(first posted 8/5/2013) If you’re currently looking for a four- or five-passenger car, you have essentially two formats from which to choose: Front-wheel drive, almost invariably with an end-on-gearbox, transversely-mounted engine; or front-engine/rear- drive. The latter is largely the preserve of premium (and wannabe premium) brands.
Just within Europe, however, things were very different. In the UK, in 1963, British Leyland alone offered three very different choices: the Austin/Morris 1800, which featured a transverse engine, a wheel at each corner, an OHV engine, an in-sump gearbox and hydrolastic suspension; the Rover 2000 (P6), with bolt-on panels, sliding-tube de Dion rear suspension, compact front suspension (to leave room for a gas turbine engine) and available boot lid-mounted spare wheel; and the Triumph 2000, which was more conventional than the others but still featured a straight-six engine and independent rear suspension.
The French offered us the Citroën DS–probably the most technically complex and complete car of its time ever offered–or the slightly smaller Renault 16 with a hatchback, column gear change, a smaller engine, and the transverse torsion-bar suspension responsible its famous asymmetrical wheelbase configuration.
Germany’s VW had the air-cooled Type 4; their associate, NSU, offered the rotary-engine Ro80, and also had developed the piston-engine, front-wheel drive K70 that was sold as a VW. Audi had the similar 100 series, whilst BMW and Mercedes-Benz had rear-drive saloons, at higher price points. Over in Italy, Fiat had similar but cheaper cars, but Lancia offered the intriguing Flavia range with front-wheel drive and longitudinally-mounted flat four engines,and Alfa Romeo had their 1750 and 2000 saloons, which had five-speed gearboxes and twin-cam engines.
Sweden gave us the Volvo 142/144 and 164 series, whose passive-safety-through-physical protection techniques were written all over, and SAAB’s recently launched 99 series was among the more interesting cars of the late 1960s.
The SAAB 99 featured many eccentricities, most of which other manufacturers would never copy. The floor-mounted ignition switch was between the seats and interlocked with the gearbox (one had to select Reverse to remove the key); the doors wrapped over the outer sill in order to make entry easier (and keep trouser legs cleaner); there (usually) were wipers on the headlights; the wheels were relatively large, to cope with the rougher roads of Scandinavia; heated seats were available; the bonnet interlocked with the windscreen frame to help prevent it from going through the windscreen in an accident; the windscreen itself wrapped around, both to aid visibility and as a nod to SAAB’s aircraft heritage; there was a lever-controlled heater duct to the rear window, which later was replaced by conventional heating elements; the handbrake operated on the front wheels…
Other features hewed more closely to the norm: a four-cylinder engine, based on the engine of the Triumph Dolomite and therefore distantly related to the Triumph Stag’s V8, was mounted longitudinally, ahead of the driven front wheels but with the clutch up front. After SAAB had reliability issues with the Triumph engine, production was moved to Sweden in 1972. Only a conventional but distinctive saloon body with a choice of two or four doors was offered until 1975, when the three-door Combi Coupe became available.
Such features did not appeal to all; many people were left cold by what seemed to be idiosyncrasies that, once studied and understood, were often appreciated. It’s said that the typical level of education of SAAB drivers was higher than Mercedes, Audi or BMW drivers right to the end; indeed,one UK magazine summed up the car as “a thoughtful car for thoughtful people”. Even so, it is hard to see a SAAB 99 or a later 900 as an impulse purchase.
The 99’s greatest moment–perhaps SAAB’s greatest moment–came in 1978, with the arrival of the all black Turbo three-door coupe. Whilst not the first turbocharged car, it was the one that showed the way for turbocharging as a key to accessible and practical power for an everyday car, as well as being an image booster for the brand. It offered 145 bhp and could do 124 mph–remarkable figures for a 2.0-liter engine at the time–and performance to at least match a Rover 3500 V8, Mercedes-Benz 280E, or even a BMW 528, all with the SAAB individuality (and quite possibly the best-ever alloy wheels). It still gets a slot in my fantasy garage.
