The New Hotness, Ver. N+1%er | Long Post Warning

For whatever reason I've been jonesing for a summer "beater" car. Thing 3 (9 y.o.) has wanted a convertible ever since he rode in a New Beetle drop top a couple years ago; Thing 1 is driving age (17 y.o.), though she hasn't even gotten her temps yet; and Thing 2 (15 y.o.) can get his temps in less than 6 months. I'd like them all to know how to drive stick, so I went on a mission looking for a manual transmission 4-seater convertible.

Interestingly, I wasn't originally thinking convertible . . . only stick shift as that was the more important thing for me. I took a long look at an E28 528e 5MT, but ultimately it had too much rust and interior wear for my taste. I considered an E36 vert in Michigan, but the guy wanted to too much for a 200k+ mile car. I looked at a couple classic Saab 900 Turbos. But they were both automatic, and both owners wanted a premium because of their "classic" status, despite each car's so-so condition. I only semi-seriously considered a 1985 Audi GT Coupe (non-Quattro) and a 2002 Saab 9-3 Viggen convertible, but both were out of my price range and more just flights of fancy. The penultimate car was a laser red 2001 Saab 9-3 SE, but my local Saab mechanic said it needed upwards of $2,000 in parts and labor, which I would have done had the seller been willing to drop his price enough. He wasn't, and so I walked away.

And in the end, I drove away with a different 2001 Saab 9-3 SE. It's got a 2.0L, 205HP turbo and a 5 speed manual transmission with just over 108k on the odometer. The guy selling it (and more about him shortly) had bought it about 1 1/2 years ago, put some money and a lot of elbow grease into it, but ended up only driving it around 700 miles. It's basically been sitting in his garage, and he decided it would be better off if someone who would use it had it. He put an add up on a Saab enthusiast website, and I jumped on it pretty quickly. After going back and forth over email, getting information about the car, and reading his posts on the forums, I took the plunge. Last Saturday I flew out to Washington, D.C., took the Metro up to Rockville, test drove the car, and then drove her back to Ohio. Paid $2,500 for the car plus I blew a few well-earned Southwest Rapid Reward (TM) miles.

"How does one go about buying a car in Maryland and then getting it back to Ohio?" you might be asking. Well, that's an interesting question, and one I had myself. The Ohio BMV won't issue you temp tags unless you have the title in hand at your local BMV office. And Maryland won't issue temp tags to a non-Maryland resident. So technically, there were only two truly legal ways to get the car back: (1) have it shipped; or (2) go to Maryland, buy the car, and get the title; come back to Ohio and get the temp tags; and then go back to Maryland, put the temp tags on, and drive her home. I wasn't doing either of these, which means I had three options (not including walking away from the deal): (1) drive back with no plates on the car at all; (2) take plates from my CX-9 and put them on the Saab and drive it back; or (3) convince the seller to let me drive back with his plates and then overnight the plates back to him.

Eventually, we went with option (3). I happily jumped through a bunch of hoops to get him to trust me, and things ended up going off without a hitch. The seller is an ex-US Marshall who was essentially in charge of making sure the WITSEC database didn't get hacked. He used to buy, fix up, and race older Porsches and even an old Ferrari, and his forum posts showed him doing a fair amount of work on the Saab (update of the PCV system, valve cover gasket replacement, sway bar install, etc.). Even though I'd already bought it, I took the car to my Saab mechanic when I got home, and he confirmed that it was in very good shape (way better than the first one). It needs ~$500 in work . . . some of which I could do myself. But overall it looks and drives great.

Funny story - when I was in Maryland buying the car I asked the seller again if he was still okay with me driving off with his plates. He responded by saying he was, indeed, still okay with it and then added "besides, I ran you through the FBI database, You're clear." He also said he was just kidding, but in a way that makes me wonder if he actually was.

So here she is. In all her early-2000s cassette with a 6-CD in-trunk changer glory....





  • Nice looking car.

    I don’t know which I find more amazing...

    The fact that you need a cassette tape adapter or the fact that you actually had one.
  • I didn’t have one. I bought it after getting the car.
  • The gimballed cupholder above the tape deck is amazing too.
  • Nice!  I had a 5 door version of the 9-3SE, MY 2000.

    Very reliable and fun.  
  • Saab cupholders just suck. You’d think nobody in Sweden or Finland ever needs to drink while driving.
  • 4nonymous said:

    I didn’t have one. I bought it after getting the car.

