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May/June 2009

SCNA News May/June 2009

President's Letter

As this issue of NINES is commemorating the Saab 99, I thought I would give my history with the first year of that model. I was stationed at Nha Trang AB Vietnam from 1966-67. I was going from there to Germany so I ordered a 67 96 V4 to be delivered in Frankfurt. While I was at the Frankfurt Saab HQ picking up my 96 V4, the gentleman in charge showed me a book full of 8x10 glossies of the new Saab 99. I fell in love with it right away and decided it would be my next Saab despite the fact I hadn’t driven my new 96 V4 yet.

In less than a year, I had ordered the 99 and picked it up at the local dealer (Karl Johnnen) in Kaiserslautern. Ironically, this is where the engine in my 2006 9-3SC was made (at the Opel plant). My 99 was chassis number 6334 and since I violated the first year rule, I suffered for that.

The car was a European model and to meet US specs I was provided a kit that included: headlights, side warning reflectors and donut headrests. Within a year of getting the car we got a tent trailer which we used locally for weekend trips. The car ran great and fee wheeling worked well. It did blow a headgasket early on and Johnnen replaced it.

Shortly after this we did a fortnight trip of the Continent and the UK with my in-laws. We had recently adopted Adam so the five of us were in the 99 going through Europe. We refer to it as our “If This is Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” trip as that movie reminds us so much of our incredible journey. While on that trip I noticed oil blowing back through the oil filler cap. A stop at a dealer in Scotland showed that I probably had a broken piston ring but we could return to Germany as long as I made sure the oil level was ok.

Long story short – the land had broken on one piston so the engine was rebuilt with over sized pistons and the head shaved again before installing the new headgasket. Before returning to the States in 1971 we went on a trip to the Italian Riviera with a new tent trailer. The Saab 99 pulled well through the Alps even with the trailer. I had installed a radiator fan bypass switch so it was in use at all times in the mountains and while going through cities.

We were stationed next in California at Travis AFB. It was here where the third and last headgasket blew. I drove the car into Berkley where the Saab shop foreman showed me what the problem was with the head in my car. It seemed that Ricardo Engineering had not properly placed a water port in the head. Consequently, there was not enough gasket material there to last for any appreciable amount of time. He had a new head with the water port located properly but to save me money, they merely had to heliarc closed the old port and machine in a new one at the correct location. That coupled with the new headgasket ensured no more failures.

The car and the family went next to Westover AFB, MA. I have to say that after having the head milled three times, having oversized pistons and an Abarth exhaust, the car was a screamer. We traded it in on a 1974 99 4-door just before going to Turkey with it for two years. We never regretted getting this first year car as it saved us many times on the road. Once while driving through West Texas at dusk we ran over a dead 8-point buck at 60 MPH while pulling our travel trailer. The Abarth exhaust took a hit but that was all. My family and I spent many happy miles in our Saabs and that is why we are such devoted Saab owners to this day!

Ian Glenday
President, SCNA