The Saab 99 is a car which was produced by Saab from 1968 to 1984; their first foray into a larger class than the 96. While considered a large family car in Scandinavia, it was marketed as a niche compact executive car in most other markets. It was manufactured both in Sweden and Finland and was succeeded by the Saab 900, although the 99 continued to be produced aloongside its successor. The Saab 90, an updated, less complex version using many 900 parts took over from the 99 in late 1984.
On 2 April 1964, 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 the badging available for the Saab Sport.
Project Gudmund with "daihatsu" label
The 99 was not only built in Saab's own Trollhättan Assembly - some variants were built by the Finnish Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki from 1969 onwards; the last five years of this production (1979-1984) was alongside the Finnish built version of the Talbot Horizon, which shared a similar high quality velour upholstery to the 99.
US-specification Saab 99s on the dock in Providence, Rhode Island (1973)
A three-door estate version was planned from the start, but never made it into production. In 1971 (with thoughts about a combi coupé) the work on an estate was restarted, this time as a five-door.
Description and reception
The first engine used in the original 99 was a four-cylinder in-line engine which was tilted at 45 degrees. The 1709 cc Triumph-sourced engine produced 87 PS (64 kW; 86 hp) SAE gross at 5500 rpm. The engine was conventionally water-cooled, but unlike most cars of the time it had an electric cooling fan.
Triumph soon upgraded the engine to 1.85 L; the appearance in February 1971 of the four-door Saab 99 (99CM4 series) coincided with the adoption of the new, bored-out, 1854 cc unit. Saab experienced reliability problems with the Triumph-sourced engines and decided to bring the design in-house. 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 99 was 'front-wheel-drive', its engine being unconventionally fitted 'back to front', with the clutch at the front. Drive to the under-mounted gearbox was by triplex chain. Front-wheel-drive was still a relatively uncommon configuration at the time of the 99's introduction, although earlier Saabs had also featured it.
The bonnet (hood) was front-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. 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." The Cw value was 0.37 while other cars of the time had 0.4 to 0.5. The chassis was also designed for passive safety, with deformation zones front and rear.
Due to the American sealed beamheadlamp requirement in place at the time, the USA models had a special front fascia with four round headlights instead of the two rectangular units 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 freewheeltransmission 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 99 was Saab's last factory 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 'specialised' vehicles and were difficult to drive. Popular Mechanics lists the Saab 99 Turbo as number two on its Top Ten list of turbocharged cars of all time.
Late (1982) SAAB 99 four-door sedan
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.
The Saab 99 (saloon model) featured a heating duct leading to the rear window - a lever between the front seats controlled the de-fogging airflow. The 99 featured a floor-located ignition switch which also locked the gear stick (rather than the steering wheel). This arrangement required drivers to select reverse gear before the ignition key could be removed.
In 2012, a roadworthy 99 Turbo was filmed on-the-road, in a feature on Saab's car manufacturing history, on the British Top Gear television show. Jeremy Clarkson and his co-presenters reviewed the company's history and shared their own experiences with Saab models, arguing that Saab Automobile (Saab's car manufacturing subsidiary, which by then was in bankruptcy) had always striven for safety and innovative features.
UK-spec 1974 Saab 99 EMS
E —Introduced for 1970 (available by order, not from the dealer floor), the 99E (Electronic [fuel injection], four-speed manual) was originally only available in a two-door version. The 99 E had the 1709 cc engine displacement Triumph engine giving 87 PS (64 kW) from Bosch Type-L Jetronic fuel injection instead of the Zenith-Stromberg carburetors. The original carbureted engine produced 80 PS (59 kW). Fuel consumption was 7.8 L/100 km (33 mpg) at 105–110 km/h (65-70 mph).
EMS—Introduced in 1972, the EMS (Electronic [metered mechanical fuel injection] Manual [transmission] Special) was a sportier model that was originally only available in a two-door version. In 1977 the EMS became available in the three-door 'wagonback' body that was introduced for standard models in 1974 (1978 in the USA). It had a stiffer suspension and was sold in yellow or a copper coral metallic paint in '73, Sterling Silver or Sunset orange in '74, black or Sterling silver in '75 and '76, black, Sterling silver, or Cardinal red in 1977, and Sterling silver or Cardinal red in '78. The new Swedish-built engine had 1985cc displacement giving 110 PS (81 kW; 108 hp) and a top speed of 170 km/h (106 mph). The grille badge differed from the more basic models in '73 and '74 only. Other features through the years included quicker steering, luxury interior, soccerball wheels, carpeted trunk, and front air dam.
X7—Introduced in 1973. A very basic model only sold in Sweden and Denmark. The car had no self-repairing bumpers and it also had the same seats as the V4 Saabs, although these did not include electric heating elements. A simpler heating and ventilation system was also installed. The clock, cigarette lighter, glove compartment and the rear window defogger were also dropped.
