Another Saab Story

I’d love to tell you about Mahdee, sailing, or even working on Mahdee.  Alas that’s not to be.  We have been very busy preparing for the Schooner Chandlery booth at upcoming Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (Sept 8-10). A big box of indoor/outdoor rugs and storage baskets arrived to be part of the show.  Other fun stuff is trickling in including a display of bronze fasteners from our seller, Ron, Adventure Mats, Freebags, some soap, nautical rolling pins, Q Squared NYC nautically themed melamine, brochures, paint samples, as well as other nautical bits and pieces.  Nothing resembling a sail on the water is coming our way until after the festival.  We’ve promised ourselves a month of wandering with Mahdee –with high hopes for October–and I’m beginning to look forward to it.  Along with the Schooner Chandlery bits coming in, we also have a few parts for Mahdee to prepare for our little fall excursion.

Buttercup and rudder

Mahdee reference:  Here’s Buttercup carrying Mahdee’s new bronze rudderstock on the roofracks in 2008 while we were rebuilding the boat.


So what about those cars? What’s the Saab Story?


Buttercup, the 1976 Saab 99 GL (above)

Well, it was bound to happen. Owners of these Swedish cars already know that the cars are fiercely jealous of each other and every other car you might happen to own–or drive–for that matter. Wesley (the 1987 900 Turbo that I’d love to throw off a cliff) is out of commission and neither David nor I have the goodwill towards that car to fix it so it’s just sitting for now whilst we contemplate its future. Buttercup, the 76 99GL, is so happy and runs like a champ (usually) during those times when we’ve given up on Wesley for some reason or other. We’ve owned both cars for almost 20  years now and we’ve gone more than a year at a time just letting Wesley sit (and hoping someone steals him) while Buttercup proves over and over again why she’s our primary car. Buttercup just loves being the only child — or only CAR in the household. Happy and reliable.

 Oops — she’s feeling sibling rivalries.

Last week we stumbled upon and then (Thursday) purchased a 1977 5 door (CombiCoup/Wagonback) 99GL with a good body from a salvage yard.  Like me, Buttercup’s body isn’t what it used to be — she’s got structural rust and rather than do a big cut and weld job on her we’ve been in search of a donor body.  Last year I had a donor ligament put into my ankle to tighten up things whilst the joint was also repaired — I tell Buttercup that she and I are just going through the same things as we get older.  In her case, her engine and systems will just be plopped into a largely rust-free body.   She seemed OK with the plan.  Buttercup and I have taken several trips here and there to look over potential cars or parts of cars for the operation.

She’s never faltered.  Always up for the trip.

I suppose it’s all good in theory but then when we got on with it and actually purchased the donor car, both Buttercup and the humans involved begin to rethink things.  There’s always history involved.

The 1977 “Donor Body” car.

Buttercup came to us in the late 1990’s as a donor car: she was $200 and she was intended to provide a spare 4 speed tranny for our hero of a car, Pepe, the 1974 Saab 99LE that David’s family bought new and we purchased from Dad in 1982 when David, the family SAAB mechanic, was leaving home for his first post-college job.  Dad wouldn’t be able to find a local mechanic to keep Pepe going without significant cost so he bought a new car and we bought Pepe.  For us, Pepe ran long and strong and good.  We treated him well but used him in tough backroad conditions for many many miles.  We had over 450,000 miles on him when we ran across the Craigslist ad for Buttercup as she was on her way to the crusher.  We got her home and realized that she was low miles, at 67,000, and could have a long life ahead of her.  So, we cleaner her up, had rust patched, painted her a PPG Saab Monte Carlo Yellow, installed new rubber all around — seals, tires, windshield replaced, did new brakes and shocks and spring inserts–and she did live on and on and on.  Happy days, months, years, and decades. We all recall that in 2006, Pepe quietly slipped away to the crusher himself after 500,000 good miles and a deeply fatigued but non-rusty body.  He literally flexed over almost every little bump.  He was ready to go.

Buttercup knows all about it.


Pepe, David’s 1974 Saab 99LE at the 2000 Saabtoberfest in Central Pennsylvania.

