Junkyard Classic: 1977 Saab 99GL Combi Coupe – In Its Element

I don’t think I can make a more Swedish-looking picture than an Astral Blue Saab in a snowy setting on a foggy day.  Never mind the junkyard bit.  Or perhaps some impolite souls would say that’s even more perfect.  In any case, this was a pleasant sight on a frosty morning a few weeks ago.

During the summer I got passed in town by a running 99 but that was a two door with a trunk.  This one is the two door with the new for ’74 hatch, and this shape is what the majority of people generally first think of when they hear “Saab”, being as it continued well into the 90’s with the 900 and then was significantly restyled but still recognizably used even beyond the turn of the century as the 9-3 until GM finally had its way with Saab and pounded it into submission and then oblivion.  But let’s celebrate 1977 instead for now!

Saab called this variant the “Combi Coupe” which is a term I had never heard of until I saw this one and then did a little search.  Now, in Europe, the term “Combi”, short for combination, is a term often used instead of wagon and the “Coupe” part, well, it’s a two door so that’s probably that.  In the US, initially this version was known as the WagonBack but none carried badging to that effect as far as I am aware of.  Combi Coupe has a much better ring to it anyway.  Curiously though, my research indicates that there were also 5-door hatches labeled as Combi Coupe so I don’t know, maybe this was the first four door coupe (or five door as it were)?

Of course it wouldn’t be a real Saab with a reverse hinged bonnet; this is actually exactly how I found it.  Slight pressure on it caused it to tilt back as designed with the rearmost part slotting onto little runners and then the whole thing sliding back and into place, closed.

When I was a little kid in the ’70’s in Europe, we had several carnivals with bumper cars in town (ok, village) every year.  Of those bumper cars, there were two front end designs that imprinted themselves on my little brain back then.  The first was obviously a clone of the BMW 2002 (or 1602) but the other was a Saab 99.  It had four headlights, a grille that was very similar to this and the large marker lights/turn signals.  Since then I’ve always been favorably disposed towards both.

Remarkably complete (shocker!) here’s the 99’s naturally aspirated 2-liter OHC four cylinder engine.  The first 99 Turbo model would not be built until the spring of 1977 and of course that made a huge splash.

Fuel Injection was first offered on the 99EMS model, but every US 99 was injected as well.  My research indicates that the engine was good for 118hp and could push the car to 105mph.  Stig Blomqvist drove a 99EMS to the win in the 1977 Swedish Rally, that car even had a 16-valve head, something that Saab wouldn’t use for more than another half-decade on production cars.

Saabs to me never looked really “finished” without a little wing on the back, but that’s due to me being infatuated with the Turbo models which all got one as standard.  I can however look at this regular version nowadays with admiration as this was the pure form as originally penned by Sixten Sason in sedan form and then refined into the Combi Coupe hatchback version by Bjorn Envall before being minorly changed for the 900 etc.  But let’s open that large hatch, shall we?

Ah yes, this is always the Saab hatchback’s party piece.  Much larger inside than it appears on the outside, drop the rear seat and usually a refrigerator will fit in there with a wonderfully low lift over height (bumper height).  Couches, TV’s, the equivalent of a New Jersey 14-body trunk.  And there’s even storage under the floor.  The spare is a Semperit, I can’t recall the last time I saw that brand over here, I couldn’t find a date code on it though.

Hey look, suddenly it’s 1978 in the junkyard with that 280 in the background!  But let’s focus back on the Saab with those wonderfully period (faux) sheepskins on the seats.  That steering wheel could only belong to one of the safety-obsessed Swede models, but just like every 900, the doors open with the sill wrapping below so one’s trousers don’t get muddied.

It wouldn’t be a Saab without the ignition between the seats and the key is even here.  I didn’t try to remove it but know that the gear shift has to be in reverse to do so.  I love the blue carpet in this one and the little triangle arrows on the shift pattern are vintage Scandinavian design.

Again, a clock as opposed to an RPM gauge, but a 120mph speedometer and then temperature and fuel gauges.  The triple dial ventilation controls as copied the world over (this was a Saab-first, right?) and a few rocker switches with some wood-look trim make this look fairly modern, certainly for the ’70s.  The 67,280 mileage figure is disconcerting, but it’s also a VDO gauge so could be broken.  But perhaps something else sadly broke instead and this car may have been sitting around for a very long time.

A slightly better view of the whole front cabin from the passenger side.  One-piece molded door panels with a pull strap and window winder, both mounted high up for minimal strain.  And the windshield has the well-known Saab wrap around as well as being almost vertical.

Checking out the back reveals a roomy bench but we also get a great view of Saab’s unique spindly seatbelt latches.  And the belts themselves disappear into the rear passengers’ armrest binnacle.  Saab seats are usually supremely comfortable even if at first glance they appear like padded dining room chairs.

Built in October 1976 when I turned seven, this was marked as a 1976 model by the yard but the VIN indicates it is in fact a 1977 (First two numbers are the model, then the year).  I didn’t realize prior to writing this but Saabs were not just built in Trollhattan, Sweden, but also in Uusikaupunki (Finland) at Valmet Automotive who also built the later Saab Cabrio and concurrently with 99 production also built some Talbot Horizons with very similar (same?) velour upholstery. Mechelen and Arlov were two other locations building Saabs (they were also still building the 95 and 96 for select markets at this time). In calendar year 1976 (as this one was built), Saab produced a total of 95,927 cars.  72,819 of those being 99 models.

Somebody pinched the emblem before I visited this day but it was on there long enough to remain in spirit.  I can’t recall seeing another one in this color and it appears that it was a one year only hue.  On this day it just stood out in the mass of white on the ground and gray in the sky and air.

But I decided to take a souvenir home for the garage wall so the car’s spirit will live on, not just on these pages but also with me.

Related Reading:

Vintage R&T Review: 1974 Saab 99 Wagonback – The First Hatchback Saab by PN

Curbside Classic: 1971 Saab 99 – Do You Remember Something Called Variety by Roger Carr