Discerning the Transmundane

Any video gamers in our Vintage Saab crew these days?  If there are, you might remember (or even still play) a game called Skyrim.  Honestly, it’s one of my all time favorites.  It’s sort of like Dungeons & Dragons meeting Halo.  In this game, there is a mission called Discerning the Transmundane, where the primary character meets a brilliant, but now mad, scholar who needs to transcribe this weird ancient Dwarven lexicon under the direction of an evil god.  Playing through it really made me think…why did this seem familiar?  I know, I have a weird ancient V4 gearbox to rebuild!

There aren’t many people volunteering to tear into the V4 gearboxes these days.  ‘It’s one of those components that many people look at like a mysterious black box, or a nuclear reactor, or an IRS tax form.  Honestly, I’m probably one of those people.  I understand the basics of how a transmission works, but that’s a far cry from feeling confident enough to tackle a tear down and rebuild.  And to make matters worse, we’re adding a bunch of power to an already-questionable gearbox (depending on whose opinion you read online).  And while I may not be doing the actual gearbox rebuild, since I’m involved you know we’re going to sneak in some “custom enhancements”…


As you may remember, I dropped off the Sonett gearbox a few months back after 47 applications of “environmentally friendly” degreaser.  While that was getting taken apart, I was given a homework assignment of my own: fix up the gearbox linkage & drivers, throwout bearing arm, and bellhousing.  First up was to disassemble the bellhousing to get the tension rod and throwout bearing arm out.  The arm was in good mechanical shape, and did not need rebuilding thankfully.    So with the arm, tension rod, and drivers in hand; I brought them all down to Western Mass Powdercoating for sandblasting and powdercoating.  The original paint on the drivers was some sort of green (leftover from Saab’s WWII production?), so I did my best to match that up with the powdercoat colors that were available, and asked them to not only powdercoat the drivers, but to also do the tension rod, linkage bracket, and throwout arm.  They took them in and about a week later they were ready to go back home.  Kind of like when our daughter drops off her cats for pet sitting…after a week, I’m ready for them to go back home too!


While the gearbox as apart, I knew the freewheel was going to get “neutered”.  This is a common V4 gearbox “mod”, but as always, there’s more to the story.  Sonett guru Jack Lawrence was worried that even that might not be enough given the power I’m trying to add to my engine.  If you’ve even seen the freewheel hub assembly, there are a bunch of little teeth that engage to transfer the power, and to make matters worse not all of the teeth are engaged at any one time.  So even with the freewheel typically “locked out”, the freewheel “teeth” are just not that beefy, so Jack suggested a custom method of eliminating the freewheel.  First he machines the hub to receive a steel sleeve that essentially binds the hub assembly together, then presses that sleeve into the assembly.  Once in there, both the inner and outer portion of the sleeve gets fully welded to assure a very solid input that will hopefully never break.  He also sent along a replacement gear and one of the main shaft bearings that was needed.  The new freewheel hub looks dramatically different… just like my bank account!


Back home, I took apart the funky Sonett III gearbox shift linkage.  It was all covered in grime and corrosion, so that wasn’t going to work.  Some quality time with a wire wheel cleaned those up, but the smallest part ended up being the biggest pain.  There is a small boot that helps protect one of the linkage joints, but I could not find it anywhere!  After looking at several different dust boots online, I decided to take a chance with one designed for an International Harvester… wish I was making this up…!  This boot looked reasonably close, but not perfect.  The opening needed to increase to 5/8″ of an inch, so my step drill made short work of that.  Next, it needed to be shortened.  A few minutes later, this part seemed to fit better than stock!  And certainly better than the 45 year old boot that had literally fallen off on its own…


The bellhousing needed some major cleanup work too.  After scrubbing it all down, I took my die grinder with a scotchbrite-style abrasive “cookie” to clean up all the sealing surfaces.  After another dose of “environmentally-friendly” cleaner, I picked up yet another POR-15 product called Detail Paint.  This product is available in a few different styles (Cast Iron, Cast Aluminum, etc) and is designed to duplicate the original OEM casting look while still providing even coverage and corrosion resistance.  I went with the Cast Aluminum look, and gave the bellhousing a few coats on the exterior.  Looks like new!  The gearbox linkage cover also got the cookie treatment, and a coat of Detail Paint too.


Ready for reassembly, I popped the fresh clutch release arm back in using a new tension pin (3/16″ x 1″).  The linkage bracket got put back on the gearbox cover along with the freshly wire brushed linkage shaft and a dab of synthetic grease.  There are a couple of bushings inside the bracket, but thankfully they were in great shape with no excess shaft play.  I feel like there is an Anthony Weiner joke in that last sentence somewhere…?  In any event, I tied the cleaned up linkage shaft back onto the gearbox cover along with my International Harvester dust boot.  A zip tie provided temporary hold-together duty for the cover and bracket until is was time to go back on the gearbox itself.  The before and after is pretty crazy!


