Upgrading a 1998-2002 Saab 9-3: part 4 (ECU and final words)

This 4-part series was originally posted at Trollhattan Saab in January 2009. I’ve reprinted here to make up part of the SU Tuning Guide, which I’ll put a link to in the sidebar.
In earlier instalments we covered the following:
Part 1 – the 9-3 and some of it’s deficiencies, and the Viggen Rescue Kit
Part 2 – suspension mods so you can control the power
Part 3 – intake and exhaust
Now, in this final instalment, I’ll look at getting the big power boost via ECU.
I’ve also included a number of links to the various tuning and parts companies that have been mentioned throughout this series.
Software = grunt!
And so we end up at the place where a lot of people start – the engine control unit, or ECU.
Saab 9-3 Viggens and Aeros use Saab’s own engine management software – Trionic7. Like all manufacturers, they set their engine software to the lowest common demoninator. They have to assume that the owner is going to follow the recommended oil change schedule rather than more frequent changes. They have to assume that the owner is going to buy a cheaper grade of fuel.
In short, the car is set up for Joe Average, but is capable of a lot more – and this is where tuning software comes in.
Tuning software does all sorts of magic tricks with fuel delivery, timing changes and all sort of other things (see, I’m technical, huh?) to get the most out of your engine hardware. It’s not uncommon to take a basic Saab turbocharged engine putting out 150hp, apply some software changes and get 50+ horsepower extra with an even bigger boost in torque.
Higher output engines don’t neccessarily such a great proportional increase, but appropriate hardware and software combined can easily result in 300hp-plus outputs (at which point you’ve got to start considering the internals of your engine).
bsrppcThe simplest software solution is without doubt the PPC software solution from BSR. The BSR unit connects with your engine management system via a cord plugged into a jack down under your steering wheel. The new tuning information is stored on the PPC unit and transfers to your vehicle’s computer, replacing the original factory tune. The original tuning information is stored on the PPC and you can revert to the factory tuning at any time – and go back and forth between tunes as you please.
BSR also post updates from time to time and these are downloadable via the web and free to PPC owners.
Other ECU tuning options are available from companies such as Nordic, Maptun, Abbott, Speedparts and others. These generally involve the owner having to swap their ECU for a tuned ECU. Getting an ECU in and out of a 9-3 isn’t a difficult process (see “Installation…”), but it’s not as convenient as the plug-n-play option like that from BSR.
Most of these tuning houses sell tuning options in stages.
Stage One will generally be software only and it goes up from there. Stage Three will often include an exhaust system and air filter. Higher stages will include fuel pressure regulator and bigger injectors. The options are endless.
All of these assume, however, that you’ve got those suspension and handling options sorted first.
Finally, a word of caution….
Saabs can be tuned up to be absolutely monstrous four cylinder vehicles, but it’s going to cost money, and you’ve got to make sure you do it in a balanced way. When you crank these things up you increase the stress on many components so you’ve got to be careful and be prepared for adverse consequences should they arise.
And always ensure that your engine is running well at stock configuration before you consider doing serious upgrades.
Tuner links:
Elkparts – UK (and much appreciated site sponsor)
Abbott Racing – UK
Genuine Saab (Taliaferro) – USA
Speedparts – Sweden
Nordic – Sweden
Maptun – Sweden
Jak Stoll – USA
BSR – Sweden

Monte Carlo mods (almost) complete – feels like a new car!!