The 99 had a rally pedigree as well, though not to the extent of the earlier 96. It won the World Championship Swedish rallies in 1977 and 1979 before being outgunned by the four-wheel-drive Audi Quattro.
This particular example is a 2.0-liter model, registered in 1971 in the UK and seen at a BMW dealership (possibly a former SAAB dealer?) in southwest Scotland by CC follower and sometime commenter Big Paws. Answers to discreet inquiries suggested it was a service customer’s car. Certainly, it bears all the hallmarks of being properly cared for–an owners’ club badge is always a good sign. UK records suggest there may be as few as 500 99s of all types left in the country, so whoever is keeping up this one deserves recognition and respect. He gets them from me.
And SAAB’s next new car after the 99? With a longer front end and new interior, the 1978 900 was the evolution of the 99. It was not replaced until 1993, fully 25 years after the 99 appeared. A 1984 joint venture iwith Fiat created the larger (inside, at least) SAAB 9000 along with the Alfa Romeo 164, Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema. The next new model was the 1993 900, based on the 1987 Vauxhall Cavalier/Opel Vectra, that arrived after SAAB came under GM’s control in 1990. Thus was the 99 SAAB’s first all-new car since 1947, and its last independently-developed one.
I think there’s a part of each enthusiast that misses SAAB for one reason or another–but perhaps mostly for the individuality, the 99 Turbo, and those alloy wheels, even if the wrong ones appear to be spinning!
My, what a jarring transition from Mopar week. 🙂
Saab 99s were never common in the U.S., Saab did not seem to make much of a splash here until the 900 series of the mid 80s, and even then, it was a very small splash.
This piece answers one of my questions – are Saabs any more common in the european countries than in America. I would guess that as small of a number as 500 in all of the UK might be, I would guess that there are not 500 of these in all of the U.S, either.
Nicely done. I enjoy these periodic pieces from those in other countries. It is nice to see how a car is viewed in other parts of the world. In this case, it appears that folks in the U.K. viewed Saabs in much the same way people in the U.S. did.
I think your comment explains the death of Saab: These were thoughtful cars for thoughtful people.
Thoughtful people saw, in the end, how Saabs were more and more cheapened by GM; and thoughtful people, in the end, weren’t about to buy a car whose very future, including support infrastructure, was in danger of being simply cut off and abolished by General Motors cost-cutters or bankruptcy trustees.
JPT, as much as it kills me to say this, I believe GM’s intervention with Saab extended its life probably 10 years. The original 900 was LONG in the tooth (with little to no development $ available) when GM bought in to Saab and gave them the first Opel chassis to play with. Keep in mind the 9000 was co-developed with several other brands; Saab did not have $ for R & D on their own.
The 9-3 SS (2003) was certainly more Opel influenced than the previous gen; that said the chassis won accolades worldwide. And with the exception of the egregious lack of a hatchback, the 9-3SS was very much a modern Saab.
I have a ’04 9-3 Aero convertible; it FLYS once the turbo spools up and handles incredibly well. Very comfortable car as well. It is quick, unique, and classy. Sure, kind of mid-grade dash plastics and such. All Saabs had mid-grade interiors at best.
Where Saab stepped off the ranch was with the 9-2 and 9-7, although if you are shopping used Impreza wagons or GMC Envoys, apparently the 9-2 and 9-7 both carry a premium because of their desirability.
Personally I yearn for a federalized Cadillac BLS, the European car built by Saab on their chassis. The wagon is incredibly good looking. I also wish we could have had the opportunity to buy the 9-4X before Saab disappeared.
Another aside – I think the Saab spiritual dashboard mate is the Kia Optima – that looks something like Saab would have designed.
Finally, I said it breaks my heart to defend GM – they also killed Isuzu, which is my other much-loved vehicle.
The 04 alero that I am currently driving is equipped.with a five speed and has that quirky “engage reverse gear to remove key” feature, though at some point it was either disabled or it failed as the key can be removed when the ignition is turned off.
