Many of you who have been at any Saab meeting in Sweden during the last couple of years has maybe noticed a good looking carbon grey 9-3 “Griffin” sedan. This 9-3 is special in many ways, the first thing is that the car isn’t that you first thought when you saw it – in fact this is a 2009 9-3 Aero, but it’s completely converted to a 2012 9-3 Griffin optics and interior with something extra. The second thing, and for me the most impressive, is what you maybe don’t notice even through the bonnet is open – the engine. In this car the original 2.0 BioPower engine replaced with a 2.2 litre BioPower engine, and it is the story about the engine we are going to tell here. The way from the idea to the engine actually is mounted in the car has not been quite straight forward, so fasten seatbelts and we start from the beginning of this story!
The Griffin is owned by Emil that lives in the Trollhättan-area, and his interest for Saab has been there since he was a little kid. He basically grown up in a Saab, and the first car he remember was a white 99 combi coupe with brown interior and sport steering wheel. Many of his family-members has worked at Saab, his mother, father, grandmother, uncle and brother – and his uncle has started work at Saab again with the new owners NEVS. As you can image, Saab has always been the obvious choice even if Emil has tried other brands, but the love for the brand has been too strong – so he has always found back to Saab.
And there this story start; in the autumn 2009 there was as we remember a lot of speculation about Saab, and Emil had at this point a BMW M3 E46, a ’89 900i-8v and a ’91 900 Turbo 16S Aero. Emil thought as a Saab enthusiast he should have a Saab instead of the M3, and the new Saab should be a “sleeper” – or a wolf in a sheep’s clothing.
The plan was a daily driver with a potent engine, but which Saab should he choose? He had owned different Saabs before; ’96 900 turbo, ’95 9000 V6, ’87 900 Turbo 8, ’92 900 T16S cab, ’02 9-3 Aero and a ’98 9000 Classic. All with their pro and cons, but none of them had the road holding like a 9-3 SS. But what engine should it be? Petrol, ethanol or diesel? 6 or 4 cylinders? Emil felt the 4 cyl turbo felt most Saab, but the problem was that 210hp was far too little power, his previous Saab was the 9000 classic – tuned to 420hp and 630Nm….
Then Emil decided to buy a 9-3 with 4cyl engine and build a serious engine. Since the new engine would take much of the total budget Emil decided to spend max 90 000 SEK (about US$ 10-11 000) on the new car. Emil couldn’t wait to get his project started, and the beginning was when he came across a 9-3 SS engine for decent money. The engine had low compression after a hose on the pressure side failed, with the result that the turbo overspeed with parts of the compressor wheel went in to the cylinders. The plan was to build a engine that would cope with a lot of torque, so he was forced change a lot to parts inside the engine, so the fact that the engine was damaged didn’t matter.
The difference between Saabs turbocharged 2.0 and 2.3 litre is quite significant, especially if you have plans for more power then original. With larger volume inside the engine you can get the turbo started earlier, which is a pre if your plan is a bigger turbo to reach 4-500hp. The decision was done – this engine needed more volume then the original engine. The engine that you find in 9-3 is as many of you know a GM engine, and it’s available in many variants from 1.8 to 2.4 litres. After some research Emil decided to go for a 2.2 litres variant when he found a after-market crankshaft for a good price. But when he got the crankshaft home to Sweden he realized this wasn’t bolt-on. There was a little problem with the trigger disc for the crankshaft sensor, that wasn’t 100% compatible with the Saab Trionic 8 engine management-system, and there was some problems with the transmission on the crankshaft, that was not the same as on the Saab crankshaft.
But at this time, Emil still needed a car to put his new engine in. After a while he found a late ’05 9-3 Aero in the Trollhättan area, probably one of the very last Aeros with 4cyl engine as the Aero get the V6 from MY2006 on the Swedish market. Later Saab launched Aero with the TTiD-engine (2008) and 4cyl BioPower (2009), but that is a different story… When Emil and a friend of him went to look at the car they found out that it wasn’t quite in mint condition, it was rather pretty dirty in and outside, but Emil saw the potential. Emil tried to get the price down a bit since it was a bit over budget, but it was difficult so they went home without the car. After a few days and some thinking Emil called the seller again, and this time they agreed on a reduced price if Emil bought the car “as it was”, pretty untidy. The car was picked up a few days later, and after a kilometre they did a little stop for loading new software into the car, sadly the clutch didn’t cope with the torque in the new program, so that had to wait a little.
The plan for this car was as you remember that it would be a “sleeper”, but that plan was changed when Emil realized the new engine would be significantly more expensive then he thought from the start. So what to do? Emil changed the plan, and ended up in the Saab-drug named “Hirsch”. He bought all the stuff Hirsch had available for the ’05 9-3, but not their software because Emil thought that it delivered way too little power.
