PNW Special – How Hard Could It Be? 1980 Saab 99 GLi

Last week, we here at RustyButTrusty were up in the Pacific Northwest (which, incidentally, is getting a new nickname of Pacific Northwarm – instead of Northwet – after this summer). As usual, the scenery was inspiring, but there was a major lack of interesting old cars on the road compared to the old-car-loving San Francisco Bay area. That didn’t stop us from spotting an MGB, a Citroen DS, a BMW 2002, and the resident Alfa Milano on Airport Road in Everett. However, upon arrival back home, we were shocked and disappointed to discover that not one, but two Saab 99s had popped up on craigslist in Skagit County, home of the RustyButTrusty in-laws. Find the first of two, a Saab 99 GLi, in Bow, WA, just north of Mount Vernon, WA (where the I5 bridge collapsed).

1980 Saab 99 GLi right front

I have faint memories of a friend’s father bringing one of these home new in Montreal, and being warned not to touch its predecessor, which had rusty fender lips. As the seller points out, this car is unique for having some 900 parts, including early steel wheels, bumpers, and indicators, as well as a plastic gas tank, interior, turbo transmission and rear beam axle.

1980 Saab 99 GLi right side

The pale yellow paint appears somewhat oxidized, but otherwise this seems a pretty straight example. The tail lights also look to be updated, as the earlier 99 notchbacks had a slimmer horizontal unit. Notice what looks like rust at the lower left corner of the trunk lid – the seller mentions this along with two more below the windshield and next to the passenger-side mirror.

1980 Saab 99 GLi left rear

Engine looks pretty standard fare for the 99 – and this is where the hard part is. The car needs a new water pump, and without that it won’t run. This is particularly challenging because Saab engineers, being from the planet of Saab, decided the waterpump should go on the back of the engine, while the clutch is in the front. There is a fair amount posted online about the removal of the old pump, and replacement with the new bits. It sounds lengthy but not horribly complicated if you’re patient and take your time.

1980 Saab 99 GLi engine

Having grown up with a 99 Wagonback, I can’t imagine living without the convenience of that gigantic hatch. The interior on this car is in very good shape for the age, although it does need a new headliner – do that when you replace the windshield. Notice the mix of 99 dash and early 900 seats with those funky alien-looking headrests.

1980 Saab 99 GLi interior

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4 Responses to “PNW Special – How Hard Could It Be? 1980 Saab 99 GLi”

  1. Tara Says:

    Actually, all those lights are completely normal for a 77-80 Saab 99. I’ve owned a 77 and a 79 and they came that way stock. In ’77 they went to larger front indicators and larger taillights on the sedans, so they’re not “from a 900”, though the bumpers on an ’80 might have been shared with a 900

  2. Tara Says:

    Also, 1979 900’s and 99’s used the same exact seats (with a hole in the seat back), then both models changed to a more modern headrest in ’80. However in ’81 or 82 the seat design was changed so that they are not easily interchangeable with the older type, which used the same mountings as far back at least as 72 (could be as far back as 69 but I’ve never seen a super-early 99 so I can’t compare.). I only know this because I have 1980 900 turbo seats in my 72 Sabb 99 and they’re a direct swap.

  3. Chris Keen Says:

    Interesting details – now you mention the ’79 seats, those sound like what was on my dad’s ’75 99LE.

  4. Jim Says:

    Regarding the water pump, this car, having a “B” engine has a gear driven water pump that sits in the block just under the intake manifold. It was intended to be rebuilt rather than replaced. It’s a curious legacy of the Triumph roots of the SAAB 4 cyl. Love the old SAABs and miss my old 99 Turbo!

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