SAAB 99 REVIEW

The 99 must be one of the most overlooked of all Saabs.
The Saab 99 project was christened ‘Gudmund’ after the name Swedes give to the day of the year on which it began April the 2nd. Saab had realised that a bigger car was needed than the much praised 96, and though Saab loved two-stroke engines, the company realised that four pots were needed for this new family saloon.
British firm Ricardo & Co Engineering was developing a new unit for Standard-Triumph at the time, and Saab asked to be in on the action. The result was that that S-T would build the engine for Saab under a deal signed in 1965. The eventual 1.7-litre engine would be overhead cam – unusual for a family saloon at the time, and mounted at 45 degrees to fit under Gudmund’s bonnet.
Saab carried out extensive testing on the engine, which some describe as being ‘half a V8’ – indeed, Triumph did intend it to be developed into such a specification at later stage. A much uprated version of the gearbox from the Triumph 1300 was chosen, and the new car was front-wheel-drive.
Project Gudmund, now the Saab 99, was unveiled to an intrigued public in Stockholm on 22 November 1967, though it wouldn’t go on sale to the public until the following autumn. The car was an instant success. A rigid safety cage and servo-assisted dual circuit brakes all round were fitted, and Saab took great pains to keep corrosion at bay.
The 99 made its American debut in 1969, the same year the cars enjoyed a minor interior upgrade and an automatic became available a year later. This had fuel injection, already fitted as an option to some American-spec cars. Four-door versions were made available from 1970.
Some had felt the car was underpowered, so the engine was uprated to 1854cc for 1971 models. These cars also received a revised dashboard, an uprated brake servo and (on most cars), headlamp wash/wipers, together with heated front seats. You also got impact absorbing bumpers, just one of a whole range of safety features that led to several major industry awards.
Just over 35,000 cars were built in 1971, and demand increase yet further year on year. From 1972, a sporty fuel injection EMS (Electronic Manual Special) version became available In 1974 a Combi, or Wagonback with an open rear hatch was unveiled and the following year a 100bhp 2.0-litre engine became standard – these were produced in Sweden, since British production of Saab engines had ended. Two versions were available a 100bhp single carb model; and a fuel injection alternative boasting 118bhp (115bhp for American market cars).
In 1976 came a five-door Combi and luxury GLE trim, with an automatic gearbox, but nothing stirred the soul in the same way as did Saab’s 99 Turbo – this landmark car was unveiled at the 1977 Franfkfurt Motor Show, and could out-accelerate a Jaguar XJ6 3.4 over a standard quarter mile.
From this amazing high, the 99 was to fall quickly from grace with the launch of the new 900 in 1978, though the earlier car remained in production until 1984, and was fitted with the H engine from 1982. However the show was not all over, with a hybrid 90 model (basically a 99 forward of the B-pillar and a 900 at the back) built between 1984-7. No, we’re not sure why, either!
"Saab doesn’t build cars. It builds Saabs." So said one American commentator, and there’s probably no better way of summing up the extraordinary Swedish firm and its pre-GM products. And no Saab is more undeservedly overlooked than the 99. Despite being in production for 16 years, it seems to have fallen between the much coveted 95/96 and the better known 900, though this latter was based on the 99.

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