This is a long one, so strap in.
That's right. I finally got a Turbo. It took four years of Saab obsession, including a brief vacation with a VW Corrado, but I finally got a classic 900 with a turbo.
It didn't come at the normal price of $XXXX, though. Many of you reading this have already heard the beginning of my troubles - here I will explain them all.
Let me start by explaining the condition this car was supposed to be in when I bought it. The owner said it was rust free. Spotless. It wasn't. It was extremely clean for a car in Michigan (oh yeah - the car was located in Bancroft, MI), but the lower A-arms are rusted, the rear axle has significant rust. There are a couple other spots as well. For the most part though, its very clean - the least rust you'll find on an $800 car. Second, I knew the car's clutch slave cylinder and master-to-slave hose were shot and needed to be replaced. My good friend and fellow Saab fan, Andrew (owner of a modified 9000 Aero), offered to help me change the clutch at the owner's house. This is supposed to be a ~3 hour job*.
*For those that have changed clutches on other cars, and think I'm crazy for saying 3 hours, you've never seen the clutch on a classic Saab 900. They really are that easy.
So, its Monday, July 4, 2011. I fly to Flint, MI, Andrew picks me up, we run by the owner's parts shop (he owns a branch of CarQuest), pick up a couple tools and the clutch slave/hose, and then off to Bancroft to begin the repair. We arrived at his house at approximately 2:30pm.
It failed. Miserably. The old slave cylinder was so shot, we were unable to make it compress the pressure plate at all, and therefore unable to remove the clutch assembly. Five hours we wrenched, swore, and bled (both blood and brake/clutch fluid). It made no difference though. That clutch was not coming apart without some heavy-duty tools which we didn't have on-hand. No matter! From Michigan to Missouri is nearly all highway! "I can make it!" I said. Does it surprise you that I was wrong? It should - because the clutch had nothing to do with me getting stranded.
I was only 30 miles south of Lansing (65 miles from Bancroft) when the car died. By this time, it was 9:30pm, and I was already upset because I was 4 hours behind schedule and without a clutch. It acted very starved for fuel, as though it was out. This was impossible though! I had just put 8 gallons of gas in. First thing to check then: was there any gas leaking? Was the back of the car wet? Did it smell like gas? I found nothing. I checked the fuel pump fuse. It looked good. No gas spraying inside the engine. What next? Hit the car with my fist really hard, duh! Unexpectedly, it worked. For all of 5 miles. Then the same problem came about. By 10:30pm, I'd given up and called Statefarm for a tow truck: Bud's Towing and Automotive. The driver, Eric, was there in 25 minutes, very friendly, and an all-round great guy. He dropped me off at a motel which was a mere 1/4 mile from the shop, clean, and only $55/night.
It's 6 hours later, and though not very rested, I'm wide-awake and ready to get the car fixed. After eating a free breakfast at the Arbor Inn, I head straight over to the shop. Within an hour, a young mechanic named Brandon (I think) believed he had fixed the problem by swapping the fuel pump relay and systems relay. It worked, and I drove the car into the garage to replace the clutch - now that some seriously large tools were available. Brandon had to do some work on another car, but after lunch we got to work again. Though he'd never before seen a Saab 900, the clutch assembly came right out no problem. It took the both of us, but that's no surprise since we didn't have the proper Saab spacer ring and had to rely on (a lot of) brute force.
Right about four o'clock we finished that. I drove into town to grab some quick food before hightailing it outa there. A classy meal at Taco Bell. The clutch worked flawlessly the whole time - no problems at all! And the transmission? Oh, its beautiful. :) No popping out of gear, no syncro problems. Flawless transmission. Fuel was a whole other issue though. As I exited Taco Bell, the exact same symptoms appeared. I immediately tried to limp it back to Bud's and got ALMOST all the way there when it died completely. I was maybe 300 feet from the shop on a 2-lane road (one each direction) with no shoulder. As I got back to the car again after asking for a second tow, a local riding a moped stopped to ask if I needed help.
I'd like to put out a special thanks to Drew. In the combined 2 hours and 45 minutes that I've spent on the side of the road with this car, all on major roads, Drew was the only person to ever stop and ask if I needed help. And he did way more than just make a quick stop and offer to help push the car to the shop.
Four hours. Four hours this guy, Drew, helped me with the car. He ran to and from his house to grab more tools (since the shop closed soon after towing me back - for free I might add). He did more than just try to diagnose the problem, he taught me copious amounts of information for diagnosing, repairing, and inspecting the car. He showed me how to repair ignition wires. He showed me how to check the compression. He pointed out that my ignition coil was likely losing some energy to carbon traces, what to look for, and how to fix it. Turns out, he used to be a mechanic, then an electronics repairman, and now specifically a computer repairman. Drew, thank you! You're a lifesaver!
