WILSON OBERHOLZER'S1999 Saab 9-3Turbo 4dr Hatchback

Wilson Oberholzer's 1999 Saab 9-3 Turbo 4dr Hatchback
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1999 Saab 9-3

Turbo 4dr Hatchback



Vehicle Summary

My fun turbo powered European "hatchback". Daily driven but slowly getting built up for more performance

Horsepower185 HP
Torque194 LB-FT
Curb Weight3020 LB
DrivetrainFront Wheel Drive
Engine Size2 L
Transmission TypeManual
MPG (City/Highway)24/27 MPG

The Story

Tell us the story behind your ride. What made you pick this particular one? Where did you find it? My wife and I were searching for a project car to work on together after having nothing but issues with the '99 Prelude we had. I wanted something non-Honda and she wanted something turbo. We had looked around at quite a few cars on various for sale sites (craigslist, Facebook marketplace, etc.) and even went to look at a promising Audi A4 which turned out to need a lot more work than first anticipated and the owner wanted way to much for it's condition. She found Saab 9-3's online and fell in love with the way they looked, I researched into them and was blown away but what these motors could handle (the stock block on some variants could handle ~400bhp with just bolt-on parts and a tune). I was hooked. I got a text one day at work from my wife with a link to the craigslist ad for this car. Relatively cheap, turbo, and the right year ('99 models had the "better" block). It was down past Baltimore, almost on the Virginia border which was about a 2 hour trip. I left work early that day, picked my wife up and we went to look at it. After seeing it's condition I negotiated back and forth with the owner. This diamond in the rough was mine for $750 and had less than 95k on it. Score! Describe the modifications you've made. Where did you start,  what’s the most recent mod and what motivated it? It started with probably the most ricer mod I could have done: a blow off valve (gotta have those mad turbo noises, yo). It was probably a dumb idea at first (considering I had never worked on a turbo car before this) but I still love the noises it makes when I drive, it just has some more mods to back it up now. Then I went on to replacing the entire stereo system. The head unit that came in it was lacking and I had another from a previous car that was amazing in sound and connectivity. I put in the speakers from the same car (all of that stereo had been bought brand new together and matched up to get the best out of the system as a whole). Then came the cat back exhaust that I drove from pretty much 5am to 11pm in one day on a round trip to get. It was a brand I'd never heard of but it was cheap and ended up sounding great. I later found out that Abbott Racing (my exhaust's manufacturer) was a top quality imported brand and was worth every minute and cent I spent getting it. Then my turbo went out and being cursed with the constant desire to modify I went with a bigger turbo instead. It was a nightmare to get installed as it needed some rigged fittings and hoses to make it work (everywhere I looked online said it was "practically a bolt on" item. Right). Looking back I wish I would have had the time to order the hose conversion kit for it. Once that was properly installed I took it for a quick test drive and it became absolutely clear that every hour of frustration, every trip made to the parts store for "just 1 more part", and every curse word uttered during installation was totally worth it. The smile that was on my face during that 5 minute test drive was all the reaffirmation I needed. Of all the mods you’ve made, which do you think offers the biggest bang for the buck? The bigger turbo (TD04HL-15T) I just put on the car. I spent $100 on the turbo and the necessary "King Cobra" inlet pipe from someone on a local forum. It was an incredible price as I had seen other used turbos go for at least $250 and this one had about 85k on it. I spent probably another $60-$80 on little bits just to get all of the fittings sorted (oil/coolant feeds and intake pipe adapter). After getting it installed it was immediately clear that this was by far the best mod I had ever done to the car. It spooled up much faster than the stock Garrett T28 and feels like it has a ton more "punch". I wouldn't hesitate to do this upgrade if I had another Saab. How did you go about selecting the specific parts for this build? Any installation tips to share? I have an extensively thorough process I go through to pick each part. I call it "whatever is cheap" haha. I usually just wait awhile for whatever type of part I'm looking in to putting on my car coming up for sale at a reasonable price. Whenever I find something I'm interested in I do tend to do a little bit of research into the specific make/model of the part and make sure that at the very least there will be some quality to it. The only installation tip I have for parts I have installed is on the 15T turbo: do yourself a favor and pick up the conversion line kit. Just getting my lines/fittings sorted was enough of an issue that the $70ish price tag is totally worth the frustration it would save. For a general tip(s) I would suggest always having a box of latex gloves handy, always have a roll of paper towels nearby, and save your family/significant other a lot of headaches but getting some hand cleaning wipes (gojo/tub o' towels) and get cleaned up for the most part before going back in the house. What are you planning next? I'm currently messing around with tuning software to put a stage 3 tune onto my ECU so that all of the power mods I've added will work much better. After that I'm looking into an upgraded intercooler, some new boost lines, new grippier tires and finally working on the cosmetic side of things. What’s been the biggest challenge with this build? Saab engineering. I swear some of this stuff is designed intentionally to never be messed with (I'm looking at you, upstream oxygen sensor connector hidden on the back of the engine block)

Comments (29)
11 here now

[]Antoni Dabrowski

Love old Saabs

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I'm pretty fond of this one. I'd love to have the chance to drive one of the old 900 SPG's

[]Robert Linsenbach

Looking at your SAAB 9-3 on here is making me want one so bad. Guess I'll have to get one when I can find one with the leather interior and decent miles

[]Wilson Oberholzer

They are definitely fun cars to drive. Working on them is much more annoying than a Honda though, lol. I'd recommend finding a 9-3 or newer 900 made before 2000. All of the '99 9-3's (Except Viggen) and most 900's come with Trionic 5 management. The benefit of them is you can run 500hp on a stock bottom end and have a BOV that vents to atmosphere. Anything else doesn't. I'm fairly certain all of the 9-3's come with a leather interior though the condition of the front seats is usually an issue.

