First Cars – Saab and Alfa Romeo

I was cleaning some stuff up at home yesterday when I found the following photos of my first (and second) Saab and my first Alfa Romeo. I figured they were nostalgic enough to share here on the website.

First, I have to apologise for the poor quality photos. These are photos of photos and the original prints were a bit blurry to start with (taken in low light with slow film in a fully manual SLR that I didn’t understand at the time). Nevertheless……

Saab 99E

My first Saab was a red Saab 99E, from around 1973.

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It was 1998, I think, when I bought this Saab 99 from a classified ad in the local newspaper. It was being sold by a parts recycler on behalf of an elderly lady that he knew. The car was quite dirty when I first saw it but you can see, even from these blurry images, how nicely it cleaned up with a good detail. It gleamed as if it was a little Swedish fire engine.

It had a 1.85l engine and sadly, an automatic transmission. That particular combination made the little 99 as slow as a wet week but I didn’t care. It was my first Saab and a wonderful introduction to Saab’s strange way of doing things. The interior was red velour and the headrest holes you can see through the window were something out of a science-fiction book to a guy like me.

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To put a little perspective on things….. I had just graduated from university, was recently married and had absolutely no access to, or knowledge of, Saab’s history. All I knew was that I loved the classic 900 but couldn’t afford one. With this 99, I finally had a Saab of my own and after a lifetime of owning some pretty basic Australian and Japanese cars, it was a whole new world.

Sadly, I didn’t have the little 99 too long. My ex damaged the car backing it out of a driveway with the door open and the resulting damage to the door and front guard made the car uneconomical to repair (especially given our dire finances at the time). If I’d known then what I know now about how rare these older 99s are, I would have tried a bit harder to get it fixed.

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Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint

With the 99 gone, I looked around for something else that would be a new experience to play with. I don’t remember where I got it from, but somehow I ended up with this Alfasud Sprint. It’s an early 1980’s model, pretty much the same as Gavin’s Sprint, which featured on this site last year.

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I mentioned before that I didn’t know much about Saab’s history when I had the 99. Similarly, I didn’t know much about driving an Alfasud, either. I got frustrated with the car, feeling that it was way too slow for a car that looked so cool. Little did I know that an Alfasud only really comes alive above 4000rpm, preferably in a corner.

The Sprint presented with quite a few problems pretty early in my ownership. These issues, combined with a Saab 99Turbo popping up for sale, saw me sell the car less than a year after buying it.

You can see the 99Turbo in the photo below. The 99E might have been my first Saab, but it’s the 99turbo below that started my obsession with Saab. It’s the reason you’re reading this right now, actually.

I do miss that Sprint, though.

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11 Comments

  1. Hi Swade,
    It’s always nice to get a bit nostalgic about cars you have loved in the past isn’t it?

    Those head restraints take me back to my first Saab – a 95 V4 from 1973. This was identical to the one Drew now has. Even to the colour.
    Did you know that an optional extra on top of having the hollow head restraint was to have a rubberized, cushioned insert which occupied that space? 🙂

    I bet your grille badge had the aircraft logo too?

    Thanks for the article.

    Ian

    1. I think I had one of the inserts only, and it was quite tatty.

      The centre grille section – with aeroplane logo – is sitting in my garage 🙂

  2. That looks like a ’72 99. In the US market at least, the ’73 model went to 2.0 liter with a black plastic grill. ’72 was the first year for those wonderful bumpers though!

  3. That red 99 was nice! Our neighbours had a Sprint, but sadly it was torched by a local arsonist in the late 80s..!

  4. Why’s your Saab parked on my mum’s front lawn?! That’s what it looks like, anyway: down Tranmere, after the houses on the river side of the road end, a few hundred metres beyond bus stop 38.

    1. If your Mum lived at 62 Howrah Rd, just opposite little Howrah Beach, then yes. My ex and I were renting the unit out the back for a year in the late 90’s.

      And if it IS your Mum then you and I would have met back then because her son used to pop by often. She was very, very aged, even back then.

      Addendum – Just read your comment again and your Mum’s place was after the houses on the river side ended. This is a few kms before that. In fact, you can see the start of the river-side houses in the background – the big place on Howrah Point.

  5. That makes sense. Bev – who’s old but might baulk at being described as ‘very, very elderly’ – is further south but has a remarkably similar view of the casino and up towards the bridge. Your photo having been taken opposite Little Howrah Beach explains why the Bellerive Bluff looks so prominent but, otherwise, very much the same vista. Nice car, by the way!

    1. Sounds like Bev is still upright and breathing, then. Long may that be the case.

      Our landlady in the front house would have long shuffled off her mortal coil by now (she was already very aged in the late 1990’s)

  6. My first car was a light yellow 93b of 1959 vintage…..my dad bought it new for $ 1750 USD for my brother and I to drive to high school. Lots of adventures in that great car.

    Next was a 1960 95 wagon we bought for $50. The lady we bought it from was told by her mechanic that the trans was gone. When I inspected it I could tell the inner axle stub was broken on the passenger side of the car. I was an expert on this failure, as I had broken a couple of those trying to “get rubber” on our 93b so I knew it was an $25 fix with a used axle stub, adn 30 minutes of work.

    I told the lady that her mechanic was right…..she needed a new trans. We gave her the cash fast and towed it home. After a quick trip to the junk yard for a new inner axle, we were on the road with an nice 95 wagon!

    When I graduated from college, my dad bought me a 1966 Saab 96 2 stroke as a graduation gift. He had a friend who was a dealer and this was a low mileage demonstrator. $1300 USD was the deal. I drove that car for more than 10 years.

    I then jumped into the Turbo era with a 1979 900 turbo. I totally missed the V4 Saab era.

    Crazy to think that those 3 2 stroke Saabs cost a total of $3100 USD to purchase back then…….I wish I had them all in my collection!

    This confession on my Saab roots will give you some insight into how you contract the Saab passion and why I will always own one.

  7. The weird thing is how very similar the back end of the 99 sedan is to a Renault 12. Same styling for the year, from the curve of the bootlid and cut-away side profile of the rear window down to the tail. It’s line ball the same shape. Very weird.
    My first car was a R12, also not knowing anything about cars until it didn’t work one day. And look! The workshop repair manual is in the boot! And here we are…still with 2 Saabs and having had 6 in the family, doing all my own work. Love ’em to bits…