PROJECT CARS: Ruby Visits Saab Mecca: Abbott Racing

We’ve been looking forward to this.

Ever since we concocted the notion of buying a modern investment classic – specifically the iconic, cool, quirky, design gem that is the Mk1 Saab Turbo T16S – and discovered our 1993 end-of-the-line Ruby Special Edition at auction, it’s been on the cards to visit our good old friends, Abbott Racing, aka UK Saab Mecca.

For three decades and having serviced 10,000 Saabs, brothers Lionel and Ed Abbott have run the secret Saab service, sales, parts and tuning brand tucked away in the Essex countryside (conveniently located on some of the South East’s best driving roads, incidentally) and we’ve been lucky enough to know them for almost all of that time. Back in the day, we built an insanely fast 9000 2.3 Turbo to demolish the drag/track/road race competition, when I was a young buck at Revs Magazine. It did the job, no bother. And I subsequently owned other 9000 Turbos and a 9-3 Viggen, both of which were given the Abbott Racing treatment, and were far better cars for it.

Unsurprising really, as making Saabs go insanely fast – in straight lines with top engine tuning for big bhp and around the bends with intelligent chassis modifications – is meat and drink for Abbott. They have been racing them since 1987 – for Saab GB no less.

Word.

Racing Pedigree

It all started with a Classic 900 Turbo 8-Valve, built for the Mobil1 Saab Turbo Challenge. And this car was so successful that in 1988 a second Classic 900 Turbo was built and raced… and won again, starting a pattern only the competition could not get used to, or understand. Unlike the BTCC racers of today, front-wheel drive cars, with forced aspiration winning against rear-drive, more powerful, normally-aspirated cars was not the thing in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Next Abbott built a 260bhp new-model 9000 which raced and won Production Car Championship races in Europe and this program evolved into the legendary 9000 2.3 Turbo touring car, that regularly spanked racing legends like the Sierra Cosworth and Porsche 944 models. And that brilliant race car won the championship in its first year, which put Saab (& Abbott) on the motorsport map, rightly so.

An even more pokey 9000 CS 2.3 Turbo followed in 1992, which won pretty much every race it entered, including the famous Willhire 24 hour endurance race at Norfolk’s Snetterton circuit. And it also went onto win the 1992 UK Production Car Championship – again in its first year of racing.

Then came the GM era and a 900 2.0 Turbo and the normally aspirated racers, which continued Abbott’s winning ways and fed into the 9-3 n/a car, which knocked out 230bhp, sans turbo and (you guessed it) had race wins. This run of victories and defying conventional motorsport mechanics only came to an end as Saab stopped racing and GM slowly, sadly murdered the brilliant Saab brand off. Sad times.

“When it came to circuit racing, no one in the world, including the Saab factory teams can match the technical knowledge of Abbott Racing Motorsport. And it’s this motorsport grounding that we call upon to develop Saabs into the ultimate road cars today,” say Abbott on their website.

Their proud, epic race success is still evident via the wreaths and cups festooning the quaint, quirky, delightfully old school but still very much high tech workshops (they still have a race engine dyno worth God-knows-what in one barn). It instantly brings a smile to my face – having not been here for a Saab-free decade or more. Nothing has apparently changed. The workshop is full of great classic 900’s and 9000’s, there’s full restoration and race car/tartck car projects on the go, the fabrication shop is still massive and busy and there’s still lots of lovely shiny, sexy Abbott Racing performance parts mounted on the wall – bespoke creations gleaned from decades of race expertise, on show to tempt you in.

And I’m certainly in… specifically, buying one of their delightfully-designed, incredibly light, fabulously manufactured in Grade 304 Stainless Steel, two and a 1/2 inch (63.5mm) bore performance exhaust systems.

Exhausting work 

Turbo cars love less restrictive back pressure and better breathing and our Project Ruby is no exception – especially as she’s already got a nice free-flowing K&N air filter under the bonnet and the uprated factory “red box” ECU under the bonnet at the sharp end, which will surely make the most of the lovely Abbott exhaust system. It promises “more power, better engine response, and a sportier exhaust note” and comes with a lifetime Guarantee and a very chic, mirror polished oval tailpipe to enhance the styling of the already uber-cool T16S (other designs are also available here).

Abbott say: “Our Classic 900 Exhaust system is recognised as being one of the best available, having sold well over 1,000 units. It produces the “Classic” T16 exhaust note which has been praised by Saab enthusiasts the world over, it also combines a quality of manufacture and performance that is hard to beat. Our most recent development for the Classic 900, is a completely revised system. We have completed many hours of prototype and dyno work to achieve this target.”

