Saab 99Turbo Dreams Realised

This is my kind of entry. Great car, good feelings, plenty of text, and I didn’t have to write a word of it (beyond this introduction).

Ed K, as you’ll plainly see, is a Saab nut and he’s just acquired one of the Saabs of his dreams.

This is his story.

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Dear Swade,

Just wanted you to know that I purchased a Saab 99 Turbo yesterday largely thanks to your raving about these cars over the years.

EdSaab99T-3I am an American living in Budapest, Hungary, and have been on the lookout for a Saab 900 T16S for quite some time now. In Hungary, there is an incredibly strong Saab following, but good examples are near impossible to come by (as Saabs were only first sold in Hungary in 1990).

About a week ago, an opportunity came up to purchase a Saab 99 Turbo which was too good to pass up, even though I had my heart set on a 900 T16S/Aero. This car has had a large amount spent on it over the last ten years, and has been the subject of two magazine articles in Hungary. Here is a link to one of the articles which was from last year, including a lot of nice pics of the car.

We cut the deal last Friday and signed the paper work this last Monday. I spent a good three hours with the car and the previous owner last Friday, and the following is the state of the car:

EdSaab99T-respray

  • The paint, wheels, motor, turbo, suspension and interior have been rebuilt as new or refurbished to a very high standard. You will see from the pics that the car really did receive a proper re-spray (with all rot cut out and replaced with healthy metal from a donor vehicle).
  • The only parts on the car that let it down are the hard to find plastic and rubber perishables. If these were available NOS in replacement, this car would be in factory fresh condition. The previous owner has done his best to get these parts where he could. I have been trolling around Ebay and other websites, and man is it difficult to come by parts for this car!
  • The engine has 3000KMs on it, and was done to the highest standard by the top guy in Hungary for these types of things. It still needs to loosen up a good deal and felt a little tight. The tolerance of the rebuild was done to a higher standard than factory, and it needed to be “cold run in” (which I understand is a special way of breaking in engines which are rebuilt to very tight tolerances).
  • EdSaab99T-9

  • The interior finish was done to a very high standard. The color of the fabric and vinyl used are spot on. Unfortunately, the finish of the velour used is slightly off (I had a 1981 Saab 900, and the velour used by the factory had a much tighter weave, but this was the best they could do). That said, the interior was redone by the guy written up in local car magazines as being the best at this sort of thing, and the seats really are in as new condition. By the way, the heating filament and the metal spring/frame was changed in both front seats.
  • The history of the car is very interesting. In the early 90s, it was very fashionable for Hungarians to purchase used older cars abroad and bring them back to Hungary. Of course Hungarians, formerly stuck behind the Iron Curtain, were amazed that older Audis and Mercedes were within their financial grasp. If something went wrong, the car was often taken off the road for lack of spare parts in Hungary and lack of funds.

    This is what happened with this car which was imported from Switzerland in 1991 by a young Hungarian gentlemen. The oil cooler leaked, and the local Hungarian mechanic simply deleted it from the cooling system due to a lack of parts and a lack of funds. Of course the turbo blew pretty soon thereafter and the car was taken off the road. It allegedly only had 133,000 KMs on it at the time. The guy I purchased the car from purchased it in the early 2000s after a ten year hiatus, during which it was in storage. Since buying it, he has put about 20,000kms on it, so it has about 155,000kms on it now.

    I had very limited experience with Saab 99s until I drove this car. I am much more familiar with Saab 900s. What I consider to be my first car was a 1981 GL. As you may be aware from the comments I posted when you purchased your 9000 Aero, I own a 1997 Saab 9000 Aero which I have completely restored mechanically with Abbot Racing parts over the last year. I intend to treat it to a re-spray in the spring.

