Live Auctions

Rebuilt Powertrain: 1974 Saab EMS

OK, let’s momentarily ditch the sugary diet of GTOs, Mustangs, Chargers, et al. and take a look at what I would consider to be a quirky car, but one that had some spirited moves, a 1974 Saab EMS. OK, so it’s not a muscle car exactly, but if you consider the fuel-injected get up and go, combined with sound road manners and quality workmanship, it was a notable exception to some of what was being foisted upon the American car-buying public in ’74. And this example looks like it’s in nice shape too, so let’s look closer. Submitted by Gunter K., this Saab is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is available, here on craigslist for $8,000.

Basically, this Saab is a model 99, a Saab stalwart member offered between 1968 and 1984. The EMS designation indicates that this Saab is powered by a Bosch fuel-injected engine, specifically a 118 net HP, 2.0 liter, in-line four-cylinder unit, driving the front wheels via a four-speed manual transaxle. It doesn’t sound like a powerhouse but its 2,400 lb. curb weight is hardly a load to have to lug around. The seller states that the powertrain has been rebuilt and it “runs great” but that’s not a lot of elaboration as to what, or how, it was rebuilt. And then there’s the add-on of, “73859 miles. (Odometer possibly rolled, unknown)“. So does that mean 146K miles? And when exactly did this rebuilding occur? These would be my first questions.

The exterior looks great, at least what’s revealed, the accompanying images aren’t great.  Anyway, a deep strong finish and nice panel alignment are its attributes with no sign of rust, bumps, bruises, etc. The black rubber components, better known as bumpers, aren’t displayed clearly so it’s hard to make an assessment. As with most smaller cars of this era, they didn’t wear Federally mandated bumpers particularly well. The alloy wheels really round this Saab out – they’re perfect for this car.

The interior, other than the worn-out floor mat, is in good nick, it’s certainly not showing 146K miles of wear or 48 years of age. As for the two-tone brown upholstery, well that’s a matter of taste. And, I wouldn’t consider it to be the best complement to a silver exterior. The seller considers it to be “beautiful” and it doesn’t appear to need any attention.

Saab’s have greatly disappeared from the American automotive scene, not really a surprise considering that their car business closed up shop twelve years ago or so. Buying one today is not like buying a Plymouth or an Oldsmobile, castoffs from much bigger, still going concerns – and those were brands that were exceedingly popular in their own time. But a Saab, that’s another matter entirely. I’ve known people who swear by them as well as those that swear at them. But if you’re a fan of these “a little bit different” cars from Sweden, this example looks like it could fit the bill.


  1. That AMC Guy

    “Driving the rear wheels”? All SAABs from 1949 until the bitter end were front drive, with the exception of some of the very last models that were equipped with all wheel drive.

    Like 12
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      You are correct! I blew through that part too quickly. Fixed now.



      Like 3
      • alphasud Member

        It was that Longitudinal engine placement that did it to you.

        Like 4
  2. Cellblock Steve

    Had a buddy that only drove old Saabs, only , period. Took a lot of heat for it, but he was never left stranded on the road, they served him well. He was a wise young man, so unlike the rest of us, always trying to look cool for the crowd. Maturity can not be purchased, it must be learned and practiced. Some of us didn’t have it, but he did in spades. Wish I was more like him and had grown up sooner, maybe my life would be different today.

    Like 15
  3. Rw

    Wow never stranded in a Saab,that man better buy lottery ticket,he luckiest man on Earth.

    Like 5
    • alphasud Member

      I will have to admit I was stranded by my Saab one time. I was trying to get home in a blizzard back in 94. I had all season tires and with a foot of snow the grade was too much to overcome. Other than that the 6 Saabs I’ve owned in the past have never left me down. They were great cars that had a distinctive personality that unfortunately most cars lack today. You see that was Saab’s undoing. Like so many manufacturers they try to be all things to all people. They dilute their personality and blend in with every other appliance. And just like that they are gone!

      Like 7
      • Bakes

        More precisely that was GM’s undoing of Saab. They took everything that made Saab a unique vehicle – the quirkiness, safety, comfort, practicality, turbo’d engines that went into berserker mode above 3500 rpm – and tossed it. When you trot out an Olds SUV with a Saab grille, you know that the script is lost. Killed by incompetentcy. Horrible brand management, and I hope that whoever the brand manager was never gets another job in the automotive industry again.

        All that said, a friend of mine had a 4 door similar to this car, and it was a hoot to drive. Looks like a great car for the $, and there are thankfully still a number of service centers who specialize in Saabs.

        Like 6
      • SubGothius

        Whatever our opinions of GM-era Saabs, we almost certainly have GM to thank for Saab continuing to exist as a marque at all for as long as it did.

        Saab was pretty much on the ropes by the ’90s, with an aging model line losing sales every year and no money to update or replace them. There simply weren’t going to be any more Saabs, let alone any truly new Saab models, without a massive investment by some third party.