A friend of my uncles had a 99 turbo when I was like four or five, I remember thinking that if those wheels could come in contact with a curb they would take chunks out of it(hey I was only five I did not know how soft aluminum was).
Those chiselled turbo mags sure made an impression on sunny days, with wild reflections from any angle, whether in motion or standing still.
I briefly considered purchasing a 900 Turbo back in 1979, and the dealer loaned me a standard 3-door 900 hatchback for the weekend. There was a lot to like about this car, but I still remember the strange whining sound of the drivetrain, and more generally, the noisy cabin. It was a very spacious cabin, with a relatively high roof and a huge hatch, which did not help tame the noise. The cabin was almost too big and airy – combined with the wraparound windshield, it was at bit like driving a small bus.
Instead of doubling down on the turbo sports coupe/convertible in the 1980s, Saab should have emphasized 4WD wagons. That would have been a better use of the boxy body and Nordic heritage. That also might have set Saab up for a merger with Subaru, which arguably would have been a better fit.
IIRC, I saw a photo of a Subaru rebadged as a Saab when GM owned a piece of Fuji, Subaru’s parent. I knew then Saab was doomed.
Saabs were nowhere near as popular as Volvos in the UK,they were a decent car and deserved to sell more
A couple of minor notes:
I think you mean, “In the U.K. in 1970”: in 1963, neither Triumph nor Rover had any relationship with BMC other than competing with it and British Leyland did not exist. Likewise, VW didn’t have any relationship with NSU until the spring of 1969. (NSU developed the Ro80 on its own and that car had been on sale for over a year by the time of the Audi merger.)
The Triumph-designed Saab engine (even Triumph engineers called it that) was shared with the Dolomite and later the TR7, but Saab was actually the first to use it and had a year or two of contractual exclusivity on it. Saab had made a deal with Standard-Triumph very early in the engine’s development; Triumph considered the V-8 a more immediate priority, so they were happy to sell the early fours to Saab as a way of recouping the development costs.
One additional oddity for the list was the German Ford Taunus P6 (12M/15M), which had FWD and a longitudinally mounted V-4 engine, which Saab also used for a while. The Taunus P6 was built through I think 1970, after which it was replaced by a RWD car closely related to the Mk 3 Cortina.
The Zephyr range including the UK Transit featured that V4 and the Cortinalike Corsair used it originally though a Kent 4 was an option.
Yup, Ford of England also used the V-4 and the related Cologne V-6, although FoE resisted FWD pretty strenuously until the Fiesta.
the V4 was reputed to be a very rough engine.
I think if you can catch the movie “The Mackintosh Man” you’ll see Paul Newman thrashing a V4 Transit round the Scottish Highlands.
Had two, first a 72 with the 1.85 ltr varient and the BW automatic, then a 71 with the 1.71 and 4 speed. loved it, drove well, comfortable for 4. there was really nothing much like it in the states at the time. slowly everyone else caught up. Love my 71 right up to (and after!) it blew it’s headgasket, pretty fatal for those early motors. Later bought a ’94 9000cs which I also greatly enjoyed, but was a relatively expensive daily driver, and was replaced by more ordinary machinery in 2003. I thought saab was ultimately undermined not by GM, but by Bosch. My 94 lost ordinary electrics at a young age the my wife’s honda has still original at 16 years – multiple alternators, switches, computers, etc.
I’m on board with the general theme of fewer variations in drivetrain layouts these days, but to be fair, there are quite a few diesel and hybrid variants today that didn’t exist back in the ’60s and ’70s.
Around ’75 or so, a high school friend had, in quick succession, two of the cars mentioned in this post: a Renault 16 and a Saab 99. Both were fascinating vehicles, and enjoyable to both drive and ride around in, but I’m sure glad I didn’t have to pay the many expensive repair bills they seemed to generate.
Said friend wasn’t particularly a gearhead, but his selection of vehicles seemed to be something of a rebellion against his parents’ car choices of the time: Buick Lesabre and AMC Pacer.
Rare here I see one old Saab locally several newer models from the GM era but one older model V4 powered in red is all the landscape holds its on the cohort.