Now comes the 1977 Saab 99GL Combi Coupe.  Good body, unknown engine/tranny — we haven’t even started the diagnosis other than to check the pistons aren’t seized up and that with a good battery the start motor has the engine trying to turn over. Funny noises from the fuel pump and we’re now in the mode of clean the lubes and fluids, change the gas, and get it ready to start.

Wait! why are we trying to START the engine of a car that we picked up for the body?  Almost certainly THAT thought was going through Buttercup’s Swedish CPU.

So…what does Buttercup do? Throw a hissy fit, of course! This particular hissy? Well she took that little bit of belt noise of the past few days and turned it into a full blown fragging harmonic balancer (part of the crankshaft pulley) problem. Sure, the model 99 doesn’t usually do this sort of thing — it is always a 900 that’s fragging out the harmonic balancer. Oh, but Buttercup, she’s a smart cookie. Probably been chatting it up with a 900 somewhere in a parking lot while I was in a store shopping.

The bottom line is we’re now down to NO cars until the harmonic balancer (ordered but won’t show up until Tuesday afternoon) shows up AND we manage to pull together the resources to get the job done.  Since when did David and Brenda have to worry about all that? Things we once took for granted, now that we’re living aboard a boat are rather scarce: Space, time, parts, tools… in my mind, Buttercup is joining Wesley in my search for a good cliff.   A friend tells me the levy roads work well.  Buttercup’s in more danger: I can actually DRIVE her to her demise and enjoy a good swim afterwards whereas Wesley wouldn’t make it out of town to the cliff or the levy.

Back to resources.  Time: David’s birthday is on Tuesday.  I know he was probably looking forward to a nice relaxing evening but there’s nothing like a good car-fixing party right?  Relaxing is over-rated.  Besides, he’s always grinning when he’s up to his elbows in grease.

Let’s see…space…Ah, that would be the workshop we rented a few months ago.  It is presently chock full of the new but not working Combi Coupe. Yep, the car without registration and license plates to park on the street, that would be it.  We’ll just play a little roulette with that on I suppose.

Space? Filled.

Parts? On order and showing up 3pm on David’s birthday.  Tuesday. Yep.  Perfect.  I think we even have a spare oil seal for the engine if we want to put it on at the same time.

Oh, yes, then there are the tools. Last time we removed a crankshaft pulley from a 99 it was Pepe’s. Way back in 1987 or so. The engine was OUT of the car and we broke a couple socket extension (cheater) bars. In the end, it took David pounding on the nut with a hammer, after a couple heat (torch) and cool cycles, a Snap-On extension bar inside a 5 ft fence post with a 200lb guy jumping on the end and pushing off the garage door frame with helpers me and another friend pushing down on the cheater at our stations along the 6 feet.
Yes, crankshaft pulley removal conjures up an image of the old I love Lucy show. We did it exactly as Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel would have done.  Bring us forward 30 years. This engine is still IN the car not sitting out in the garage with lots of room all around.  We’re 30 years older, too.  And those young friends who helped us? They’re hundreds or thousands of miles away.  Old and wily is supposed to trump young and energetic but I dunno.  At least we have the internet now. I’ll count that for wily.  Thank you Saab Central: we’ve gotten the advice of experts — or at least other amateurs who have in theory been successful:

It is possible to remove the crank pulley from a B type engined car, but not possible with the later H type. 

B type pulley removal (engine in car)

1. Remove fan belt (also if fitted remove power steering and ac belt)
2. Remove engine mounting nuts and use two wooden wedges between engine and bulkhead to move engine slightly forward.
3. Lock the engine using Saab tool 8392978 inserted into the opening on the bottom of the gearbox primary housing and into the flywheel ring gear, or similar tool, I use a segment from an old ring gear.
4. Raise the car, best to use a proper car lift for this one.
5. Remove pulley bolt using Saab tool 8392961 or a good quality off-set ring spanner.
6. Remove pulley and it’s also worthwhile replacing the oil seal.
7. If using proper Saab tool, torque the pulley bolt to 70Nm if using a 400mm torque wrench.
8. And most important of all, have fun!!!

