Thursday, October 9, 2014

Draken Update: 3...2...1...Ignition?

It isn't often that a car leaves me stranded.  Problems are common with the junkers I've driven over the years, but with the exception of a totally grenaded clutch, I can't recall a time that I've needed to call a tow truck in the past decade or two...but that was before I purchased a '70s Saab.  This is a continuation of the story of the Draken and part of Daily Turismo's Project Car series.

Here the Draken is safe at home in the driveway, but a few weeks ago it had a no start condition that first seemed like a dead battery.  Turned the key and no lights, no start, no nothing...but the headlights still worked, hazards okay.... not the battery...ignition switch?  I spent a few minutes fiddling with the key/ignition and eventually got the car to start and managed to get tow truck.

Ignition switches are hard to access for a reason. They are hidden from the hands of filthy thieves who might try and force the ignition switch and take your precious Saab without leaving you a pile of cash. The Saab 99 ignition is located just behind the shifter between the front seats and is exposed by removing a plastic cover with a phillips screwdriver.  The wires are totally exposed for hot wiring, but the 99 requires the owner to shift into reverse before removing the key (except this feature was disabled in the Draken), so you could start the car but you'd have to drive home in reverse.  I checked the switch and found it had 12 volts going in, but 3-4 volts coming out.  Time for an overhaul. 

To pull the ignition switch out you need to remove the entire shifter/ignition housing piece, and to do this requires a special tri-pointed Saab tool...or a 7/16ths socket and a grinder.  I mostly followed the directions from the Saabsite here, but had to go on my own when rebuilding the electrical portion of the switch.

With the shifter/ignition housing removed you can remove the actual ignition switch, which is just a matter of a few more fasteners.

Of course the Saab 99 ignition switch isn't part that you can simply order on the interweb and replace, so I pulled it apart for servicing.  The bits inside didn't look that bad, but I hit it with some contact cleaner and lubed up the mechanical detent portion.

Not bad for a 36 year old part?  Actually, this might not be the original ignition switch and it looked fairly new.  Back together and back inside.  The switch consists of an electrical contact portion (right) that connects to the external electrical spades and a mechanical spring loaded section (left) that deals with mechanically giving you the feeling your key is in the right spot.  It wasn't too bad to figure out, but a few parts are eensy-teeny-weeny and need to be carefully installed in the correct position.  This photo shows the inner plastic mechanical part installed in the housing, but there are a few springs that need to be placed carefully. 

I took the time to inspect and lube the shifter linkage, which didn't look bad at all.  The reverse lock-out portion of the original Saab anti-theft system was actually floating around inside the housing, so it may have broken instead of being defeated on purpose. 

Back in the Saab everything look great, but still no start.  Checked the voltage coming into the switch and it was 12 V.  Checked output and it was 2V.  Drat, I must not have cleaned or reassembled the switch correctly.  Pulled apart the entire ignition assembly (getting good at it) before I decided to ohm out the switch.  Switch tests good.  Blast!!  It was the dreaded exposed under hood fuse panel limiting current to my ignition switch and I had taken apart the entire thing for nothing!!  A quick test with an external power supply proved the hypothesis and it just so happened that there was a big thick fused red wire heading to stereo amplifiers (that I don't use) right next to the ignition switch.  Fresh power to the ignition switch and everything works great.

With the ignition back in business, I decided to tackle a few cosmetic issues, including the passenger door pull that some neanderthal acquaintance of mine was kind enough to remove. 

A little bit of inhaling fumes from the plastic welder later...

...and presto, door pull is back in business.  We'll see how long it lasts.

One of the best parts about buying a used car is the neat stuff you find inside it from the previous owner.  Here is a nice handwritten note detailing how to remove the door panel without destroying the speakers.

Another cool find was the homemade Dymo labeling on the EFI computer located on the passenger seat rails that reads "Please don't steal, this is not an amplifier.  It is the fuel ignition regulator, it is impossible to replace."  Fuses are located under the hood and exposed to the elements, but the ECU is under the passenger seat?  Thanks Saab!!

More things found -- some money. 

I removed the original stereo/center console/gauge cluster thing that was sitting on the transmission hump and clearly not an OE piece.  The console had an aftermarket automatic transmission brake controller module inside of it -- so who knows where that came from.  I didn't want a big flashy DIN radio to clash with the Draken's minimalist '70s aviation looks, so I found this Lepai hi-fi stereo -- the install and details will be the subject of a future write up.  Tunes rocking, ignition functioning...time for a drive.

Take the newly fixed Saab to lunch, key in the door...snapSeriously?  Finally, the Saab stranded me.  No tow truck, but I did have to get someone to pick me up to get the spare key, but seriously...what are the odds?  The old key finally gave up the good fight.

That is all for the Draken update for now, but stay tuned for more details and how to create your own trippy night time photographs using a dSLR camera, a Saab 99 and a Maglite.

Want to share your tales of mechanical woe? Email us here:

All of the DT project cars can be found in our aptly named Daily Turismo Project Cars section. That's right, get your fix with the 242, DTM5, Draken, and Schmetterling all in one place.


  1. Another excellent article! There is much to admire, but the home-made security fitting wrench was a highlight for me. I also have a special drawer in my toolbox for the home-made productivity aids.

    And I was delighted (pun intended) to see that you are going to answer the questions that I have about the trippy photos!

