Still, the car press was lyrical. “It is a shock to all of us to discover that safe, healthy and snow-resistant Saab has now bought a model that gets rubber for second gear,” wrote Patrick Bedard in Car and Driver. “Who knows? Maybe the law of gravity will be abolished after this.”
In 1982, Saab’s turbos added its groundbreaking Automatic Performance Control, a microphone that listened to the engine’s 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 Saab USA company forced a stripped-down two-door sedan. mr. Sinclair needed upgrades such as cast wheels, a premium sound system and leather upholstery.
“I got to the end of the list,” he recalled in that 2006 interview, “and said, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s another item.’ ‘What is that?’ ‘A convertible top.’”
The convertible, one of the few available, hit showrooms in 1986. With America still feeling the effects of the oil crisis of the 1970s, a convertible with a punchy, frugal turbo engine was a huge success. A quarter of a million Saab convertibles were sold in 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 so. “A man I knew who worked in Saab parts said he sold more turbo badges than cars,” said Mr. Smart.
When technical and image problems were solved, the turbos crawled back. By the mid-1980s, they could be found on a Volvo car, the Porsche 944, the Ford Mustang SVO, the Datsun 280ZX, the Dodge Daytona Shelby Z, and Chrysler’s LeBaron GTS.