After all the Hirsch stuff (pedals, dashboard, door handles, door sills trims, handbrake lever, spoiler and exhaust) Emil rebuilt the 150W stereo to the 300W navi system, changed to TurboX brakes, changed from a 5 speed to a 6 speed gearbox with Sellholmsdiff, 570++nm clutch, new intercooler, new shock absorbers and lowering kit, 2008 style trunk, TurboX leather interior, 19″ three-spoke Hirsch alloys and to top it – new paint. We can at least say this derailed a bit, the effect ended up at 290hp and 460nm (ethanol) and 280hp and 450nm (petrol). The turbo wasn’t able to charge more, but if you ask me Emil got himself a nice daily driver!
But Emil wanted more, and one of his buddies who work with engine tuning thought he should continue his work on the new engine as first planed. He promised to give Emil tips and advices, and on top of that very good prices on the parts he needed. Emil says that it wasn’t hard to convince him to do this, so autumn 2011 Emil started to prepare the cylinder head. The first ting to do was porting the intake and exhaust channels, this not a easy job to do and it took its time, but after many hours it was quite okay. Heavier valve springs was mounted for gaining some extra rpms, and new valve seats and grinding the valves to get the top complete tight was done, finally there was mounted sharper camshafts from the US to get more air into the combustion spaces.
The next thing to do was to take a look at the new 2.2 litre crankshaft that needed a little modification. A lot of measurements were done, and Emil concluded that a standard trigger disc from a Saab 2 litre crankshaft would fit. So the integrated trigger disc on the 2.2 crankshaft was turned down, then was the Saab trigger disc was turned to correct inner diameter. After this the original crankshaft was mounted back to the engine block so Emil could get the right coordinates for the holes in the crankshaft where the trigger disc was mounted on the original 2-litre crankshaft. The position for the trigger disc is very important if the ignition shall be right, everything is a matter of a few degrees here or there. If the trigger disc goes wrong it would in worst case mean meltdown in the engine. Of course will the ignition etc. will be mapped, but it will be much easier if everything is right from the beginning. When this was done it was time for mounting back the aftermarket crankshaft, and drill the critical holes, then phase and thread them. Since Emil had removed some material from one side of the crankshaft the next step was to balance the crankshaft, this meant there was a lot of girding and trimming on the crankshaft to do, and from time to time it is necessary to balance it to check the progress. After done this several times it was time for the final assembly of the trigger disc and balance it one last time, the result was great!
Now that the crankshaft was ready, the next step was to continue with the bottom part of the engine. The block of the Ecotec-engine is made of aluminium, and have thin cylinder lines made from steel in the block. These liners is not very stable, and they will not cope with more then about 500Nm in the lower rpm range. Emils plan was to get more power then he had in his red 9000, so to use a original block was not a option. After some research Emil found out what modifications that was needed to be done if the block should handle at least 750Nm. The solution was to buy complete cylinder liners from the US brand Darton. Emil asked a friend who works with racing engines if they had a chance to help him change the liners since they often do this on the racing engines. Luckily this was no problem, so a order for Darton cylinder liners was done.
But there was more to do with the bottom part, original pistons and connecting rods wouldn’t cope with the power output Emil had planned. A way to go had been to order everything brand new, but Emils economy didn’t allow to use 25 000 SEK (~US$ 3000) on this. The solution was to use second hand connecting rods, after some searching Emil and his friend from the engine shop found a few rods that might fit. Calculations on the compression height etc. was done, and the conclusion was that it would work if the width was cutted about 0.3mm because the rod was too wide to fit the crankshaft. That was nothing to think about, so tools for clamp the rods so the grinding could be done was made and finally the rods was weighted to avoid unbalance in the engine. They also tried to find second hand pistons, but that were extremely difficult because the connecting rods where so long. The solution for the pistons was to draw up how the pistons needed to look like and order them from Ultra Motors. They ordered them from the US-based JE Pistons, the pistons was a bit special since it would work with the compression and the connecting rods.
After a few months break it was time to continue the work, this time the cylinder liners had arrived and it was time to change them. Emil got help to program the NC machine for cutting out the old cylinder liners. Then Emil levelled the block and the new liners where mounted with thin o-rings to seal between water and oil. To get the right pressure on the liners when the cylinder-head is mounted the liners was levelled to a specific measure, and the last ting that was needed to do was to get the right inner diameter for the liners, this was done in a honing machine for cylinders. The result was great, and at this stage the engine was almost complete and ready to mount it in the 9-3.
There will be some more parts in the story about Emils 9-3, in the next part the project takes an unexpected change…