So back to tools–can you believe we own that Saab tool 8392978? yep.  Not only own it but actually can find it, too.  I’m feeling pretty good.  We have a 27mm socket that was used so many years ago on Pepe’s project. It was painstakingly ground down so it fit over the nut with no extra depth. Ah, a test fit shows us that it might not work while the engine is still in the car. Firewall. On to the Internet shopping and a bike ride to Home Depot gives us a straight 27 box socket that might do the trick but well, maybe not. An offset is actually needed. Offset sockets can be procured via Amazon and other providers to show up…Wednesday. That doesn’t work. I have other commitments all day Wednesday and it would be really nice to not have to rent a car for those.  Tomorrow morning I’ll give the local SnapOn Rep a call.  They have roving trucks and it is possible that between Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon I can nab a really nice SnapOn offset box wrench to do the job.  Maybe. Perhaps another tool place nearby will be open on weekdays as well.

And there you have it.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Buttercup’s Antics Again

OK, so another post on cars…that’s life.

We don’t drive either car very much and the dock master at the local marina keeps asking us if we’re storing our cars here since he doesn’t see them going anywhere. Buttercup literally has only been getting driven to the car wash and back until a couple weeks ago.

Both cars are looking a bit shabby (more than dust!) and we promised ourselves that we’d–at a minimum–get Wesley (the while 87 900 Turbo) painted this year. They’ve had a tough time since we left DC in late 2006–they’ve sat forlornly outdoors near the ocean in various places with salt spray thrown on them and barely had a bath in the past 5 years. We noted tiny bits of rust along the sunroof and edges of doors on Wesley so we decided to paint before it gets too far along. The jury is out on whether we should paint Buttercup. She’s got, well, how can I say this delicately…ummm…serious rust. And. Well. Quite a bit of the serious rust. Structural. The sort of rust that sadly takes cars to the junk yard and well, unless we find a new home for Buttercup–ah, hem, somebody with a background in welding and a big garage–Buttercup will be finding her way to the junk yard in the next couple years too. Sad. We had Buttercup painted 10 years ago and really the paint still looks good but rust has set into the places in the undercarriage that these cars all eventually rust out. Considering she was built in 1976, I suppose we should think she’s in great shape.

Recent pics of Buttercup–top she looks OK, but lower, see the rust along inside the doors.

Every time David and I focus our energies elsewhere (for example, on getting Wesley into a shop to be painted), Buttercup finds a way to interject her “importance” into the picture. For years, Buttercup has run a little hot and only last year we installed a broad spectrum O2 sensor and good fuel/air gage so we could see if she was running too lean (and thus the running hot)… indeed, she’s lean..and no, that’s not good! The Bosch CIS injection system on the 1976 Saab is similar to those on numerous Porsche from the early 1970’s until the early 1990’s so I found much info online about how to tweak the system by swapping out the warm up regulator or modifing it to be adjustable. So, a couple weeks ago, I decided to bite the bullet (she’s my car after all so it was my decision) and do some unorthodox modifications to Buttercup’s fuel injection system to allow her to run at a better fuel/air mixture.

Then, we started test-driving Buttercup. All was well with the fuel/air mix after the initial injection system mod and even better after David made a part of the non-adjustable warm up regulator adjustable. I was all set to start driving Wesley around to the auto body shops for estimates on the paint job. Buttercup decided “NO! I’m the center of attention, people!” and proceeded to refuse to let us have the use of the starter motor. Ah, a familiar antic on the part of our cars to do this to each other. The old “I’ll just make my starter unreliable so I’m the center of attention” trick is really that–OLD.  Previous cars Pepe and Bopeep played this jealousy game for many years.  Now it’s Wesley and Buttercup, but the game hasn’t changed.

So we push started her here and there and yonder while deciding if it REALLY was the starter or something else. After two weeks of huff-and-puff interspersed with the occasional quick start, we could pretty much say that, at a minimum, the solenoid needed replacing. On this car, it is hidden under the exhaust manifold. David spent the better part of a day putting our spare solenoid in and discovering it wasn’t just that. So, in goes the “we’re not sure if it works” starter motor from another car. Nope, that heavy bit of iron has been traveling with us for no reason other than to be a core to trade in for another starter. $105.43 later, I’ve got a UPS tracking code on a rebuilt Bosch starter (with new solenoid) that should be here early next week.

