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Our First Look at the GM Heritage Saabs (2012)

Our Saab Heritage caravan arrived in Fort Dodge on February 14th, 2012. It was a very special Valentine’s Day. It was also nice because a customer of ours from California , Gene Molander and his wife, just happened to be at the shop when we arrived. Gene took lots of “first photos” and videos of all the cars and the unloading process. Now that we were home we cleaned the cars up good and I began the slow process of checking them out. I am so glad they are now in a Saab guy’s hands, because they were showing signs of “no clue – how to” all around. I only had a couple days to play with them before Patti and I left on our first-ever cruise on February 19th.

Once I got back in Iowa I had some more time to work on all of them except the Super Sonett.

Here is a quick look at the cars. Every one of them had fouled spark plugs. Cars really need to be driven!

1952 Saab 92 shitty green.
It needed an electric fuel pump installed as it won’t start with the old vacuum operated one. A good update (one Saab did) on any 92. I mounted it under the rear seat so it still looks factory. And as luck would have it someone, when the car was near new, added a dash switch that ran a 6 volt hot feed wire right into the trunk area and then into the left rear wheel well. Not sure if it was a backup light or what. But since it was just hanging there unused, it made an easy wire job for the fuel pump. The neat thing is it is real old “cloth type” wire that was used, so it looks “factory”. The car has a working temperature gauge but it is not the correct one. Someone installed one out of a USA 93 model. It should be in Celsius not Fahrenheit. Also the face/dial is not correct  on it either. But then only a few people would ever know that! Also, the brakes were rebuilt by someone with either no money or not able to source new brake parts I am guessing. They tried (very poorly) to rebuild the old wheel cylinders and had stuff on wrong and some pretty nasty worn out parts. I guess whoever rebuilt them last felt new shoes equals new brakes. Hmmm. But now, with new wheel cylinders all the way around, all new brake hoses, it makes for a pretty good brake system on this car. The ignition points were totally soaked in oil and real nasty. (Again, very common for a 92) The points are impossible to find but I do have some spares. I installed new points (it uses two sets) and set the timing for each cylinder (A rather unusual procedure). I also set the carb properly and to my surprise this old Saab 92 runs really well. It seems to have a lot of low end torque for only 25HP. I know years ago I gave John Moss a set of “1 over” pistons for this car and I am guessing they are in there now based on how well it runs. John Moss is a true legend in the vintage Saab community and anything he ever touched always ran perfect! Also on the points, XP Power in Sweden sells a Pertronix pointless conversion kit. Finally, as mentioned above, it needs some good paint work.

1956 Model 94, Sonett Super Sport, Orange
I got to drive it the afternoon I left on my trip. The clutch slipped a little and it started pretty hard cold (no choke) and refused to start hot. I think this motor needs to be taken down to see what kind of shape it is in from years of starter spray in it. It has the same two barrel carburetor setup as my newly restored 1959 93b GT750 and it runs and starts nicely. I did not use a bore light to inspect the cylinders but would guess they are pretty nasty. The brakes seemed to pull some. I have not had a chance to check it out much yet. Did you know these cars have a trunk (boot) that lifts open like the hood? I did not! This car is a blast to sit in and drive. I can’t wait till all the salt is off the roads!

1960 93f 750GT, Blue
New plugs helped this one a bunch. A inspection light down the bore showed a lot of wall scoring. The motor has a bad growl to it and I suspect the crankshaft main bearings are failing. Guess it is time for the motor to come out and see what is going on in there. The really rare factory temperature gauge is broken. I have it repaired now so I will get that installed soon. The points had too much dwell also and were very dirty. It misses at higher RPM’s (about 4,500) and I suspect the points, but it could possibly be a bad coil or wires too. This one had the idle mixture screw in almost all the way. They need to be out about two turns on most all strokers. Someone had set the idle to about 3,500 RPM’s to compensate for this adjustment error. Funny how nice it idles when it is set up properly. This car also seems under powered for being a GT750. One thing I did notice is the front exhaust chamber is not the correct one, and has been taken apart and welded back together. The GT750’s had a special front chamber that was rather oval shaped. I am guessing the correct one (extremely rare) or a “Swedish Sport” one would really help out the low power issue. On a side note this car use to be owned by Bruce and Deb Welch of Vermont. Bruce had this car running perfect when he sold it to Saab many years ago. In fact Deb and Bruce used the car as a daily driver. Few people know Saabs as well as Bruce does. I had a chance to buy this car from Bruce back in 1997 and but did not have the money to spare at the time. I am honored to be its new owner.