After completing my mission, I brought the parts over to Roger’s house, where he was installing virtually all new bearings and seals in my fully rebuilt gearbox.  He topped it off with my refurbished bellhousing and gave the rest of the gearbox a coat of Detail Paint as well.  Redline’s synthetic fluid went in now, just to make sure I didn’t put it in the car and forget the fluid…!   Because unlike Skyrim, even if you complete the mission, you still might get to do it all over again anyway!


Stop this thing now!

Well, with all the motor work and preparations underway, it seemed like a good time to talk about getting the brakes wrapped up.  Previously entries saw the disassembly, cleaning, and recoating of the front calipers with the POR-15 kit (“2017…year of the wall?) and installation of all new cupronickel brakes lines with braided stainless steel brake hoses (“Braking Bad”).   And this really needs to be the final brake-related blog post because I’m simply running out of cheesy names for new blog posts!  With some good feedback of the last “Spaceballs” clip, I’ll just leave this here…  after all, what good is all this newfound horsepower if we can’t stop?

So, freshly rebuilt master cylinder, new fluid reservoirs, plus the above mentioned work, next up was reassembling the recoated front calipers.  That meant scrubbing out the front cylinders with fine steel wool and some brake fluid.  The brake pistons were pretty clean, but I gave them a quick scrub down too.  The cylinder bore needs a fluid seal, a “wiper” seal (prevents grit from getting to the fluid seal), and a retaining ring.  I soaked the seals in brake fluid, put them in, and then used a piece of wood to evenly tap in the retaining ring.  Know what happens if you lazily try to just tap in the ring without the piece of wood?  You get to buy another whole set of seals!  Good times!  Not that I would have any knowledge of that…. uhm… anyways…

With the front cylinders resealed, it was time to reassemble the front calipers.  Thankfully I had kept all the old hardware since it’s pretty hard to find these days.  The bad news?  I couldn’t tell how the giant clip was supposed to be positioned…  Reader “Eric from VT” came to the rescue (as he often does on SaabNet) by sending me a picture of  a fully assembled brake caliper.  I added a speed bleeder to each side as well, and they were now ready to go back on the car.  Given that he is from Vermont, maybe I should try to pay Eric in maple syrup and ski passes?

With a set of fresh front rotors (with painted hats to prevent rusting), I bolted the rebuilt calipers up.  Next up?  Brake pads.  I had assumed that there wasn’t much in the way of performance pads available for this car, given my experience with the rest of it.  Especially a set of pads that are ground at a weird angle!  But to my surprise, EBC makes a set of their “Green Stuff” pads that fit both the Sonett & 96.  These pads are commonly known for less dust and more bite than stock pads, and for under $60, it seemed like a great deal.  So, I added a new hardware kit from Skandix, and installed the new front pads.

The rear drums were a whole different challenge (surprise, surprise…).  I didn’t want to take a chance of reusing the old bearings, so I brought them to Dyno Machine.  Rich pressed out the old bearings, which…looked brand new.  Literally.  He thought the grease was so clean, that the previous owner must have changed them and never drove the car!  I had already bought a new set, so I decided to clean up and store the “old” ones for a rainy day.  Rich also sandblasted the drums and checked them out to make sure they were good to go without any further work.

Back home, I broke out the POR-15 again (again, so many references that I should be getting royalties!) and gave the drums a coat to prevent any rust.  I also had plenty of silver POR-15 high temp caliper paint left, so I gave the drums a follow up coat of that as well after letting the black basecoat dry.  The new bearings got packed with synthetic grease, and pressed into duty.  After a couple of days to thoroughly dry, I put them on the car and torqued down the castle net.

Ready to go, right?  Nope.  Brakes don’t really work without a pedal…  So I rummaged through the slowly-diminishing pile of zip lock bags on my workbench and pulled out the old pedals.  They were totally seized to the shaft…  So I tried a good soaking of PB Blaster, and a little heat, but no luck.  And so in a fit of rage, I proceeded to just go FULL ‘MERICA on it, and beat the living crap out it.  Good news?  It came apart.  Bad news?  I had vice grip marks all of over the shaft and the end was mushroomed from the hammer beatings…  Jake came to the rescue by carefully running it through his lathe to true it up, and then polished it out the remaining blemishes.  Thankfully no one will ever know! Until now…  oops…


I wire brushed the pedals and hardware, and gave them a heavy coat of zinc rich primer, followed up by some industrial strength paint.  Petri from Skan Mobile Classics sent along new rubber pedal foot pads, and I’ll put those on once the car is a little closer to being finished.  For now, I put the pedals back on the shaft, added new M6 stainless steel dowel pins, and put it back in the car.  The brake master hooked right up, but the old clutch master bolt wouldn’t fit with my new clutch master.  Pegasus Auto Racing Supplies came to the rescue with their steel 5/16-24 heavy duty clevis.  They even offer a specific Grade 8 crossbolt kit for it!  So for under $25 bucks, I was able to bolt up my new Wilwood clutch master to the factory pedals.  With the moment of truth at hand, I added brake fluid, bled out the lines, and to my surprise… no leaks!  I carefully rolled the car forward and… OH CRAP!?!?!  IT ROLLED AWAY!?!

Just kidding!


The car just migrated to the other side of the garage to make room for our recently-acquired 2011 9-5 Aero. And the new brakes worked perfectly.  But I’m not sure if hand pushing a car 2 miles per hour qualifies as a proper brake test…  But still, it stopped.  And the next test will hopefully be at a slightly faster (but not quite ludicrous) speed…




Shocking truth revealed! Why Saab went out of business!

Well folks, after all the politically correct media speak and spin doctoring, you’re going to hear it here first.  There have been a bunch of theories as to why Saab went under, and we’ve heard them all.  Market pressure from other premium car manufacturers?  Check.  The Germans have literally launched a model that corresponds to every micro-niche you could have ever imagined.  For example, BMW had the 3/5/7 series which represented a pretty good selection.  It gave you a small/medium/large choice of sedans.  But then, they added the 1 series, then the 6 series, then the 2 series, then the 4 series, then all the SUV choices (X1/X3/X5), and then the Z3/Z4, then the GranCoupe versions, then the i3/i8 cars… get my drift?  Mercedes and Audi weren’t far behind either.  Probably not the only reason, but a factor.   Throw in Tesla, and you have even more competition in the upscale sedan market.  Maybe it was Saab being too small to be able to fund it’s own engineering and development?  Possible.  Maybe it was profit margin being pushed too tight on new car sales due to Asian imports?  Also possible.  But I know the real reason Saab ran out of money… RITALIN PAYMENTS.

See, as I descend further into Saab-based insanity, I’ve come to realize these cars LITERALLY GIVE YOU ADHD.   Just to prove it, on my Sonett, I currently have 10 different projects going on at once:  engine short block work, cylinder head CNC porting, intake manifold considerations, gearbox rebuilding, brake system construction, sheet metal fabrication, clutch hose work, etc…  the list goes on and on.  It’s hard to focus on just one thing.  Even non-gearheads are not immune from Saab-induced ADHD.  My lovely daughter Abigail has an ’06 9-5 that is her daily driver.  Within a week, the wiper transmission assembly let go, a PCV line broke, the engine started leaking oil, and the gearshift lever would not work…  So it’s obvious what happened to Saab.  They finally buckled under the lawsuits!  Saab made people mentally ill, there is just no other explanation.

To complicate my situation even more, I may have made a rash decision…  As a former NG (2010/2011 model years) 9-5 owner, I’ve simply regretted the day I traded our ’11 9-5 Turbo4 Premium in.  It was Java Metallic, and I later found out it was 1 of 3 ever made…  Mrs. Sonett and I just couldn’t resist the urge to get another NG 9-5, but this time we wanted to make sure we got the best car Saab had made:  the NG 9-5 Aero.  Saab’s beautiful and final flagship has found a forever home next to the Sonett!  Of course it couldn’t be a simple purchase.  And of course I found things that I felt could be better.  So what did I do?  Another blog, of course!  You can check out the new car and work done at www.WhatOnEarthIsAnNG95.wordpress.com

Meanwhile, work HAS progressed on the Saab despite my newly diagnosed ADHD… LOOK, A SQUIRREL!  Oops, sorry about that…  Last blog you saw my new forged pistons and reworked rods with ARP bolts.  I brought the pistons over to the machine shop where Donnie hung the new pistons on the rods using the new wristpins.  He also file cut the rings so that they would perfectly fit the new pistons and have the correct ring gap.  I technically could have done that part myself, but when he offered to do it I was more than happy to let him do it.


Along with the pistons, it was time to drop off the block, since we knew exactly what the bore needed to be.  The new pistons are 91.5mm, so we’re getting a little bump in displacement versus the factory 90mm bore (total 1756cc vs 1698cc stock).  And by doing business with a top-shelf machine shop like RAD, you end up with a “blueprinted” block at no extra charge.  All of the crazy checking and measuring that constitutes blueprinting (crank centerline to block face, block face parallel to centerline, bore spacing, bore perpendicular to crank centerline, blah blah blah the list is literally endless!) gets done by Donnie’s high end machines automatically.  So if Ford had cast the cylinder bores off center or at in improper angle, the machines just fix it.  Incredible!  So the block got hot tanked, and Donnie couldn’t believe how much crud came out… Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me…  So he finally got it clean, cleared out all the oil galleys, bored and honed the cylinder bores, and installed new freeze plugs, cam bearings, and balance shaft bearings.   Back home, I set it up on some sawhorses and gave it two coats of POR-15.

