helped along by poor choice of wheel offset. Fairly rare in current models, but quite common 20 or 30 years ago, the first decade or so of GM FWD models was horrible, even the first couple generations of Ford Taurus and some FWD '80s Toyotas exhibited this.

      If you're dealing with a car model that shows this kind of behavior, you may never be able to get rid of it.

    2. Also, while I'm at it, bear in mind that a FWD suspension that's perfectly behaved passing 125HP to the tires may be an utter failure when trying to handle 250.

    3. Who are you talking to?

  3. Let me just hop on my anti-Maine-car soap box for a sec:

    DO NOT BUY. Daily driven cars in Maine have a lifespan of 4 - 8 years before rust destroys all of the things. Replacing a fog light bracket on my 100% Maine driven 170k mile Volvo 745ti? 4 hour process, involves a can of P'Blaster, a cutting disc and a torch (in that order, have fire extinguisher ready). Pulling the entire engine and gearbox on my [former] 300k mile 100% California driven 945ti? A 4 hour process that involves a hammer and a few wrenches.

    That is all

    1. @ryanm - I hear ya, brother. Apparently old cars in other parts of the world can still be taken apart with wrenches that are not oxy-acetylene "blue wrenches".

      Rust is just such a pervasive factor in car purchases, operation, and repair that I sometimes think it actually runs in my veins.

  4. Let's see here...

    Svenska Aeroplan Aktienbolaget - kinda the military-aircraft equivalent of the Australian auto industry, doing miracles with pennies and some borrowed equipment. The fat little J29 at least matched the in-flight performance of the MiG-15 and early F-86 despite being pushed around by an older engine design than the one the Brits gave the Russians for the MiG. The J35 by its F variant was at least as good as the Mirage III and better than the F-104 but Saab and the Swedes in general just weren't as good at foreign sales (for those who need a spelling lesson that's 'b-r-i-b-e-r-y'). Likewise, the Viggen and the Gripen have been fully competitive and, in some cases, short-field capability and the electronics in the later Viggens they've been notably ahead of much of the competition.

    Now, back to the car. They're nice enough, particularly in 5-door form. Better still if you feel like tearing down the transmission and parting with another dozen or so Benjamins for a Quaife differential. They did do some convertible Viggens but the ragtops do NOT get the stiffer suspension of the closed cars due to the structural issues inherent in pretty much every convertible.

    The gray one: snow belt, rebuild title - I won't say "don't buy it" but make sure you look the thing over very carefully underneath, might make sense to put it on an alignment rack, before you hand over the money.

    1. I'd note relative to the Viggen that, in addition to the Gripen, the Rafale and the Typhoon have embraced the same basic configuration for the same basic reasons.


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