After that phase, also as a disguise, the first 99 body shell was badged 'daihatsu' as that name could be made up out of letters available for other Saab models.
The 99 was built in the Finnish Valmet factory, 5 years of this production (from 1979) was alongside the Finnish built version of the Talbot Horizon, which shared a similar high quality velour upholstery to the 99.
Although Saab engineers liked the two stroke engine it was decided that a four stroke engine was necessary and the choice was a 1.5 L (later 1.75 and 1.85 L) engine from Triumph, the same Triumph Slant-4 engine used in the Triumph Dolomite, but the Saab version was fitted with a Zenith-Stromberg CD carburetor developed specially for Saab. 48 Saab 99s were equipped with a Stag V8 from Triumph, but the idea to use a V8 was later dropped in favour of a turbocharged engine.
A three-door station wagon (estate) version was planned from the start, but never made it into production. In 1971 (with the thoughts about the combi coupé) the work on a station wagon was restarted. This time as a five door.
The bonnet (hood) was forward-hinged and the panel extended over the front wheel arches. The windscreen (windshield) was wrap-around and very deep for the era. The A-pillar has a steep angle, providing excellent driver visibility.
Due to the American sealed beam headlight requirement in place at the time the USA models had a special front fascia with two round headlights instead of the single rectangular unit it had in other markets. The "US front" then became a popular item for car customisers in Europe.
Early 99s carried over the freewheel transmission from the Saab 96, but the freewheel was removed with the introduction of the 1.85 L engine, likely on account of the extra power that the apparatus would have to transmit, and to allow the driver the option of engine braking.
The handbrake was on the front wheels.
The car was wide and low and the suspension gave it handling that was very good for the time. The Cw value was 0.37 while other cars of the time had 0.4 to 0.5. The chassis was also designed for secondary safety.
The 99 was Saab's last rally car, first in EMS guise and later as the Turbo version. The Saab 99 turbo was one of the first 'family cars' to be fitted with a turbo after the 1963-64 Oldsmobile Turbo Jetfire; other contemporary turbocharged automobiles were very 'specialised' vehicles and were difficult to drive.
Wheels magazine wrote in a July 1978 road test of the 99 Turbo "Compare the top gear times and you'll see that the Turbo is almost as fast between and in fourth gear as any five-seater in the world." and Modern Motor of August 1978 wrote "It is necessary to drive the car to believe that such a seemingly endless surge of strong acceleration is possible from a 2.0 L engine in a far from lightweight car."
A police version 99 was also built. The hood/bonnet of the 99 (and also the 900) caused problems for the police livery team. Since it wraps around, covering the wheel arches, the paint had to be extended up onto the hood panel and not restricted to just the fenders as on other cars.
An interesting detail on Saab 99 (sedan model) was that it had a heating duct leading to the rear window. With a lever between the front seats the airflow could be controlled to help defogging the rear window. Another Saab-feature that has been used even on later models is that the ignition lock is on the floor. Unlike most cars, where the steering wheel is locked by ignition key, this car locks the gear stick. It has the side effect that you always have to park the car with reverse gear activated (except for automatic versions). It was supposed to be safer, since the anti-theft lock would not affect safety if forced or at malfunction. However, the car thieves discovered that it was very easy to force the lock and for that reason Saab was a very popular brand for car-thieves. The system has been improved on later models (Saab 9-3 and Saab 9-5), and nowadays an electronic lock is included.
In 1970 the interior was given a facelift and became more luxurious, with a new dashboard. The exhaust system was now made of aluminum. In March, the 99E Automatic was introduced. It had a 1.75 l engine with electronically controlled fuel injection, giving 95 hp (70 kW). A four-door version was also introduced.
In 1971 the 99 was given a larger and stronger engine, a 1.85 l engine giving on the carbureted model and 95 hp (70 kW) for the fuel injected model. The 1.75 l engine was now only available with a carburetor. Saab also introduced headlight wipers. The dashboard was given a redesign along with new instruments.
In 1972 the 1.75 l engine was no longer available. The power of the engine was increased to 88 hp (65 kW) for carbureted models and 97 hp (71 kW) for fuel injected models. The 2.0 l engine became available. The major change this year were new plastic bumpers that could take impacts up to 8 km/h (5 mph) and still retain their shape. The suspension was stiffened and received stronger dampers. An electrically heated driver's seat was also introduced.
In January the 99 EMS (Electronic-Manual-Special) was introduced. It was a sportier model that was only available in a two door version. It had stiffer suspension and also silver-colored metallic paint as option. The engine had 1985 cc displacement and Bosch D-Jetronic electronic fuel injection giving and a top speed of .
In 1973 a low cost model called the 99L was introduced. It was a two door with a 1.85 l engine giving 88 hp (65 kW). All other models had the 2.0 l engine. The LE model had electronic fuel injection giving 110 hp (81 kW). The LE model was mainly made for export.
In 1975 the brakes were improved and the hand brake now worked directly on the primary brake pads instead of on separate pads acting as drum brakes inside the brake rotor. The 99 was now available in two versions, one with a carburetor with and a fuel injected version using Bosch K-Jetronic injection system giving . In February a model using Zenith-Stromberg 150CDS(E) dual carburetors was introduced. It was only available for the combi coupé.
In 1976 nothing major was changed, but a self adjusting clutch was introduced. The engines were adapted for tougher emissions requirements and several models with an electrically heated rear window were introduced. A luxurious 4-door sedan model was available, the 99 GLE. it came with power steering, an automatic transmission, a fuel-injected engine, luxurious upholstery on the seats and an armrest in the rear seat.
In 1977, the front lights and the sedan's tail lights were enlarged.
In 1978 a turbocharged version of the car, the 99 Turbo, was introduced. It was only available as a combi coupé until the next year. Turbocharged engine produced giving the car top speed of .
In 1979 the 99 Turbo came in a four door version and the Turbo also came in a metallic green two-door coupe.
In 1980 the 99 came in many different models. It was also given the new and safer seats from the Saab 900. Later in the year the transmissions on all models were the same as in the four-speed turbos. This was also the last year for the 99 in the United States.
In 1981 the 99 was available in only two engine options, the 99GL with and the 99 GLi with , both with a four-speed manual transmission. The GLi was a bit more luxurious and had power side mirrors.
In 1982 came the H engine, built by Scania at Södertälje, making it possible for all cars to run on 93 octane gasoline. The two and four door 99GLs came with a five-speed manual transmission and low profile tires. All models except the Turbo and EMS came with a single carburetor, manual transmission and the grille from the EMS and the Turbo.
In 1983 a number of smaller technical and cosmetic changes were made.
A total of 588,643 were made.