Another week, another call to Jack Lawrence of Motorsport Services.  It was time for new main bearings, and… did I ever tell you about the time my cat ran head first into our staircase and gave himself a concussion?  Oh damn…hang on… <pops another Ritalin>.  So as usual Jack and Pat had them on the shelf and a few days later they arrived, ready to go in.  Thinking more about engine components, I had decided early on that I didn’t want to reuse the existing timing gears.  They appear to be in excellent condition, but stiffer valvesprings, more RPM, etc all made me worry about their longevity.  So, another call to MSS, this time for their all metal timing gear set.  In the words of Eric Cartman:  “BEEFCAKE!”.

While this stuff was in the works, I needed to figure out the clutch and brake fluid reservoirs.  My new Wilwood clutch master specifies a Wilwood remote reservoir, but it just didn’t fit where the factory ones did and I would have still needed something for the brake master reservoir anyway.  So, after WAY too much surfing, I found a company in the UK (Burton Power) that had what appeared to be the exact OEM ones that Saab used!?!  They weren’t advertised as Lockheed on the Burton website, but the look and dimensions appeared identical, so I took a shot.  After convincing my credit card company that I was not funding overseas terrorism by ordering something from England, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the reservoirs are the real deal. They even come with the exact same mounting brackets that Saab used!  So I ran new hoses to both the clutch and brake masters, and even put some clear shrink tubing over a section of each hose to help protect them.  Nice!

And since we’re all over the place in this blog post anyway, I brought a couple of the OEM sheet metal interior panels into my workplace.  My employer is a full service HVAC/Mechanical Contracting company, and one of our divisions is a full-fledged sheetmetal shop.  So I showed our top-shelf fabrication guy Bobby the flimsy & rusty steel pieces, and he had a better idea.  He duplicated the factory pieces in a much thicker 16 gauge metal, with the thought process being it will be much less likely to vibrate.  The new pieces are VERY strong!  They put the OEM ones to shame.  And did I mention they are now 304 stainless steel?  So they will never get rusty.  Wish I could say the same for my brain! Thanks a lot Saab!  You’re to blame and I’ll be seeing you guys in court!


Why are we always preparing? When can I just go?

Flipping through Saab website after website, it seems like I’m picking up a common theme among us Vintage guys.  These cars are rarely just “going”, and the owners are always doing something besides driving.  Whether it’s looking through Craigslist to look for another tired example in need of saving, trying to find some weird & discontinued part to get another one running, or desperately trying to get one back together for a summer of driving; the story is the same.  We’re always preparing!  Now, I know there are a good number of nice, drivable Vintage Saabs out there, but even they aren’t immune.  I see 2 stroke guys struggling with setting up their carbs evenly, other guys fighting off rust incursions, and others trying to pass occasional road-worthy inspections.  So, I feel like this guy:

Resigning my fate, preparations have moved forward.  With the work on the cylinder heads underway (more on that later…very cool stuff underway), I started gathering resources for the main engine build.  I ordered up some top shelf motor oil, Royal Purple.  RP was a favorite of engine-building great John Lingenfelter prior to his passing.  John was really a smart guy, and his mantra was always to build torque in the rpm band where the engine would spend most of its time.  He was so smart, that he didn’t tackle a V4… I’m not that smart, plus my head is harder than Lord Helmet’s.  I also ordered up RP’s special break in oil that I’ll run for the first few miles to let things break in properly before switching to the full RP synthetic.  The break in oil has a high zinc & phosphorus content that is perfect for flat tappet cams.  A pair of oil filters (one for break in oil and one for the full synthetic oil) completed the order.


Dipping inside the engine, I knew I should go with new balance shaft bearings and new cam bearings.  You don’t want to mess around with these, if the balance shaft bearings start heading south it negatively affects the oil pressure.  So I ordered up new ones from Skandix.  Jack Ashcraft’s V4 handbook shows you the different bearings, their width (all different!) and how they go into the block.  I’ll let my machine shop install them, but I gave Donnie @ RAD the V4 handbook so that he would have the instructions handy if he needed them.

Continuing down this path, next up was the oil pump and driveshaft.  This topic gets beaten to DEATH online.  Old timers insist on going with a high-volume oil pump, and I disagree.  In the old days, you needed a stronger pump to deal with the higher viscosity oil that was needed to run larger bearing clearances.  But, I’m going to run the Royal Purple 10W-30 full synthetic, which is actually easier to pump than the original oil!  And since the RP 10W-30 will protect the engine better than an old school 20W-50 anyway, I don’t see any reason to run a high volume pump.  I ordered up a new Melling oil pump and intermediate drive shaft, which is made of heat treated carbon steel.  The other argument against a high volume pump is that the loads on your cam gear go up significantly.  Ford engines do not have a good history of dealing with those higher loads.  An eaten up cam or distributor gear means metal shards going through your newly built engine.  No thanks!

