Want confirmation of the stereotype about eccentric drivers of old Saabs? Check this out: almost a thousand cars in the can, and not a single Saab 99 anywhere to be found. I’ve spotted half a dozen 96/95s, and there’s scads of 900s, but for some reason, even in this Saabaholic town, there’s just not a single 99 on the streets anywhere. The 99 is quite historical too, being only one of two unique cars that Saab ever developed from the ground up on their own in sixty years. That fact alone probably helps explain why Saab couldn’t survive on its own. More of that later. I was walking in one of the more obscure dead-end streets, when I came to a very artsy house with a cobbled up sailing ship in the front yard. I walked down the side alley to get a look into the overgrown back yard with lots of free-form structures when I spotted it: a green 99 that looked like it was half-way into the cellar.
The owner appeared, and welcomed me into his overgrown backyard imaginarium. The Saab was nestled under a second-floor trampoline, where its been since 1998 or something like that. That 99 has special meaning to him: he lived in it for several years in the mid eighties in order to save up the money to buy this house. But he stopped driving years ago and now rides a bicycle and an electric-powered tricycle. And this is not just any 99, but the very early version with the Triumph-sourced engine.
I’m not exactly up to speed on what makes all 99s such rare birds, but its easy to assume that the engines in the early versions were suffering from those Triumph origins. There was no way Saab was up to developing a new engine for the 99 from scratch. The two stroke for the 92/93 was cribbed from DKW, and the V4 in the 96 was bought from Ford. Triumph was developing a new engine family that would be built both as a V8 (for the Triumph Stag) as well as a slant four for the Triumph Dolomite. Saab bit, but the English engine soon left a bitter aftertaste. Within a couple of years, Saab redesigned the engine thoroughly into the “B” engine, although still using the same bore centers and bearings. That was later developed into the H Series engine in 1981, and was used to the very end of 9-5 production in 2009. Quite an unusual bit of continuity for what turned out to be a short-lived engine for Triumph.
There are plenty of unique features on this Triumph engine and the later B Series, such a the water pump housing cast into the engine block and driven from a jack-shaft. And these early 99s still used the freewheeling transmission from the 96. The owner of this one said his was still running when he drove it to its presumed final resting place in the back yard.
The 99 was a bold and innovative design when it arrived in 1968, with its unique wrap-around windshield and all. And in 1971 the remarkably room Combi-Coupe hatchback appeared, one of the first of its kind on a larger car. Of course the 99 we all tend to remember is the Turbo, which burst into our dull seventies’ life like a bolt of thunder from Thor himself. But before Saab went the turbocharging route, it had experimented with a high performance variant via a different route, having built forty-eight V8 99s using the Stag engine. Good call, Saab.
I’m still determined to find a 99 Turbo, because of the incredible story it (and my brief experience in one) has to tell. In the meantime, enjoy this one individual’s unusual shrine to the 99. If ever the stereotype of Saabs appealing to eccentrics (back in the day) ever fit, this is truly it. And please remember to be respectful with your comments; he’s now a TTAC reader, having joined the club of auto-eccentrics.
And just to make the trip to one of Eugene’s more colorful houses complete, here’s the front yard: