By on December 21, 2018

Saab was always a fan of the number nine, and it proved its dedication to the special digit by using two nines for their pre-900 era compact executive car.

Let’s take a look at a little blue Saab 99.

In the early Sixties, executives at Saab headquarters were desirous of a larger car to extend the brand’s appeal beyond the very small 96 model. Project approval secured, the so-called Gudmund vehicle was underway.

Engineers started by chopping up an existing 96. They cut it down the middle and added nearly eight inches to its width. The resulting prototype was called the Toad, and it was built for deception. Saab intended to work on the Gudmund underneath the shell of the Toad, maintaining secrecy as the new model was developed on the roads of Sweden. The little game worked for a while, until observers noted the unusual grey wide-track 96 being tailed by a regular-width 96.

The Toad allowed for testing of the chassis and other mechanical components of the new Saab while the body shell was under development. Not content with using the two-stroke engine from the 96 for this upscale model, company engineers set their sights abroad. Eventually they settled on a 1.7-liter four-cylinder Triumph engine — the same one used in the Dolomite. The company attached their own carburetor and paired it to a three-speed manual transmission for the first examples.

Once ready, the prototype vehicle — now known as the 99 — was badged as a Daihatsu on Swedish roads, since the individual letters of the brand could be sourced from existing Saab model badging. By November of 1967 the 99 was ready for its Stockholm debut. The first examples (all two-door sedans or three-door liftbacks) went on sale in fall of 1968. The four-door 99 arrived in 1970, which coincided with some visual editing, a nicer interior, and the availability of a three-speed automatic.

Changes occurred every year for the 99, varying by continent because of European and North American legislation. Evolution turned to revolution in 1978, as Saab paved the way for decades of future models with the introduction of the 99 Turbo.

The 99 was a success, and, when the long-lived model ended production in 1984, over 588,000 had been produced. However, the essence of the 99 would live on for another two decades, as it formed the basis for the 900 model built from 1978 to 1993.

Today’s tidy 99 comes to us from the rust-free area of Portland, where the dream of the Nineties is still alive. By the ’73 model year (and per the badge), Saab increased the 99’s engine to 2.0 liters of displacement via their own redesign of the original Triumph 1.7. With a substantial 195,000 miles under its belt, this preserved Swede asks $6,200.

[Images: seller]

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32 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Tiny and Stylish Saab 99 From 1973...”

  • avatar

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm I believe I have a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches around her somewhere…

    Now to pack my meerschaum pipe.

  • avatar

    That interior is awful

  • avatar

    I like it. I’d drive it for sure.

  • avatar

    The four intact mudflaps are as impressive as finding an American car of the same vintage with all four original hubcaps.

  • avatar

    “The first examples (all two-door sedans or three-door liftbacks) went on sale in fall of 1968.”

    Are you sure? I don’t think the kombi hatchbacks showed up until 1974.

  • avatar

    It might be mentioned that the out-going SAAB 96 started using Taunus V-4’s in the late ’60s. I considered purchasing a new ’72 SAAB 96 in ’72 and it had the V-4 as well as the free-wheeling that was so necessary for the old 3-cyl 2-stroke. I always preferred the old 96 to the newer 99’s – 4 on the tree, the classic but odd looking exterior, and a much nicer interior than the newer models.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one of these back then. It struck me as a very serious and refined car compared to the whatever other small four cylinder cars I had experienced at the time.
    Seems I remember it had a four-speed, this article mentions only a three speed. That said, I definitely remember that it had some sort of mechanical provision in its transmission system that allowed a driver activated setting that would disengage the motor when the throttle was fully backed off of. The car would coast in some equivalence of neutral. When the throttle pedal was pressed, the clutch engaged at the proper speed/rpm intersection. This made for interesting descents on the mountain roads here in Colorado. It’s front wheel drive at the time was also quite novel.

    • 0 avatar

      They had that because they copied DKW for their first cars, which meant they used two stroke engines. Since two-strokes use oil mixed into their fuel to lubricate their cranks, it is essential not to let the wheels turn the engine on a closed throttle. Freewheel transmissions let the engine speed drop to idle when coasting, preventing the engines from going unlubricated and seizing. Mind you Saab’s transmissions were fragile, leading to plenty of unused freewheel mechanisms and seized engines. Bob Sinclair, who grew the Saab business in the US, always carried a spare long block in the trunk for the inevitable engine failures he would experience.