1960 96, Erik Carlsson RAC actual winning car, Red
Just for fun, If you have the book “Mr Saab”, look on page 61. There is a photo of my car coming up through the floor into a fancy hotel in London were the awards ceremony was being held for the winner of the 1960 RAC. The car is still all dirty from the rally, but Erik Carlsson and Stuart Turner are all dressed up in their dinner jackets! This car had a bad coil wire that was causing some issues, but now runs pretty good. A bore light inspection down the cylinder walls also showed a lot of scoring. Again, the factory temperature gauge was broken and someone had hung an ugly NAPA style US temperature gauge under the dash. Not so nice looking on this car. That was one of the first things I did, replace the bastard temperature gauge with a factory correct one. Another odd thing on this car was that GM (or whoever) had the ignition switch fail on them. But rather than take the old one out and install a new one into the factory hole, they again added another bracket under the dash and installed the new one there. So this car had two ignition switches on the dash! I just took the retaining nut off the OEM switch so it would come out, and slipped the new one into place. Granted it is not factory switch but it looks fine unless you know better! I hope to source an OEM one someday for it but the original ones are very hard to find with a KEY! This car most likely had the dash out to be painted by someone at GM. Trouble was they hooked stuff up wrong. It had wires crossed under the dash that were just plain weird. Getting them straight was pretty easy once you figured out where they all went. There are a couple neat things on this car. Eric Johnson (previous owner) was able to come to Fort Dodge one day to discuss the car and point some things out to me. He showed me a blue wire in the trunk that he said Erik Carlsson used as a “Black-out” switch for the brake and tail lights. Apparently, during rally’s at night some people would try to follow Erik Carlsson by looking for his tail lights. Erik’s mechanic wired all the rear lights to a “common ground switch”. When Erik would see someone following him he would hit the switch and this would kill all rear lights! This is something I had to hook back up right away! Eric also showed me a weird sight glass thing with magnification and grid lines that Stuart Turner would have used to help navigate with. He also showed me holes in the trunk were Erik would have stored extra quarts of oil too…something I need to re-add yet! I also discovered a spare indicator light under the right side of the dash on a GT750 style light/switch bar. Once I got all the wires hooked up correctly the light would come on with the front two fog lights. But there was a spare wiring hanging under this bar area. I traced it back and it ran up to the front of the car right to the middle of the front bumper which is where a “3rd” spot light should be mounted! (see RAC hotel photo) Neat stuff huh?

Also, the timing was way off on it. It has a locked distributor, where the weights are welded solid so no timing advance will occur as the engine rev’s higher. This is something I do on all my cars and I may have done this to this car years ago since this car use to be owned by Eric Johnson of Northfield, Minnesota and I worked on it before. This is another example of a non-Saab person messing something up. You set your timing higher (to a fixed advance of 18 degrees) with a locked distributor. Whoever set the timing last set it to factory specs and failed to check and see if the distributor was locked. (To check this on your car just pop the distributor cap off and see if you can rotate the rotor any by hand. A stock distributor rotor will rotate some then it will “pop” back in place and you will feel the spring pressure as you rotate it.) I had forgotten that I had rebuilt the transmission on this car for Eric Johnson when he was doing the restoration on the car. I called Eric Johnson to let him know I had purchased his old car and he seemed very pleased and did not take long for him to get to Fort Dodge to see his old car. I am hoping he will accept my offer to let him and his wife drive it to Iowa City, Iowa for the SOC12 this summer! Again, these cars need to be driven some!

1987 9000 turbo Talladega- Long Run car, silver
This car looks great but after we started it and ran it to the trailer, it would not restart to drive onto the trailer. The Generals’ boys insisted it was out of gas as it would only run on one or two cylinders. I said it seemed like fouled plugs since it was smoking badly (and is never driven!). Needless to say they thought I knew nothing about cars and added fuel to the tank (using my fuel can too, as they did not have any gas!) And yes it still did not start so we had to winch it on the trailer anyway. When we got back to Fort Dodge I threw a set of plugs in it while it was still sitting on the trailer and guess what?? It started right up and ran like a champ! We got it off the trailer and it drove excellent. However the clutch felt poppy and sticky at times and it popped out of 5th gear once. I hauled it back to my house in a trailer to store it while I would be be gone on the cruise because I was out of room in my building in Fort Dodge now. (Time for a sale of my own now, too many cars and need space!) The car ran out of the trailer fine but when I ran it into my garage the clutch pedal stuck to the floor. Add to that the clutch was still engaged and now there was brake fluid leaking out the bell housing. Okay, time to load it back into the trailer so we can pull the transmission to access the slave cylinder that is bad. Why is it that the newer cars always cause more issues? Funny thing is we had thought we might have to drive this car back from Detroit to Iowa as my car hauler is set up to haul four small vintage Saabs, not three vintage ones and a modern long 9000!

Once we had the transmission out, I installed a new slave and rebuilt the master for the clutch too. The line between the master and the slave was “collapsed” and causing the issue. A new line was also installed at the same time. I also decided to take the transmission apart and inspect 5th gear since it had popped out. I thought maybe with all the miles in 5th gear there might be some wear in there. And since I own a transmission shop, it’s easy work for me! It all looked perfect inside the transmission so I just popped it back together and away we went…however the new slave had other ideas. It was defective and leaked badly. Out the transmission came again and another new slave went in. Finally it all worked and the car drove very well. It is really rare to see an old 9000 in such good shape. I love the 9000’s and feel they are one of the best Saabs ever made. In fact, I am collecting them too! Almost have every year now…anyone know of a savable 1986 out there??

That’s about it for now. If you are ever in the Sturgis area…swing on in to the museum and have a peek to see how these Heritage Saabs are doing!

Thanks for reading and Safe Saab’in!

Tom Donney

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