WHEN BUYING A SAAB 99
The first thing to decide is whether you want to buy an original car
and leave it as it is... or, like me, decide what spec you want and then
go out and find a nice 99 with the right body. All the other bits and
pieces can be installed/built later.
- An "original purist" would buy an m78 99Turbo, an m77 99GLE or perhaps
an early 99EMS and restore it to perfection.
- I bought an m78 99GLsA 5-door. Then I stripped the car section by section
and started modifying.
- For those who want an inexpensive, reliable and safe runabout, I recommend
an m75-84 99GL.
Production quality seems to have varied from outstanding (how
many other car makers have thirty year old cars in daily traffic? Ok,
but besides Mercedes?), to downright mediocre (but
most of these dogs have been scrapped by now).
BASICALLY, THERE ARE FOUR CATEGORIES OF SAABS.
1: The troublefree ones.
2: The ones that will give you trouble. All sorts of things go wrong/fall
3: The rustfree ones.
4: The ones that rust.
It goes without saying that a combination of category 1 and 3, is the
preferred Saab. Spotting rust on a Saab is straightforward, so its easy
to avoid the basket cases. Distinguishing between a category 1 and 2 car,
is however a totally different story. The faults seldome surface on the
first test drive, the previous owner will have fixed it temporarily, five
minutes before you arrive.
A small(ish) story, to examplify
friend of mine consulted me for automotive advice. Being newly divorced,
with two children, and living eight kilometres from work, in a newly aquired
flat, she needed an inexpensive, reliable and safe runabout to replace
her very unreliable Fiat Uno. (I think
you get the picture)
A neighbour had offered her his Saab.
(He was a trustworthy chap, but no mechanic
The car in quesition was a 1982 two-door Saab 99 GL 5sp with 167000 Km
on the "clock" and two owners in the "book". The asking
price was 6000 NOK. I carefully examined the car and gave my concent.
Then things started to go wrong
- The heater fan stopped working; The switch had broken off inside.
- The headlights went dark; The relay was fried. Saab 99s have
a fairly extensive array of fuses and relays. But one thing is NOT fused:
The headlights. On non-injection cars, fuse no.10 is vacant. I rerouted
the lights relay supply wire to fuse 10.
- The handbrake would not stay up; The lever's pivot-pin e-clip
was missing so the lever was hinged at one side only. When she pulled
the handbrake lever, she deformed it sideways so the ratchet mechanisme
did not engage; I hammered the lever back in shape and fitted a new e-clip.
- The gear lever went sloppy and rubbery. Fifth gear was impossible
to engage. And then the gearbox was locked in reverse while the gearlever
could be moved all over the place; This year (and
I dont know which other years) Saab had used a HARDY-SPICER disc
with two tripods pointing each way, to connect the gear lever to the gearbox
selector rod. Over the years, the rubber hardy-spicer disc got so soaked
with leaking engine/gear oil that it disintegrated. The gear lever was
no longer connected to the gearbox. This piece of shit costs 900 NOK,
so I found an m86 Saab 90 donor car at the scrapyard, unbolted the link
and paid 20 NOK. The later link has a different design, with a firmer
connection. See chapter "engine/gear"
- The heater fan stopped working; The spring loaded fuseholder
had lost its tension. I bent the fuseholder so it clamped the fuse firmly.
- When folding the rear seat, the bench got wiggly; A hinge pin
- The front brakes started making grinding noises; Time for a new
set of pads, but one of the caliper pistons was impossible to screw back
in! (Rust, of course) The inner pad
was half-worn, and the outer one was down to bare metal. A temporary cure
was to insert two nearly worn down pads, until a new caliper was obtained.
- The headlights went dark; Fuse no. 10 looked ok, but a closer
inspection revieled that on the tip of the fuse, where it's in contact
with the fuseholder, the metal was corroded away. No contact!
- The driver seat sagged; The rubber mat under the cushion was
ripped in two. I bolted in a newer seat frame with a steel wire mat. And
while I was in there, I fixed the non-working heater element too.
- One day most of the electrics went dead. The car would start,
the lights worked, but everything else, including the instruments was
dead; "-Aha! This one is easy! The ignition-switch-relay must be
I thought. But no, it was ok. The wire-shoes in the fusebox
which hold the relay in place, were corroded. No contact. Wire-shoes and
relay were replaced.
- When folding the rear seat, the backrest did not fully fold down;
Both hinges were bent to one side so the backrest's top was jammed on
the rear passenger's armrest. I relocated the hinges with a hammer.
- Sometimes, the lights would pulsate, with a frequency depending
on the engine's rpm.; One day, when I was working under the bonnet (with
the engine running), I noticed sparks coming from the alternator
bracket! The sparks came from the end which is bolted to the front of
the engine, facing the bulkhead. (Saab 99/900
engines are installed the wrong way, remember?)
I installed an earth strap between the alternator and the engine block.
- The heater fan started making loud rattly noises; The bearing
races were history. Fan-motor replaced. (As
a curiosity, it's made by ELEKTROLUX. The famous Swedish VACUM-CLEANER
- The clock and the interior light went dead; A corroded
- The choke cable broke (yes, it was
a cold day); I replaced it.
