Upgrading a 1998-2002 Saab 9-3 – Part 1: Viggen Rescue Kit

This 4-part series was original published in January 2009 at Trollhattan Saab. I thought I’d bring it online here at SU in order to form part of a Saab Tuning Guide.
I got an email from John K asking what might be the best path to take to upgrade his MY2000 Saab 9-3. Not just any Saab, 9-3, either. John was the guy who ended up buying the black 9-3 Viggen 5-door that I was looking at in Sydney, just before Christmas.
John writes:

I understand you owned a Viggen at some stage and I was hoping you could provide some guidance on some minor upgrades I was looking for the car. It’s starting to get a little confusing with all the sites, parts and part no’s available and seeing as most items would need to come from overseas I really don’t want to muck up an orders with incorrect parts etc.
Initially I was looking at installing the following and hope you can provide further details on the best option, where to buy from and relevant part no’s (if possible):
1) Shock absorbers – I would like to replace these with a quality set (front & rear). The current ones are leaking slightly and I’ve been told they are all pretty much due for replacement. Do you know which ones work well on the Viggen? (i.e. Koni, Bilstein, KYB or other). In your opinion where would be the best place to source these?
2) Poly Bushes – I’ve been told that replacing standard bushes with polyurethane assists in handling. Can you advise which bushes would be worthwhile changing (sorry, I’m not very mechanically minded and all the guys I know are not very well versed with the Viggen).
3) Performance Air-Filter – Any recommendations on a good element or filter kit?
4) Exhaust – Is it worthwhile purchasing an exhaust kit from a saab parts centre (i.e. genuinesaab or elkparts or would a made up one from an exhaust fitter be sufficient). I’m looking at going 3″ with as many mufflers as possible to keep it quite.
5) Computer Upgrades – Again, any advice on what to upgrade here for more performance? Elk parts sell a BSR flash handset which plugs into the diagnostic adapter and upgrades the existing computer for more power….have you heard any good or bad things about this?
Sorry to trouble you with these questions.

No trouble at all!
There’s a lot there, and rather than write back an email, I thought it would be worth a post here. Others may be interested, and I’ll be going through almost all this stuff with the Monte Carlo anyway.
As you know, I’m no techie. In fact, I’m practically incompetent. But I have owned a Viggen previously and I have spent a bucketload of time checking out the things I could do to get a little more satisfaction from it.
So without further ado…..
The Viggen is one heck of a great car, but like almost all 9-3s of its vintage, it’s got too much engine for the chassis it sits in. That means it has some handling compromises in its normal state, compromises that only get magnified if you try to tap some of that plentiful power potential.
The first thing you need then, is stability.
Viggen Rescue Kit
The Viggen Rescue Kit (or fundamental parts thereof) made by Abbott Racing in the UK is the undisputed essential item for sorting out some of the inherent problems with the 9-3. It’s named for the Viggen that inspired it, but the VRK is appropriate for any upgraded 9-3.
The VRK is made up of four components: a steering rack clamp and bulkhead brace, polyurethane track control arm bushes, a support arm bearing kit and a stainless steel subframe brance. The components can be bought separately but it’s cheaper to buy the kit as a unit.
gold_rack_clampThe magic pill here is the steering rack clamp and subframe brace, available for both LHD and RHD cars. The original Saab steering rack clamp is a flimsy rubber unit with a steel surround. The Abbott unit is made from billet alloy and along with the subframe brace, it holds the steering rack firmly in place and all-but eliminates the torque steer from the Viggen. As you get so much feedback from the steering wheel, this is a great upgrade.
I fitted the Abbott steering rack clamp and subframe brace to my Viggen and it was nothing short of a transformation in how the car felt.
Abbott Racing are the guys behind the VRK but if you’re in Australia, you have to buy your Abbott products through Swedish Prestige, in Melbourne. This is fine as Dean’s a great guy to deal with, but going through a middleman does increase the price and you won’t get much change out of A$1,500 for the VRK. I’m not sure of the purchasing arrangements in other countries outside the UK, but Abbott are pretty loyal to their distributors so I’d imagine a similar situation exists.
The good news is that there are now alternatives to buying the original VRK. Various Saab parts specialists are now manufacturing elemts of the VRK and at a substantial savings on the original Abbott parts.
Genuine Saab (Taliaferro) make a LHD version of the steering rack clamp and subframe brace. Elkparts distribute this in Europe. Parts for Saabs make a RHD version and if you want an indication of the savings – subframeI got my steering rack clamp and bulkhead brace from Abbott in 2007 and it cost me around A$500. I just ordered the rack clamp for the Monte from PFS and it’s costing me $200 – delivered!
The stainless steel subframe brace is said to stiffen things up a bit. The Abbott unit it’s a two-point brance and there’s others who make this sort of unit as well. The Big Momma of subframe braces is the Taliaferro six-point brace, which is said to stiffen up the subframe considerably.

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