Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Yet another delay and a consumer report

Scanwest is short-handed, and couldn't finish putting the car back together today. I've been promised by the owner that it'll be done tomorrow, which gives me just enough time to get it aligned before heading out for the weekend.

To be fair, it's probably a good thing they have the car. They have noticed that some of my work was ... let's say a little less than good. Probably the worst thing I did was forget to take the plastic guards off of the tie rod ends before installing. What I was thinking, I can't say. Apparently not about what I was doing. Other noted fixes are better exhaust manifold nuts than the ones I got from eEuroparts. They're not the locking kind that should be used. Also studs instead of bolts should be used for the turbo housing. Easy fixes, I guess. The owner of Scanwest did performance rallying, and understands some of what I'm trying to do with the car. I do appreciate his attention to these additional details. They have also been great at finding used parts for me to install when appropriate, and always have excellent advice and knowledge about installation.

My other contacts with vendors has been positive. Probably the best of the bunch has been the G-Pop Shop, the folks who did the turbo rebuild. Their response via email has been absolutely the best. There aren't many vendors that I can email a question late in the night and expect an answer before I wake up in the morning; the G-Pop folks did this a number of times, from my first inquiry to my last install question. I highly recommend them for your turbo needs. eEuroparts has also been good at quick assembly and shipping of my largish orders. The last two have been multi-page invoices, and they have shipped quickly and as long as you're not in a hurry, shipping is free if the order is over $40. Shocks came from and were ordered over the phone. They pretty much matched lowest price I could find anywhere, and also shipped with alacrity.

Group 9 Performance, on the other hand, has been a disappointment. They never seem to be able to answer their phone, and email questions go ignored or take days to answer. My last phone messages have gone unanswered. I've been waiting for new stainless brake lines through them for something like three weeks now, when I was told they would ship in about four days. I had planned on installing during this project; now I'm hoping they'll arrive before August.

I have also been buying quite a few spares and replacements on eBay, and have been generally pleased with the sellers there. Some are absolutely fantastic, some are good, and only one or two could be described as grumpy.

The spectrum of companies who "get it" when it comes to the expectations of customers who rely on email and live in a world of rapid, useful responses is interesting. Then there are the really small shops, like the local guy who runs an upholstery shop out of his house. No web page, just a yellow pages listing. But he does good work (rebuilt and repadded my driver's seat) and answers the phone, at least!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nearing the finish

During a long weekend reassembling and reinstalling, I tried to move the shifter after bleeding the clutch. It refused to budge. A number of horrible thoughts came to me, mostly on the order of "What and how did I screw up a brand new transmission?" I stopped putting things together in case the transmission needed to come out again.

After talking with Scanwest on the phone this morning, and trying a fix that didn't work, we agreed they needed to see the car. Got it towed in (thanks, AAA) and a few hours later received a phone call reporting they found the problem -- a small part that was installed incorrectly and refused to let the shift selector "slot". They're doing the last installation. I'm incredibly relieved that the problem wasn't my fault. A bit bummed that I am not doing every last thinggoing down the Big Rock grade, but at this point, with No Alibi only a few days away, I need the car together quickly. And quick I am not, in many ways.

Alignment is scheduled for tomorrow. That'll give me a couple of days of city driving before hitting the dusty roads for the weekend.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The engine has landed!

engine getting dropped inThe engine dropped in last Thursday, with much help again from Hans. A tight fit getting the hoist squared away to the front of the car with limited space. If I have to do this again, I will find a smaller hoist. We ended up dropping the front mount in, then guiding the rear mounts into the mount bolt holes. Took a while, but we were gentle. Didn't destroy anything like when we yanked it out.

Still to do: hook up power steering pump, reconnect cooling system, install clutch, and get the axles and suspension back together. Then off to the alignment shop.

