Home » Classics For The Mechanically Inclined: 1983 Saab 900 vs 1987 Mitsubishi Montero

Classics For The Mechanically Inclined: 1983 Saab 900 vs 1987 Mitsubishi Montero

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Good morning! We’re back with a couple of clean ’80s cars that both need a little wrench-turning before they’re ready to roll. But we’ll get to those soon; first we need to finish up with Friday’s time capsules:

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Easy win for the Dodge, as I knew it had to be. Even if the prices were more on par, that would be my choice. Economy hatchbacks with automatics are just sort of pathetic; economy convertibles with automatics are at least convertibles.

Both of Friday’s choices were ready to drive off, but for either of today’s cars, you’d need to call a tow truck to get them home. Once you get it there, crack open the toolbox, order up some parts, and be ready to devote a Saturday or two to it. Only then will you be ready for the barrage of “wow, haven’t seen one of those in a while” comments at car gatherings. Which one is worth the effort? Let’s take a look and see.

1983 Saab 900 – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Gurnee, IL

Odometer reading: 86,000 miles

Runs/drives? Nope, turns over but won’t start

The Saab 900 is a car that challenges conventional wisdom about what a car should be, such as “Which direction should the engine face?” and “Where does the ignition key go?”. But for all their weirdness, there’s no denying that Saab’s way of doing things works, if you approach the car on its own terms. It’s just too bad there ultimately wasn’t a place in the market for such weirdness.

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But even an oddball car like a Saab 900 requires the same things to run as any other car: air, fuel, compression, and spark. This 900 is currently lacking one of them, and the seller suspects fuel. It’s being sold by a dealership that seems to specialize in oddball project cars; if you’re feeling brave, check out another one of their listings that I decided not to use. Places like this often won’t spend much time getting to the bottom of a car’s problems; instead they just slap a price on the windshield and hope for the best.

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Even in its non-running state, this Saab is a nice car. Its interior is spotless, and its russet-colored paint looks nice and shiny. With only 86,000 miles on the odometer, it’s about as close to a new 40-year-old Saab as you’re going to get. The automatic is a bit of a letdown. I don’t know how hard an automatic-to-manual swap is in these, but it might be worth looking into, especially if you know of a wrecked or rusty stickshift 900 somewhere.

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Personally, I’d rather have a hatchback 900 than this sedan with a normal trunk, but it’s still a handsome car, in that gawky ’80s Saab sort of way.

1987 Mitsubishi Montero – $3,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, part-time 4WD

Location: Charlotte, NC

Odometer reading: 167,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Nope, blown head gasket

Mitsubishi’s charming, boxy little SUV was known as the Pajero in the rest of the world, named after a South American wildcat. Mitsubishi’s marketing department didn’t do their homework, however; “pajero” refers to something besides a cat in Spanish slang. In Spanish- or partly Spanish-speaking countries, therefore, this truck is known as the Montero. It was also briefly sold by Dodge dealerships in the US as the Raider.

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Short-wheelbase two-door SUVs like this are almost gone from the US market, and that’s a shame. Yeah, I know, they roll over more easily, they aren’t safe in crashes, blah blah blah. They look so cool, though. And as our off-road-loving editor in chief will tell you, shorter vehicles have better angles. The Montero lacks one ingredient in the off-roading recipe – a solid front axle – but its off-road chops are hardly in question after a dozen Dakar wins.

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Sadly, this particular Montero isn’t ready for off-road adventures. Or on-road ones, for that matter. Its 2.6 liter four has a blown head gasket, which will have to be replaced, and the underlying issue that caused it to fail will need to be addressed as well. Usually that means overheating, so the entire cooling system should be checked out. The seller says it was running well before the head gasket went, so with a little luck, repairs should be straightforward.

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The rest of this little 4×4 looks solid, and these are already starting to gain some collector cred, so it’s worth doing the mechanical work to put this one back on the road.

With the prices of classic and collector cars climbing all the time, the thrifty way to get in on the fun is to find a car that needs some mechanical work, and be willing to do it yourself. Nobody wants to deal with rust repair, or upholstery, but the oily bits are relatively easy to deal with. So which of these are you willing to take on: the Swedish sedan with the fuel-delivery problem, or the Japanese SUV that lost its cool?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago

*Manual* Montero, at that! That one looks fun.

David Escargot
David Escargot
9 months ago

Drop a 4d56t in the Montero and it’d go a long way in a long time… or get one out of a Hyundai Imax/Iload van and go a slightly shorter distance a heck of a lot quicker