[]Robert Linsenbach

And how hard would it be to get a 2nd gen 9-3 Aero to 300hp. I think they're so damn clean looking 😍

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I'm not sure on the 2nd gens. I know the 1st gen will push 300whp with a full 3" exhaust, a 19t turbo, an intercooler and a tune but I know next to nothing about the 2nd generation.

[]Robert Linsenbach

I don't ever see things done to the second gen. Bums me out cause visually one of the most appealing sedans for me

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I've seen plenty of them modded and they do look good I just don't know much about them.

[]Robert Linsenbach

No one around here does that; I wanna do it just don't wanna be stuck doing alot for a little ya know

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I can look around on some of the facebook groups I'm on and see what some people are doing to make more power and how much they're making and then get back to you

[]Robert Linsenbach

That'd be appreciated! Need to get a 4dr so if I can get a 2nd gen that'd be preferred

[]Wilson Oberholzer

After going through some research and digging on MapTun's website for 310hp you need: Bigger injectors, bigger intercooler, Bigger turbo, full exhaust, and a tune.

This was what I based my list from:

[]Robert Linsenbach

You're the man! Gotta convert that cost tho

[]Wilson Oberholzer

Looks pretty pricey but I imagine if you shopped around and found other sources you could significantly reduce the cost

[]Robert Linsenbach

No doubt. Thanks for taking a look tho! Think a 2nd gen 9-3 will be my next buy!

[]Wilson Oberholzer

Awesome! Glad I could be helpful. After having a 1st gen for so long I've started to wonder about what sort of improvements the 2nd gen cars have.

[]Robert Linsenbach

I love the power the 1st gen block can handle but the refinement of the 2nd gen is wonderful. Plus all I need is 300 horses and I'll feel plenty fast haha

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I'm probably pushing 260ish hp at the crank right now and it feels pretty fast. A tune will make that even better. My end goal is to be over 300hp at the wheels so I can have more power than a friends modded Volvo. I'll let you know what 300whp feels like when I get there

[]Robert Linsenbach

Lemme know. Cause the Civic with 300 will obviously seem faster haha

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I've always wondered what a little civic or CRX would be like with a Saab 2.0 turbo engine in it. I think it would really move. I thought my 4th gen was quick when it had 130hp, I can't imagine what 300 would be like

[]Robert Linsenbach

Oh yeah I'm going to turn this into a beast over time Wilson. Just gonna start with a built y8 head swap cause I'm gonna build a y8 block on the side so it can handle all that boost

[]Wilson Oberholzer

If you're building a y8 for boost (or at all really) do yourself a huge favor and put a new oil pump on it. I made the mistake of not doing that when I y8 swapped and ended up eating a crank and bearings

[]Robert Linsenbach

Well if I need to install aftermarket seats that's not an issue even if custom mounting brackets need fabricated. And I had a 2002 so that's after the switch to GM so I would like to get the 99 9-3 turbo so it can handle 500. There is a 99 9-3 for sale here but the seats are cloth. Want the grey leather interior I had before. And would be easy to do the Viggen valance kit on a non-viggen 9-3?

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I've never seen a 9-3 with cloth interior. I know some of the last generation 900's had it. That one could be an oddball. I've heard the 9-5 seats are a direct bolt in as long as you use the 9-3 trim plates on them (9-5 seats have wider bolsters and plastic bits). If I recall correctly that Viggen kit is a direct fit for the 9-3's but is usually pricey. The 9-3se had a similar appearance valance kit but are much easier and cheaper to come by.

[]Robert Linsenbach

I know but I had the se and I've always loved the Viggen kit more tho only slightly different

[]Robert Linsenbach

Any sites you think I could find it on?

[]Project volvo

Volvo has the same turbos as saabs it you didnt know . A nice swap is a td04hl-19t or td04hl-18t. Capable of 300+bhp with very fast spool and a ton of torque.

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I had wanted to go with the 19t on this but the 15t was all that I could find locally (the old turbo died and was spewing oil). In the future I plan on upgrading though. I really want the 19t. A friend of mine has one on his T5 C70 and it makes something like 308whp. I want to have more power than him, lol.

[]Project volvo

Or a holset turbo if you dont mind a little turbo lag.

Wilson Oberholzer459 days ago

Debating painting these in a graphite color with a non-gloss clear coat before I wrap them in new rubber for the season. Thoughts?


[]Wilson Oberholzer

Well, I may end up going yet another direction. My wife saw this https://www.facebook.com/907253646047633/videos/1058412427598420/ and now wants sparkly purple instead of a flat charcoal color. I'm all for it

[]Basir Khan

Have you considered plasti dip? Either way I think it'll look great! Let us know how it turns out :)

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I was thinking a little something more permanent than that. I bought this set with the plan to completely refinish them anyway.

[]Andrew Johnson

That'll look clean!

[]Wilson Oberholzer

I think I'm going to have to mess around with photoshop or something to see how they'll look

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