I drove around a Saab 99 five door for a couple of months and it was one of the most unique cars I have ever experienced. Actually, it was THE most unique car I have ever driven.
With the rear seat folded, the cargo space was amazing. I put a 3″ foam in the back and used it for camping. I moved several friends to their new homes. The seating position was excellent and the sunroof huge.
And yes, it always had some electrical problem or another.
A car I wanted very badly back in the early 1970’s, and would still love to have one now. To my eyes, the finest automobile available back at that time. In ’95 I came close to buying an ’87 convertible, unfortunately my dislike for automatics in general stopped me.
Thank you GM, for turning them into a pathetic joke.
Mine is as reliable as any 20 year old car. Drives a bit better than most though.
“Something Called Variety”…say that again.
Opel, Ford, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Citroën, Renault, Peugeot, Saab, Rover and Lancia all made large-model “executive” cars. All gone now, completely vanished.
Let’s hope the new Maserati Ghibli takes off, it would be very refreshing to see some Non-Blitzkriegers on the road again. (Forget Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac. Won’t happen, not here)
Most of them were just devastated by the Germans, particularly the “non-premium” brands like Ford and Opel/Vauxhall. A 3-Series or C-Class with a four-cylinder engine (even with a more modest equipment level) was similar in price to a V-6 Granada Scorpio or Omega, cheaper to feed and had more prestige, so it was easier to resell.
The latter I think has been a big issue. The depreciation on the big French and Italian cars, in particular, was in the “I must have read that wrong … you’ve got to be kidding” category — in some cases, I’m talking like 70 percent in three years. The same was true of the big Japanese sedans like the Nissan Maxima and Toyota Camry V-6, which is hard to grasp from an American perspective. (Here, a low-mileage, well-equipped used Toyota is generally a pretty easy bet in terms of resale unless a skunk has been living in it or something.)
Oh yes, the Camry and Maxima, we once had those too. Also gone with the wind. Just like the upscaled Mazda in the early nineties, the Xedos. Failed hopelessly.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover, Jaguar and maybe, just maybe, Volvo.
That’s the premium/executive-class here these days.
Note that now also the “middle-class” is struggling hard, like the Ford Mondeo, Opel Insignia and Renault Laguna. (Against A4, C-class and 3-series.) That’s the next battle they seem to lose.
Well, I’m now on my 4th Saab, a very late 93x TTiD4 (UK 12 plate – I believe one of only 4 with that reg in the country). None of them have generated repair bills, even if they can all (an asortment of GM900 and 93) trace their roots to GM, and nothing beats them for devouring motorways and decent A roads without contrived drama and histrionics. Then you add the individuality factor, like an ignition key that won’t break your kneecap, the brilliant instruments and simply the best seats ever put in a car, and the fact that almost everybody wonders what it is as they admire it, and you realise you drive something special.
Sadly, I can’t afford to fill my fantasy garage, but a classic 99 or 900 would be top of the list (and did you spot the reg no of this superb example?).
Pretty sure Crossflags in Dumfries was never a Saab dealer – Saab only ever managed the big cities in Scotland. It is however the only ‘premium brand’ garage in town. And isn’t it fascinating how good this beauty looks alongside the contrived and ugly BMWs around it?
I never did understand the mourning of the death of SAAB circa 2011. It was dead to me long before they started selling WRXes and TrailBlazers. The last real ones were 900s. You could argue 9000s still had some strong Saabness. Seeing an old 99 reminds me that globalization and modern realities are coercive and the weird got weeded out.
I have a 98 900. It puzzled me the first time, because I couldn’t remove the bloody key until I put the gear lever in Reverse.
Lovely driving position and a solid “thunk” every time I close the door.
Guy in high school got a used Saab 99, this was about 1990. I remember thinking how weird it was. Back then I had no desire to own one and I was a bit snobby about my gti. Now, a 99 or early 900 would be pretty cool. I’ve always liked fwd cars, especially in the rain.