Should all happen this weekend, which is good, because the '90 Saab needs some work now. Got a vibration that's getting rapidly worse and the inner drivers need swapping, I fear. At least now I know how the axles all go together.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Front spring spacers

I made these last year, with input from Hans. Cut up a couple of old Ikea cutting boards with a jigsaw, and voila! A method to introduce additional ride height.

Most folks want to lower their cars to improve handling. All well and good if you stay on the hard stuff, but a little extra clearance for the variety of road conditions rallying throws in the path is not a bad idea.

These are spacers I made for the front. After a year of being on the car, they look no different from when they were installed. I had them off to replace the control arm bushings. The one closest to the bump stop needs to have the inner circle beveled or chamfered to account for the geometry of the bump stop.

And the colors -- so festive!

"Experience is what old fools call their mistakes."

Dan torques the trannyI was really hoping to get the engine and tranny in the car tonight. Was so optimistic that I rented the hoist, and Hans the amazing mentor came over to help.

But things never go quite as planned.

We did manage to get the engine mated to the transmission, and that's all sealed and torqued. Hans did the major work installing the turbo and exhaust manifold, however we found that the turbo was reassembled so that the oil cooler lines don't quite fit right. I've got an email and a photo off to that shop to see if we can loosen and rearrange things without causing damage. At this point I really don't want to spend more money, esp for mistakes due to my lack of knowledge.

Mating the engine to the tranny was going well, until I stripped the threads for one of the bolts. Thought it was due to a crappy torque wrench (don't buy tools from but in reality I had forgotten that an engine mount bracket was meant to attach to that one position and pushed the bolt past where it was designed to go. Should be fixable, but a word to the wise if anyone ever reads this -- there should be a note in the Bentley manual about that one position so those of us who are not doing the job in a single day and have faulty memories don't make my mistake.

The axles are almost done -- just trying to find a tripod bearing that fits the left axle properly. The used one I acquired isn't quite the right size. Apparently there was a slight change after the '85 model year and though they look almost identical, the newer ones will NOT go onto the older axles.

When I got the control arms boxed, I should have left the old ball joints installed to keep them from getting deformed. There will be much banging and prying to get things properly aligned again. The new lower control arms look VERY stout:boxed lower control arm
boxed lower control arm

So -- not as much progress as I'd hoped, but there are fewer ziplock baggies with bolts and nuts in the "to do" box, and things are much closer to being done than at the start of the day.

Lessons learned today:
  1. Urethane bushings are not like rubber (thanks Hans!)
  2. One of the middle transmission bolts on the right should not be installed until the engine mounting bracket is ready to go. Noted in the Bentley now.
  3. There are different tripod bearings for post- and pre-'86 900 models
  4. Shop towels and nitrile gloves make for a happier workshop
  5. Don't work on the car after 11pm when you've already been at it all day.
  6. Power steering lines are easy to connect when the engine is elsewhere

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Why this is taking so long...

It's a challenge to find time in the evenings to work on the car. Getting home and being domestic takes some time, and I'm reluctant to begin any projects that will take a few hours because of my poor memory.

Weekends are another matter. With two active kids and a wife who works every other weekend, plus my own rally fun, getting large blocks of time is not always easy. For example, last weekend was spent working road marshal positions at the Olympus Rally down near Olympia. Took the youngest kid and the dog and got a few pics and video as well.

So I'm taking the next two days off from work to have quiet, uninterrupted, intimate time with the car...Or that's my plan, anyway.

Bad news: axle woes

I delayed cleaning the axles too long and last night discovered that I will need some additional parts. The right side C/V joint bearing looks ok, but the threads for the axle nut are mangled. I don't know why I didn't see that when I pulled it off a couple of weeks ago. Need to find another C/V joint now.

The left side has a tripod bearing that's lost at least one of the needle bearings. So that should probably be replaced as well. Time for another trip to Scanwest. I don't want to wait to have parts shipped. Argh! I thought I was done buying parts for a while.

