This is how you make a Saab 9-3 2.0T go “BWAAAHHHH!”
It was early 2013 and recently acquired Christmas funds were burning a hole in my pocket. The next modification on my list: a 3″ turboback exhaust.
I started researching across the limited aftermarket performance Saab vendors, and I quickly realized that these exhausts were a bit more money than I wanted to spend. After asking around for cheaper recommendations, a fellow Saab enthusiast who was local to me reached out on social media, offering a custom cat-back for a very reasonable price. We set a date for early March, and I distinctly remember being far more excited for that exhaust than my 21st birthday, which was just a few days earlier.
For those who don’t know, most trims of the 9-3SS have a stock muffler that exits toward the ground, and therefore, do not have a cutout in the rear bumper cover for a typical aftermarket rear-exit muffler. So, there were only two options at that point:
1. Find a rear bumper cover with the proper cutout from a different trim (i.e. Aero) and paint match as needed.
2. Cut out your existing bumper cover with a dremel tool using the template that Saab was nice enough to provide for you.
I chose the latter. This method only takes about a half hour to perform and is very straight-forward. I’ve outlined the process below:
1. Locate the outline of where the cutout in the bumper cover should be by crawling underneath the driver’s side rear and looking at the inner bumper cover.
2. Grab your dremel, install an abrasive cutoff disc, and follow the traced line.
3. Once the cut is made, smooth down the surface with some light sanding.
4. To really finish off the project, run to your local automotive store and pick up some car door edge trim. This is meant to slide over the end of your door to protect your paint, but it’s also a great way to cover that raw edge on your bumper cover.
The method we followed to make the custom exhaust was pretty straight forward as well.
1. Buy an assortment of 3″ exhaust piping. Some straight, some mandrel bends.
2. Remove the stock catback.
3. Overlay the closest fit pipe on the stock catback, cutting and modifying as needed.
5. Test fit.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until complete.
7.Paint to protect from rust (unless you choose to use stainless steel).
To limit unnecessary weight I chose to use a small, in-line resonator, but opted to not install a muffler. The opportunity cost exposed itself as a more noticeable drone at highway cruising speeds, but I personally didn’t think it was unbearable by any means. Once we finished up the exhaust we couldn’t help but have a small photoshoot.
That summer I decided that I would part with my acoustic drum set since I couldn’t take it to my college townhouse that fall. I had every intention to use that money for an electric drum set that I could play without disturbing my roommates or neighbors, but before long I decided I was willing to make a temporary sacrifice in order to help get my new automotive passion off the ground.
It was a few weeks before I left for college, which meant leaving my stepdad’s knowledge and tool collection. I decided to finish my full exhaust upgrade with a 3 inch, no-name downpipe in August of 2013. This was the next logical step to getting my 9-3 prepared for its tune, which I had planned for the following spring. The overall project is straight-forward so I won’t go into great detail, but I will offer some tips to help you avoid some of the pitfalls I ran into.
- Before attempting to remove the stock downpipe, check to see that you have the proper tools handy. I had to purchase a set of stubby box wrenches so I could gain access to the rear-most nut without hitting the firewall.
- It is not uncommon to break one of these studs, as I did, so be prepared for a bigger headache than you originally signed up for. I used a 90 degree air-drill to create a through-hole and then used a bolt and nut for that stud (top bolt shown in the photo below).
- Presoak with PB Blaster, especially for those above the rust belt like myself. If resistance still exists, then a little heat should help.
- Let the car be your bench vise and attempt to crack the O2 sensors loose prior to removing the down pipe from the car. Use heat if force alone cannot break the sensors free.
- I removed the downpipe first, and without a large bench vise I could not get the O2 sensors removed. I was then forced to purchase a new set for my aftermarket downpipe.
- The no-name down pipe that I installed was short of where the OE down pipe ended so I needed about 6-8″ of exhaust piping to mate the two. If you plan to use a downpipe from a reputable Saab performance dealer you shouldn’t have this issue.
- If you decide to go with a catless downpipe, for off-road use only of course, you can use an O2 defouler for your downstream sensor or visit a GM tech 2 owner to disable your catalyst monitor fault, to avoid a constant CEL on your dashboard.
Outside of the aforementioned concerns, the physical removal and installation of the downpipe is a breeze.
The remainder of 2013 was pretty uneventful on the performance front, but I did manage to detail the car one last time to protect the paint from the harsh NEPA winter to come. I’ve included that gallery below for you procrastinators out there.
Check back in next week for some planned (and unplanned) modifications in 2014, during my pursuit of a quicker and nimbler 9-3SS.