Great find and write-up. These are my favorite Saabs and the 99 Turbo model is very high on my “favorite cars of all time” list. When I was young, they were still somewhat plentiful, but in the last decade or so I’ve only seen one Saab 99 (of any type), and they now seem even less common than the earlier 96/95 models. Newer Saabs, from the 900 through the last GM cars, are still very popular (for the moment) where I live and in certain other parts of the US, but I know that one day soon a base model 9-3 will be as rare a sighting as this car. Depressing…
I also agree with what ggh06 said up above… even though we’ve lost so many great brands and a lot of the more radical pieces of technology from the 60s-80s, there are a lot of interesting and diverse things going on with hybrids, EVs, diesel engines, etc. Subaru and Porsche still do boxer engines, VW has a V5, Fiat has that awesome TwinAir engine in Europe that we’ve discussed on here before, GM has their MagneRide suspension and finally got cylinder-deactivation to work, 7, 8 and 9-speed transmissions – many of them dual-clutch semi-autos, all sorts of new 4WD stuff that uses traction control and ABS, Jeep has a really neat CVT function that will run something like a 19:1 reduction ratio in place of a transfer case. All of that is far short of a Corvair or Citroen DS, but there is some pretty cool stuff out there… much more than there was 10 or 15 years ago, I think.
Dad had several SAABs, beginning with a 99. Most were the three-door, which could hold a whole lot o’ stuff. The comment above on cabin space is exactly right — there is (almost) too much space. Certainly a car with a unique driving feel, too. Never pushed one to the level of the rally pix so often seen of SAABs, but the car wants you to…
Since your recent post, I’ve been actively looking for a 900… darn you, CC!
Update — since 900s are now in short supply, I wound up with an ’03 9-5 Linear wagon. A bit rough, but an oil change and I’m flying. NOT a 900 by any means, but a fun drive, and a useful form factor. Why has every car maker dropped small wagons?
These have become exceedingly rare; I know of only two in town, and they’re not regular drivers. They had some very decided frailties that seemed to fell them all.
My sister had a 900 hatchback in Alaska at the time, and she loved its FWD and huge rear cargo area, but it too became too troublesome after some years. But she sloved driving it while it lasted.
As a young’un in about 1972 (and growing up in American-car-ville), we happened upon a parking lot with (what I learned to be) a Saab 99 parked next to a Renault R16.
I was never the same since. And I mean that in a good way!
Plenty of Saabs still scooting around Seattle. I only drove one once. It was a doctor’s car and I was running an errand for her. Think it was a 9000. It wasn’t interesting in the least.
The Saab V4 whilst derived from the Taunus V4 has virtually nothing to do with it. In the same way that Saab took the 2l Triumph engine and went to work on it so they did with the V4. The Taunus V4 really was a dog with nothing to offer, Saab turned it into a powerful, reliable engine. The 99s and 900s, especially non-turbos are rather overlooked here in Britain and with some searching you could pick up a 99 like the one here for $2000.
I beg to differ. Saab bought the V4 as a complete engine from Ford and changed little or anything.
I was told the V4 was breathed on before use in the 99. My source may be wrong, although he’s worked on both the 99s and various Fords with the V4. I’ve tried to find more info on the net but can’t- anyone shed any light on the V4?
An alderman of the Hobart City Council where I worked in admin from 1975 to 1985 had a large car collection,used to enjoy looking at his Saab 99 EMS and the 1965 MB 600 and his new Porsche in the Town Hall parking spaces.But the best memory was in 1986 when I owned a 1959 Fiat Multipla 600 [rusty] and an almost mint 1963 Fiat Multipla 600D in Adelaide and had just bought for $900 a white with tan vinyl 1965 Citroen ID19,a sharp looking car.A friend,former head of planning in Hobart,had returned to his home city of Adelaide,called in to visit in the Cit and his tenant said he had just received a phone call saying that his immaculate 1954 black Riley RME was stuck with a flat battery on a nearby main street in Adelaide and he gave me the jumper leads and asked if I would help,of course.Wish I had the camera with the white ID19 bonnet up and the gleaming black RME with its side hinged bonnets up,nose to nose jump starting it with the leads.To think that Citroen and Riley were originally just one year apart,what a contrast!Many people stopped to talk and look.