  2. Cool stuff sir - your plastic-welding-fu is strong. Love the easter eggs hidden throughout.

  3. I believe if you go back to one of my past posts on the Treasures of Old Saab Ownership there was one about putting some silicone grease or similar on the ends of each of those little ceramic bullet fuses to inhibit corrosion, then opening the box once a month and running your finger down the rows of fuses to roll each of them back and forth a quarter-turn. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    This will next manifest itself in the failure of the electric radiator fan, which is a MUCH bigger deal when you're stuck in traffic in 90+degree heat watching the temp gauge climb toward I-just-cracked-the-head. Those engines ARE prone to cracks from the water jacket to the combustion chamber if the head hasn't already been replaced with one of the thicker replacements.

    Oh, and speaking of radiators and all that, and how's the cooling system? The 99s have one funky T-shaped hose back on the left side, oddly enough I can't remember what it does now but the hose-manufacturing technology of the time apparently wasn't good enough to actually manufacture that hose with cord reinforcement in it, so if it's an OE-type hose it will gradually balloon and eventually crack somewhere. If I had a 99 again this is one thing I'd figure out some way to replace, maybe welding up a steel or aluminum T-fitting and using some other properly reinforced hoses to connect it all.

    Good that the locks-in-reverse functionality has been neutered, great as the ignition-on-the-floor is as an idea Saab's implementation was based on some hokey little gears-and-levers and the reverse-locking bits eventually fail and leave you stuck in reverse.

  4. Oh, and in terms of stereos I have a $20 Lepai amp in the shop and it works great you really want all those sharp corners that close to your leg?

    In these days of Bluetooth and USB I don't even want a mechanical tape/CD/whatever anything in my head unit, as they're usually THE point of failure, JVC has a couple $60-75 "digital media" DIN-size head units with an adequate 2 channel amp and usable outputs for other stuff, good BT support including phone, etc.

    Most US 99s I thought had a plastic add-on lump under the center dash to accommodate a stereo, doesn't look like yours has it?

    1. mrkwong - as I recall you had a treatise on Saabs a while back. Question on a 9000 Aero - looking at a 95, 5 speed, single owner with a bit over 75k on the clock. Full maint records available, plus a set of snows on rims. Both sets of tires about six years old. Needs some rust repair over RH rear wheel, and a general exterior detail. What would you pay?

    2. Treatise? I was hoping for a Ph.D. from all this...

      Anyway...9000 Aero, nice car, at 75K you'll need struts/shocks and maybe a few other random bits,

      Rust repair? Where's the car coming from? My baseline on a low-mile 9000 might be $4500 if the interior's nice. My perspective is a bit bent, if it's chassis or external engine I don't care too much 'cause I can do all that myself, but I'll take off $1000 immediately for anything that involves picking up a paint gun because I can't do it (and when I try I screw up.)

      So $3500 would be my absolute top, but if the interior's perfect and you have pics of a good bodyshop guy in bed with two of his wife's best friends adjust accordingly.

    3. Mrkwong, you must lead an interesting life.....

    4. No, I've never been photographed with a good bodyshop guy's wife.

    5. I considered that JVC digital media unit,but it still uses a big blue din display, and I wanted something a little more old school. The photo makes the heat sink fins look like knee choppers, but it doesn't really look that bad in person. The original radio bezel and mounting brackets are long gone and I found some on ebay a few weeks back, but it was going to cost me $100 in mounting pieces before I purchased the stereo. The Lepai is a small solid state unit that has FM radio, USB, SD car and aux inputs, but it also looks like something that would have been in a car (maybe an aftermarket equalizer?) when new. I've mounted it with 20 lb double sided tape (classy, right?) for now. One possible solution is to use this website that does custom one-off front panels for stereos. I could make it say Saab 99 EMS and it would look perfect.
      p.s. mrkwong -- Fantastic contributions in the comments recently, so much good stuff, I've had a hard time keeping up!!

    6. mrkwong - yeah, my head was in roughly that area. I have to see what the guy will be willing to take for it - as he's asking top market, but hasn't sold it in two months that he's been advertising, either. Guy doesn't need to sell it for the money, and I think he'd rather it went to a good home - so we'll see. Found some replacement arch panels and arch trim, so it could be cut and restored properly - or done to a lesser standard and properly cut out for fixing later...

    7. Car is in Alaska - hasn't been in salt - looks like a small parking ding that never got properly seen to. Here's a pic -

  5. I used to have a website about my derelict used cars that was just like this post. Documented every inch of everything. It started getting to be a ridiculous consumption of my time so I dropped it. I think now blogging is probably a better manifestation than my website was.

    1. Funny enough I don't find posts like this to be that time consuming, a few pics and a recap, what is time consuming is when I decide to do a theme post or theme day and then spend an entire weekend looking for Russian cars with rotary power trying to make a pun about the October that I think about it...we are half way through October and zero Russian cars...something is wrong...hey I see something shiny...

    2. The time consuming part for me was doing the website / page design / making the new button icons etc etc. I probably would have kept up with it if I'd just done a pnp wordpress page or something. By the end it was huge with hours and hours of reading. Id go into epic tales of broken bolts or previous owners elegant use of deck screws and craft putty. It wasn't anything near as interesting as your commentary though, that's what keeps me coming to this page as much as the cars themselves.

  6. How's this thing doing these days?

    I'm starting to think there might be another 99 in my future, but as leaving California's still not practical for various reasons it'd have to be '75-earlier, eventually to have an '89-93 900T parts car parked next to it for a transfusion.

  7. Cool. How did u go about connecting power lead to the lepai stereo unit?


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