With my mind turning again towards Wesley’s paint job, I was unsuspectingly side-swiped by the information from David that Buttercup seems to have gasoline dripping from under her fuel tank–a leak! Hummm….we removed that tank and had it lined with a “life time guarantee” coating about 7 years ago while in DC. I began to imagine having to ship it back there or find a vendor here with the same “system.” Argh! I just hoped it was a hose. While I kept my fingers crossed, yesterday evening David crawled under Buttercup to take a look. It was cracks in a little pre-formed bit of fuel hose connecting the fuel return line to the tank. We drove Wesley over to the auto parts store to find out if they had anything with even one 90 degree bend in it, though we need two. There, covered in under-the-car grime and with hopeful expressions on our faces, the poor clerk must have really felt sorry for us; he gave us the short straight length of hose we needed and wished us luck in bending it. Have I mentioned that we tend to look like homeless people once we’re in the work-on-the-car-or-boat mode? This is just more evidence that, no matter what David says, it isn’t my imagination that we look pretty pitiful at times.

With a SAAB part number stamped into the 5/16″ hose body, I thought “google is my friend” and began the search, last night, for the replacement part. I figured it wouldn’t be available but I’d try. If I couldn’t find the part we’d do as David wanted to and bend the new hose into shape. What I found online really horrified me. It was a USDOT recall:

1976 Saab 99 Fuel System, Gasoline Recall 78V001000
NHTSA: Action Number: N/A Service Bulletin Number: 78V001000
Report Date: Dec 04, 1978

Component: Fuel System, GasolinePotential Units Affected: 18088 Manufacturer: Saab Cars Usa, Inc.

Summary: The fuel line may have been installed in a way such that the axle could contact the line and eventually cause the line to rupture, allowing fuel to leak to the ground.

Consequence:  see below

Remedy: The dealer will remove the hose between the return check valve and fuel tank and install a longer hose of a preformed shape.

Notes: Vehicle description: passenger vehicles. System: fuel; fuel line.

Consequences of defect: fuel leakage is a fire hazard and if an ignition source is present, a fire will occur. Personal injury and property damage could result. Note: the following precautions should be taken to prevent the rear suspension from bottoming and the fuel line from rupturing: (1) avoid driving with fullload in the trunk and more than three adult passengers, 2) avoid driving overrough roads and drive only at moderate speeds, (3) check rear tires to ensure proper inflation, (4) do not operate the vehicle if any leaking fuel is detected.

OK, so first, it seems the preformed hose IS the replacement one.  However, finding the recall info told me that I wasn’t about to let David bend the straight bit of fuel line in place over the axle into the tank.  Oh, no.  The replacement part is nowhere to be had, though.  Stumped….All I could think was how heavily we load up Buttercup anytime we use here as our main vehicle.  We use our cars like trucks.  Have I mentioned the semi-truck sized speed bumps at the marina?  The few trips to the car wash probably did in Buttercup’s poor fuel line.

Stumped….until I found a wonderful, nifty little device called a “Unicoil” by the Gates company.  Ah–a way to put the required bends into the fuel line.  Of course, none of the local parts places have it in stock in the 5/16″ size.  I ordered two from NAPA and will be picking them up tomorrow morning.  We’ll bend them into place on the “free” fuel line we got and install them.  I’m considering hanging a rosary in the car that we can use whenever overloading Buttercup with pre-trip provisionings though!

I’m glad to have discovered the Gates Unicoil since we have a couple of really “bent” hoses in Mahdee’s cooling system that I’d like to use them with.

I will post pics tomorrow of the hose and the unicoils.

Buttercup’s Latest

You know, I do believe Buttercup can read.  Really.  And she’s been reading the blog.

Just as we’re ready to whisk ourselves away and up the coast sailing, she threw a major hissy fit last Thursday.  She was running a bit rough earlier in the day and David started driving her much more aggressively.  Those two have always had their…well…shall we say “issues?”

David picked me up after my physical therapy session downtown and we headed back to the boat to finish up putting seals around the new doors David made for enclosing Mahdee’s engine compartment.