The crankshaft and connecting rods were dropped off to Donnie @ RAD Machine for some work.  Donnie cleaned the crank, checked it for straightness, and Magnafluxed it to ensure there were no cracks.  The crank cleaned up beautifully and Donnie took a micrometer to the journals, finding that we could run “standard” size main bearings.  He treated it to a balance job (yes, factory job was off…) and bagged it up for reassembly.  On the rods, he cleaned & magnafluxed them as well, resized the big ends so that they would be exactly perfect, and balanced them as well.  But, we were not done there.  On a connecting rod, especially a stock one, the weakest link is always the rod bolts.  By this point you girls and guys know how mental I am about good bolts.  The best of the best is always ARP.  And while they do not make a set of rod bolts specifically for the V4, they do make them for the Ford 289/302 engine that uses the same rod bolts!  It was actually cheaper to get the V8 set (154-6002) than it was to source a V4 set…  When your engine is turning 7000 rpm, ARP is good insurance.  I had Donnie install the new rod bolts too.

Next up was a “new” oil pan.  Mine had see much better days with rust and a healthy dent in it.  Skandix says they sell “NOS” ones but they don’t stock them in the US, so that meant ordering one from Germany.  I guess that my idea of “New Old Stock” is different than the Germans…  This one showed up with as much rust as my old one and a healthy scuff to boot!  But, no dents thankfully.  So I brought it by the powdercoaters and they  blasted it with aluminum oxide with careful attention to the pan rail, as I don’t want oil leaks…  They then powdercoated the outside.  It looks fantastic!  You can still see the original part number stamped in it and the inside is now rust free.

Of course a week doesn’t go by without talking to Jack Lawrence.  He shipped new main bearings to me to go with the freshly cleaned up crankshaft.  But the discussion went deeper this time, as it was time to pick pistons.  The factory cast ones are lame, and sit nearly .080″ “in the hole”, making them prone to detonation.  And cast pistons + detonation equal a very weak motor.  So getting the pistons right are critical.  Not surprisingly, Jack had some thoughts.  He offered a set of 14:1 dome pistons that horrified me (I’m running a turbo after all).  The other option was a set of 10.3:1 flat top Wiseco pistons.  Knowing I had to open up the cylinder head combustion chambers anyway (for my oversize valves), I figured I could get the combustion ratio down to a liveable point.  The factory rating was 8.0:1 and even though I’m running a turbo, I’m bringing that up.  A low compression ratio gives you soggy off-boost power, but if you go too high, detonation can rear it’s ugly head.  So I’ll shoot for around 9.0 to 9.3:1 all said and done.  A few weeks later the new pistons and rings showed up.  They look awesome! The keys here?  Forged construction is much stronger and detonation-resistant than cast.  Plus the pistons will no longer sit “in the hole” and will promote much better turbulence in the combustion chamber.  And lastly, much thicker ring lands resist breaking under boost.  So I dropped those off to Donnie to be hung on the freshly prepared rods.

So with all this work, the gameplan is clear:  get the preparation out of the way so that this car can finally go!  And since I’m making so many changes over the original 75 horsepower, maybe I can go… LUDICROUS SPEED!!!

Coming up clutch

With Opening Day at Fenway today to kick off the 2017 Red Sox season, the New England Patriots stopped by for the festivities.  They had all 5 Lombardi trophies in tow (Super Bowl trophies for you non-US sports fans) and of course, the reigning Mr. Clutch himself, Tom Brady.  While the original Mr. Clutch was LA Lakers great Jerry West (the NBA logo was modeled after him!), I can’t think of anyone in this generation who has come up big more often than Gisele’s husband.  But maybe it’s time for a THIRD Mr. Clutch…?!?

With the transmission at Roger’s house getting disassembled, I received the first email update.  Things looked really good inside, with no failed bearings.  Ring and pinion were good and “no brinneling of the inside surface of the fourth gear”.  I’m not sure what that really means, but I’m assuming that’s good.  Weirdly though, the rear pinion shaft nut was really rusty.  Why would that be the only rusty part in the gearbox, especially since it’s low in the gearbox (and submersed in oil)?  Roger guessed the car sat in an inclined position for a long time, leaving the oil pitched forward in the box and away from the nut.  Thankfully he had a spare nut and sleeve that he is going to substitute in, as soon as I come up with the FIVE DOLLARS that he wants for it.  Can you believe the nerve of that man?  Asking $5.00 for a rare 45 year old gearbox part that can’t be found anywhere?  I can almost buy a loaf of bread at Whole Foods with that money!  Or almost one whole 16 ounce bottle of water at the movies!  Almost being the key word…  Maybe I should shut up before he raises the price…  Jokes aside, I’m glad he has a bunch of spare stuff.  Maybe he is trying to be Mr. Clutch?  God knows how I would have come up with this stuff otherwise.  With the gearbox fully taken apart, Roger sent off a material list to Jack Lawrence in hopes of sourcing the bearings needed.