Had a great plate on my Stuttgart registered ‘83 2 door (last year of this body style) :
Great car, bought for DM800 (about $ 500) with bad 2nd gear synchromesh, but otherwise shiny and rust free….sedan rear seat folded down, so slept in it a few times traveling all over Europe in ‘99 …
The V4 was never used in the 99 – only derivatives of the Triumph slant 4 which I believe was originally developed with assistance from Ricardo. This motor became more and more uniquely SAAB through the years until nothing of the original remained….
A guy I knew in high school got a used 99 as his first car. He thought it was great until the ECU (something that sounded more/less equivalent) went belly up and it would have cost more than car was worth to replace it. This was in 1978 or so.
I had a 99ish 900, post gm convertible I was trying to flip somewhere around 2012. It had the gm Europe 2.5 v6, so whatever year that was. It also had tons of finicky and hideously expensive to repair electronics. The top was space age complicated with lots of microswitches which were expensive and all had to be perfectly synced. It drove ok but not captivatingly with a fairly generic front wheel drive feel. It was nicely appointed but not much nicer than the 93 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible I had, and smaller inside. Gm didn’t kill Saab, being a low volume automaker turning out quirky cars with horrific and frequent repair expenses did. In 1971, there might have been advantages to a Saab and they might not have been as unreliable and expensive, by 1991, the writing was on the wall as the Saabs got worse in repair and reliability, everything else got better, and they didn’t have any distinctive fwd advantage. I’ll bet Subaru and Lexus got a lot of former Saab buyers.
Recall some years ago a failed local carjacking attempt involving a Saab 900. The perps accosted the owner walking towards his car, took the keys and jumped in the car for their getaway. After about 30 seconds of fumbling around trying to find the ignition, they fled.
Had a ski buddy with a late 80’s Saab. Purchased just for winter trips to Vermont, he was sorely disappointed in it’s totally hair brained lack of common sense design. When he asked for a jump start one very cold morning, I thought it would be a good idea to check the wiring and belt tension on the alternator. Couldn’t find it at first – oh, there it is, behind the engine up against the firewall. Great example of being different that just doesn’t work very well.
There are many Swedes in the northern parts of the Midwest. So Chicago had more than a few SAAB dealers, and Volvo dealers. My part of the city had many northern European families, especially Dutch. So seeing a SAAB during the 1960s and 1970s wasn’t a big deal. My father got his ’59 and ’64 VWs serviced at the local SAAB dealer, and he admired their uniqueness. So they were familiar to me.
Their success during the 1980s was well deserved. The 99 and 9000 were great cars. Attending university in Colorado, SAABs were plentiful at the same time that the first Subaru 4WD wagons found popularity there. My brother had a 9000 for many years, living in New England. Imported Northern European cars were, and are still, popular there.
SAABs were touchy. My experiences were that when they ran well, they ran well, and when they didn’t, you have a mystery on your hands in determining the problem. SAABs required SAAB mechanics, not Goober Pyles. This mean that SAABs cost you more to keep them on the road. But god love them, SAABs were great cars.
Rust. They rusted. They rusted around the front wheel wells, and it was a challenge fighting rust with a SAAB. I don’t miss that.
A couple of weeks ago, in a thread that I now can’t seem to locate, someone posted a link to United States International Trade Commission reports with a lot of detailed U.S. sales figures for import brands from the 1964-84 era, most of which I had never seen before. Here’s what those reports had for U.S. Saab sales (I assume these are calendar year figures):
A few observations:
–Throughout most of this period, Saab’s presence in the U.S. market was pretty small. 5K cars in 1964, or even 14K in 1979, was little more than a splash in the bucket, pretty low on the list of major brands imported to the U.S.
–At the same time, Saab maintained a consistent presence with continual growth, unlike some other import brands that saw wide fluctuations. There was a big jump upwards in 1967, and one or two other years that were aberrations (1973 in a good way, 1976 in a bad way), but the dominant trend was slow, steady growth.
