Coffee Brake: Welcome To The Draken: 1978 Saab 99 EMS
Another day, another Daily Turismo Project Car — time to introduce everyone to Draken (Dragon in Swedish). I decided it was time to pick up something inexpensive to use as a part time driver while fixing up a few of my other cars. The criteria was simple, just a car that has seating for two adults, three kids, costs about $3k and can be manually shifted. The three thousand dollar price range on Los Angeles craigslist is like a minefield full of life’s bad decisions; finding the right ride took a few months. Japanese econoboxes and ‘Merican sedans reign supreme, but the occasional German, Eye-talian and Scandinavian depreciation special shows up. I ended up test driving an E28 535i and a few other common “enthusiast” cars but when I stumbled upon the Draken, I knew it had to be mine.
The Saab 99 was built from 1968 to 1984 and lives in the land between classic Saabs like the Sonett, 95, 96, or 97, and the newer styled Saab 900 and 9000. It checks all the funky boxes you’d expect from a 70s Saab — quirky styling, wrap-around aero style windshield, bizarre front engine mounted above transmission putting power to front wheels, and front hinged hood. From a electronics perspective it splits the difference between the simple “fix it with a new wire” early cars and the later “oh lordy, why do my wipers turn on when I hit the horn, time for another #%#@&! control module.” Similarly, the mechanical components are also a mixed bag when you compare performance and reliability. Some good, some bad — pray for the best!
Draken is an EMS version, meaning Electronic Manual Special, which combines electronic fuel injection with manual transmission & steering to make something special. This is the car that Stig Blomqvist took to victory at the 1977 International Swedish Rally probably because the Saab’s vehicle weight mounted over the front wheels gave it better traction at a time before 4-wheel-drive revolutionized WRC racing. From the few days I’ve had with Draken I can say that it handles remarkably well for a front drive car from the late 1970s and you hardly notice which wheels are pushing the car around. According to Archibald Vicar M. Dip writing for UK’s Mass Motorist magazine in 1968, “That the 99 is comfortable, well-made, satisfying to drive and
well-equipped ought to mean that other makers should take heed. The
Bavarians at BMW and Alfa Romeo of Milan also offer small and agile
saloons. 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.”
Draken is no ordinary 99 EMS, as it has had two owners since new, the latest one being master Saab mechanic Walter Wong from Right Solution in Culver City, CA. Walter has owned Draken for the past 15 years, buying it from the original owner and his long time customer John Allen in Marina Del Rey — the Draken plates came with the car when Walter acquired it and then stayed with it. Walter upgraded it as he used it for a daily driver, kid hauler, parts hauler and loaner car for his shop. The result is a car that has racked up 168k miles on the odometer but wears its original coat of spleen colored paint (thanks Kaibeezy, I’ll never think of it as anything other than spleen!) and dings with honor. The interior is in surprisingly good condition but the steering wheel could be recovered and some minor cosmetic things need attention. Draken has also benefited from a close relationship with a master Saab mechanic who has swapped all manner of Saab 900 parts into it for easy servicing. Upper and lower control arms, brake rotors, hubs, pads, master cylinder, axles, radiator core, and fan are all from the prolific Saab 900 and can be easily found at the local AutoKragOreillyBoys, or online. Why update all these parts…well…Saab 99 parts are just about obsolete.
It isn’t just the parts that are obsolete, even finding other 99 enthusiasts on websites seems to be a tricky task. Of course Draken has a few issues, the turn signals don’t work, horn doesn’t function (actually, I fixed that last night — horn slip ring had slipped from its plastic shroud), gas sloshes from the filler area in turns when tank is full like frat boy spilling Natty Light, and the headlights are hit/miss when they work. Typically when you have problems like this you turn to your trusty Haynes/Chilton manual (out of print – but I’ve got a used copy on the way) and a quick search on your local forums. However, the Saab 99 forums are severely lacking on participation, probably because if you own one of these cars you will spend your free time fixing it instead of surfing the web…
Okay, I’m being overly dramatic, the forum scene isn’t that desolate and there are plenty of people on general Saab forums to point out various things, but I’m starting to understand why I could only find another 5 or 6 Saab 99s in any shape on a nationwide search for comparison when shopping. Perhaps the 99 is going the way of the dodo bird? Not if I can have anything to do with it.