With gearbox getting attention, it was time to focus on the flywheel and clutch.  It seems like lightening the flywheel is a pretty common practice in the Vintage Saab community to I decided to give that a try.  Knocking 3.5 pounds off a chunk of metal spinning several thousand RPMs seems like a good idea.  The Saab Sport & Rally Catalog gives you a pretty good detail on how to do it but they have a pretty big typo in their instructions.  They tell you to reduce the outer diameter behind the starter ring down to 19.45″ (240 mm).  So, seeing that, Donnie @ RAD had to decline since 19.45″ is a big ring to turn down.  He suggested general machine shop Dyno Machine, also in Ludlow, MA.  Rich there took a look at my flywheel and immediately questioned the diameter stated.  Turns out 240 mm is only 9.45″, not 19.45″…  Rich and his gang at Dyno do a ton of prototyping and fabrication, so turning down the pressure plate mounting ring was laughably easy for him.  If you would like to have this done, just give him a holler.  He came up solid for me, maybe a candidate for Mr. Clutch?

So a couple of days later, I picked up the modified flywheel.  But, it still needed balancing as well as surfacing for the new clutch and pressure plate.  So I dropped it off at RAD and he surfaced the flywheel in preparation for the new clutch disk.  He also wisely surfaced the pressure plate mounting ring by the same amount, so that the clutch take up would not be adversely affected.  Glad one of us was thinking…  Maybe he is Mr. Clutch?  I picked up the freshly surfaced flywheel thinking it was good to go, until I answered the phone…


On the other end was Jack Lawrence who was asking what my plan for a clutch and pressure plate was.  I was originally planning on just using a standard stock Sachs pressure plate and disk, but when I told him about this plan he sounded about as enthusiastic as I do when my doctor tells me I need to lose weight…  Turns out the stock pressure plate has 785 pounds of force, which sounds like a lot but apparently isn’t.  Jack offers that, plus a modified version with 3 heavy duty springs and shot peaned levers, with 940# of force.  When I suggested that maybe we do that, he sounded like my Dad did when I brought home that “C” in English on my report card in 7th grade…    So I looked at the next option:  a pressure plate with 6 heavy duty springs and 1100# of clamping pressure.  Finally right?  Nope… Jack had other ideas.  He also offers a “custom” option, which is a diaphragm style clutch, with pressure that even exceeds the 6 spring version.  But diaphragm style clutches are noted for being much more drivable, even with more pressure.  They are much more even, and do not suffer from the clutch “judder” that is prevalent in the Saab world.  Turns out I know who the real Mr. Clutch is!!!


It requires modifying the flywheel some more, with 6 evenly spaced shoulder bolts.  So, for the third time in 10 days, the flywheel was going to go under the knife yet again!  This thing is going to be more valuable than the Crown Jewels by the time it’s all said and done… So I packed it up and shipped it off to Jamestown, NY.  Two weeks later Flywheel Version 3.0 arrived!  It looked great!

In addition to the pressure plate, Jack sent out his racing clutch disk too.  Frankly, he was pretty concerned that the stock components wouldn’t be able to hold up to what I have planned for my V4.  The new disk has a solid center with 3 velvetouch pads on each side.  Certainly looks the part!

So, it’s been decided!  Jerry West, Tom Brady…and Jack Lawrence.  Congrats to the new Mr. Clutch!

This is why we can’t have nice things

On occasion, I’ll be driving along and wonder why the heck I’m working on a weird ass fake sports car from 1972.  It was invented, went through its years of being for sale, and discontinued…before I was born.  Why don’t I just buy an Aston Martin or Porsche 911?  Then I’ll read an article on one of my new favorite car blogs like Oversteer about how the “average selling price of a 20 year old Ferrari is $70,000… and it needs a $10,000 timing belt change every three years…” and the mystery is gone.  The exotics are just crazy money.  But still, why don’t I have more disposable income?  And my answer came in the form of… Jury Duty!

For my overseas readers, Jury Duty is a random selection by the government that has you sit on a court jury to help decide court cases.  It’s the pillar of democracy that ensures a guilty verdict where it belongs…unless you’re OJ Simpson.  Or Robert Blake.   Or Kobe Bryant.  Or Ted Kennedy.  Or…uh, never mind.  But it’s something you really can’t get out of, and since it had been over a decade since my last summons I figured I would just go to court for my day of service to democracy.  And so when I pulled up, I thought maybe I had arrived at one of Massachusetts’s soon-to-be plentiful casinos that are going up.  This is a public courthouse?

Yep, a $180 million tab to put up a building… where we tell gangbangers and drug dealers that they are going to jail.  Do we really need a gigantic skylight 80′ in the air to shine fresh daylight on the occasional murderer before they go off to the gulag?  I’m kind of thinking we could have probably built a decent building for say…$50 million?  $75 million?  Walk inside and you can see why it was $180 million judging by the *TEN FOOT TALL DOORS*.  Are we trying Andre the Giant for murder?  Why the hell do we need *TEN FOOT TALL DOORS*?!?  For scale, not a single person that walked through there was taller than the top of the white board, so that door is a solid ten feet tall.  And nothing says justice like a 148-year-old giant marble statue of… Moses?  Because when we think of justice in America, we think of a guy parting the Red Sea.  I really wish I was making this up, just like I really wish I had a new Lamborghini!