        Perhaps some other benefactor might have allowed Saab to remain more independent and quirky than GM did, but it’s nigh-certain any other automotive conglomerate would have wound up contributing their own platform and powertrain tech just as GM did, so we’d just have wound up with new Saab models derived from, say, Fiats or Peugeots or whatnot — and let’s not forget, even the aging 9000 was already a platform shared with Fiat and driven by evolutions of the same Triumph slant-4 powering this 99EMS.

        Whether such alternate-universe Saabs would have been more or less distinctive or any better than what we got is a matter of idle conjecture, but the notion of Saab existing into the 2000s as an independent marque developing new models from scratch entirely their own way is, sadly, sheer fantasy.

        Like 6
      • alphasud Member

        Well said Subgothius. I was with Saab from 92 to 2000 when GM really started to influence the design. Originally GM allowed Saab to maintain their own development and design teams and Saab benefitted from the cash infusion as well as technology like the Trionic ECU which was the first automotive application for the 32 bit microprocessor. The cars were not without fault however but on par with reliability of the German brands. The classic 900 however took almost 3X the average car to produce which had to change to ensure profitability. That’s where the Opel chassis came in.

        Like 4
    • Cellblock Steve

      My friend bought a repair manual and maintained his cars. Any car can be reliable if properly maintained. All it takes is a little effort. Too many of us want our cake and to eat it too.

      Like 6
  4. alphasud Member

    Commenting specifically on the 99. When I was a Saab tech in the 90’s we saw very few 99 models. The parts manager had a 99 turbo he drove. I’m ashamed to say I never had the opportunity to drive one. This one looks incredibly well preserved. There were no underside pictures but it looks like it was never on salted roads. I see they used Bosch D-Jetronic which was period in 74 like their Volvo counterparts. All the ones I saw were K-Jetronic or sometimes called CIS injection. This car looks to be worth every penny of the sellers asking.

    Like 3
  5. MCH

    Good start for a historic rally car…

    Like 1
  6. AndrewKnott Member

    One correction: This is not brown upholstery. It’s orange. It has faded.

    Also, this car has received a spray over. There are usually other lines and decals that are not there.

    I have a 1975 EMS. Love it. Front wheel drive often lacks a fun factor that RWD cars do. But not the 99 EMS. It dances. My theory is that the engine is so much further forward compared to most FWD cars, but I really have no idea. I have been able to drift my 99 EMS. You really have to drive one to appreciate it. You also have to put them into historical context, like any other car.

    Like 4
    • Doug Majka

      AndrewKnott: The EMS in ’73 got green seats, but did not have the fancy stitching of later years. The 74 EMS’s all received brown seats, Orange seats for 1975, light tan seats for ’76, and red seats for ’77 and ’78.

    • Doug Majka

      One more comment about the badging – this car has all the proper badging for a ’74 EMS. 99 EMS on each side of the hood, Saab on the left side of the trunk lid, and 2.0 EMS on the right. Electronic Special badge would be on the right side of the dash. The only other badge(SAAB EMS) would be in the center of the grille. The EMS models didn’t get decals until the ’75 models, which would have had an EMS decal on the right side of the trunk/hatch(in ’78). I’ve owned 99’s since 1985 and have had a 74EMS, 75EMS, and 77EMS. I currently have a lightning blue ’73, which has all of the EMS features used through the years, and I have owned it since 2001.

      Like 1
      • Doug Majka

        Jim ODonnell : If I had your email I’d send you pictures of the 75EMS orange seats, or send me an email at and I’ll reply with some pictures.

    • Doug Majka

      The interior/seat color was brown for the 74EMS. The 73’s used green seats and green door panels. The 75 EMS seat color was orange, in 76 they used a light brown/tan, and in 77 and 78 red was the seat color.

      • Jim ODonnell Staff

        I was having a tough time buying orange. Regardless of how faded they might be I couldn’t mistake the brown that I saw for orange.


        Like 1
  7. SaabGirl 900

    Alphasud and Bakes, you are so right. GM mismanagement killed Saab. They tried to turn it into a Swedish Buick and removed the quirky aspects of the breed. I’ve never been a fan of GM, but after the dirty deeds with Saab, if anyone gave me a GM vehicle to drive for free, I would politely refuse……then throw the keys in the pond at the edge of my yard.

    I have two 99s…a ’77 GL five door and a ’78 Turbo. The Turbo is a hoot to drive….her only downfall is that she is a four speed, and that engine cries out for a five speed, which would not arrive until 1980. At 85, the engine is screaming at the top of its lungs. EmmyGirl is very nimble, even if she does not have power steering (the engineers in Trollhattan couldn’t figure out how to squeeze a PS pump in under the hood with all of the plumbing for the turbocharger) and is now a bit rusty. She’s been living in the garage since the left rear shock relocated itself inside the left quarter.

