PROJECT CARS: Welcome Saab 900 T16S Ruby

Auction Introduction

Say a lovely, friendly, quirky, laggy, boosty Hallå to our new retro project car – Ruby – a very special, very tidy, very original Saab 900 Turbo T16S Ruby Edition… the last hurrah special edition Mk1 Saab 900 Turbo the superb Swedish manufacturer ever made #motoringhistory

We bagged this iconic, idiosyncratic beauty of a modern design classic at East Anglia’s leading classic car auctioneers, Anglia Car Auctions (ACA) – a 20-year-established, family-run and friendly car auction yard at the old Cattlemarket on the outskirts of King’s Lynn, where they hold half a dozen or so specialist classic car events throughout the year in addition to their slick, experienced and clearly popular weekly sales of normal auction stuff – ex-dealership, 4×4, bargain etc.

But there’s nothing normal or regular about their classic car events – attracting some 200+ lots of cracking classics from the attic, of all eras, shapes, sizes & budgets – from a £180 1996 Mini Metro 111 SLi to a £120,000+ Mercedes-Benz 560SEC AMG 6.-0 24V wide body beast, a plethora of Porsches, jumble of Jags, fiesta of Fords and so much more. The range, quality, scope and scale of the sale is head-spinning and attracts huge crowds; of traders, one-off buyers like us, petrolheads and family folk just out for a good fun day out. In fact, it’s a darn good job they do such a good full English, home made pies and sticky cakes and hot brews to keep the audience and auctioneers stamina up really!

The catalogue of the sale is online for weeks running up to each sale, and, like the car bore I secretly am, I’d been pouring over it every night – with the primary aim of buying a modern classic performance car, as an appreciating asset and something fun to enjoy on high days and holidays with the family. That meant no two seaters, drag, race or rally cars  – requiring enormous amounts of self control and willpower, as there’s always plenty of these race aces here, including a cracking rough and ready to rally 1969 Mini Cooper MkII and a complete restoration project of a Chevrolet Corvette C3 drag car in this sale, to name but two I dream about fettling and thrashing the ass off.

img_9868In actual fact, focusing at these auctions – surrounded by so many great cars I would love to own, of all different genres – proves typically difficult for me. So, it’s not long before I’m uncharacteristically and somewhat randomly sticking my arm up and bidding on stuff that I’ve had a look over (& its neatly kept history files in the auction office), that I fancy and that’s going too cheap to not have a go at under the hammer. But, with a strict top budget in mind for each car I was interested in (factoring in the 5% buyer’s fee of course, road tax, insurance and maybe even a new MOT and fix-it fund of course) and each one just going over or I lost my nerve on (you have to trust your gut at auction), I narrowly avoid picking up:

  • A track slag of a 996 Carrera 2 with a manual gearbox & big stoppers/exhaust for £12,000 (surely the next big 911 price riser?)
  • A criminally cheap, low mileage 928 S at £7,900
  • A big and beautiful Bentley Turbo  R LWD for just £7,900 (no room in the garage for that!)
  • A unique 1978 MGB GT Sebring re-creation for £9,600
  • A tidy VW Corrado G60, bid at £4,300
  • A rare and clean BMW 840 4.4i C Sport, c£11,000
  • A brute of a TVR Cerbera Speed 6 at £14,500

And, after the lot I did eventually end up splashing my cash on (which I promise, I will get to eventually)… I also missed out on bidding on…

  • A lovely Land Rover Defender 50th Anniversary Edition
  • BMW 635i CSi Motorsport Edition
  • 1982 Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint Veloce (with two engines)
  • 1990 Renault 5 GT Turbo
  • 1971 Chevrolet Corvette V8 Stingray
  • Super tidy 11,164 recorded miles Mini Cooper

Heck, I even avoid purchasing the two oddest (and certainly not on my brief of family fun appreciating modern classic list!) entries – an AMC-KAT amphibious car with 18bhp Briggs & Stratton mower motor (£2,300) and a Junior Land Rover Series 1 (£4,200)… as the highly contagious auction fever took hold. I must be getting old.

