Progress On My 1979 Saab 99

Over the past couple of months I have been working when I can on my recently acquired 1979 Saab 99.  There were a number of things that weren’t quite right or needed improving.  I have a rather interesting Saab 99 because it is far from a standard Saab 99.  The major difference is that under the hood, instead of the standard 1,985cc Saab 99 engine producing 115 horsepower, I have a 2,116cc dual overhead cam, 16 valve 900S engine producing 150 horsepower.


2,116cc Dual Overhead Cam Saab Engine

This additional horsepower makes the Saab 99 a good performer.  And the fact that the Saab 99 is only about 90% of the weight of a Saab 900S doesn’t hurt either.


The Change In Engine Has Resulted In Many Wiring Modifications

The outside of the car is a little unique as well.  It has a one-of-a-kind body kit that Saab was considering making available in North America.  A long-time previous owner was an executive with Saab USA and this car was used as a test vehicle for this body kit.  Saab decided against this or any body kit for the Saab 99 as they were preparing to launch the Saab 900.  As a result, my Saab 99 is a little different from the other Saab 99 cars.


One-Of-A Kind Body Kit Is Fitted To My Car

To make the car more suitable for night rallies, it has been fitted with a set of Hella rally lights.  In addition, I replaced all of the headlights and fitted wire screens over them.


Hella Rally Lights Added

At the back, the left rear tail light assembly is a not as good as I would like it to be and it is on a long list of things that I might improve in the future.

The car has a single exhaust pipe.  In my opinion the exhaust system seems a little restrictive as the muffler is positioned perpendicular to the centerline of the car.  I think that the car would breath a lot better with a straighter, less restrictive exhaust system.


Rear View Of The Saab 99

Inside the car, the standard Saab steering wheel has been replaced by a Momo steering wheel which feels good when driving the car.  However I would like the steering to be a little “crisper”, therefore a new steering box is under consideration.

Being a rally navigator I fitted some of my rally navigation equipment into the Saab 99 to see how it would fit.  The flat dash on the Saab 99 makes placing rally equipment relatively simple.


View From The Driver’s Seat

In the photo above, on the dash from left to right is a window mounted GPS, the Driver’s Display for the Timewise 798A rally computer, and a calibratable Timewise 825 speedometer placed to make it easy for the driver to keep an eye on during speed-time rallies like the Great Race or the Pumpkin Run rally.

The 1979 Saab 99 is old enough that it has a rolling odometer as part of its standard equipment.  I have become convinced that a rolling odometer is key to doing well in SCCA Stock Class rallies.  It should also be noted that SCCA has no rules limiting the speedometers in the Stock Class, so the Timewise speedometer might be in position for Stock Class rallies as well.


Additional Electrical Power Outlets

To deal with the changing electrical needs between 1979 and 2015, I have added six (I know it’s a lot) power outlets.  This will allow for cell phone charging, GPS charging, power to the Stevens rally reader, power supply for my “potti”, and Helphos light,   I have also fitted a general/police scanner to keep track of what’s happening around me.  I also have a two-way 2-meter radio, but I don’t have my Ham license yet.

The cable that is visible in the lower right corner is to connect to a yet-to-be-installed Halda Speedpilot.

In the bottom center of the above picture notice the gear shift knob.  If you look closely you will notice that it has a five-speed shift pattern.  That is because the standard Saab 99 four-speed transmission has been replaced by a Saab 900S five-speed transmission.  Having this extra gear can make it easier to find a suitable gear for the road and speed conditions.


The Backlighted Stevens Rally Reader Can Provide The Driver With Rally Route Information

The above photo shows a central window-mounted Stevens Rally Reader.  This roller-display unit is very useful as it allows the driver to glance at the rally instructions to ascertain or verify “What’s next”.  These units have a red lighted background which is very helpful for night rallies.

In the above photo, you can also see where I have mounted pencil holders, a simple small calculator, and a pencil sharpener under the Timewise 798A rally computer.


View From The Navigator’s Seat

I removed the glove compartment door and replaced it with a thick plexiglas piece to which I mounted my Timewise 798A rally computer, a long-armed, red-lensed Hella navigator’s light, and the small calculator.  This plexiglas background has provided a firm working base for this equipment.

To the right of the rally computer, I have placed a Heuer 60-second stopwatch.  While on the dash I have placed the window-mounted Helphos “searchlight” to aid in nightime sign reading.


