When I asked Félix “Why Saab?” he responded with: “I bought a 900 S when I was about 20.”
“But, why Saab?”, I rebutted.
“Oh. I like these cars,” he humbly replied.
Félix, like many Saab aficionados, fell in love with the entire idea of the infinitely unusual 900 at a young age. But while many enthusiasts presumably got fed up with their quirky Swedish rides over mechanical headaches and heavy repair bills, Félix simply never stopped.
He kept at it. For 20 years.
(Full disclosure: Félix Lamontagne is a Canadian Jalopnik reader and Saab collector. When he read our review of the Saab 9-3 Viggen, he emailed us to show us pics of his cars, and asked if we’d be interested in covering them. We gladly said yes. Félix is also the man behind the fire-breathing 900 Turbo SPG we recently reviewed.)
Today, he owns five classic Saabs, one of which will soon be a full-fledged race car. His parents each drive a Saab, and Félix has converted a few of his buddies to save some as well. He is, as we say, the Saab man, the go-to guy for spare parts, the all-time French Canadian Scania savior. He’s also the president of the Saab Club of Québec.
Félix’s devotion to the long-dead Swedish car brand we lost to General Motors’ corporate shenanigans is just too exemplary to ignore. Which is why we drove 300 miles up to Jonquière, Québec from Montréal to have a closer look at his precious, antiquated possessions. It was a glorious sight.
Walk down Félix’s driveway and past the three 900s sitting behind his house (pictured above), as well as his heavily modified 9-5 Aero daily driver, and there lies his shop. From the outside, it’s nothing more than a tiny little standalone garage, appearing more like a large shed; the kind of building in which you’d expect to find a lawn tractor or gardening equipment.
The reality is entirely different. This tiny hut is where Félix hides his latest project: one of the two black 900 Turbo SPG’s he owns, except this one is stripped out, and in the process of being converted into a race car.
Félix says that after he went through a series of consecutive mechanical bad lucks with his first Saab, he got fed up with getting ripped off by mechanics who knew nothing about these cars, so he decided to start fiddling with them himself.
Over time, he’s become quite the master at rebuilding, tinkering and tuning Saabs, especially the old 900's. He now knows these machines like the back of his hand.
Quick reminder: this is isn’t a specialized Saab shop. It’s one man with a shed.
The biggest challenge with a classic Saab is finding spare parts. So Félix salvages everything he can find, from grilles to spoilers. He even collects old valves. The moment he finds something for sale with a Saab logo on it, he buys it. Which is why his entire shop is a neatly organized little warehouse of Saab spare parts, old brochures, shop manuals and, of course, kickass automobilia.
Félix has become such an ace at rebuilding these things, that when he can’t find a particular part, he gets it built at a local machine shop, based on factory specs.
For instance, the motor mounts on an SPG are notorious for being total shit, and when you start adding boost, they tend to self immolate pretty quickly.
Félix’s rebuilt “rally style” motor mounts (pictured above) are re-engineered to sustain heavy tuning.
Other custom-made mechanical bits include limited slip differentials, teflon bushings, aluminum pulley kits, water pumps and alternators. If you’re looking for such components on your old 900, our man Félix is the dude to call.
At the moment he’s rebuilding an entire race-spec’d 2.0-liter turbo, complete with a head gasket made out of brass and other reinforced components to drop inside his future race car.
But the most impressive part of my journey up to Saguenay wasn’t this hero’s tool shop. As jaw-dropping as that was, the cars that spawned from all this tinkering were what really got my pace going.
1989 Silver 900 Turbo Convertible
Except for one rare special edition model in 1991, Saab never built a convertible version of the SPG, but that didn’t stop a man with as much devotion as Félix. Starting life as a 160-horsepower 900 Turbo, this ragtop, which looks like a road-legal DTM car with that Saab Airflow body kit, was actually used by Félix as a tech bench to see what kind of abuse these engines could take.
Turns out they can take quite a lot.
Remember, Saab was among one of the first carmakers to fiddle with turbocharging in front-wheel-drive applications. If you enjoy the boost controller in your Ford Focus ST, thank Saab.
The APC box, which had been fitted onto the first SPG’s as a Saab factory performance add-on, was one of the first bit of technology that could alter the turbo’s boost performance by using electronics.
And Félix basically cranked the thing up to full blast. To 30 psi! Since he had a spare engine lying, Félix figured this was the perfect opportunity to see what it would take for the 2.0-liter, dual overhead cam four to blow.
For a man like Félix, testing the limits of a Saab engine would simply add to his education of these cars.
Fitted with a new Mitsbuishi T05 turbo and a Jak Stoll intercooler, the engine’s internals were all stock. Once boosted to shit, the little four-pot pulled about 400 HP at the crank.
Four hundred horsepower at the crank. Stock internals. Front-wheel-drive.
Félix then drove the damn thing from Saguenay to Val-d’Or every other week. That’s a 450 mile drive. He packed a total of 9,300 miles on the car as he daily drove it at full boost.
The car never died.
In fact, the silver convertible you see here still runs on that same, original engine today.
Because of this, Félix decided to keep the spare motor for his race car, lowered the boost of the silver one down to 25 psi (still a lot!) and has focused on keeping it clean and driveable ever since.
As it stands today, the car cranks out a more “modest” 325 HP, says Félix, and reads 140,000 km (86,000 miles) on the odometer.