L—Luxe. A budget model introduced in 1973 that came with the 1.85 L engine.
LE—Equipped with the same fuel-injected engine as the EMS; unknown what years it was produced (at least from 1974).
GLE—Grand Luxe Exeutive/Elegant/Extra, introduced in 1976. The top model, equipped with fuel injection, power steering (in some markets) and automatic transmission.
GLs—Grand Luxe Super. It was the same as a GL but with two carburetors instead of one. It had 108 PS (79 kW; 107 hp) compared to the 100 PS (74 kW; 99 hp) in the single-carburetor version.
1978 Saab 99 Turbo, with combi coupé bodywork
Turbo—Introduced in 1978, although 100 pre-series cars were built in 1977. The 99 Turbo was fitted with a turbocharged version of the 2-litre engine. The body was originally a 3-door combi coupé version but later in 1979-80 the company produced a two-door model, which was a limited homologation exercise to enable the production of a rally car. It was available in Cardinal red, Sterling silver, Anthracite grey, and Black; the two-door was available in silver, cardinal red and metallic green. The Turbo S was a special model with factory-mounted water injection, giving an extra 15–20 PS. In 1978 there was a very limited edition of a little over 100 five-door 99 Turbos. They were only available in Cardinal red.
Finlandia—A limousine version of the Saab 99 GLE combi-coupé with a 25 centimetres (9.8 in) longer wheelbase was introduced in 1977 by Valmet in Uusikaupunki (Nystad), Finland and was called the "Finlandia". It was only sold in Finland. The first year had a short extension piece between the front and rear doors. In 1978 the wheelbase was only 20 centimetres (7.9 in) longer than in the standard model and all doors were stretched by 10 centimetres (3.9 in). Three late 99 Finlandias were fitted with turbocharged engines and manual transmissions at the factory. The tradition continued with the Saab 900 Finlandia in 1979.
Petro-Multifuel engine designed to run on either gasoline or kerosene. Produced 1979–1981 in Uusikaupunki and only sold in Finland.
Saab 99E 1.85L 95 hp/DIN. Acceleration 0–100 km/h 14.6 sec. Top speed 161.5 km/h.
Saab 99 EMS 118 hp/DIN. Acceleration 0–100 km/h 11.6 sec. 0–160 km/h 41.0 sec. Top speed 175.6 km/h.
Saab 99 Turbo 145 hp/DIN. Acceleration 0–100 km/h 9.2 sec. 0–160 km/h 26.2 sec. Top speed 196.7 km/h.
Auto, motor und sport nr4.4 0 60 24-1971 and nr 8-1979.
The 99 was first shown on November 22, 1967. The first production cars came in autumn 1968, although only 4190 cars were built this year. Production increased considerably in 1969 and again in 1970 when the four-door model arrived. In 1970 the interior was also given a facelift and became more luxurious, with a new steering wheel. The exhaust system was now made of aluminum, engine mounts and drive joints were changed. In March, the 99E (also available with a three-speed automatic transmission) was introduced. It had a 1.75 L engine with electronically controlled fuel injection, giving 87 PS (64 kW; 86 hp).
In 1971 the 99 was given a larger and stronger engine, a 1.85 L engine giving 86 PS (63 kW; 85 hp) on the carbureted model and 95 PS (70 kW; 94 hp) for the fuel-injected model. The 1.75 L engine was now only available with a carburetor. Saab also introduced headlight wipers, as well as larger rear-view mirrors and an additional air inlet beneath the existing grille. The dashboard was given a redesign along with new instruments.
In 1972 the 1.75 L engine was no longer available. The power of the engine was increased to 88 PS (65 kW; 87 hp) for carbureted models and 97 PS (71 kW; 96 hp) for fuel-injected models. The 2.0 L engine became available. The major change this year were new plastic bumpers that could take impacts up to 8 km/h (5 mph) and still retain their shape. The suspension was stiffened and received stronger dampers. An electrically heated driver's seat was also introduced. In January 1972 the 99 EMS (Electronic-Manual-Special) was introduced. It was a sportier model that was originally only available in a two-door version; but became available in the wagonback body beginning in 1974 (Europe). It had stiffer suspension and also silver or copper ('bronze')-colored metallic paint as option. The engine had 1985 cc displacement and BoschD-Jetronic electronic fuel injection giving 110 PS (81 kW; 108 hp) and a top speed of 170 km/h (106 mph).
For the United States, a special 99 SSE was developed to satisfy demand while the EMS was not yet available there. The SSE had a black or burled walnut vinyl roof cover and an automatic transmission (by Borg-Warner). It also had the 1.85 L Triumph engine installed.