In the end, I picked up a car that is going to test my ability to debug wiring issues with a multimeter and my bare hands. It could be a horribly huge mistake that my wife will hold over my head for years…or…it could be another example of living the Daily Turismo life. Only time will tell.
Today I learned I want my next car to be spleen colored.
Cardinal Red was the Saab name for it.
Nice! Always loved that 'spleen' color on ol 99's
On an unrelated note, doing a sophisticated craigslist search for Saab 99s is a fraught process, as I recall. Damn 1999 Saabs! Get out of my (internet) way
Just like searching for BMW 2002's on CL. "NO I do NOT want an E46 dag nabbit."
CL's car & truck search has a cool new feature (which should have been standard from the beginning) that lets you specify year range and/or make/model. So you can enter 1968 – 1976 and BMW, for example, and be sure not to get any 2002 E46s in your results.
Funny how you adapt to a substandard system and then get really excited when it's upgraded to be on par with everything else, huh?
CFlo – that requires the seller to enter the year correctly… 90% of these jokers fail to enter any year, much less the correct one.
I prefer just to get a shotgun blast of all results and let my brain sort them out vs relying on the brain of a seller to get the year right.
Fair enough. It does require some amount of brainpower from the seller – but it has worked for me in the recent past. I do usually end up doing a backup "old school" CL search just in case though.
Cool car. Tourniquet on the tow hitch is a classy touch.
I had similar headlight issues with the Datsun. After checking the usual suspects (grounds, fuses, connections, continuity etc), I isolated the headlight switch. I cleaned the contacts therein and function improved slightly, but after 40+ years of pulling double duty switching and vectoring current, there was a lot of resistance.
I installed relays on both the headlight and parking light circuits. It turned the switch into just a switch, and let the relay do the heavy lifting. Function and headlights / parking lights / interior dash lights (surprisingly) all benefited greatly.
This job calls for a good multimeter, so dust that one off and get to it, good luck!
Awesome find!! The Red Dragon oozes Scandanavian style mixed with a rally heritage.
Love the color and those Aztec wheels!
**Inca wheels. I was never very good at Sociology
Enter the Draken!
Thanks to everyone for all the kind words, I sorted out the electrical gremlins this weekend and have functioning blinkers now! Will do an update later.
Color: Burgundy Trans: Manual Mileage: 168,353 Price: $3300
It has working air condition, VERY powerful engine and transmission, heavy duty clutch system because we used it to tow other SAABs.The front hubs, axles, brakes, ball joints are from SAAB 900 turbo model 87.The heater is bypassed, the original radio have 2 amplifiers still under the rear seats . The existing radio doesn't work.The center console, where the gauges are, is not connected.The steering wheel is worn out and that's why there is a cheap cover on it.The windshield have stone marks, when your driving, it doesn't bother with the vision. The left front fender have been repainted, you can see it in the picture.Ten years ago, a drunk driver hit the rear left quarter panel and it is repaired without paint job or body filler.The seats been taken care to the best as we can possibly handle , but the California sun doesn't show mercy.The horn works intermittent, and my dad wants to install a horn button somewhere in the dash. The following are repairs/pros/notes of the car/Oil change with Castrol GTX 20w50 every 8 full tanks of gas-Premium gas only-Rebuilt radiator-Free flow muffler sounds great-Lot of torque in the engine, tuned for maximum power under 3k RPM.-Seafoam is added to the gasoline every oil change to make the injection system working perfectly-Cardinal Red Metallic paint-New head liner and rear parcel cover-spare tire have never been used-There is a extra Inca wheel as a spare, without the tire.-Free of rust, California car, The only rusty spots are in the driver door, check in the pictures and under the rear spoiler, very little ones. CLEAN CALIFORNIA TITLE UNDER MY NAME. The car also comes with the Special Licence plate DRAKEN, known as Dragon in Swedish.The price is firm, the value of the car is higher and we expect to find a good home for my Draken.