Ronal Wheels Have a “Minilite” Look To Them

I bought a set of Ronal wheels for Saab cars to use on the Saab 99.  When I got the car it had wide, low-profile racing tires on it.  For rural road rallying I was more interested in having sufficient ground clearance, so after much looking and studying tire diameters, I was able to find a tire size that had the same outside diameter as the original Saab 99 tires.  Not only did these tires restore the ground clearance, but having the same tire diameter makes the standard Saab 99 speedometer more accurate.

I still have things to do on the car, but it is starting to get about where I want it to be.  Obviously it is my goal to have a good rally car that can be used on all kinds of road surfaces.   I suspect that this will be an ongoing activity.

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6 Responses to Progress On My 1979 Saab 99

  1. Jay Nemeth-Johannes says:

    Very nice setup, Steve. Just a couple of comments. First, I think the reader board is mounted too high and will create a significant blind spot. I see it as a safety hazard. I mount mine lower in front of the heater controls with a pivot so I can reach behind and adjust if necessary.
    Second, I like how your 798 is mounted high and forward. Mine is similar. It doesn’t matter in your case, but anyone looking to duplicate this in a modern car needs to be very aware of the airbags and make sure equipment is not in the path of where it would deploy.
    I have been using the Pentel 0.9mm mechanical pencils (yellow body) for several years now. The larger lead means it doesn’t snap off when bouncing around and the mechanical action means fresh lead is just a finger press away. I’ve always had trouble using a sharpener when the car is in motion. Break the lead before it is sharp.
    The ham license makes a big deal for committees. It is very nice to be able to talk to your control crews and make real time adjustments, especially out in those rally areas where the cells don’t go. I find it of almost no value as a contestant though.

    • Hi Jay,
      Yes, the Stevens Rally Reader is a little high and requires more thought.
      Your comment about the relative location of rally navigation equipment and air bags is the scariest thing that I worry about when navigating in a car rally. When air bags first came out on many cars it was possible to temporarily bypass passenger airbags. Now that option is not available. Airbags are the single biggest reason why I prefer to navigate in older cars.
      Your comment about sharpening pencils on the go is correct, which is why I carry multiple pencils. I can quickly change pencils on the fly. I do sharpen them at controls, but as you note getting them too sharp can be counter productive due to breakage.
      Ham radios are very convenient especially when helping out and knowing what is going on at stage rallies. Also during some transit sections on rallies that I have been in, we have used ham radios to pass on radar locations to our team mates and to communicate with our service crew. The scanner that is currently in the car can provide traffic information and other local road information.
      Steve McKelvie

  2. NOVA Curmudgeon says:

    Steve, The car is looking terrific. Glad to see another set of Ronals on a Saab! With all the equipment you have available you could take on the Coast to Coast record challenge.

    • Hi Steve,
      When I backed the my Saab 99 out of the garage and was finally able to stand back and look at it, the similarities between my car and your Saab 96 certainly crossed my mind.
      Funny that you should mention a Coast to Coast record as just the other day I saw that a few years ago a Saab had established a record time driving between Anchorage,(or maybe it was Fairbanks) Alaska and Key West, Florida. I looked at the average speed that they maintained and I thought that it was quite beatable. For a couple of minutes I contemplated trying to establish a new record for that run.
      Steve McKelvie

  3. Gary says:

    Lovely project! You might look into RAM brand mounts for a way to securely install the various navigation aids in the car. I use their suction mounts with adjustable arms to mount a clip board, odometer/clock, and phone/nav unit in whatever car I might be navigating in. Permanent studs are available that can be hard-mounted as well, allowing you to use the same mounting arms in an even more secure manner. That said, I’ve only had a mid-rally “loss of suction” event twice in the 5 year’s I’ve been using them.

    • Hi Gary,
      The RAM mounts are great. That is what I used to mount the Stevens Rally Reader on. I’ve not had any of the RAM mounts come loose during a rally. I navigated in a couple of rallies for Adam Brodeur and Adam used a RAM mount to support his Alfa Elite. In fact, it was Adam’s successful experience that led me to get one for myself. I got a RAM mount with a flanged end, then I bolted a flat, Velcro-covered surface onto the flanged end of the mount, so I can mount any rally navigation equipment that I need to meet the needs of any particular rally.
      Steve McKelvie

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