    The following are my impressions of the 99 turbo:

  • I may be wrong, but the interior of the 99 feels a lot more cramped than a 900 (although this may also be partly as a result of my 10 -15 KG weight gain since I last drove a 900!)
  • EdSaab99T-4

  • The 8V is a marvel. What a sound. It sound more hairy chested than the 16V (although not as smooth).
  • The suspension is a work of wonder. I took it on some very bad roads and it soaked up the bumps incredibly. Much better than my 2006 9-3 SC. Yet road feel and control in the corners was excellent. I spoke to someone at Abbot Racing about what suspension mods are good to do to the 900, and they said none other than the replacement springs. Abbot Racing said that (i) Saab was constantly improving the suspension over the production run of the 99/900 and (ii) all the good engineers left Saab for GM units in the US in 1990, so the 9000 never had the development over its production life as the 99/900 had.
  • The turbo of the 99 has a character of its own – it’s all about keeping the turbine spooled between gear changes. It is interesting how if you change gears quickly, you can make use of the pressure built up in the last gear if you time things right. The turbo of the 9000 Aero spools down right away after acceleration in changing gears in contrast to the 99.
  • This car feels incredibly mechanical – almost as if as a driver, you are merely a cog in a bigger machine full of cogs. There is something incredibly visceral about driving this car.
  • EdSaab99T-8

  • I love the 70s Swedish design. In its own way, perhaps even more pure (and eccentric) than the 900. Very angular, but also very interesting to look at with a solid sensible layout.
  • Those lobster claw seat belt clasps are awesome. I thought they would be difficult to use, but in some ways it was easier. I really found them endearing.
  • The trunk of this thing is beyond belief! Amazing how the low loading lip and flat folding seats would be considered a thing of wonder today – in the 70s it was in a class of its own.
  • You get the sense that this car is a bit of a patchwork of parts that work very well together as a whole. Almost as if this car was a test bed rather than a production car. As if things were bolted on as part of later development, rather than part of the original design. This is probably true, as I understand this car had a very limited life (one year in the US?) and could be viewed as a development mule for the Saab 900 turbo. The car is more than the sum of its parts – that’s for sure!
  • EdSaab99T-2

  • The gear shift is the dog’s breakfast. They always sucked on the 900 as well, but I recall the gear shift on the 900 being better than this. The previous owner said he felt that this gear shift on my 99 was better than most 99s he experienced (which I found surprising, although I believe him). Shifting in the 99 is like handling a wooden spoon in a vat of molasses with a bunch of loose metal parts in it. I will do some research as to what can be done to improve this.
  • The silhouette of this car is breath taking. Pictures do not do it justice. This may be the most beautiful car Saab ever built. If not the most beautiful, at least the second most beautiful. In my view, it competes with the 1986 900 T16S in silver – the model you owned. (I’ll place my vote with the 99 Turbo. The shorter nose gives it better proportions IMHO – SW)
  • The previous owner was a typical Saab person. In selling the car, selling to the right person was more important to him than the purchase price. I honestly feel honored to have been considered worthy of this car. I feel like I am inheriting a legacy and taking on a responsibility more than just buying a car. As part of the deal, I promised the previous owner that I would give him the right to make a first offer if I ever chose to sell. He acknowledged that I probably will never sell this car, which I think is right. He was selling for personal reasons which I understand and respect.

    EdSaab99T-7Over the last two weeks, I have been doing a lot of research on the 99 Turbo, and have found a smaller but tighter knit community on the Internet than with respect to other Saab models. I have always followed the 9000 and C900 scene, but never the 99 scene till now. The 99 turbo Internet community have already been an enormous help. According to certain sources, there are approximately 250 of these cars left on the road, which sounds to me incredibly low given that 10,000 of these were manufactured in total. (Sounds low to me, too – SW)

    As to next steps, I am putting the car into winter hibernation. The roads will start to be salted in Hungary in the next couple of weeks. During the winter months, I am planning to source US style headlights. I love the car with the euro headlights, but feel that with the four headlamp US lights the 99 Turbo it is the cat’s meow. I’m also thinking of sourcing repros of the Turbo sticker which was installed from factory on the bottoms of the doors along the side of the car. I asked the previous owner’s permission to do these things – this is the kind of responsibility which goes with buying a car of this type.

    EdSaab99T-6Also, it seems that the car needs a new radiator. While it was being restored, thieves broke into the mechanic’s garage and stole the original turbo radiator (I wonder if they even knew what they were stealing), and a regular 99 radiator was installed which is smaller. Or maybe I will just settle back and enjoy the car in the condition it is now for a period.