By eight o'clock, we had both had enough. We both learned a lot about the condition of the car, and I learned more in those 4 hours than I've ever learned in four hours of class. Neither one of us had had dinner, so we chatted over some delicious pizza at his house before he ran me back to my motel.
How I wish I could have been there early enough to see the faces of the shop employees when they saw my car for the second day in a row. They all knew me quite well by then - I'd spent the entire day before at the shop (where else was I gonna go?). They gave my car top priority and we got straight to work. Thorough electrical tests were performed and it was decided that all electronics were in good working order. It had to be the fuel pump, since nothing else was likely to show intermittent symptoms. Thankfully a Delphi boxed Walbro fuel pump was in stock at Auto Value that morning and NAPA was able to deliver a set of ignition wires (replacing the unrepairably cheap CarQuest branded ones) to Bud's by 2pm.
By 3:30pm the car was running again. Fuel pump, ignition wires, and spark plugs were all replaced and a huge variety of other items were inspected and cleaned. I turned the key and she roared (ok... she whispered... but it was a very pretty whisper!) to life! I drove around town, initially staying very close to the shop. I drove an increasing radius path around the shop, and then came back to let them know all know life was good. A second, longer, trip was taken around Marshall, still without any hint of failure. I made one LAST trip to Bud's, shook hands with the Brandon and profusely thanked everyone I saw... and drove away.
Finally the car was working. It ran beautifully, had decent power (its stuck on base-boost at the moment - a known problem with a new part in hand, just not installed yet), and was very comfortable. My dad and I agreed that driving west first, then south, would be the best route as it would put me right in the middle of lots of family in case something else went wrong. Also, it gave me a chance to show my new car to my grandpa and sit down for dinner where I had duck for the first time ever. It was delicious! I drove all the way home Wednesday. It was a loooong and boring drive, but by 1:00 am I was saying hello to my mom in O'Fallon, and shortly thereafter I was fast asleep at my dad's house in St. Charles.
My dad got a couple quick photos Thursday morning as I drove back to Rolla. The drive was going beautifully, save for a small bit of belt squeal, all the way to Sullivan - that's 3/4 of the way to Rolla.
Guess what happened in Sullivan....
No... the fuel pump didn't quit...
No... I'm not just pulling your leg - the car did die.
The alternator and water pump belts (which follow the same path) broke and are somewhere in the middle of I-44 right now. It was a relatively quick fix though, as the local NAPA had one of the belts in the pair in stock (which was enough to get me to Rolla and home again the next day) and happily delivered it to Chase Co. a few feet from my poor car. It took an hour, a bit of blood, and some gloves to protect me from the hot engine, but I got the new belt on and was, once again, driving down the road in my new 1991 Saab 900 Turbo. I finally parked the car in Rolla at 10:30 am.
A huge thanks to:
Lots of people helped me with my car the last few days. Drew was the only one that helped so much and refused every effort I made to repay him. He didn't know me before, and I'll probably never see him again. But for 4 hours he worked on that car with me, and then proceeded to feed me and invite me into his house. He's a man I only wish I could get to know better.
Andrew took almost his entire fourth of July off to spend with me working on that car. I'm sure he didn't plan on spending that much time, but he did. He worked his arse off just as hard if not harder than me, and even if we didn't accomplish much, it sure wasn't because he was slacking!
Bud's Towing and Automotive:
What an awesome bunch of guys there. I only wish I knew more people in or around Marshall, MI so that I could recommend them to all go there. Everyone is very friendly, they don't seem to be prejudiced to any particular nationality, make, or model, and are extremely knowledgeable in what they do. Brandon admitted to having never worked on a Saab 900 before (it would have been a huge surprise if he had), but his previous work with an old Jaguar, combined with an incredible intuition for all things mechanical or automotive, got my Saab up and running. He didn't have any of the official "Saab special tools" suggested in the manuals (and why would he? I know Saab shops that don't even carry them), but his natural ingenuity and creativeness got the job done without damaging any parts or running into any serious problems. I can not recommend this shop highly enough!
And finally, but certainly not least...
They gave me support when and how I needed it most. When I needed to vent (which I definitely needed to from time to time!), they were there. When I needed some extra money to pay for the new parts, the shop bill, hotel, food, etc, they were there. I quite literally would not have been able to get home again were it not for them. Thank you Mom, Dad and Grandpa Norm!
I ran into way more than my share of problems with this car, but she seems to have finally warmed up to me. Three different occasions she broke down. Three different occasions stubbornness, blood, and money fixed her. One long journey.
I left the house for the airport at 6:15am Monday, and got back to Rolla at 10:30 am Thursday. But today, I'm a very happy Saab 900 Turbo owner and hope to never have an adventure like this again!