- The passenger seat sagged; See driver seat.
- The headlights wipers stopped working; I dont bloody care!
If you take away the persons and extract the essence of this story, you
will see that in spite of having bought a "category 2" Saab, it was a
good buy. All the things that did go wrong were inexpensive and easy to
cure. It has always started, and apart from the hickup in the gear lever
connection, it has never really "broken down". Most of the spare parts
were picked up at the scrapyard. By now she loves the car and won't trade
it for anything.
A small(!) story, to examplify
I bought my m78 99 GLsA in 1998. By now its heavily modified, but let's
look at the trouble it has caused me. This does not include service parts,
such as oil, plugs, points, brakepads, etc.
What was wrong when I bought it:
- The driver's seat height adjuster rod was broken;
A new one from the scrapyard costed 50,- NOK
- The rear window demist and the number plate illumination did not work,
as the wiring harness to the tailgate was worn off; Fixing that didn't
really cost anything.
What's gone wrong when I've had it:
- The passenger seat sagged; The usual rubber-mat-failure.
- After five months, the water pump started to leak; A month later I changed
- The brake pedal went soggy. When depressed, it would slowly approach
I took the brake master cylinder from my m86 parts car.
- A brake caliper adjuster-screw seized; The m86 parts car had to donate
- The choke cable broke; A trip to the scrapyard costed 10,- NOK.
- The heater fan started making loud rattly noises; The bearing races
were history. Fan-motor replaced. Guess which parts car it came from?
WHERE TO LOOK FOR RUST
- Doors, doors, doors. The lower part of the doors rust like crazy.
From the inside out! The drain-holes are often clogged.
- Rear shockabsorber upper mountings. A classic rustspot. Dirt
gets trapped here and collects moisture.
- Wheelarches. Peel off the trim and inspect the seam weld between
the inner and outer wing. Especially at the rear lower end. Beware, if
mudflaps are missing.
- The floor. Under your (and the passenger's)
feet, where the front rail is welded in. Poke around with a screwdriver.
- The battery tray. A common place for all cars.
- The front rail under the battery, where the lower suspention
a-arm is bolted in. If the battery tray is rotten, acid may have caused
damage here too.
- The rear inner wheelarches. Fold down the seatback, remove the
wheelarch trim, and inspect.
- The rear lower suspention arm. From m79 these were galvanized,
and there was a reason for it!
DONT WORRY ABOUT
- Oily engines. Later ones may be built in Sweden, but at heart
they're still English. All British engines leak
a little oil. (It rustproofs the engine bay)
Dripping is not ok, though.
- Leaking waterpumps. It will have to be changed of course, but
it makes the car almost free. There really is nothing to it. See chapter
- Parts availability. Some special parts are hard to source (brightwork
on pre-rubber bumper cars and early interior trim), but everything
needed for keeping a Saab running is available.
- Rusty doors. On Saabs, the doors rust instead of the sills. Which
is where other cars rust. This is good news, because sills are not easily
unbolted and swapped...
- Electrics. It seldom goes wrong, and if it does, it's cheap to
DRIVING A SAAB 99
Why buy an old 99, when the more modern 900 is available? They are practically
identical under the skin, but the 900 has a newer design and looks more
- My answer would be: The driving experience! The feel of the car.
Where the 900 is reluctant to directional changes, the 99 turns in eagerly.
The slightly less bulk gives the 99 a performance advantage too. And since
they are practically identical under the skin, it's easy to upgrade a
99 to "newer 900 spec" without loosing the
- Someone else's answer would be: A 99 is cheaper than a 900.
For those who are new to Saab, I can tell you that driving the 99 around
street corners can be a bit of a wrestle. With a heavy steering and a
turning circle that's a little larger than on most other cars combined
with a notchy gearchange and an engine that can be jerky at low rpm/part
throttle, you're in for a real excercise.
But when you let the 99 stretch it's feet on an open road, it lives up.
The steering lightens and the car feels stable and safe. It is a bit understeered,
but with the suspenion tweaks on my 99, I can throw it around corners
with gutso! No front wheel driven family car of that periode has roadholding,
and drives as good as a Saab 99.
(No I dont concider Mini's family cars!)
Trotting around the city streets in a 99 GLE is of course a whole other
experience. Power steering takes the strain out of manouvering, and the
nice BW 35 autobox effectively masks any jerks. I've driven this slushbox
for three troublefree years now, and it really is one of the better selfshifters
I've tried. Apart from one major disadvantage: It only has three speeds.
And while I'm at it, writing a wishlist, a lock-up function would also
When I say "the 99 turns in eagerly", we have to bear in mind that we're
not talking sports car manners here. I've driven (and
owned) cars that will make any Saab feel like an underpowered,
sluggish, hopelessly understeered, soggy T-Ford.
It is compared to contemporary similar sized family cars, that the Saab
99 is showing it's strength. Even brand new cars are left behind in some
areas. The heating and ventilation system still outclasses any Japanese
car, the Saab seats have always been in the world class top league (miles
ahead of Mercedes), and the 99's traction in deep snow is overcome
only by four wheel drive passenger cars. (Subaru
& Audi Quattro)
A few shots of normal and oddball Saabs. Expect coffe-break download-time.