    I’m totally over the moon about the purchase. I was speaking to my wife about it and I feel like I own the first and the last of an important era in motoring. Saab launched into the premium segment with the 99 Turbo and it set the tone of the next two generations of cars for Saab. This was the ultimate golden era in Saab’s history which started with the 99 Turbo in 1978, and ended (in my humble opinion) with the last 9000 Aero officially produced in 1997. I own both the first and the last of this golden age, and feel very privileged to do so.

    It makes me all the sadder that the Saab that we all know and love no longer exists. At least we have models of this company’s illustrious past which we can still enjoy today….

    EdSaab99T-1

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    9 Comments

    1. I enjoyed reading about this developing love affair between Ed K and his 99TU3.
      I agree with many of his observations about the driving experience; there is a connection that exists between car and driver in a 99 that has gradually been filtered out of later Saabs. I guess that’s the price you pay for extra refinement.
      Keeping maintenance up to any 30+ year old car is essential to sustaining the experience. Things like suspension bushes and dampers need to be looked at because they do get tired. Same goes for steering bushes, tie-rods, etc.
      The brakes on a 99 are really good, and can be made better with the latest pads. On my own 99TU2, even hard on-track use never led to fade. I now have slotted and vented discs, and 9000 callipers.
      I think that the 99’s gearshift is actually more positive than the 900, which had a flexible link in the rod running forward from the remote change to the connector on the back of the box. It may be that a 900 item was substituted for the 99 one during the restoration. It would be a pain to change back but probably worth it.
      I’ve never been a stickler for originality, so some minor modifications can make all the difference.
      I have a three-row radiator on my car, essential for hard use in an Australian context. The standard two row was marginal when new, and silts up as all rads do. Any decent radiator shop can fabricate one. The mounting system on a 99 basically precludes adapting a radiator from another vehicle. If heat remains a problem, a 13 row oil-cooler helps, too.
      Stainless braided brake hoses help with pedal feel.
      Redline gearbox oil helps with gear selection, particularly in finding reverse. TIP: NEVER select reverse when the car is moving forward. In fact, the best thing to do to protect reverse gear is to stop the car, re-select first, THEN engage reverse. The positioning of the reverse gear cluster means that any metal chips from reverse fall into the main gear cluster and cause more problems. A good machinist can also modify the case to beef up the bearings in the box.
      I have substituted the lower geared 4.1:1 steering rack on the TU2/3 for one from a 77 ems 3.4:1 which quickens the steering, improves the feel, but does make it feel heavier. You can now purchase on column (electric) power assistance which might be worth the expenditure if that becomes a problem.
      Reinforcing the upper shock-absorber mounts (front and rear) is a worthwhile minor mod, as the original Bilstein dampers tend to test even the best Swedish metal.
      Gosh, just a few tid-bits from 30 years of owning 99s – I’ve had 11 of them, and still have my Targa Tasmania car.

    2. I miss the days when the 99T’s were new and the had to be dealer prepped . I was the lucky guy to do tho’s few . The dealer SAAB rep had a 77 99t and I “helped it some” off the book . Long ago but not forgotten . Heck back then I even liked working for the dealer because all the cars were new

    3. The 99 Turbo is one of the few Saab dream cars I still haven’t checked off my list. Also want me a Monte Carlo Yellow 900 convertible. Way to go Ed K! Nice read.

    4. Great story, I’d love to have a 99 Turbo in my garage. I’m also on the lookout for a Silver/Grey 9-5 Aero Wagon, preferably 2005 model – but just came across an old SW article at SU suggesting there is a 9-5 Hirsch Wagon somewhere Down Under – would be an interesting story and car to revisit if you still know of its whereabouts, Steven? Those roof spoilers are gorgeous – and still available for a mere 800 bucks (+ shipping)! Yikes.

    5. Hi mate, can you please give me the contact details of the guy who restored your interior? I’ve been searching for many years someone able to restore my seats (my 99T is identical to yours). Thank you

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