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But, true to my word and after literally weeks of scanning the auction catalogue, checking the market on Autotrader, other car sale sites, car club listings and even the odd forum or two, not to mention too much geeky car research to admit to in public, I stuck to my main focus of the sale…

Saabs

I have long had a love for the bonkers boosty brand and have owned plenty of insanely fast and fun ones over the years… 9000 Aero, 9-3 Viggen etc. I blame my dad, who had 900 Turbos as I grew up. Him and Erik Carlsson of course!

And, much to my delight, there were three lots featuring the oddball, turbo-pioneering Saabs in this sale.

Lot No.1 (so I’d better be ready!) was a 1991 900 Turbo S 16V, in a nice blue, with the comfy velour interior, a decent history file, but 164,746 miles and a string of 10+ MOT advisories at the last test. Guide £1,750-2,250. Maybe, if it’s cheap enough… but it wasn’t, sailing swiftly away to £2,500. Seems I’m not the only one who appreciates the characterful Saab Turbo.

 

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Lot No. 221: Saab 99 Turbo. How rare? A cast iron classic. The world’s first mass produced turbocharged car. Great looking. And this one was even in black (like the iconic original 1970’s ‘Nothing Performs Like  Saab’ black advertising for the 99), with just 89,400 miles and four keepers since 1978. Wow. But, sadly for me, the serious amount of rust on the majority of the panels, ripped and tired (bright red!) interior, leaking engine/gearbox and other factors meant no… sadly, as that was the main contender prior to sale day.

But, you have to keep an open mind at auctions.

Enter Lot No.167: 1993 Saab 900 Turbo Ruby Edition – the last of the special edition Mk1 900 T16S models – with just 74,500 recorded miles and a HUGE history file, including evidence of £4,269’s worth of expert welding, paintwork, servicing and more spent in May this year. Plus, no advisories on the last few MOTs, a full 18 stamp Saab and Saab specialist service history, the original tool kit, leather-bound handbook, two keys and all the right hallmarks.

The rare Ruby Edition had my attention, in principle, and even more so in the flesh, as it defied its 23-year age, in utterly jaw-dropping and fantastic original condition: THE thing to look for in an investment classic.

Ruby… you have my full attention.

Saab 900 T16S Ruby 

Only 150 Ruby 900 T16S models were produced, for the UK market alone, in the final year of classic Mk1 Saab 900 production, 1993. The Ruby nomenclature unsurprisingly comes from the deep red wine paintwork, which included body-matched bumpers and grey (not silver) Aero 15-inch alloys – a true design classic – with 195/60×15 tyres, and Saab’s uprated 30mm lowered sports springs and uprated dampers, anti-roll bars and bushes rounding off a lovely body and chassis specification.

Additionally, under the hood, the Ruby was as sporty as the 900 Turbo T16S ever got – coming loaded (like the aero body-kitted Carlsson edition of 1990 & 1992) with the uprated ‘Carlsson’ 1,895cc turbocharged and engine – mounted the ‘wrong way around’ and at a jaunty Saab 40-degree angle, with its gearbox underneath, giving it a great low centre of gravity, and superb front-wheel drive handling.

This top-spec engine included the highly desirable upgraded (Red) Automatic Performance Control (APC) system giving 185 bhp and 204 lbft torque (10bhp and c20lb ft over standard T16), in a car weighing just under 1,200Kg, which still makes it fast today, knocking 130+mph and 0-60mph in under eight seconds, with huge mid-range overtaking punch.

The trick APC red box runs more boost pressure on the big old, laggy Garrett T3 and runs at the edge of engine knock/pinking/detonation – depending on what octane level of fuel you run. The system has knock sensors in the intake manifold and decreases boost pressure through the wastegate if knock is detected, or winds the boost & ignition up to the max when it’s not. It was way ahead of its time and paved the way for ECUs on Imprezas, EVOs and other turbo nutter barges to follow. Seriously cool… for a force aspiration geek like me.

Inside the iconic Saab, aircraft-engineering-inspired interior – behind that superb curved windscreen – the Ruby Edition has more tricks up its under-stated and effortlessly cool sleeves, coming with (the world’s most comfortable) buffalo leather seats with toasty and on-trend Zegna pure wool inserts in the seats and door panels and even air conditioning (remember, this is 1993!).

And the sensible previous owner – who clearly cherished this vehicle – has subtly brought it up to date, with a nice DAB Pure radio, with Bluetooth, for modern, safe handsfree action, and tunes from the iPhone. Nice!

