‘Keeping it spinning is the secret’ – reader drives a Saab Turbo

Clive Moore Saab 99 Turbo

by classic-cars |
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[The List] Your Dream Drive made real

Clive Moore has lusted after the Saab 99 Turbo for decades, so we put him behind the wheel of one for a day to see if it lived up to his dreams


Classic Cars reader Clive Moore lives in North Wales, 50 miles from the nearest dual carriageway and almost 100 from a motorway. ‘It does ensure that there is an abundance of great driving roads nearby,’ he explains. ‘These roads are reflected in the cars that I have owned. I have never had any real exotic cars but I did have an affinity for hot hatches.’ His list of previous metal includes Peugeots 205GTI and 309GTI, a VW Golf GTD MkII and a ‘white lightning’ Ford Escort RS Turbo. So forced induction is nothing new to Clive, though the pioneering Saab 99 Turbo is a car he’s long lusted over but has never had the chance to drive. We’re putting that right today.

‘There’s no doubt that the Saab’s talents have been acknowledged by car magazines and testers over the years and I’m intrigued to see how it measures up to the claims,’ he says.

Clive’s dream car list is wide ranging. ‘My list of top 10 cars includes those that I have either fond memories of, admired the most when I was younger, or would most wish to own should finances allow,’ he says. That encompasses everything from an early Range Rover (a step up in comfort from his own Land Rover Defender, which he says suits his active lifestyle and work with the RNLI) through classic sporting cars of the Sixties and Seventies to a genteel Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.

'It’s compact, and has a clean shape with little ostentation’

A Saab gets into the top 10 because Clive has always admired Swedish cars for their safety and comfort, and for their early successes in rallying. ‘The appeal of the 99 Turbo was driven by a journey I made as a passenger in one of the first production models back in 1979,’ he remembers. ‘It was one of the first cars I aspired to, because of the engineering and the solidity of them. I used to go and watch rallies in the late Seventies and I remember seeing 99s competing in the hands of Stig Blomqvist and Per Eklund. They were a bit fragile in UK rallies but did OK elsewhere. It was Saab’s last works rally car before the arrival of the Audi Quattro made the two-wheel-drive machines obsolete.’

Alistair Gregory’s Carmine Red 99 Turbo is one of the two-door cars that Saab produced to homologate the model for competition; three and five-door Turbos were also available. ‘It’s compact, and has a clean shape with little ostentation,’ says Clive. ‘It is quite subtle. Other than a discreet black air dam, the snazzy Inca alloy wheels and some badging there’s little to separate this from a run-of-the-mill 99. The Saab Turbo doesn’t shout at you like the established performance offerings from the likes of Porsche and BMW but, quietly, if offers genuine quality of engineering. Just look at the equipment it was offering as standard in 1978 – everything from four-wheel disc brakes and hazard flashers to halogen headlamps and a laminated screen.’

We pop the bonnet, a substantial forward-opening, clamshell affair, to take a look at the turbo motor underneath. The original 99 of 1968 used a mildly-modified version of Triumph’s slant-four engine, which subsequently went into the Dolomite. Saab produced its own 2.0-litre version in 1972. ‘Compared to the Triumph you can see how they reversed the engine, so the clutch is at the front and the gearbox is underneath, with the water pump moved to the side of the block for easier access,’ Clive points out. Saab planned a high-performance 99 with a Triumph Stag V8, but development didn’t get very far. ‘They made a few prototypes but then realised the turbo engine produced the same power with less weight and lower fuel consumption.’

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