      Saab kept using their freewheel transmission in the early days of the 99. The Triumph fours-stroke engines didn’t call for them anymore and they were even more overmatched behind the bigger engine. They never had the resources to do most things right all at once.

    • 0 avatar

      SAAB usually tried to keep things familiar with the new models. Early 99s had quite a fragile transmission, the shock loadings of the freewheel didn’t help. The control for the 99 freewheel was a lever on the console, held in freewheel by a notch in the plastic of the console. Not a good arrangement. Transmissions were much improved during 1972. The ring & pinion were made stronger again in 1974. No freewheel since some time in 1971. All have figure out by now that the transmission lives under the engine, in gear oil, not shared with engine oil. Just about any transmission service involves taking out everything. Don’t know about parts situation for these.

    • 0 avatar

      The four-speed came in later.

      The 99 is a case of over-documentation. I couldn’t cover everything about its progression.

  • avatar

    Back in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s these were considered the ultimate winter cars. For some reason people didn’t need four wheel drive at the time, and front wheel drive was radical enough to be considered the ultimate winter solution. Porreco Datsun in Erie, PA was the dealer at the time, and they sold rather well. Well enough to keep competition with the Volvo dealer about a mile up Peach Street.

    • 0 avatar

      OTOH, that didn’t add up to all that many sales, and people were as likely to drive them because they were odd as because they needed to drive through deep snow. You were most likely to find them in a college faculty lot used by people who gave out what used to be called MRS degrees, but are now just unpaid student debt liabilities. People who had jobs that had to be done before the plows ran drove CJs, Scouts, Broncos, Commandos and Wagoneers.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s a pushmi-pullyu, similar to other cars of the time like the Fiat 124 sedan.

    I always admired the 99, and that’s a very nice example.

    As Saab was dying around 2009, I stated that the brand had lost its distinctive qualities and had become the same as everyone else. I think it began when they moved the ignition switch from between the seats up to the steering column.

    Oddly, Mitsubishi’s Mirage seems to be helping the brand because it is *so* different and crappy compared to more expensive subcompacts.

  • avatar

    God, what a beautiful car for function over form. Regrettably, Swedish cars were most uniquely good when I was poorest.

    • 0 avatar

      Same. 50 years later I’m question my beloved and now-gone dad’s judgement in going for the VW squareback over this. He was even a colledge perfesser !

      I do think I could make a 900 turbo work here year round and that NEVS should bring back all the classic Saabs as EVs at least. Safety tech could go where the engine bits used to go.

      • 0 avatar

        One neat thing these 99s and especially the early 900s did was to use a wraparound curvature of the windshield to accomplish streamlining in lieu of simply slanting a flatter windshield ever lower. I remember their ads touting SAAB’s aircraft heritage as the reason for this approach.

        Since today we even have gargantuan pickups being more lobotomized every generation with the A-pillar canting back at increasingly obtuse angles to the hood, thus further decreasing the beltine-to-roof distance to diminish headroom and visibility, I wish SAABs approach would make a comeback.

        • 0 avatar

          +1, jatz. I think that may be the most underappreciated of the 99’s and 900’s various quirks.

          I was in a C-Max taxi yesterday, and I was really nice to be in a car with actual headroom. The high-ish beltline, especially its kick-ups at the C and D pillars detract, but I’m still a little bummed to see it go out of production.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1976 99. It leaked everything by the time I got it in 1980 with 90k miles, but I loved everything about it. It was excellent in winter and had really cold AC for summer use. My dad looked at them when they first came out in Fall ‘68 but didn’t think the dealer network was substantial enough or that the local dealer showed enough growth. I have owned many 99s and OG 900s since 1980 and they are a unique and fun car to drive and own. Probably best relegated to collector use today given the lack of parts from a now defunct company that never sold many in the first place.

  • avatar

    It looks depressing compared with American cars of 60s.

  • avatar

    Saab just kept refining the 99 until it became the 900. This includes the Dolomite/TR7 engine, which gained a twin cam 16-valve head and a turbo. I thought the ‘80s 900 Turbo 3-door was a really cool car back when they were new. Nice leather interiors, comfy seats, good heat, and solid construction. No more or less reliable than other K-Jet injected euro cars of the 80s.

  • avatar

    Still a slick looking piece.

  • avatar

    I’d still love to have a Saab 99EMS

  • avatar

    This vintage of Saabs are the Birkenstock of cars.

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