So with reality setting in, I went back to work on the Sonett.  With most of the suspension done, I figured I’d get rolling on the engine and transmission which will probably also cost $180 million…  I recruited my buddy and Saab guru Roger Harris to rebuild my transmission.  Roger is very detail oriented and has the original Saab transmission press, which is a good thing.  But degreasing was left to me, so I lugged the gearbox out into the driveway, hooked up the hose to the hot water, and bought a tub for it to sit in and catch the “environmentally-friendly biodegradable cleaner”.  I was surprised by just how dirty this thing was!  I’m guessing the engine’s rear main seal or the gearbox input seal leaked and slung oil around the inside of the bell housing for a few years…  Several million coats of cleaner later and things looked good enough for transport.  I was also surprised at how little fluid was left inside…that’s NOT a good thing.    So I loaded the gearbox into my new “Official What On Earth Is A Sonett Parts Carrier” (aka my new Ford Explorer which replaced my recently departed Toyota 4Runner for daily driver duty, and my back has thanked me ever since) since the risk of getting gearbox grease in Mrs. Sonett’s Volvo XC60 (with beige interior) didn’t sound like a good idea.

This was Sunday afternoon, so I figured we’d just drop it off at Roger’s and be on our way.  Nope!  Roger wanted a sneak peak right away, so we popped the clutch slave cylinder off (more on that later) and took the bell housing off.  The magnetic drain plug only had small pieces of metal, and no big chunks thankfully.  It was pretty clean inside which seemed to coincide with the car’s low mileage.  Roger will finish disassembling it and then we’ll make up a full material list of everything to be replaced.

A few things that I knew had to be replaced without even opening the transmission was the input and output shaft seals.  While surfing around the great UK V4 site (saab-v4.co.uk) I found that a gentleman by the name of John Green sells some very good quality seals.  If you contact him privately, he will combine shipping and give you a better buy (vs. his normal eBay prices).  His seals are all double-lip giving you much better odds of preventing leaks, and his prices were great!  I picked up the three gearbox seals, a better version timing cover seal, and some odds and ends to rebuild my clutch slave cylinder from him.  Even better was that Mrs. Sonett bought them for me!  I also decided to buy some RedLine synthetic transmission oil since the general consensus is that it’s one of the very best available.

With the gearbox in progress, I also got rolling on the engine which will probably cost enough to fund a Michael Bay movie (but hopefully with less explosions!).  I brought the really grungy cylinder heads to RAD Auto Machine in Ludlow, MA.  Donnie Wood is one of the most knowledgeable machinists and hot rodders I’ve ever met.  He did my 573 HP Ram Air Firebird about 20 years ago, did my all aluminum 4-cam Cobra engine 10 years ago, and my brothers absolute tire-shredding GTO (630 HP at the rear wheels before he decided to dump another $5K into the motor… Someone has too much disposable income; I think he needs to help build another courthouse) this past winter.  I thought maybe the V4 would stump him, but he immediately said “oh yeah, those are a lot like the 2.8L Ford V6 with 2 cylinders lopped off!”.  He said that he has forklift repair companies dropping off V4 motors for repair from time to time.  I humbly told him that mine was in a “sports car” but nothing I say surprises him anymore.  He already knows I’m insane.  So the cylinder heads were disassembled, hot tanked and Magnafluxed to make sure there were no cracks.  They cleaned up nicely!  I then picked them back up to begin Stage 2 on the heads… more on that later.

With the heads coming apart, I figured the old valves and springs were as expendable as an Empire Stormtrooper.  I called up legendary Saab engine guru Jack Lawrence and we had a great conversation.  His best engines get 175 to 180 horsepower naturally aspirated (vs. 75 stock)!  I politely told him I was going to flatten his 180 number on my first try.  He now also knows that I’m insane.  But he listened to my plan with interest and was happy to join in the insanity!  I have to say, I really expected the elders of the Saab community to be very reserved about some of this stuff but I was totally wrong! I love that everyone has embraced this project.  Really cool!  I ordered up oversized 42mm intake and 36mm exhaust valves replace the old, smaller, stock ones.  Combined with some head work, they’ll help move more air though the motor.  New valve springs with new spring dampers allow upwards of 7500 RPM to provide some margin for error if when I miss a shift… New keepers and a full V4 engine gasket set also joined the ranks.

Lastly for this update, I decided to get going on running a brand new main battery cable since that has to snake under the engine and transmission anyway.  It’s better to get that in place now since it’s way more difficult to do once the engine and transmission are reinstalled.  After doing some *MORE* reading (why do I have to research EVERY DAMN THING I DO to death?) I found that welding cable is a much better choice than standard battery cable due to superior flexibility.  I found a nice 2 gauge welding cable that was made in America that looked perfect.  To take things up a notch, I bought some good quality heat shrink tubing to go over it to keep it looking like new (and prevent any damage to the insulation jacket).  I snaked it into place, slid sections of heat shrink over it, and melted it into place with a heat gun.  Beefy!  I then used stainless steel cushion clamps with stainless screws to secure it down.