Not 15 minutes into the drive, with David accelerating hard and pushing dear Buttercup.  Yes, you do hear sympathy in my voice here.  Buttercup is an old lady–she’s allowed to degrade and well, it is her nature to have hissy fits when she’s not the center of attention!  David should know better than to push her.  Buttercup always wins.

So…back to the story, 15 minutes into the drive, just as we were cresting the Coronado Bridge we began to hear a tap, tap, tap and Buttercup triumphantly said “so see what you made me do???”  and “so THERE!” she blew up the exhaust valve on her number 1 cylinder.  We coasted into a parking place in front of a church.

As I accusingly glared at David, saying “how COULD you do this to poor Buttercup?” he just glared back and called Buttercup something I won’t repeat here.  David popped the valve cover gasket off and checked the valves.  Nothing obvious there.  So, he got the folding bike out of the trunk–where we often keep it since we go from anchorage to anchorage and often David rides the bike to pick up the car or drop it off at the next anchorage we’ll be in–and rode it the 3 miles down to Fiddlers Cove and picked up Wesley along with the car diagnostic tools.

A short while later, we discovered no compression in Buttercup’s number 1 cylinder and called for a tow truck to take us to North Island’s auto hobby shop.  Thank goodness for USAA’s free towing service with our insurance!  David drove me home and then later took the head off the engine, stared at it in disbelief as he looked at the full extent of Buttercup’s hissy fit.  She’d blown up the valve and a couple tiny bits were welded to the top of the piston.

David was ready to just give up on Buttercup but since he’d been hoarding an old spare engine for her that someone gave us last year, he couldn’t quite look me in the eye and say “lets get rid of her.”  The next morning we drove over to the hobby shop parking lot where Buttercup sat and I took a look at the piston.  It looked fixable to me without pulling the engine.  A tiny bit of blown up valve welded to the piston where it could be filed off. Yes, this looked doable.  And, thank goodness the good-ole-packrat personality of David came to the rescue here with that spare engine head.  So, I ordered engine gaskets for overnight delivery and we said if they arrived by the weekend, we’d just install the new “spare” head from the other engine.  If not, we’d take the spare head to a nearby wholesale automotive machine shop where it could be resurfaced, pressure tested, and cleaned.

The gaskets didn’t arrive.  Not only did they not arrive, I learned that though all the auto parts places list these gaskets, none seem to have them.  We took the bad head as well as the spare head to the machine shop where the spare is being spiffed up into something quite nice for Buttercup as I write.

I really puzzled over this blow up wondering how it could have happened with Buttercup being fairly low miles for a Saab and all.  She had less than 70K miles when purchased in 1999 and now has around 150K.  Well, then David said “oh, yea, remember when we swapped out the head on Buttercup? We put Pepe’s old head on her because we thought her head might have problems?”  Ahhhh! Now it makes sense.  Pepe, our 1974 Saab 99le had over 460K when we “let him go” to car heaven due to body fatigue.  The head was installed in Pepe in 1983 when Pepe had about 150K…so that was a really, really high mileage head we’d saddled poor Buttercup with.

But, all is well, we’ll be picking up Buttercup’s spiffy rebuilt head from the machine shop tomorrow and (in theory) gaskets should all be here by next weekend.  So–Buttercup will be back to the road again.

During all this Buttercup-itis–it’s been 6 weeks since my surgery and I can now drive again–I’ve had the opportunity to drive Wesley (the 1987 900 Turbo)  and I was appalled.  Poor thing, he needs new wheel bearings that David has been withholding!  So, to reward Wesley for being such a good sport about it, I ordered new front wheel bearings as well as an outer CV joint for the passenger side.  David will be doing penance and installing these on the weekend.

I do believe I’m going to have to more closely supervise David’s relationships with both cars–I really think they’ve had way too much abuse from him.

Onwards, Galley

I’m getting very, very excited.  David is finishing up the framework for my galley sink and counter.  Though the stove has been installed the entire time we’ve lived aboard, my countertop has consisted of a cutting board atop of David’s large Stanley tool chest.  I’m just thrilled to think that shortly I’ll have a sink, too.  My sink has been a bucket that gets emptied outside and filled from a jug.  Pretty primitive.