I picked up my Saab 9-3 Monte Carlo today, having had a fair chunk of work completed on it. All I can say is WOW! It really does feel tighter and quicker than what I’d dared to hope.
I’m sorry about the crappy quality of the photos, but it’s still getting dark quite early here. Here’s my favourite one from tonight:
Click to enlarge and you’ll see my new badge on the back there. That’s a genuine Hirsch badge to go with the new Hirsch ECU in the car.
Finally, the Monte’s got the sort of power and pull I’d hoped for. It really is a huge difference when you drop the right foot, but remains totally driveable the rest of the time. I am so freaking pleased with this upgrade. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a tweaked ECU and I can wholeheartedly recommend it.
The power seems to come on instantly; it never gets tired and always feels strong. I’m really not sure how they do that, but prior to this changeover, the car felt short of breath after around 4,000 rpm.
It feels totally controllable now, too. I had a steering rack clamp and brace that I got from Parts for Saabs fitted to the car and it’s working a treat. I was a little worried about getting a non-Abbott unit but with all due respect to the original creators of this little masterpiece, it’s hard to justfy the extra cost (this one cost me $199 delivered vs $510 for the Abbott unit a few years ago).
It’s a little hard to see, but the blue bit is the clamp in the following photo.
The car also got a basic service, a quick adjustment to tighten the door when shut (very easy – should have done it myself) but the final difference maker was the fitment of new Viggen dampers and springs all round.
These were sourced from Saab Australia and have really sorted out the ride. The dampers on the car when I bought it were probably the original units it was made with. They were tired and creaky and the car tended to roll a fair bit as a result.
It’s a fantastic improvement and feels much firmer now, though it could still probably benefit from a better anti-roll bar on the rear.
It’s looking alright and now it’s driving much better as well.
I’ve still got three or four things left to do. I’ll be on the Elkparts website later on (done!) for a new intake and a badge for the front. A new better-breathing exhaust is on the agenda as well. And finally, I’ve got a feeling that I’m just going to have to change those front and rear bumpers for the deeper Aero versions.
Yes, I’m Viggenising, and I’m loving it!!

Snaps from the Midnight Sun Rally

Once again, Jörgen T has sent in a few snaps from the Midnight Sun Rally, which is just getting underway in Sweden.
After rollicking around the surrounding forests, they’ll be taking a stop in Trollhattan Friday night as part of the rally, and as part of the Saab days celebrations.
He also left the following in comments:

First race day excellent. Lots of tuned 2 strokers and V4 Saabs.
The ambience and the social activities are great. Sat Next to Carl-Magnus Skogh – ex Saab works driver – now 84 years young. He told the most amazing stories. Like when he was trying to kill a 2 stroker engine on public roads…..
All of you who love Saabs must get out in the woods tomorrow or go to Trollhättan. It is going to be a blast. I will do My best to harness My 1850cc V4 montecarlo.

Some more pics with Jörgen’s comments.
The famous Saab driving brothers Skogh at the dinner. Carl Magnus is 84 years young.
Mäster Stig Blomquist after the first run tonight in his Ford. I wish he was in a Saab. There are at least 2 replicas of his 71 RAC car in the rally.

Friday Snippets – blood boiling edition

My Monte’s in day 2 of its re-birth.
The Hirsch ECU, wastegate, PFS steering rack clamp and brace, and a basic service were all done yesterday. Today will see the new dampers and springs go in.
Can’t wait!
Full report this evening.
A little milestone.
Trollhattan Saab was active for four years and in that time, attracted just over 50,000 comments.
Saabs United has been going for around six months and some time earlier this week, we saw comment number 15,000.
Going well, yes?
GM’s Bob Lutz has proven within a week why he should have stayed retired.
He’s had a good run and is rightfully respected for many of the things he’s done, but a man’s got to know his limitations.
OK. To the blood boiling stuff.
I’m now convinced that JD Power are in the business of creating new surveys just so they can keep their heads in the automotive news. Hot on the heels of the bogus Initial Quality Study (which rates people’s quality perceptions in the firs 90 days of ownership) comes the APEAL study.
APEAL stands for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout and it measures how satisfied new owners are with their vehicles after the first three months of ownership, with questions regarding more than 90 attributes.
Sounds like the IQS with a different, more acronym-friendly name, no?
Once again, Saab rated relatively poorly. So at least JDP are consistent in their crapness.
Consumer Reports are warning off people from buying Saabs, Saturns and Hummers due to the uncertainty surround the future of these brands.
I don’t mind their points about dealership uncertainty, as that’s got some truth in it.
But then they state that they expect warranties etc to be honored by new owners, they state that the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 qualify as recommended picks according to their own criteria, and yet they still warn people off them.