In 1973 a low-cost model called the 99L was introduced. It was a two-door with a 1.85 L engine giving 88 PS (65 kW; 87 hp). All other models had the Swedish-built 2.0 L engine, which produces 95 PS (70 kW) in carburetted form. The LE model had electronic fuel injection giving 110 PS (81 kW; 108 hp). The LE model was mainly made for export. The inner ceiling was changed, as were protective bars in the doors, and a new black grille. In Northern Europe, a de-contented model called the 99 X7 was also marketed.
In January 1974 the three-door hatchbackCombi-coupé (marketed as a "Wagon Back" in the USA) was introduced. It was 11 cm (4.3 in) longer than the sedan. Front seats and steering wheel were new for 1974, while the EMS received an all-new, model-specific interior. Inertial reel belts were also fitted.
In 1975 the brakes were improved and the hand brake now worked directly on the primary brake pads instead of on separate pads acting as drum brakes inside the brake rotor. The 99 was now available in two versions, one with a carburetor with 100 PS (74 kW; 99 hp) and a fuel-injected version using Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system giving 118 PS (87 kW; 116 hp). In February a model using Zenith-Stromberg 150CDS(E) dual carburetors was introduced. It was only available for the Combi-coupé and has 108 PS (79 kW; 107 hp). The Combi-coupé had been fitted with a unique grille in 1974; this was now applied across the range.
In 1976 nothing major was changed, but a self-adjusting clutch was introduced. The engines were adapted for tougher emissions requirements and several models with an electrically heated rear window were introduced. A luxurious 4-door sedan model was available, the 99 GLE. it came with power steering, an automatic transmission, a fuel-injected engine, luxurious upholstery on the seats and an armrest in the rear seat. The five-door Combi-coupé model was also introduced.
In 1977, the front light clusters and the sedan's tail lights were enlarged. The rubber strips on the bumpers were changed. The "One Hundred series" of test-fleet Turbo cars were distributed around the world. The cars were mainly made from three- and two-door EMS models, but a few four-door and even five-door cars were also made. The four- and five-door models were tested by mostly police in Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.
In 1978 a turbocharged version of the car, the 99 Turbo, was introduced. It was only available as a Combi-coupé until the next year. The turbocharged two-liter engine produced 145 PS (107 kW; 143 hp) giving the car a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). The turbochargers were designed and built by Garrett AiResearch. In terms of appearance, it received distinctive alloy wheels and front and rear spoilers. The 99 Turbo repositioned Saab in the car market and it came to be regarded as an iconic and technologically significant model of its era. By early 1979, over 10,000 turbo-engined Saabs had already been built, as Saab successfully entered a new market segment. Other news for 1978 included the availability of a sunroof, and the EMS became a three-door Combi-coupé in some markets.
In 1979 the Combi-coupé option was discontinued for the 99, as the new Saab 900 was only available in this bodystyle. The 99 Turbo changed over to the two-door saloon bodywork although only a small number were built. The rear axle was altered, the fuel tank changed to a plastic one, new wheels were fitted, and four-door models received new bumpers similar to those of the 900. These bumpers were also installed on two-doors beginning with the 1980 model year. In 1980 the 99 was also given the new and safer seats from the Saab 900, as well as low-mounted protective strips along the sides. The spare wheel was changed to an emergency unit. The carpeting, which had been changed to rubber a few years earlier, went back to textile. In the Swedish market the twin-carb version made a return for a single year, sold as the 99 Super and only available with four doors and an automatic transmission.
In 1981 the twin-carb Super was discontinued, although the 99 did gain a new engine option in its stead: the 99 GL with 100 PS (74 kW; 99 hp) was joined by the 99 GLi with 118 PS (87 kW; 116 hp), both with four-speed manual transmissions. The GLi was a bit more luxurious and had power side mirrors. It was only sold in Northern Europe and only around 1600 were built. All 99s received a new rear seat, velour upholstery, new rear mirrors, a new steering wheel, and the 900's front axle.
In 1982 came the H engine, built by Scania at Södertälje, making it possible for all cars to run on 93 octanegasoline. The two- and four-door 99 GLs were now available with a five-speed manual transmission. The window surround trim was blacked out and the wheels were new.
In 1983 a number of smaller technical and cosmetic changes were made, including a new grille similar to that of the 900 and blacked out B-pillars on two-door models. Brake pads were now asbestos-free. Five-speed-equipped 99s received low-resistance tires, which sit on wider 5½-inch rims, requiring moving the rear axle. Some further minor changes took place for 1984, including electronic ignition, lowered seats, and a more upright steering wheel. Five-speed cars also received interval wipers. This was to be the final year for the 99. It was replaced by the Saab 90 and the Saab 900.
A total of 588,643 were made; this total rises to 614,003 if Saab 90 production is included.