The market remained depressed for the auto industry in the western world. During 1981 car sales decreased in both Europe and North America. For Saab, however, the trend was in the opposite direction. Sales were increasing and the supplies were dwindling to the extent that production had to be boosted. The pace couldn't be turned up just like that, though, and it wasn't until the end of the year that output started upward. The total for 1981 was only about 1,000 units over the year before. Of 53,000 Saab 900s made during the year, 19,400, or 36.6 percent, were Turbos. Sales rose so fast that by August 1981 more Turbos had been sold than during all of 1980.
The 1981 production included 37,800 Saabs of the 1982 model. But let's look at the 1981 model year instead. First a note: By the end of 1980 Saab decided to close its competition department, and officially end active factory participation in international rallies and similar events.
The golden metallic four-door Saab 900 Turbo that graced the main platform at the Geneva Auto Show in March 1980 showed that Saab now had a conventional sedan body to include in the 900 range. And in the 1981 model line-up it was the major news. It replaced the five-door model in the GLE line, and was also included in both GL and Turbo line-ups. Totally there were now eight 900 versions. But in some areas only parts of the list were marketed. In USA and Canada it was felt that three- and four-door types would be enough (99s were also discontinued there). In those markets the EMS and GLE types were included in a new series 900S. And GL was simply called 900.
At the 1981 Auto Show in Amsterdam, Holland, the 900 CD was on display, a four-door turbo sedan lengthened 200 mm (8 in.), built in Finland and designed as an executive limousine. (Earlier a number of stretched 99s called "Finlandia" had been built in Uusikaupunki.)
Things were also happening on the engine side. News item Number 2 for 1981 was the H-type engine in all 900 models. The new construction was lighter, more economical and easier to service. Water pump, oil pump, alternator, distributor and other auxiliaries were driven directly off the engine instead of by an auxiliary shaft. Compression was increased, but not the requirements for fuel quality.
The Turbo series included three models: 3-, 4- and 5-doors. Most sporty was the 3-door.
The base version of Saab 99 was a two-door sedan with 100 hp engine. A special kerosene driven power plant was available in Finland. A series of 1600 2- and 4-door models with fuel injection was built for Scandinavia.
Functional and good for many uses: GLs 5-door sedan, with four-speed manual or automatic. Sunroof was optional.
GLE was the most elegant model and the first to get the new four-door body style, which became Saab's most popular in 1981 (GL, GLE, Turbo).
Some other 99/900 news: plush upholstery in all GL models, seat belts with metal insert locking, redesigned and more comfortable rear seat, inside controls for outside rear-view mirrors (- electrically operated on some models), power windows on some 4- and 5-door variants, larger trunk space thanks to the moved spare wheel, new front axle design, new steering wheel, re-engineered automatic transmission, wider side moldings and larger fuel tank on 900, altered gear ratios in some transmissions, front air dam and black door handles on Turbo models, revised tire and wheel program ... This list is far from complete.
The color program included 14 colors, but only 11 or 12 were available at the same time. Alabaster Yellow, Midnight Blue, Dorado Brown and Black remained from 1980, while Cirrus White, Cameo Beige and Terracotta were new. The metallics came in two stages. First Carmine, Anthracite Grey and newcomers Pine Green and Indigo Blue. Around the first of the year two-coat painting was started and the two older colors made way for all new Silver, Ruby Red and Walnut Brown.