SMS Premier Build: Doug Carter’s Troll R
written by Mark J. McCourt
Vision. Passion. Dedication. Determination.
These qualities are the cornerstones of any successful endeavor, and to differentiate yourself and your Saab in the greater enthusiast community, you need to embrace each one, and to find a team that shares them. You’ll find this vision, passion, dedication, and determination in the people behind Swedish Motorsports. For more than a decade, we have been deeply involved in and engaged with the Saab enthusiast community in North America and in Europe, and we’re proud of our connections to the organizations and people who embody today’s Saab spirit.
Since SMS’s founding in 2017, we have been the Saab owner’s premier source for genuine Hirsch Performance upgrades, tunes, and appearance products, as well as MapTun Performance parts and tuning upgrades. We pride ourselves on offering personalized service to our Saab clients, and have worked with numerous enthusiasts to create the cars of their dreams.
One of the first extensive build projects entrusted to Swedish Motorsports was the creation of Vermont resident Doug Carter’s 2003 9-5 Aero Sport Combi “Hirsch Troll R.”
Doug was not a newcomer to Saab when he purchased his fully loaded Arctic White 2011 9-5 Aero in 2015; he’d previously owned a 1995 9000 Aero that he dubbed “a rocketship.” Finding that end-of-the-line 9-5, which represented the ultimate iteration of Saab’s flagship sedan, inspired him to make it a true show car, the best it could be. He turned to the officially sanctioned tuning arm of Saab Cars, Hirsch Performance. Doug had his 9-5 fitted with every available Hirsch component he could source, from the aerodynamic body kit to the performance suspension, brakes, and Hirsch’s 20-inch alloy wheels. The latter were components that he purchased from Saab specialist Till Drescher at www.cardyourcar.eu in Munich, Germany, with help from Markus Lafrentz, proprietor of the Keil-based Autohaus Lafrentz.
“I was driving the Arctic Hirsch so much, piling on the miles, because it was so much fun to drive,” Doug recalls. “I decided to get another car to save that one the wear-and-tear, and I’d long admired the lines of the original 9-5 wagon. I found this Laser Red, five-speed manual 2003 Aero wagon in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and became its fourth owner. Its first two owners were in Seattle, and while it had 150,000 miles and was in an accident early in its life, it had never been driven in the snow; it was in beautiful condition, inside and out.”
Already a dedicated fan of the artistry Hirsch brought to Saab’s excellent platforms, it wasn’t long before Doug became enamored of Hirsch’s contemporary 9-5 offering of that OG era- the Troll R. As the Swiss firm later did with the NG 9-5, they’d created a subtly aggressive, aerodynamically optimized body kit that integrated flawlessly with the factory coachwork, and underpinned that with upgraded braking components, shocks and springs, and a suite of engine upgrades, the latter resulting in 305 horsepower from just 2.3-liters.
It was during a conversation where Brad and Doug discussed the collector-car potential of Saabs that the subject of the 9-5 Aero Troll R was raised. “I didn’t know what that was,” Doug says. “I got off the phone and Googled ‘Hirsch Troll R 9-5 Combi,’ and I saw this silver wagon. It took my breath away, it’s a spectacular looking car.”
“I’d found the Hirsch three-spoke, 19-inch alloys for Doug in Sweden,” Brad remembers. “They were the start of the upgrades for this car. With those wheels, he bought the Hirsch brake upgrade. There was debate on which way to go with the brakes, because for authenticity, he should have the multi-piston Brembos that were originally fitted to Troll Rs. For the sake of price and long-term serviceability, he opted to go for the 345-millimeter Turbo X brakes that Hirsch offered as an option on later cars. Those were the first two pieces of the puzzle, and he was like, ‘What else can I still get for it?’”
At Doug’s behest, Brad contacted Felix Minder at Hirsch Performance to ask about the possibility of a final run of 9-5 Troll R body kits before the tooling was scrapped. While the initial response from Switzerland seemed feasible, the final answer -a guarantee of 20 orders- put the topic on ice. Not for long, though, as Brad reached out to Markus, who, with his global network of Saab contacts, had found Doug a Hirsch 9-5 dual-exhaust system for the wagon. “Markus said he’d keep a look out. After almost a year, he contacted me to say he’d found the last new, never-installed body kit at a dealer in the Netherlands, and wanted to know if he should get it. Doug was overjoyed,” Brad says.