The bottom line is that there are significant unknowns that add risks to buying what are in most cases mediocre vehicles. If your heart is set on purchasing from these brands and you are looking from a great deal, I suggest you wait a few months to see how the ownership situation shakes out.

Given that they’re a subscription service, I’d prefer it if they password protected their info so it didn’t infect those people who like to think for themselves.
The 9-3 and 9-5 are both, still, excellent vehicles. If you liked the current 9-5 then I don’t see one reason at all why you wouldn’t go and snap up what will be last of an excellent range at a bargain price.
Are they the absolute best in class? Statistically speaking, no. But then neither was my 1999 Saab 9-3 in it’s time but I think it’s absolutely fantastic fun.
Bloody lemmings.
Saab dealers have also copped a slap, with some bunch called Pied Piper releasing a dealer survey that ranks them poorly.
Again, this is US based and therefore, perhaps a little more understandable. I know there’s some outstanding US Saab dealers out there and I hear from many of those guys on a regular basis.
But there’s some who are pretty sloppy as well.
The dealership and distribution issue is going to be one of Koenigsegg’s big hurdles in the next few years.
And to finish on a happier note, I got this in my inbox from one of our regular readers here, Kurt K:

After an absence due to an errant purchase of a 2006 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works which replaced my ’07 9-5 Combi 60th Anniversary Edition after the lease ended, I traded Mini in on a Nocturne Blue/Parchment 2009 9-3 Aero automatic which was executive car from my friends at Reinertsen Motors in Denville, New Jersey, with whom I have been dealing for 29 years. They are simply the best – their reputation is well earned around my parts.
I have owned probably close to 20 Saabs, but this is my first Saab V6 and first automatic – it was a deal I couldn’t refuse and it is just simply elegant. The lack of space in the Mini combined with the tightly wound nature of the car was just too much for a commuter car. It is good to be back.

And it’s good to have you back!

Saabs gathering – UK

This selection of Saabs got together at the Preston Bissett village fete in the UK. It wasn’t a Saab show of any type, rather it was more of a vintage car show. There were plenty of Saabs to be seen, though.
The show was held on the village cricket ground, so I assume there were some Australian cars on the sidelines waiting to run rings around those in attendance 🙂
The ground adjoins the home of one of Saab GB’s former employees, who’s now become the guru for all two-stroke owners in the UK.
A couple of Saab 93s in attendance, including one with suicide doors.
The interior of the green Saab 93. This two-stroke Saab is a possible entrant for the LeMans oldtimers event next year.
Saab 96 done up for competition.
A young whippersnapper Saab 99. This car belongs to Dave R, who sent the photos in to me. It’s a car I had the pleasure of driving in Sweden back in 2007.

Read moreSaabs gathering – UK

TTELA look to Russia for Saab backing

I’ve mentioned it here once or twice already, now TTELA are following up the Russian connection with the Koenigsegg Group, which is looking to buy Saab.
In truth, it’s actually a Russian/American connection and the man they’re focusing on isn’t listed as an owner in the new Koenigsegg Group, but he’s the Chairman of that group and seemingly, he’s the guy who’s bringing the powerful connections.
His name is Augie Fabela.
TTELA cite him as one of the main players in this group due to the makeup of the other players involved.
Fabela is US born and educated, but after a stint working in Japan in his 20s, he formed a telecommunications compant called Vimpelcom in the early 1990s. That company went on to be the first Russian company listed on the New York Stock exchange.
Also involved in the operations is a US lawyer named Melissa Schwartz. She is from the Washington law firm called Akin, Gamp, Strauss, Hower & Feld and has been named as the deputy Chair of the Koenigsegg Group board. Previously, with Vimpelcom, she had the brief to “help restructure the company into an efficient organisation and attract capital” (is she to be the one they’d call the toecutter here in Australia??)
The other person in the current Saab affair with clear links to Fabela is the legal adviser L Pranav Trivedi. As with Schwartz and Fabela, he has built his career in the Russian market. He was also an advisor to Vimpelcom when they bought the company, Golden Telecom, a multi-billion dollar business.
There were a lot of questions about Koenigsegg’s ability to finance the Saab deal given their small size.
This article from TTELA once again reinforces that there are players in the background aside from the talent out front.
Saab have been quite adamant about stating that Koenigsegg have plenty of financial resources available and it definitely looks like a lot of that money is coming from the east. Let’s hope there aren’t too many strings attached.

