Thurdsay 5 September 2013
The Saab 99 is a compact luxury car produced by Saab from 1968 to 1984.
On April 2, 1965, Gudmund's day in Sweden, after several years of planning, the Saab board started Project Gudmund. This was a project to develop a new and larger car to take the manufacturer beyond the market for the smaller Saab 96. This new car became the Saab 99, designed by Sixten Sason and unveiled in Stockholm on November 22, 1967.
The first prototypes of the 99 were built by cutting a Saab 96 lengthwise and widening it by 20 centimetres (7.9 in); this created the so-called Paddan (The toad), which was a disguise for the new project.
After that phase, also as a disguise, the first 99 body shell was badged "daihatsu" as that name could be made up out of letters available for other Saab models.
The 99 was built by the Finnish Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki; five years of this production (from 1969) was alongside the Finnish built version of the Talbot Horizon, which shared a similar high quality velour upholstery to the 99.
Although Saab engineers liked the two-stroke engine it was decided that a four-stroke engine was necessary and the choice was a 1.75 L (later 1.85 L) engine from Triumph, the same Triumph Slant-4 engine used in the Triumph Dolomite, but the Saab version was fitted with a Zenith-Stromberg CD carburetor developed specially for Saab. Forty-eight Saab 99s were equipped with a Triumph Stag V8, but the idea to use a V8 was later dropped in favour of a turbocharged engine.
A three-door station wagon (estate) version was planned from the start, but never made it into production. In 1971 (with thoughts about a combi coupé) the work on a station wagon was restarted, this time as a five-door.
The first engine used in the original 99 was a four-cylinder in-line engine that was tilted at 45 degrees. The 1709 cc Triumph-sourced engine produced 87 PS (64 kW; 86 hp) at 5500 rpm. The engine was water-cooled, but unlike most cars of the time it had an electric cooling fan. Triumph soon upgraded the engine to 1.85L: the appearance in February 1971 of the 4-door Saab 99 (99CM4 series) coincided with the adoption of the bored out 1854 cc unit. Saab experienced reliability problems with Triumph sourced engines and decided to bring the design home. From September 1972 the 1985 cc Saab B engine was used; during the lifetime of the 99 model, several subsequent engine developments took place including the incorporation of fuel injection for some versions. The engine was fitted 'back to front', with the clutch at the front.
The bonnet (hood) was forward-hinged and the panel extended over the front wheel arches. The windscreen (windshield) was wrap-around and very deep for the era. The A-pillar had a steep angle, providing excellent driver visibility. Writing in 1968, the English test-driver Archie Vicar wrote in Mass Motorist magazine: "The little 99 has been given a striking and wholly rational appearance. It gives the flavour of an aeroplane on four wheels."
Due to the American sealed beam headlamp requirement in place at the time the USA models had a special front fascia with two round headlights instead of the single rectangular unit it had in other markets. The "US front" then became an item for car customisers in Europe, and vice versa.
Early 99s carried over the freewheel transmission from the Saab 96, but the freewheel was removed with the introduction of the 1.85 L engine, likely on account of the extra power that the apparatus would have to transmit.
The handbrake was on the front wheels.
The car was wide and low and the suspension gave it handling that was very good for the time. The Cw value was 0.37 while other cars of the time had 0.4 to 0.5. The chassis was also designed for secondary safety.
The 99 was Saab's last rally car, first in EMS guise and later as the Turbo version. The Saab 99 turbo was one of the first "family cars" to be fitted with a turbo after the 1962-63 Oldsmobile Turbo Jetfire; other contemporary turbocharged automobiles were very "specialised" vehicles and were difficult to drive. Popular Mechanics lists the Saab 99 Turbo as number two on their top 10 list of turbocharged cars of all time.
The UK's "Mass Motorist" magazine (1968) summarised their view of the 99 as follows: "That the 99 is comfortable, well-made, satisfying to drive and well-equipped ought to mean that other makers should take heed. The BMW 2002 and Alfa Romeo Giulia are the Saab 99's main rivals. I would contend here that Saab has the advantage of them, and should Saab choose to fit an even more powerful motor, the 99 could be a class leader in a short space of time."
Wheels magazine wrote in a July 1978 road test of the 99 Turbo, "Compare the top gear times and you'll see that the Turbo is almost as fast between 60 km/h (37 mph) and 160 km/h (99 mph) in fourth gear as any five-seater in the world". Modern Motor of August 1978 wrote; "It is necessary to drive the car to believe that such a seemingly endless surge of strong acceleration is possible from a 2.0 L engine in a far from lightweight car".
A police version of the 99 was also built. The hood/bonnet of the 99 (and also the 900) caused problems for the police livery team. Since it wraps around, covering the wheel arches, the paint had to be extended up onto the hood panel and not restricted to just the fenders as on other cars.
A detail on Saab 99 (sedan model) was that it had a heating duct leading to the rear window. With a lever between the front seats the airflow could be controlled to help defogging the rear window. No rear wiper was needed as the airflow would clear the window. Another Saab feature that has been used even on later models is that the ignition lock is on the floor. Unlike most cars, where the steering wheel is locked by the ignition key, this car locks the gear stick. It has the side effect that the driver would always have to park the car with reverse gear activated (except for automatic versions). It was supposed to be safer, since the anti-theft lock would not affect safety if forced or at malfunction. However, car thieves discovered that it was very easy to force the lock and for that reason Saab was a very popular brand for car-thieves. The system has been improved on later models (Saab 9-3 and Saab 9-5), and nowadays an electronic lock is included.
In 2012, the Saab 99 Turbo was featured on the popular British Top Gear television show. Jeremy Clarkson and the other presenters reviewed Saab's history and shared their own experiences with Saab models, arguing the company had always striven for safety and innovative features.
- engine: 4 cylinders
- capacity: 2197 cc
- horsepower: 60 HP
- gearbox: 4+1
- top speed: 135 km/h