The bumpers and sills that comprise this kit may be the most visible part of the Troll R, but they’re far from the only ones. “My initial job was mainly locating parts as they were needed,” he continues. “We didn’t have the original-style Hirsch roof spoiler for the combi. I put the last new one from Hirsch on my own 9-5 Aero years ago, and they’ve been gone ever since. We discussed whether to find a used one or buy a reproduction, and ultimately, Doug went for the reproduction from the European firm, Tuning Style (www.tunstyle.eu). Till still had the one-of-two, prototype Hirsch Troll R silver carbon-fiber dashboard that had been in my 9-5 Aero, and he sent that over.”
When the body kit and roof spoiler were delivered to Swedish Motorsports headquarters in Honeoye Falls, New York, Doug brought the Laser Red 9-5 out and left it with Brad and his trusted, longstanding autobody partner, Ed Garbacik, principal of Crane’s and Best Collision (www.cranesandbestcollision.com). It was at Crane’s where the wagon’s transformation from Aero to Troll R would happen.
The process began with the tailgate, removing the factory bridge spoiler, welding the holes, then sanding, and priming the surfaces. Ed used this careful approach with each component he’d be painting, preparing each surface before blending a perfect match for the original body paint. While the roof spoiler was relatively straightforward to finish and mount, the 15-year-old lower body components put up a fight. “They didn’t want to sit properly on the car. Couple that with the left front corner of the car not being true, having been hit and repaired, and it was challenging,” Brad remembers. “There was a lot of stress in getting it to fit without moving so much that the paint and clearcoat would crack. There was zero margin for error, and we spent hours working to make the lines as perfect as they could be.
“When we fastened everything in place, we got underneath and realized there should be a massive underbody shield that was specific to this front end; it was supposed to be included with the kit, and that we didn’t have it. Furthermore, there were modified tow hook extension pieces that had to be used because of how low the Troll R front bumper sits. I didn’t get any sleep that night,” he says. “The next morning, I called Felix at Hirsch, and it couldn’t have gone any better. They had one final brand new skidplate kit for the Troll R sitting on the shelf, and it had the modified tow hook with it. I got that, and the very last Troll R badging for this vehicle that Hirsch had. Felix overnighted them from Switzerland to New York, and they arrived 12 hours before Doug was picking up the car.”
It wasn’t only up front that this latter-day Troll R build posed problems; that Hirsch dual-exhaust system Doug got was intended for 2006-2009 models, since the earlier style appropriate to his car was no longer available. The newer system was bent differently than the older, leading the tailpipes to be incorrectly positioned in relation to the cutouts in the rear valance. “Doug didn’t want to ruin the only new Troll R rear valance left by modifying it, and initially asked us to put the stock 2002-’03 9-5 valance, notched out to fit the round Hirsch tips. Ed and I overruled him, because that wouldn't match the body kit,” Brad explains. “We painted the Troll R valance and put it on the car, and then began adjusting the exhaust so it would fit the cutouts. Over four hours one evening, we used a portable hydraulic press called a Porta Power Ram, and literally bent the system, changing the angles just enough that both the exhaust tips were centered perfectly.”
When Doug arrived at Crane’s Automotive for the unveiling of his Troll R, he was blown away with the outcome of the venture, as the live reveal video shows. “This project was a bleed-off of my philosophy around my Arctic Hirsch car,” Doug muses. “I don’t want to think, 20 years from now, that I had the chance to do this, and didn’t. I just love the cars so much. I was asked why I was doing this, and answered, ‘Because it’s very possible that I could end up with the hottest Saab in North America, and there’s something appealing about that,’” he laughs. “I don’t know if there are any other authentic Troll R cars in North America. It looks so great- the Troll R body kit is a work of art, and it completely changes the looks of the car. This red car, I think, is the most beautiful of all my Saabs. The lines of the wagon are just perfect.”
It may be perfect, but this enthusiast won’t leave well enough alone. Because this new-looking car now registers near 170,000 miles on its odometer, Doug is planning to refresh the suspension again, and will rebuild the engine with forged components that will permit it to take full advantage of a custom MapTun Stage 4 build that will exceed the original Troll R’s power rating; of course, these upgraded components and the MapTun software can be sourced through Swedish Motorsports.
Brad has overseen many intense builds since this sporting red wagon left his care, but he recalls the Troll R fondly. “It was the first one we showcased as a long-term, very extensive rebuild of a car that started out very nice, but we took to a completely different level. I played a role, but it’s a testament to Ed being an amazing painter and body guy, and his ability to adapt, like his solution for the exhaust that I never would have thought of. It goes to show we can do almost anything a customer wants us to do, given the proper resources to do it.
“It’s been a game-changer, and this car is now the benchmark for classic 9-5s here in the US,” Brad continues. “There’s not another one like it, and there never will be. We succeeded in creating as convincing a car as we could, for a market where it didn’t exist.”
Check out the gallery below to view progress pictures! (Click on left or right side to advance/move back)