Saab Sensonic

I received an email from Johannes, who’s considering the purchase of this 1996 Saab 900 with a Sensonic gearbox.
There’s not many things I’ve haven’t at least heard of when it comes to Saab stuff, but this Sensonic thing was something new to me. A quick googling shows me that it’s an automated electronic clutch arrangement.

The manual style gearstick remained but there was no clutch pedal – the clutch being controlled by electronics when each gearchange was made.

So there you go.
Johannes asks:

It has 190,000 km on the meter but it looked quite nice and I am quite sure that I can get it cheaper then the 19,900 SEK they are asking for. Could you please help me to ask more people at SU what they think about the Sensonic gearbox?

Obviously, given that this was the first I’ve heard of suh an arrangement, I have no advice to give.
But maybe some of you do. If so, comments are open.
What’s it like to use?
Is it reliable? Enjoyable?
Your experience would be appreciated.
FYI – a little more Googling found this review of the system:

Saab now offer their 900 turbo model with a new system which they call the Sensonic clutch. The idea isn’t unique of course – the closest relative is Volkswagen’s Golf Ecomatic diesel with a an orthodox gearshift but only two pedals, and there are more distant (and more expensive) members of the family available from Porsche, Audi and Honda. Saab’s version supplies you with the same five forward gears and reverse the standard model would, and allows you to change up or down whenever you feel it’s appropriate, but it does the clutch legwork via a microprocessor that senses the instant you begin to move the gearshift.
It’s the most successful solution to combining a gearstick arrangement that keen drivers continue to like, with the sense of control over the vehicle in all conditions that doesn’t oblige you to suffer cramps in your left leg in the rush hour. You can’t stall, you can still downchange quickly for snap acceleration, there’s less clutch-wear and you don’t have to perform that delicate seesawing act with the pedals on hillstarts, but above all it brings to heavy traffic driving much of the relaxation usually associated with an automatic.
Does it have any drawbacks? A few minor ones in the the mechanism itself, possibly more major ones in terms of the chassis it’s fitted to. Since you’re controlling low speed manoeuvring with the throttle pedal only, you need to develop a feathery touch with the right foot to stop the vehicle from doing a kangaroo hop – particularly noticeable while reversing.
Automatics require a similar delicacy, but because they creep slightly once the parking brake’s released, this built-in movement can be used to assist control – with the Sensonic, nothing happens until you hit the gas. Though you get used to it, a little more electronic tweaking would help. The other irritant is the audible and visual display that fussily lectures you about engaging a gear if you try to cheat by performing the last stages of parking in neutral, or if you don’t shift a gear when the computer thinks it’s time.

Saabs Gathering – Portugal

Another post – another record of Saab owners gathering together and sharing a good afternoon’s Saabing.
This meet actually took place a little while ago, back in May, in Portugal. They had around 25 cars and 50 people in attendance, which is apparently quite remarkable. Saabs are pretty expensive in Portugal, so there’s a real barrier to sales, meaning fewer second hand Saabs as well.
Te following images were sent in by José G, one of the co-founders of the Saab Club in Portugal.
An overview of the more moden Saabs in attendance….
This Saab 96 had been fully restored and apparently was quite magnificent.
This green one is still undergoing some work
This silver T16 brought a tear to my eye…..
Unfortunately, José had some problems on the 300km drive home. A stuffed head gasket that was recycled by the former owner of his car led to some dematerialising of the piston.
Well done to you Portugese Saabers on your efforts!

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