Untitled Document

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 off.
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 category 2:
A 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" for details.
- 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 had broken.
- 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 fried"…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 manufacturer)
- The clock and the interior light went dead; A corroded fuse/fuseholder.
- 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 category 1:
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 it. 900,-NOK
- The brake pedal went soggy. When depressed, it would slowly approach the floor;
I took the brake master cylinder from my m86 parts car.
- A brake caliper adjuster-screw seized; The m86 parts car had to donate organs again.
- 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!

CURING RUST

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 "Engine/gear".
- 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 fix.

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 modern.
- 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
"99-feel".
- 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 be nice.

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)

PHOTO GALLERY
A few shots of normal and oddball Saabs. Expect coffe-break download-time.