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Having fallen in love with Ruby, her condition, spec and with the paperwork all stacked up to back her up, so came the colour of money.

The auction guide was £5,000-6,000, which seemed about right: I’ve seen less rare, worse condition, higher mileage T16 models sell for more recently.

So, I worked out my budget and waited for Lot No.167 to roll in – which took a bloody lifetime and more will power not to bid of silly stuff!

Bid Cool

Somewhat irritatingly, Ruby was the first car to run in after a load of registration plates, fuel pumps, non-runners and oddball stuff, so I literally only had a minute or two to hang close by outside to see if she started well (tick), didn’t smoke (tick), sounded right (tick), moved without too many nasty noises (tick) and didn’t overheat (tick).

Then, suddenly, as things do at auctions, the fast-talking auctioneer was telling buyers the story of Ruby “a very rare and fabulous condition, appreciating classic Saab 900 Turbo. One of the greatest we’ve seen…” as I stealth walked in behind her burbling beautifully away and took up a decent position in the line of sight of the hammer holder.

Sssssssshhh (or worse!) I’m thinking… wishing he’d just get on with it, with no “big up” like with so many previous lots. Then he started the bidding process – and was picked up straight in at £3,000, £3,500, £4,000, £4,500, £5,500 – by three bidders, in as many seconds.

Time to own it.

Seconds later, I nod in with total conviction at £5,000 (“new face!”), and one bidder folds immediately. The other stays and bids £5,500. I nod £6,000 in a heartbeat. He goes £6,100. Nod. £6,200, Nod. Then he pauses… fatally, before reluctantly bidding £6,300. Instant nod. And after what seems like a lifetime, and lots of deeply frustrating from my POV “any more? Anyone? A fabulous thing… etc.” It’s game over and I’ve bagged a beauty for £6,400, plus the £350 5% sale commission. Good job too, as my bid limit was £6,600. Phew!

Welcome to the Road Fleet Ruby 

Lots of money for a 23-year-old car? I guess… But I’m well happy.

Ruby is immaculate, rare and very cool. Me, my stylish Road Magazine Art Editor missus (a total design guru, who states it as an instant hit) and the Road Magazine child testing department (“I love the daddy new red car”) can get out and about and have some old fashioned 80s/90s fun in this at country car shows and the like and I’m confident the value is only going one way: Ruby is a delicious, rare slice of turbocharged, quirky Saab motoring history and a model classic for sure.

And she drives like a retro car dream – straight as an arrow, tight as a funeral drum and pulling like a train with its characteristically lag and go, Gooo, GOOOO T3 turbo, with not a hint of trouble on the 50 or so miles home, everything working well and a tremendous turbocharged soundtrack.

There’s a minor whiff of a nearside suspension issue – maybe just a seized damper, or dried-out bush, as she’s been resting up I think – but other than that, Ruby is miraculously like new and was freeing up with every mile under my initially darn careful, then heavier and heavier right foot and steering inputs.

It’s a cliche, but they don’t make ’em special and unique like this anymore and the retro ride experience was even richer than I remember. She’s also spacious, yet small and generous, yet uncomplicated, whilst being fast, yet frugal and best of all offers great design touches to cherish, stunning lines and looks, whilst offering some great big boost, front-wheel-drive fun. It really is hard to believe it’s a quarter of a century old, but it is built like a tank, so…

Next up, she’s off to meet my Saab expert mates at Abbott Racing, who will soon get to the bottom of any issues Ruby’s got and show us how to remedy them, not to mention do a good job of emptying my wallet with their fantastic range of trick parts, gleaned over decades of racing these beasts…

But more on that and what we’re planning for Ruby in the next instalment.

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Thanks 

ACA Auctions – for expertly auction selling me a superb car, giving me a great experience (on this and previous sales) and for all the hard work the office staff do behind the scenes, showcasing the cars in advance of sale and preparing the paperwork for them at the point of sale and on collection. And of course their cafe staff for ace breakfasts & pies!

Adrian Flux Insurance – who sorted out a very reasonably priced classic car, limited mileage, garaged-based policy for me on the Saab T16S (with modifications), whilst I was at the auction, in a matter of a few minutes. Fantastic broker and customer service, as ever. Bravo.

Abbott Racing – for their impeccable advise, always. Cheers Giles & see you soon fella.