–For the last three years covered in these reports (1982-84), Saab U.S. sales suddenly took off in a big way. All three years set new U.S. sales records for the brand; the 1984 total was more than double the sales totals for every year prior to 1981 except for one.
Now, let’s look at Volvo.
A few observations:
–While still a relatively minor player in the ‘60s and ‘70s compared to the domestics, or someone like Volkswagen or Toyota, Volvo’s U.S. sales were significantly higher than Saab’s – typically three to four times higher.
–For the most part, Volvo displays the same model of slow, steady growth during this period that Saab does. Volvo experienced a rapid acceleration in U.S. sales in the mid-to-late ‘60s around the same time that Saab did; Volvo’s U.S. sales doubled between 1965 and 1968. Volvo experienced stronger growth than Saab through the remainder of the ‘60s and into the early ‘70s, but had a bit more of a bumpy ride than Saab did through the rest of the ‘70s. Interestingly, Volvo’s best pre-1980 year was the same as Saab’s (1973), and Volvo’s worst year of the ‘70s was the same as Saab’s (1976).
–Similar to Saab, Volvo sales then took off in a big way in the last few years covered by these reports. Every year from 1981 to 1984 set a new sales record, with 1984 sales 60% higher than the brand’s best pre-1981 year.
Bought our ’73 99, the only new car we’ve ever owned, when I traded in my ’67 96 3 cyl on a Verona Green 2 dr 4 spd 99L (Stromberg carb model) that year. I’d wanted one for several years but decided to wait when I heard that SAAB was greatly improving the flawed 1.85L engine, going to 2.0 with significant improvements from the crankshaft to the heads, and very glad I did. IMO it was one of the most advanced cars in the world at the time. Drove it out West frm MD to CO several times, and loved that car so much that since then we’ve owned an ’77 99, ’84 900 Turbo, ’87 900, ’88 9000, ’91 900, ’93 9000, ’99 9-3 x 2, ’00 9-5, and ’07 Sportcombi Aero. Several SAABS are still in the family. SAAB did show the world the proper way to Turbocharge an automobile meant to be driven in everyday use, and yes, GM did prolong SAAB’s existence, but never understood the brand, they diluted it with SUVs and Saabarus, and shortchanged it financially while borrowing their advanced engineering in a number of ways. SAAB’s engineers significantly improved every car that was forced on them. The last 2011 9-5, done on a shoestring, was a beautiful and satisfying car, a shame that it never really got a chance. The brand may or may not live on as an electric under NEVS (Sven backwards!), but in our family we will always have a at least 1 SAAB!
One of my elementary-school carpool drivers drove a Saab 99 coupe, and one of my recollections about the car was the seatbelts that had no buckle on the strap. There was a hook instead of a receptacle, and you just draped any part of the strap over the loop. No need to fish around for the buckle.
Also, I always found it curious that the wipers on US models were configured as if it were a right hand drive car (Sweden switched from left to right side driving when the 99 was in development; not sure if this is related or not). This was fixed on the 900.
That ’71 SaaB has the 1709cc engine, which indicates the car has that great SaaB feature, a freewheel. Freewheel would have been good as the gearchange is a bit slow on these partly because of the inertia of the gear train between clutch and gearbox and having the freewheel eases the work done by the synchromesh.I was dissapointed that my ’73 model did not have freewheel, but it did have a bigger engine, 1854cc and still made by Triumph, not the 2 litre SaaB-built one. My 99 was the last car I had with static seat belts. I really liked the way I could pull the lap belt tight seperately from the shoulder belt which meant that both could be comfortably and safely snugged up. Correct posture is compulsory with properly worn static belts, a boon to this over-tall driver!
The automatic was a Borg Warner 35 with hyvo chain down from the torque converter. At one time the under-the-engine cases for this transmission were machined in a Xerox copier plant here in Mitcheldean, England. How do I know?, my dad worked in the machine shop on the Burkhart machines that did the SaaB work when copier work got slack.