    EMS stands for Electronic Manual Special………they were offered from 1972 through 1977 and were the basis for the 99 Turbo that appeared for the 1978 model year here in the States. The Europeans got the Turbo a year earlier. They were painted bronze (’72-’73) or sterling silver (from 1974 on). In 1977, the notchback went away, and they were offered in the CombiCoupe (hatchback) style only……the cars were called WagonBacks over here.

    Great find! The only thing to be wary of is the water pump, which is located in the head and runs off a jackshaft which itself runs off the camshaft. They are very hard to find, and one size does not fit all…..some ran with a 10 cog pump and other with an 8 (the later cars had the larger cogs). Always have a spare water pump just in case………..

    Like 4
    • alphasud Member

      Yea, I forgot about those Triumph water pumps.

  8. Jerry K

    I swear by em, have a pair of 06s, 4 and a V6, the turbos get it done. Quick, nimble, comfy and fast.

    Like 1
  9. bill Member

    I had a 1978 99 EMS 4 speed from brand new… it was a fantastic car… put 120K on it and never cracked the engine… rust actually ended its life (upstate NY/salt) then I got a new 2000 900S 5 speed and it was more refined than the 99. My bro-in-law had a new 1979 99 turbo and that thing was fast, but when the turbo spooled up,, the front tires were all over with torque steer… but he has a bunch of mechanical issues tried to post the actual window sticker but it wont attach:(

    Like 1
  10. SaabGirl 900


    In 2000, you would have has a 9.3….the NewGen 900 debuted in America in 1994 and was sold through 1998. The 9.3 (a more refined 900) appeared in 1999. I have three real 9.3s…a 2000 SE five door, a 2001 Viggen coupe and a 202 SE five door. Much better cars than what came later.

    Also, the 99 Turbo was one year only in 1978. The 900 (which was actually a stretched 99) appeared for the 1979 model year. It was offered as a turbo as well as the EMS. The Classic 900 was offered in America from 1979 through 1993 (coupe, sedan and convertible) and 1994 (convertible only).

    Great cars up until GM ruined them after the 2002 model year.

    Like 1
  11. bill Member

    you are correct. I just checked and I misspoke, it was a 1990 900S,,,, actually a nicer car than my 78 EMS, but I beat that thing always, and the 900S was my wives car, so being older and wiser? it never abused it …. well not often I was left alone …. anyway I miss the EMS and the hours laying on my back trying to piece together the damn air dam on the EMS,,,, constantly hitting something.. so it was buy a new one… or fix.. my only option was fix,,, and thinking back , it was a company car.. so should of just bought a new one..

    Like 1
  12. SaabGirl 900


    Indeed! I’m trying to make one good air dam for my 99 Turbo out of the wreckage of three!

    One of my biggest complaints with GM is that they asked Saab people for their opinions of the new Saabs they were considering (including the TrollBlazer) then never listened to us. They stymied every attempt at a sale with Koenigsegg and, when Spyker did buy the company, GM refused to sell or allow them to use any of the drivetrains or designs that were under consideration….and most of the designs and hardware were developed by the Swedes anyway. They sold the tooling for the real 9.3 and first generation 9.5 to the Chinese. That’s my biggest issue with GM. We have only to look at Volvo to see how things could have been…….Geely has let Volvo be Volvo to a great degree. GM couldn’t leave Saab alone and the folks that loved Saab left in droves because Saab wasn’t Saab any longer.

    I will hang onto my 11 Saabs (all born before 2003) until the bitter end. Even the four youngest ones (’95 900 SE, ’00 9.3 SE, ’01 Viggen and ’02 9.3 SE) have more Saab in them than anything that came afterwards…….

    Like 2
  13. bill Member

    I’m a GM truck guy, but I was disappointed when Ford bought Jag then Volvo and when GM bought Saab. both companies screwed with the DNA of these makes and americanized them into their vision. and they all sucked !! In the 90s with the 900S, we bought a 1973 P-1800 ES and it was a real fun Volvo… rust took its toll on that car too… now my wife has a 2019 XC40 Volvo… its a good car, but I hate that the profits go to china… last rant… I sure miss my Saabs, P1800ES but also mostly my 1969 Triumph GT6+

    Like 2
  14. SaabGirl 900


    Well said. My brother has two Volvos…..a ’13 C70 convertible and an ’18 S60. Of the two, I like the C70 much better….she has a personality. The S60….not so much. Good car, comfortable and quick, but it feels too “corporate” for my taste.

    As far as the Saabs go, I have not been able to find anything that even comes close to the driving experience of a Saab, so I will continue to patch, repair and maintain my fleet. Unfortunately, living in the woods of New Hampshire, keeping the tinworm at bay is a full time occupation…….

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