The Saab brand has always traded enthusiastically on its aerospace heritage, with its aerodynamic body designs and mathematically ordered dash layouts paying tribute to the company’s prowess in the skies. And with the 9-3 Viggen, it’s the essence of the Saab 73 Viggen combat aircraft that’s being channelled, its DNA intertwined with that of the Swedish Air Force.
This idea was a real shot in the arm for the 9-3 platform; while Saab’s model ranges are renowned for offering amusingly sporting halo cars (usually amped up by turbocharging, a technology with which it’s always been a pioneer and master of the craft), the late-1990s compact-executive was crying out for a genuinely fast variant – and in the Viggen, the fans got what they wanted.
The name translates as ‘Thunderbolt’, and the chevron badging found on the fighter plane is replicated on the 9-3 in the form of wing badges and embossed seat logos. But this is far more than a mere cosmetic exercise: the model was developed in conjunction with Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who heavily upgraded the chassis with stiffer springs and dampers, a faster steering rack, and larger brake callipers. Outside, the car wears stylishly aerodynamic bumpers, skirts and spoilers, while under the bonnet the turbocharged 2.3-litre B235R engine was tuned up to a mighty 230bhp and 285lb.ft. Saab’s new Trionic 7 engine management system worked hard to reduce turbo lag and deliver power in a linear fashion, and the overall package was something truly formidable.
So don’t go thinking this is just another 9-3 cabrio. This is something truly special – and with only around 220 examples sold in the UK, Viggens are becoming quite collectible too…
The more we talk to the owner of this 9-3 Viggen, the more it becomes obvious that he’s a man who likes his cars to be fast and fun, and he’s keen to spend the money in the right places to make that happen.
This has very much been the ethos with the Viggen. Having bought the car in July 2013, it’s been correctly maintained and properly looked after throughout its life, and it’s also been fettled by Abbott Racing. Now, anyone who knows about these Saabs will be well versed in the fact that Abbott Racing are the experts when it comes to tuning and upgrading. In the case of this car, it’s running a full free-flow exhaust system as well as having been remapped; it’s now boasting 285bhp, and the important thing to remember here is that it hasn’t just been mapped for peak power. Abbott take a holistic approach, accentuating the car’s inherent drivability and increasing power and torque throughout the rev range. So if you want to be a hooligan in this car and tease it to the redline, it’s more than happy to play – but the owner is keen to point out that he seldom takes it beyond 5,000rpm, simply because it isn’t necessary. There’s so much mid-range torque, it’ll happily pull from 20mph to 85mph in third gear (on a private road, naturally), and acceleration is vivid without being a torque-steering monster.
The car came from 1 lady owner previously before the current owner acquired the vehicle. Now in his sixties, he’s simply selling because he has too many toys to play with and not enough time to enjoy them all.
The Viggen’s interior is unique to this special edition, with the party piece being the fancy seats. They’re two-tone leather items with Viggen chevron branding embossed on the centres, and they’re motorised and heated. They’re all in very good condition (testament to the car’s low mileage), and the rear bench has evidently seen very little use.
The dash is all in good condition, with no wear or lacquer peel to the wood trim. An interesting quirk of the 9-3 is that the ignition key goes in down by the gearstick, and this area isn’t unduly scuffed or scratched as can often be the case. There are a few scuffs to the door cards, but nothing’s cracked or missing and everything here works as it should. The seller also points out that the interior will be fully cleaned, hoovered and valeted prior to sale. The inside of the boot is totally solid with zero evidence of water ingress; there’s a CD changer in there, as well as a space-saver spare wheel in good condition.
Marque aficionados will see you coming, as the Viggen comes in a shade of paint which is specific to this model: Lightning Blue. The Viggen-spec upgrades include aerodynamically-sculpted bumpers and side-skirts, along with a prominent rear wing (whose aero prowess was sufficiently noteworthy for the accountants to green-light relocating the radio aerial for this special edition). The paint is very well presented overall, although there is some fairly extensive micro-blistering across the bonnet along with a small scab of rust close to the driver-side headlight. On the whole it’s an honest and tidy body though, with the odd very minor age-related parking ding doing nothing to detract from the handsome profile.
There are a few small holes in the outer layer of the soft-top around the rear window – they don’t compromise the car’s waterproof-ness; it’s something that a new keeper may wish to add to a long-term to-do list rather than having to immediately address, and it’ll most likely require just one fabric panel replacing, rather than the whole roof. The electrical operation of the hood works faultlessly, with the tonneau rising correctly and swallowing the roof before sealing tightly on closure. The car is very solid underneath too – it’s had one or two repairs as one would expect of a car of this age, but there’s no structural corrosion to worry about and no signs of accident damage.
The Viggen’s engine was rather special in factory-stock form, boasting a high-capacity intercooler, Mitsubishi TD04 turbocharger, high-flow exhaust, heavy-duty clutch and pressure plate, as well as stronger CV joints and driveshafts. In addition to this, the Abbott Racing upgrades on this car have taken it to the next level – that larger exhaust system has a beautifully bassy timbre without being overpowering, and the power on tap is really quite addictive.
With just 70k on the clock, the engine’s still as fresh as a daisy and it’s always been lovingly maintained. It starts on the button and runs perfectly, the five-speed gearbox shifts sweetly, and there are no concerns with the brakes, suspension or steering. A new clutch was fitted around 2,000 miles ago. The wheels have a little light kerbing and the odd chip, but are a correct matching set shod with decent tyres.
It’s a truism to say that a Saab is a smart choice. These are famously cars favoured by architects, surgeons, emeritus professors and the like – and Saab’s enthusiasm for throwing a turbo into the mix and raising a few cultured pulses has always been an entertaining element in the equation.
The 9-3 Viggen has a lot going for it, as it ably combines a huge amount of horsepower with smooth drive-ability (and diesel-like torque!) and an eminently comfortable ride. It’s supremely well-equipped, engineered to be impressively solid, and cuts a stylistic dash that belies its years – many wouldn’t guess that this car is now twenty years old, it still looks crisp and contemporary. Most of all, the allure of this 9-3 is that it’s a genuinely desirable and sought-after special edition that’s available for a very modest budget. This Viggen represents a huge amount of entertainment for a really quite small outlay. If you wanted to fix the odd blemish and make it perfect, it wouldn’t be hard to do; it’d basically just be a case of repainting the bonnet, replacing that rearmost fabric roof panel, tidying the wheels, and polishing up the interior plastics. But none of that needs doing per se, you could readily put this car straight into daily use. And you’d have a jolly good time doing so – open-top thrills, eagerly accessible power, Swedish dependability, effortless style, and a frisson of rarity. There’s not a lot that can beat it at this price point.
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