If you think I have an obsession with stainless, well…

And since all my tax money is funding the local courthouse, I’ll just have to keep plugging away in small steps on the Sonett.  And since that $180 million was spent in 2007, adjusted for inflation that number becomes $208 million in today’s money, so its better to get this done asap.  And since we’re in Massachusetts, that $208 million adjusted for corruption on Beacon Hill, payoffs of local politicians, and “union dues” is actually $985 gazillion.  I’m just kidding about that last part… I think it’s actually higher…


The award I really DON’T want to win…

Anyone else have cats?  If you do, you know they lead to sleep depravation pretty regularly.  One meows her head off all night, because…?!?  It’s been over a decade so I’ve given up hope of ever figuring that one out.  Another one moves around on the bed constantly, and when he is ready for you to get up, will force his head into your hands for pets whether or not you are awake.  And if you ignore him?  You get a friendly “nibble” for your lack of attention.  And we’re currently babysitting our daughter’s two cats as well, so being up at 4:00 AM is more of a common occurrence lately.  Luckily for you, surfing the “interwebs” was the inspiration for this post!  Aside from THREE BILLION POSTS about politics, you get to find some interesting stuff, like… OUR NEWEST WINNERS OF THE DARWIN AWARDS!

First up is the French lady who decided she really needed to take a selfie while in Thailand.  Sounds innocent enough.  But this selfie was going to be taken alongside a sleeping crocodile!  Long story short:  she tripped, startled the croc, and moments later she was rushed to the hospital with a “gaping hole” in her leg…  Bonus points for her since the place was littered with signs that warned people to stay the hell away from the crocodiles.  Second place goes to the “animal loving” vet who was famous for killing exotic animals…(?!?)  He goes on a hunting trip with his buddies, and while hunting birds, misses the 100 foot ravine directly in front of him, and proceeds to fall to his death.  I think there is a lion in heaven giving this post two paws up after reading that…  So, if we’re talking about near death experiences, that can only mean one thing:  time to compress the front springs on your vintage Saab!  But first, the lead up:

I had previously taken the front suspension components, sandblasted them, and had them all powdercoated.  Skandix supplied new inner and outer CV joint boots, and it was time to put start putting things back together.  And since this requires actual thought, I made a visit to my brother Jake’s garage while doing this just to make sure I didn’t screw it up.  First up, grease.  While I had used Mobil 1 synthetic on the wheel bearings, I know CV joints normally want extreme pressure additives.  Skandix includes some CV joint grease with moly (in their boot kit), but I also knew I wanted to stay synthetic, so after some searching around I settled on Red Line’s CV-2 high pressure grease which gave me the best of both worlds.  I reassembled the ball bearings into the cage and into the axle stubs.

With that done, next up is to replace the small, thin, retainer ring that goes at the end of the driveshaft.  When you pull the driveshaft out of the CV joint, the ring generally gets mangled.  Thankfully Skandix gives you a new one with their CV joint boot kit.  So that got carefully worked on, and the hub locked into the vise.  When it comes time to inserting the driveshaft into the CV joint, Saab of course recommends a special tool to compress the ring.  Want to guess who doesn’t own that?  So Jake and I used a few small screwdrivers to carefully compress the ring as the shaft went into the CV joint.   Lastly we took a crimp ring tool and locked down the CV joint boot retaining straps, and I was good to go.

Now, I know I’ve discussed this before, but compressing those front springs makes me more nervous than the bomb disarming robot in the The Simpsons Movie (spoiler:  he commits suicide rather than try to disarm the bomb…).  But there’s just no way around it.  Jack Ashcraft’s books practically have a Surgeon General’s warning on them about getting killed by these springs.  So, carefully as I can be, I compressed them, slipped in the front bumpstops, and slid the spring perch underneath.  I then installed my customized Grade 8 ball joint bolts, and used some red Loctite on them.  Red is probably way overkill, but the thought of my suspension falling apart as I’m driving down the road doesn’t seem appealing.  Oh, and don’t waste your time with the “ball joint bolt kits” that are available online for these cars…made in India and are complete garbage.  I bought Grade 8 bolts with the smooth shank that I wanted and then cut down the threaded portion with Mrs. Sonett’s Dremel.  Perfect!

Next up was my freshly powdercoated brake backing plates, along with new stainless screws (of course).  And I put a thin layer of anti-seize on these screws so that I don’t need an impact driver to get them off next time…  I also bolted up new KYB front shocks as well as new stainless washers and Grade 8 nuts for those too.

So, I’ve stared down potential harm for the second time and came out on top again while working on this car’s front suspension.  Let’s hope my good luck continues when it comes to the fuel system.  Or else some guy whose cat woke him up at 4:00 AM will be pointing his finger at my internet shame and calling me an idiot too…