Taking the A/C condensor out is not as easy as it seems. The old lines are frozen to the condensor fittings, and one had to be cut off. This should give better air flow to the new radiator, and if I ever install a better intercooler, will provide some more room for that purpose.

Good News: Turbo arrives

The turbo arrived from GPop today. They remembered to send me the old exhaust elbow studs and the broken compressor wheel. Now I can see the difference between what it's supposed to look like.

They cleaned it up well, gave it a new finish, and rethreaded the holes for the studs. Nice work.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I've heard that working on the steering racks of these cars is a major hassle when the engine is in place. I don't ever want to try replacing one then, because when things are opened up, it's not exactly easy.
Steering rack removed
Maybe it's the years of accumulated crud that make it so distasteful. Everything is covered in slimy gunk, and bits of greasy dirt fall into your eyes regularly (until one gets smart and wears some glasses--I'm slow, but stupid).

So the old rack is gone to the land of cores, and the new one is in place. In the interim I tried to do some major cleaning and scraped and cleaned the axle and tie rod passages for the right side and painted inBeauty and the Beast there as well to slow down the rust. Things were a lot drier on the right side than the left, and the rust starting was a tad worse there, probably because that area lacked the regular drips from oil changes and other splashes of leaky fluids that favored the left.

Parts update

1985 Saab Transmission rebuilt
Finally got around to taking some pics of the transmission. It's real shiny.
900 engine and transmission wait patientlyAnother view of a rebuilt 900 tranny
Parts in-hand include new front shocks and the replacement side mirrors from eBay (I lost the glass in one on a ski trip a few weeks ago, and they were scarred up anyway). The control arms have been welded and are at Scanwest for new bushings -- hope to pick those up tomorrow. We think we've figured out the correct studs for the turbo exhaust elbow. Having a way to look up parts at home would be extremely useful. I wonder what options exist.

Still waiting for the turbo to get back from being rebuilt, and a couple of big boxes from eEuroparts should arrive any day.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The big delivery

Picked up the transmission from Scanwest today. It's cleaner than anything else on the car at the moment. Also sprung for a new rebuilt steering rack and a used brake booster. Rob convinced me to get a resurfaced exhaust manifold as well, due to the usual warping at cylinder #1. Pics tomorrow.

Reinstalled the cleaned and painted upper control arm on the left, and got the spring in. Removed the spring from the right side and the control arm is ready for new bushings. The lowers are at a welding shop getting the box treatment. They should be done in a day or two, then all three will go get the new bushings installed. In the meantime, the rack will get swapped out and I will scrape more crud from nooks and crannies. Replacing the rack should be easy with the engine out, though I imagine it will be quite messy draining the power steering fluid.

Still waiting for the big shipment from eEuroparts, which should be any day. That and the new front shocks, plus the brake lines...I have some work to do. Oh yeah, and the turbo should be here soon as well. The studs for the exhaust elbow need to be replaced, and they are obscenely expensive. Rob at Scanwest says there are no other sources -- have to bite the bullet and get them as a Saab part, at nearly $25 for each of the three studs. Yikes. Hopefully that will be my last major outlay for this project.

Well, one can hope, anyway.

Amazing Mound

Cleaning out the left hand axle passage through the body resulted in this humungo pile of greasy, sandy dirt.

Dug in there for 30 minutes at least, and that was just the single hole above the pile. There is also a goodly amount where the steering rack pokes through, but I haven't started there yet. I was amazed at how much of the crud kept coming out. I figure the car will be a good ten pounds lighter once I get all this out of the various orifices. Seems like a strange design. I wonder if it's possible to rig some sort of rubber flaps over those openings to keep the stuff from entering in the first place.

The right side doesn't look to be nearly as bad. I wonder if there's some explanation from driving on rallies, or if this is normal accumulation.

