Words: Stuart Fowle | Pics: George Achorn
On the surface, Ed Smith's '99 9-3 Viggen almost looks stock. His 18-inch BBS CH wheels make any car look brilliant, but other than a lower ride height, they're the only first-glance indicators that this lightning blue three-door might be something special. But to assume that Ed's car is just a little wheel-and-suspension job would be seriously foolish.
Just take a look at the details; you'll no doubt notice that the lower valence up front isn't quite righ t— the opening in the center has been enlarged, and behind it sits a custom monster of an intercooler. Move your eyes upward, stopping at the hood, and you'll notice a small grated vent, borrowed from an early 900 and moved from its original location, up in the back corner of the hood, to a place more useful for cooling. Maybe this isn't your typical Viggen after all.
And it isn't, as we realize when Ed pops his hood at the 2009 Carlisle Import Nationals show in central Pennsylvania. This isn't a normal Viggen at all. Ed, the vice president of the Saab Club of North America, has been working eight years on his Trollhattan toy, and it's now one of the most subtle, best executed 500-hp sleepers on the road. And that's what Ed loves about his car. He loves owning a car like the Viggen — already a limited production, rare car—that's been distilled one more time with his own handiwork to be a unique example of a special car.
Perhaps we're stating the obvious here, but the heart and soul of Ed's project is the engine, which he claims — and we believe — is among the most powerful Saabs around. This, of course, doesn't include the two Chrysler Hemi-powered beasts — a 99 and a 900 — present at the Carlisle show. As those cars prove, a little displacement never hurts a car's performance, and Ed's Viggen has been bored out from 2.3 to 2.5 liters of displacement. JE pistons fill those larger holes and Sanez connecting rods keep them from spinning out of the earth's atmosphere under full throttle.
Everything else has been upgraded, too. There's a set of T-5 cams, ARP studs, a head by HVH with 6.5mm stemmed valves from Ferrera. To keep up with the flow provided by a massive GT 3076R turbo, Ed also installed 750cc RC injectors and a high-volume Bosch fuel pump. And as we previously mentioned, the intercooler hiding behind the bumper is a custom job. After a custom tuning map by Robert Uhr at Nordic Performance was sorted out, the result of all these changes is 511 hp and 530 lb-ft of torque at the very belabored crank. A Speedparts three-inch exhaust blasts out the hydrocarbons and stray combustion screams.
Considering the stock Viggen's front tires love to roam freely under the influence of torque, Ed's next step was basically decided for him — get this thing to put that huge power down more controllably. This car's transmission was strengthened internally by Taliaferro Imports, then Ed added a Quaife limited-slip differential and a set of stronger half-shafts from a 9-5. With the power going through both front wheels as it should, Ed then turned to Abbott Racing's Viggen rescue kit for some chassis strengthening and torque-steer reduction. For those not familiar, this includes a steering rack clamp and bulkhead brace for better steering precision and decreased torque steer, polyurethane control arm bushings to prevent unwanted front wheel movement, support arm bearings for similar benefits, and a stainless steel subframe brace to minimize flex under heavy loads.
Continuing with chassis modifications, this Viggen rides on Koni adjustable shocks and lowered springs, and has an upgraded sway bar, again from Taliaferro Imports. We think the result is a near-perfect ride height for the Viggen. Sitting on those gorgeous BBS wheels and with lightning blue paint, Viggens don't get much cleaner than what you see here.
Keeping with his form-follows-function theme, Ed hardly touched his car's interior. There's a new boost gauge here, an oil pressure gauge there, but overall he was happy with the Viggen's stock interior and left it untouched, adding on only the things he thought were necessary. His brakes, too, felt satisfactory — he has upgraded just the pads, and runs Porterfield Racing RS components.
Because this car has been a project for much of its life, it's not only one of the most modified Viggens, but also a fairly low-mileage example as well with just 72,000 on the clock. The paint looks great and the leather seats are hardly worn, signs that this car has been loved.
Throughout the build process, Ed has loved the challenge of building a very special, yet very drivable high-horsepower front-driver. Some people might just brush that basic concept off as a waste of time, but Ed's quite happy with what he's accomplished. “The power and sound provide a serious sensory thrill,” he told us. “As a vintage racer of one of the original 2.0-liter Trans Am cars, I can appreciate the on-track performance of my Viggen. At the occasional track day it is quite a surprise to the odd Porsche or Ferrari driver who wonders ‘What is this?' " That, sir, would be Ed, the griffin on his hood apparently screaming at you while he rushes past at full tilt.
Ed's next plan — the cherry on top of his Viggen sundae — is a six-speed transmission swap he's been working on with Talaiferro. “That'll finish it,” he says. But he does plan on keeping the car in that form, hoping to avoid the problem many of us have of longing for the next project once the current one's done. He has too much effort, too many diamonds and roses for his understanding wife (he says explaining the car to his wife was the toughest challenge in the process, followed very distantly by the need for custom-fabricated parts) invested in this one, and doesn't want to see it go. And why would he? His car is beautiful.
Ed is grateful to everyone who helped him with the project, specifically Nick Taliaferro, Genuine Saab, and Paul Kalioski at Automotion Performance Shop in Billerica, MA. Additionally, he credits Mylon Keisler at Keisler Racing in Alcoa, TN, and Richard Barth, his favorite Saab master mechanic, for their help. And we'd like to thank Ed Smith for sharing his car with us.