Today, I’m sitting up in the charthouse–strategically avoiding all the dust and mess that David is making as he works.  My tasks are, in theory, easy: find a particular banjo fitting for the car’s fuel rail.  Yup.  We’ll see.

It’s all about Buttercup, really

The saga continues. Like her namesake, Buttercup, in the Princess Bride book and movie, our dear Buttercup has got to be the most self-centered entity we know. Buttercup to the rescue? Not. Sadly, she is incapable of helping out when help is needed.

We returned from DC, ready to take Wesley’s transmission out and up to Paul for another re-build. Oh, but we forgot that we’d actually have to count on Buttercup to, ah-hem…run properly. Sure enough, the bad clutch hydraulics problem seemed to be intermittently back. And, a quick look showed that it was the slave cylinder throwing out a little spurt of fluid every once in a while. Not the master cylinder. It seemed that Buttercup’s slave cylinder was bad even though it is brand new. I called Chip, a SAAB guru on the East coast to ask what he thinks of the problem. That was a big mistake. Living a couple hours North of Chip, when we were in DC, we used to buy parts from Chip all the time and always enjoyed his various car stories. I called Chip a couple months back when Buttercup was needing a (used) part as I searched across the country for a solution (blog post here) but he couldn’t help at that time.

I’d completely forgotten how Chip has a low regard for SAAB owners–thinks we’re all cheap and always short-cutting things. There could be nothing further from the truth with Buttercup and Wesley’s care, but, such is life and Chip’s opinions. He also has a chip on his shoulder (pun intended) about people getting advice from him but not purchasing parts via him. Since, in the past, we’ve purchased numerous parts via Chip–indeed entire parts cars!–I keep forgetting about this issue he has. I suppose he thinks “they’re across the country, they’re not going to buy anything from me.” I know for a fact that the man really doesn’t know how loyal we are to businesses that have supported us in the past.

Well, the important part of the call to Chip this Saturday morning went like this, Me: “have you ever heard of an intermittent slave cylinder problem when the cylinder is brand new?”
Chip: “you bought a cheap part from someone else and now you’re calling me for free advice?
I don’t appreciate it and you get what you pay for.”
Me: “do you have the part? Send it to me.”
Chip: “I’m busy, call me back next week.”

So much for calling Chip for help OR PARTS in the future. Geeze. I’d thought it was OEM…but I’d bought it from an online vendor, Pro-Tech and I could be wrong. Anyway, we bought a replacement cylinder from a local SAAB repair shop in San Diego and that shop’s owner confirmed that there were Italian-made slave cylinders out there in commerce that were faulty. However, if the casting had an “H” cast on it, it was OEM. Saturday David did a quick job of replacing the slave and rebuilding the master on Buttercup and…drum roll…it had an “H” in the casting. We’ll be returning this part for a refund since it should be a quality part. I feel like calling up Chip and saying “so there! I’m not as cheapy as you think I am!” But, rather, I suppose I’ll just leave him and his little neurosis about this matter alone. Everyone has their issues, after all.

Buttercup’s issue certainly seems to be that she absolutely MUST be the center of attention and care. After the clutch problem was all squared away, David pulled the engine out of Wesley in record time Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. However, we discovered that Buttercup has decided to have a little hissy fit and not run unless the hood is slightly ajar. Seriously. Luckily the SAAB hoods open backwards so there’s no risk of accidentally opening all the way while driving. It seems that something–likely the high tension wires going to the distributor–may have a short or some problem such that when the hood presses against them (as it does with those wires) they allow Buttercup to, not so gracefully, rather emphatically state “cough, cough, sputter, oh POOR me…I shall expire!” and then cease running. Lucky for us, we quickly figured it out while troubleshooting it Saturday evening on the drive to the boat from the hobby shop. Unlucky for us, we haven’t picked up a new set of wires to fix it. In the meanwhile, Buttercup just has to deal with being driven around with her hood ajar. Embarrassing, for us, of course. But, it allows Buttercup to think that she remains the center of attention–or so she thinks. Perhaps we’ll leave it that way for a while and she won’t try any further shenanigans.

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