The inside of the engine compartment is still in need of cleaning as well. I won't give it the good scrubbing it needs, but will need to scrape and clean the worst of it. Getting rid of the crappy old steering rack should make a huge difference. Between the various engine and tranny leaks and the long-term steering leaks, it's a disaster down there.

I also need to get some better bolts for the skid plate. Will need to spend an afternoon at Tacoma Screw getting all the fasteners replaced...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tranny update

Stopped by Scanwest this morning to drop off a control arm to have new bushings pressed on, and got to see the transmission dismantled for the rebuild. Rob pointed out what has been replaced and also let me know that though it hadn't yet failed, it was definitely ready to be rebuilt. Reverse gear was pretty much gone. I will be a lot happier traversing remote areas knowing that the tranny won't be a problem.

Ordering a whole pile of parts from eEuroparts today. My credit card will take a while to recover...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Brake lines ordered

Stainless brake lines have been ordered from Group 9 Performance. A full set goes for about the same price as OEM rubber. In a fit of whimsy, I went for the yellow ones. After a rally or two, I doubt the color will be noticeable.

Trying to source a good used engine wiring harness but things are looking grim. A source for used Saab parts said he hadn't seen a good one in ten years. The story is that for the '85 year Saab outsourced their wiring to a company that used organic insulation, which after all these years, gets brittle if you look crossways at it. There are quite a few wires that have been patched; it would be best to rewire the whole harness. I may tackle this at a later date. For now need to concentrate on getting other basics done.

Tonight is time for the front suspension to come off for new bushings and ball joints. Here's the left spring about ready to be removed in order to get to the upper control arm.

Note the serious layer of cruft in the body where the axle passes through.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The best-laid plans, or obsessions for the month

So here's the deal: I have a 1985 Saab 900 Turbo (a so-called Classic 900) that I acquired a couple of years ago for TSD rallying. When it followed me home, it was in dire need of basic work, like an entire replacement of the clutch system. There were some other mechanical issues, like doors and windows not working properly, that were soon sorted out.

Nearly two years later, the car has held up well in unpaved rallies in Washington, British Columbia and California. In all sorts of conditions, from snow to blazing heat, and on some pretty rough roads, the car has held together nicely and never given trouble. Sometimes we even have some good results.

Coming up in August is the Alcan 5000 summer rally, and the plan is to take this car all the way to the Arctic Circle -- maybe even beyond. Not as a competitor, but as a worker for the event. This is a different proposition, where travelling way beyond the known Saabiverse means making sure the car will get us there and back without a major mechanical disaster. Also, this should get the car ready to compete in the 2008 winter Alcan.
Engine and tranny about to become separate
Thanks to very able help from a knowledgeable Saab mentor, the engine is out and the transmission is at Scanwest for a rebuild. The trannys on these cars (the Turbos) are notoriously weak, and I don't want to experience the dreaded pinion whine that precedes a breakdown when I'm thousands of miles from home.

Apart from the transmission, other planned work was revealed during the engine removal:
Radiator, front shocks, brake lines and brake booster all need to be replaced. The turbo ate a rubber washer from the intake and needs to be rebuilt. All the suspension bushings are being replaced. Will have the lower control arms welded to strengthen them. I'm sure there are other things that need to be addressed, but that's plenty to start with, considering I'm trying to have everything done in time to work the No Alibi rally at the beginning of June.Damaged turbo compressor fins

At least the following has been done/addressed: all the coolant lines, including the odd little throttle body ones, have been replaced in the last year. All the belts have been done. The leaky power steering hoses were replaced last winter (and THAT was a messy job). The front seats have been replaced with less skanky ones, and the driver's seat platform rebuilt. A new headliner was installed a while ago, and driving and fog lights added last year. A new air mass meter and oxygen sensor were recently installed, as well as a bunch of little odds and ends that are a prerequisite for keeping a car with over 235K miles alive.

Stay tuned.

First post

Here's where I'll be keeping track of work on the family Saabs. Original entries can be found at