Nevertheless, the automotive press raved. “It comes as something of a shock to all of us to discover that safe, sane, snow-proof Saab now has fetched up a model that’ll get second-gear rubber,” Patrick Bedard wrote in Car and Driver. “Who knows? Maybe the law of gravity will be repealed next.”
In 1982, Saab’s turbos added its breakthrough Automatic Performance Control, a microphone that listened to engine combustion and made adjustments on the fly. The engine became functional, reliable and economical. The word turbo became synonymous with Saab.
But Saab’s crowning achievement came in 1983, when the company forced a stripped two-door notchback on Saab USA. Mr. Sinclair required upgrades like cast wheels, a premium sound system and leather upholstery.
“I got down to the end of the list,” he recalled in that 2006 interview, “and said, ‘Oh, yes, there’s one more item.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘A convertible top.’”
The convertible, one of few available, hit showrooms in 1986. With America still feeling the effects of the 1970s oil crisis, a convertible with a peppy, fuel-efficient turbo engine was a smash hit. A quarter of a million Saab convertibles were sold over 20 years.
The Saab made the turbo more than acceptable; it was prestigious. Owners who didn’t have a turbo on their Saab wanted people to think they did. “A guy I knew who worked in Saab parts said he sold more turbo badges than cars,” Mr. Smart said.
With technical and image problems quashed, turbos crept back. By the mid-1980s they could be found on a Volvo wagon, the Porsche 944, the Ford Mustang SVO, the Datsun 280ZX, the Dodge Daytona Shelby Z and Chrysler’s LeBaron GTS.