    Now I’m amazed they still sell those.
  • The cupholders were a GM addition I'm sure.
  • Does the key still go in the center console?  Sweet ride!
  • edited July 2018

    Does the key still go in the center console?  Sweet ride!

    It sure does!
  • edited July 2018
    No one taught me about that.  When I was a parking valet I hopped in one that had been parked by someone else, held the key for a while trying to figure out where it goes, only to find the keyhole under a post card someone had left on their center console.  Those were two "WTF!" moments in close proximity.

    Do Saab owners with center console keyholes ever wind up with crumbs, and the small debris that accumulates in messy cars, getting jammed in the keyhole so that they can't start their cars?
  • I've never had an issue with that in the two prior Saabs I owned. But I can see how it might happen, though it would have to be a LOT of tiny crumbs.....

    I assume nobody taught you (1) how to put a manual transmission Saab into reverse and (2) that a manual transmission Saab has to be in reverse to take the key out...?
  • Nope, figured it out during my crappy Summer job as a kid.  At least I wasn't like the animals who were my coworkers, one of whom learned how to drive a stick on the job.
  • How do you put a manual Saab in reverse?  My brief Google turned up no details.

    Putting the car in reverse to get the key out seems like madness.
  • Reverse has the largest mechanical inertia to overcome if your concern is the car rolling.
  • How do you put a manual Saab in reverse?  My brief Google turned up no details.

    Putting the car in reverse to get the key out seems like madness.
    You have to pull up on the shift boot by the collar before you try to move it over and back to put it into reverse. The shift boot is connected to a pin that keeps the shifter from going into reverse unless the pin is raised up.

    Putting it into reverse actually becomes second nature. But the guy I bought it from actually printed out a sheet with detailed instructions, which he would leave on the passenger seat for non-Saab specific mechanics/workers (i.e. the tire guy) and valets.
  • Ah, I think they had a similar reverse strategy on Ford Escorts from the 80's.
  • Old VWs make you push down on the stick to go into reverse.
  • New ones too.  One of the odd things about drivine an asian car is that they don't require that.  I imagined that in a moment of inattention on the highway I would shift from fifth to reverse.  It never happened to me, but it must happen.
  • dgm said:

    Old VWs make you push down on the stick to go into reverse.

    How old? My 337 with the then new 6 speed did that. Did VW change their shift pattern?

    FTR, I think some other models required that too. Maybe they sourced from the same transmission supplier. My mom learned to drive manual on a 60s era Volvo, and I suspect it was the same.
  • Well, I was thinking about my old '70s beetles, and '80s jettas and cabriolets. I haven't driven a modern stick shift VW.
  • All the Rabbits, Dashers, Golfs that I've driven had "R" in the top left of the shift pattern, and required one to push down to get into the slot.
  • edited July 2018
    Clean SAAB, Seth.

    For $2500, it'll be a fun car. We're in Maine right now & I just saw a clean mid 80s convertible. I'd like a 900 turbo.

    My youngest has his temps. Man I'm old.

    He wants the old 4x4 Ranger, but that thing has been making all kinds of expensive noises lately. I need to get rid of it.

    I leave it running with door open every time I park, but no one will take it.
    I go back out & it's still sitting there... running, looking sad.

    Maybe I'll put a fiver on the seat.
  • Give it to me.
  • edited July 2018
    Most mid-80s to early-90s 900s are either (a) too much or (b) in too poor a condition. I have, however, found a couple - one in the DC area and one in Indiana - that I'm seriously considering. Because, you know, four cars..... 
  •  What about an old Volvo 240? 
  • MC - that's a fair offer.

    I saw three fairly clean 240's just yesterday.
    A turbo would be fun.
  • 2.FOH. said:

    MC - that's a fair offer. 

    Well if I stole it I would have trouble registering it.
  • True.

    If you do decide to steal it, let me know.
    I'll have to go over the list of various quirks it's developed.

    Car theft should be stress free.
  • 2.FOH. said:

    MC - that's a fair offer.

    I saw three fairly clean 240's just yesterday.
    A turbo would be fun.

    My dream is to take a 240, drop in a modern SBC or Ford 5.0 and commute in it until I go broke from gas prices or die in a fiery wreck... both will have miles of smiles behind them.

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