But Félix kept tuning it. Fiddling. Improving the car. Because of course he did.
The list of mods is, well, like the car itself: intense.
-Real carbon fiber dash fascia
-Real carbon fiber door inserts
-Saab Savior short shift kit
-Real carbon fiber shift knob
-Real carbon fiber valve cover insert
-Advanced Ignition Diaphragm tuned
-3.0 bar fuel pressure regulator
- Stainless steel turbo oil feed line
- Forged motorsport 007 diverter valve
- Custom and upgraded engine oil cooler mount in front
- Aquamist water methanol injection system
- Full 3" JT superflow exhaust system
- 3" JT superflow downpipe
- Lower coil springs
- Bilstein sport shocks
- Crossed drilled rotors
- Stainless steel brake hose
- Lightweight flywheel from 1990+
- Black diamond stage2 clutch kit 228mm
- LED headlight 10 000k
-Airflow body kit OEM Saab
- 16" Aero wheels with polished lip
- Push button engine start
- #34 injectors
- Rally style front motor mount
- Steel rear differential cover
- do88 silicone hose
- Battery relocation on left side with XSpower AGM
- APC box tuned by trollspeed
- Mitsubishi TE05 turbo.
1990 Black 900 Turbo SPG Hardtop
You may remember this one from our latest Not-New Review. It’s the snorting 350 HP SPG from hell with the concave windshield. I mention this because some of you complained in the comments that I had called the windshield flat. From the inside, it looks flat.
Fine, it’s concave. Like on a jet. Because Saabs are born from jets.
I won’t go so much in detail with this one, because you already know quite a bit about it, but Félix purchased this one last, after he sold his Turbo X. Guess that newer, GM-induced Saab wasn’t good enough for him.
It’s also the only real SPG out of the three he owns.
Since I didn’t get around to all the mods in that other post, if you’ve got a bit of spare time to waste, here goes:
- Genuine Saab Airflow body kit
- Genuine Saab whale tail
- Genuine Saab vent cover
- Cross-drilled rotors
- 16" super Aero wheels
- Front mount intercooler
- Silicone intercooler hose
- Do88 heater & coolant hose kit
- Trionic5 engine management conversion
- NGK R spark plugs
- K&N Apollo cold air intake
- Saab 9000 Aero seats (made by Recaro)
- Rear interior strut brace
- 3-gauge autometer, boost, A/F and voltmeter
- Custom gauge cluster
- Carlsson Saab steering wheel by Momo with Momo adaptor
- 228mm Luk clutch kit
- Lightweight flywheel with CPS signal
Wait, let me just grab a glass of water here. And, oh, here it is again being hooned in the rain by me:
- JZW tuning stage3+ ecu with T7 bpc
- Bilstein HD shocks
- B&G lowering spring
- Red top injectors
- Malpassi adjustable rasing rate fpr 1.7/1
- Fuel pressure gauge on fuel rail
- Custom stainless steel clutch hose
- Silicone vacuum hose with brass fitting taped onto the intake
- Throttle body heater delete
- Kinugawa billet wastegate actuator
- Stainless steel turbo oil feed line
- Custom and relocated engine oil cooler
- Battery relocated in the trunk
- Turbo back 3" exhaust with high flow cat, magnaflow muffler
1989 Red 900 Turbo Convertible
This particular example is the more classic 900 of the trio, and the car with the most humble origins. Standing now at 124,000 original miles, with an automatic transmission, the car’s also been fitted with the APC box from the SPG, but was reflashed with an APC Swedish Dynamic Stage 4 tune.
This means that it’s still more powerful than a regular SPG, but remains a lot more sedated than the other two, pumping out about 210 HP, according to Félix.
Feast your eyes on this classic Saab’s wooden steering wheel and flat, aircraft-inspired dashboard:
Whereas Félix’s grey and black 900's are project car fantasies come true, the goal with this one was always to keep it classic. This particular specimen was purchased in the U.S. and used to be his dad’s, so it holds a sentimental value in Félix’s heart. But since our Canadian hero can’t seem to stop tinkering with his Saabs, he does have, shall we say, other plans for this one.
The parts in the trunk suggest an eventual suspension upgrade:
And at the moment, the car has no interior. That’s because Félix wants to give the car an Edwardian grey cabin. Once that’s done, he plans on keeping it as-is, and focus on his race car.
Here are the mods on this dentist-approved, red turbo convertible:
- SPG body kit
- APC box, or “red box”
- Pronto steering wheel
- Aero wheels
- Turbo back 2.5" dynomax exhaust.
Also, Félix plans on giving the car a five-speed manual conversion, which we won’t argue with, a Trionic5 engine management system and a performance flywheel and clutch kit.
People like Félix (yes that’s the Saab griffin tatooed on his body), who are obsessed at keeping old, rare things of questionable monetary value alive, deserve an homage for their passion and devotion.
Saab is a car brand that was almost too cool to live, especially during its peak. It’s great to see someone so committed to keeping them around.
What Félix is doing by saving these Scandinavian hatchbacks and convertibles, is reminding us how sedate today’s automotive industry has become.
As for the monster sitting in the shed, Félix tells me he’ll be bringing it down to Sanair Super Speedway for final tuning once it’ll be ready to drive, presumably next summer. That’s conveniently where I also happen to test drive some cars.
I think testing one of these on the track is something that needs to happen yesterday.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com