FleetwoodBro
FleetwoodBro
9 months ago

This isn’t a slam on the Saab, because I do love their desire to be different and the seats are darn comfortable, but I’ll type something I wish someone had told me years ago. Beware of cars with Bosch K Jetronic fuel injection that haven’t run in a while. They will never EVER work like you want without replacing/rebuilding the entire fuel system from the gas cap to the fuel injectors. Why? Because the fuel distributor and the warm up regulator are contaminated with varnish and rust from old gas, and all downstream and upstream hoses, injectors, filters, tanks, accumulators, and pumps suffer from the same issue. The FD and WUR will require rebuilding. They are complex thingamajigs that only a few old guys know how to fettle correctly, and even fewer old guys know how to calibrate them once they’re rebuilt and in the car. BUT WAIT! Don’t start the car, which you will need to do if you want to tune these devices from hell, if you haven’t replaced all the upstream components.You’re just going to put more crap into the FD and the WUR and then you’re back to square one. Make sure everything that touches gasoline, especially the gas tank, is surgically clean and preferable new. Then and only then can you start the car and figure out how to make it run right. I have confidence in the readers of this site, but you will not figure it out. You will have to take it to Hans or Dieter who is tired and angry from having to chase down vacuum leaks in ’70s Mercedes door locks. He will not want the job. You’ll have to beg and make up a story that the car is the only remaining memory of your grandfather. He will relent and charge you a fortune. It will run when he’s done, but with a lumpy idle that no one will ever fix.

B5+R107 Yes I hate myself
B5+R107 Yes I hate myself
9 months ago
Reply to  FleetwoodBro

First comment I’ve seen on the internet that accurately describes my 380SL ownership. Made an account just to say THIS ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago

Yeah but the r107 is the most beautiful car ever made, so even if it’s not running, it looks pretty in your driveway.

Don’t ask how I know.

86-GL
86-GL
9 months ago
Reply to  FleetwoodBro

Hilarious and totally accurate, but for those ever considering picking up a K-Jet car, don’t be scared.

If the car has been reasonably well maintained, starts from cold, runs and idles, it should continue to do so for the foreseeable future. K jet is really neat kit as long as you don’t fuck with it.

For those not in the know, K jet is basically a Rube Goldberg
-inspired clockwork carburetor, delivering fuel continuously to multiple intake ports. It meters fuel mechanically with an air flap, and tunes for different conditions with a variety of temperature sensitive bi-metallic springs. It’s brilliant mechanical engineering, and built to last.

I drove a beat up ‘76 Volvo 242 with K Jet for a few years, and the fuel system was rock solid. It started and ran like a modern car from -30°c Canadian winters to 30°c summers. Real world power and fuel economy was basically identical to “modern” electronic programmed fuel injection systems on the same engines.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
9 months ago

I’m always looking for a trail beater, so the Pajero. Then again, that’s clean enough I would consider driving it to work a couple days a week.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
9 months ago

That SAAB is handsome in a way only SAABs can be, but I voted for the Montero because I have fond memories of tooling around in one years ago.

As for the P1800 you wisely overlooked… yikes.

Last edited 9 months ago by Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Myk El
Myk El
9 months ago

If I had the skills and time for the repairs on the Montero, where I live I could flip that for a tidy profit. That’s really my only reasoning for voting Mitsubishi.

Ricki
Ricki
9 months ago

SAAB for me. “Blown head gasket” is a phrase that is usually a no-go for me. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that I don’t want to.

Is Travis
Is Travis
9 months ago

SWB Monteros are effing fantastic, find a mitsu 3000 V6 and slap it in there instead of the anemic 4 banger.

86-GL
86-GL
9 months ago

Not really my thing typically, but I voted Montero. I’m sure it needs a bit of work, but it would make a fun and attainable mild off-roader, camping, weekend adventure machine. (Overlanding, ugh.)

I find the SAAB to be very pretty, but owning grandpa-spec classics can be a bit of a burden. Without the pretences of utility or sportiness, you’re left with basically a fashionable Sunday cruiser. Like anything purely nostalgic, it’s best experienced in small doses- at which point, why bother owning it?

Last edited 9 months ago by 86-GL
FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
9 months ago

I agree that this is the least desirable 900, but it’s in rather nice shape, especially for being in the Rust Belt. I like the color, too.

The Montero seems a bit dear, without knowing how long it was run with a blown head gasket. As others have mentioned, I’d lowball the seller if I was going that route.

I’d rather end up with the Montero, but assuming the Saab’s nearly as clean underneath, it’d be my choice to fix up and try to flip.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
9 months ago

The 2-door Montero/Raider always reminded me of the O.G. Bronco; short wheel base, boxy, kinda scrappy looking. Wonder how hard it would be to throw a 302 in there. Hmmm……

David Escargot
David Escargot
9 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

I know of one with an ls1 in it so it couldn’t be the most difficult thing

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

Worst version of the 900, so Montero all the way!

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
9 months ago

I bought a raider in the same condition years ago. You don’t want that evil. Crappy carb, yards of vacuum lines, and even when you get it back together it’s a gutless terrible engine.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
9 months ago

Tough choice today, both seem like fun. I guess it comes down to how the oil looks in the Pajero. Not knowing that, I voted SAAB.

Gubbin
Gubbin
9 months ago

Bustid Montero, but I’m lowballing because I know what you got. Replace that head gasket (and oil pump) and ride it down Old Town Road.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

Normally, the 900 would be my choice having driven one for 30 years, but this one is the worst configuration – 4-door sedan auto trans, no turbo, likely 8-valve instead of 16 – so I pass. The Montero looks to be the more interesting project car, today.

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