My Saab

The 99 Turbo is an amazing car

Saab cars in every true fan of this brand have similar feelings, and often they have very similar memories of their first encounter with Saab cars. Very often Saab cars are a family legacy, and many become Saab fans at the youngest age – while still children – looking at their elders. One such many Saab stories is a story shared on social networks by Dan Rotman of Australia. As a kid, he was surrounded by Saab cars, and with his father he saw all the benefits of a Saab car. Below is his Saab story…

Saab Story by Dan Rotman

Day three of cars that have influenced me.

In 1974, my dad replaced a defective Alfa Montreal (couldn’t be started three months after purchase) with a Saab 99 ems. I was around 15.

The 99 exuded engineering innovation. I was especially taken by the way the windscreen pillars extended to the inner wheel arch to provide roll over protection. There were heated seats and wipers for the headlights.
I had started reading Autocar and they were fans, too. In ‘77 the first news about a souped up ems was leaked. The Turbo seemed to confirm Saab’s status as a leader as a fresh thinking company.

In response to my desire to buy an Alfa Spider, my parents insisted that my dad’s ems became my daily drive. Then the first Turbo arrived at Bill Patterson Grand Prix in Hawthorn. I used to hang around the showroom like a bad smell and made friends with James Pastras, one of the salesmen. I pestered him for a drive, and he eventually relented, allowing me to take the demo overnight.

Saab 99 was introduced on November 22, 1967, at Teknorama in Stockholm (photo: Atterberg, Magnus, Public Domain)
Saab 99 was introduced on November 22, 1967, at Teknorama in Stockholm (photo: Atterberg, Magnus, Public Domain)

For me, that meant driving the car for as long as I held the keys. Twelve hours.

The Hume to Wangaratta (200+ kmh indicated) , across to Falls Creek, Mt Buffalo, on the dirt to Mt Buller, up the Mountain and back to Grand Prix. Around 1000km overnight. Not only was I hooked, I was also in trouble for adding so many kilometres to the car, and returning it filthy dirty.

Fifteen years later, after having owned and rallied the factory rally car, I managed to cobble together my own version of a two door Turbo, marrying a battered body to the mechanics of a rolled over 3 door. I still have that car, after around 25 years.

The way Saab engineers thought about every aspect of the car was compelling. The bonnet opens in a very unusual way, with a double hinge that makes everything super accessible. They turned the engine 180 degrees, making changing the clutch a relatively simple affair. They ducted heated air to the back, keeping passengers warm and the rear window clear.

The rear hatch opens to reveal a huge cavern, made even bigger by folding the rear seat down. It’s been said that IKEA flat packs were dimensioned to fit inside a Saab boot.

Not only was the car packed with fresh thinking, it was great to drive. The turbo started boosting from just off idle, offering a tsunami of torque. Hills were flattened. Overtaking became instantaneous. The brakes would take an unstinting hammering. The steering, while a touch heavy, was accurate and unfazed by bumps. The view forward was unimpeded by windscreen pillars, because they were pushed to the side and turned so that the narrow profile was in-line with your vision.

Of particular note is the heating and ventilation. Turned to full, the heater will melt your soles, but you can keep your head clear because the vents direct plenty of cool air to your head, without freezing your hands. You can adjust the aforementioned heat to the rear, using aircraft like levers.

The 99 Turbo represents every I loved about Saab; Innovation, practicality, performance and economy.