Saab 99 buyer’s guide
The Saab 99 started production in the late Sixties, early Seventies, most using what is deemed in Saab circles as the Triumph Engine (1800) but this phrase is actually a misnomer considering that the engine in question was developed for both Saab and Triumph. With this particular engine, performance of the 99 was never what you·d call quick. It wasn·t until the engine was upgraded to 2 litre that the 99 started to get the performance it needed. The early 2 litre units for the 99 and early 900 are what·s called ·B· type engines. They are reliable enough but they have a bit of an Achilles Heel in the shape of the water pump which is inboard, which means it is pressed into the engine block. If it goes, it can be difficult to source a replacement and expensive to replace (the old one would be pulled out with a slide hammer and the new one pressed back in hydraulically; but on the plus side most models are lovely cars to drive. The Saab 99 EMS in 2-door and 3-door guises was deceptively agile a car for its size. Well appointed and laid out, comfortable and practical. For the executive, at the same time, the 99 GLE (in 4&5 doors) was slower than the EMS but a much more relaxed driving experience. Seeing as they are mostly automatics, the performance is not that impressive and they do feel a tad heavy on tight corners but they are extremely comfortable and practical with the added opulence of the velour thrown in. Incredibly the ·E· in EMS and GLE stood for the Swedish word for ·injection· and not ·executive· as many still think.
The most well known Saab 99 was of course the Turbo. First sold in the UK in late 1976, early 1977, this car WAS the first production turbo-charged car in the world.
(BMW purists at this point will start winging saying ·what about the BMW 2002 Turbo of the late Sixties·. OK, yes, BMW built a turbo car but seeing as there needs to be at least two hundred built to qualify for the term ·production car· and BMW have never actually let on how many were built, probably about twelve, the 2002 Turbo cannot be classed as a production car; they were merely special editions.................. - so get over it!!)
The main problem that will arise driving the first production turbo-charged car in the world is overheating. There were many attempts to solve this problem but there was little success. The problem is that, with the additional heat of the turbo, the surface area of the bonnet was insufficient to dissipate that heat. It didn·t have enough surface area. So, in the Summer months, one eye should always be on the temperature gauge.
Saying that, though, these cars are very quick indeed but need looking after. The 99 Turbo came in 2-door and 3-door primarily but do look out for the occasional 5-door that was produced by putting the turbo engine in a 99 GLE body. These are genuine SAAB cars and not conversions but they are very thin on the ground. One may even say they are rocking horse poo seeing as only 101 were imported into Britain.
Other more basic models include the 99L, the 99GL and the 99GLS. All were available in all body shapes ie. 2, 3, 4 & 5-door (with the 3 & 5-door car being referred to as ·combi coupæs· up to 1979).
Around the launch of the Saab 900, the 3 & 5-door 99·s were halted leaving it to persevere onward in the more quirky 2 and 4-door shapes. Around the same time the 99 Turbo was changed from a 3-door to a 2-door and also produced in red instead of just black with the 3-door. And the EMS models were axed.
In 1982 the 99 Turbo was dropped leaving it in just GL & GLS modes with the 900·s ·H· type engine (exterior peripheral water pump). In 1985 the 99 was replaced with the short-lived Saab 90 (a saloon 99 with a 900·s booted panels). It died twelve months· later.
The only real thing to look for when purchasing a 99 is rust. Not that they weren·t rust-proofed. Well, they were, but the mud flap and stone guards on the cars· underside are held on with self-tapping screws and are a primary source of rust. There are a few water and mud traps that, if left, can also cause problems in the inner wing at the front/under the screen wash bottle and along the front of the car can be badly scarred from stone chips that turn to surface rust.
The Saab 99 is a heavy car so springs and shocks generally have a hard life. Check the shocks for action and the springs for corrosion.
If the boot seal goes then there could be a lot of water sitting under the spare wheel and jack, so check again there for signs of corrosion. Also if the window way seals on the doors crack then they will let in water and if the drainage holes are blocked, more corrosion will ensue.
Engine-wise, apart from the water pump the only trouble will come from more neglected cars· alternators and starter motors go of course as do fuel pumps and fuel distributors and timing chains may get a bit loud. On older cars, exhaust manifolds have a tendency to crack and with the Turbo you have all the usual Turbo symptoms to look out for.
Other than these few things, the Saab 99 is a good, sound, reliable car that will go on and on and on. Bit like me really. Hope this info is useful and happy hunting!