They claim a modest eight bhp hike, which would take the 185bhp Ruby to knock on the door of 200bhp (or there about, with the K&N helping too and a tank full of Shell’s 98RON V-Power Nitro+) and around a 12-15lb ft torque hike… but that’s utter balls!

I have had the pleasure of testing a ton of performance exhaust systems in my years as a road tester/eternal modifier at Revs, Japanese Performance, Circuit Driver, Performance Tuner and here on Road Magazine & Blog: I must have tested 20+ exhaust systems on road, race, rally and project cars, and most from all the big names, Milltek, Janspeed, Jetex, Blitz, Nismo, etc. But I have never tested one that’s had such a dramatic effect on a car vs the stock system.

The standard Saab turbo burble is beautifully enhanced at idle and the Abbott system makes a gorgeous turbo rort at full chat, but is un-intrusive at cruise. Perfection. But I expected that.

What I didn’t expect was the massive hike in power – right across the rev range. The turbo spools up insanely fast (but thankfully keeping its 900-characteristic ‘moment’ of lag, before the big boost hit), the mid-range punch is actually quite dramatic now and Ruby wants to rev out too… so much so, we hit the limiter twice on the way home quite by accident, and even managed to out-whit the super grippy Falken tyres in second gear, on a particularly full throttle bend exit moment. Fabulous… and well, well worth the £495.

Got a 900 Turbo? Get one of these on… now!

They fit superbly snug (ours with a typically Abbott touch of in-house fabrication and alteration to the rear mounting bracket, giving a bespoke feel to the job), they work brilliantly, the weight saving adds another performance gain, they look superb, they are brilliantly manufactured and designed and they sound utterly tremendous. Could. Not. Be. Better.

Benefit of experience

Whilst we were at Abbott, we also took the liberty of using their deep, deep expertise of Saab to look closely over Ruby.

First, we learned that she was blessed from the factory with the late-spec ‘Gold’ lowered sports springs and an uprated factory rear anti-roll bar, which Ed really rates… to accompany her uprated Carlsson-spec engine, Bridge of Weir wool/leather seats, grey alloys and colour-coded Ruby red paintwork. Ed also said he’d only ever seen a handful of Ruby’s over the 23 years the 150 limited edition models have been in existence, which fuels the fire of collectability we were hoping for. He said: “They chucked everything at the Ruby as the end of the line final swan song and the cars were made at the factory in Sweden. They’re great old things.”

Abbott technicians, James and Mark – both lovely lads who’ve worked here for many moons, since their youth apprentice days – put in a solid and much appreciated shift on Ruby on the day. Cheers gents.

They fitted the uprated Powerflex bushes, replaced four knackered front ball joints (stopping a nasty suspension knock she’d had since auction purchase, which had hampered driving enjoyment), fixed a rattling turbo heat shield, stopped the steering wheel from moving slightly up and down on the column and even managed to find and fix a seriously torn and worn-out engine mount…. which was a minor miracle as there are only one or two in stock in Europe right now, via genuine Saab parts suppliers ORIO, and one was sitting here on the shelf waiting for me. Amazing.

Abbott’s attention to detail, knowledge, care, speed and enthusiasm know’s no bounds. It was a pleasure to be in such fine Saab folk company for the day, in such a nice, skilled and pleasant environment. I’d almost forgotten how nice…

I even got a gander around Ed’s personal garage – where he’s building a superb rally Jaguar XJS, showcasing the Abbott Jaguar brand they now also offer, utilising Ed’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the marquee, as an ex-engineer at Jaguar.

And my good old pal, Giles (below) showed me around some of their jaw-dropping classic 900 ‘nut and bolt’ jobs. Utterly magnificent craftsmanship, for those with  deep love of Saab 900’s and deep pockets… like these two absolute gems below… which I would buy at the drop of a hat. Project like these are all part of their heritage restoration services and redefine the term mint. Check out the roller bearing turbo/bespoke Zircotech heat treated manifold & immaculate paintwork.

#lifegoals

Naturally, we will be back at Abbott again later in the year, for a Ruby service, bespoke wheel alignment oh, and maybe some Abbott developed Koni dampers, a fuel pressure regulator, turbo hose kit and re-cirulcating blow off valve, set of big brakes… and on it goes! What a place. Like I said… UK Saab Mecca.