Alan B's amusing account of how he and Matthew performed an engine, clutch and gearbox transplant over a very hot weekend.

The Daddy Lives Again

Alan B's account of how he and a friend brought an overwrought 320hp Aero back to life - in two long, hot days

For those of you who may not remember or know, I managed to comprehensively knacker my car within a very short space of time. First of all it was the clutch that began to slip just two weeks after fitting due to the massive amount of torque the car was making. This was about six months ago. Next to go were the engine mounts due, of course, to the massive amount of torque. Following this, the gearbox began to lose synchromesh on 3rd and reverse. I suspect that the power of the car combined with my shifting technique were to blame here. Finally, the nail in the coffin was serious engine damage from running too much boost. At first I thought I had blown a head gasket but upon removing the head last Thursday I found that number 3 piston had melted into a very interesting shape. In short, the engine was dead.

The future didn’t look promising for my car. As for me, things were even worse since I was back to cycling around on my tired old bicycle. I had two options: let the car rot in my little rented garage or go out and do something about it. Naturally, I took the latter option.

I needed to fit my AP racing clutch, two new engine mounts, a new gearbox and a new engine but I knew that doing the work was beyond the capability of someone working on their own. Luckily I had found someone who was willing to help me. In the depths of my despair, Matthew PMed me to ask if he could be of any help. The poor man didn’t know what he had let himself in for…

The first job was to locate a new engine and gearbox. Given my ongoing cash flow crisis, buying from Two Stroke, N*o B*os (god help me!) or JG Motors was out of the question. After much searching I found a man advertising on the Saab Owners Club website, who calls himself ‘The mad 9000 enthusiast’, selling a ’97 9000 gearbox for just £150. The gearbox had done 60k and he sent me a photo of the crashed car that it came from to prove. Then he told me that he had a 72k B234 engine that he would sell for 300. So, for less than the price that N*o Br*s wanted for an old tranny, I could have a low mileage gearbox and engine. Amazing.

There was a snag, of course. He lived in Sunderland, which is a mere 630 mile round-trip from Bath. For Alanb, however, this was the smallest of obstacles. Last Friday morning I hired a little diesel van, pinned the throttle to the floor and drove to Sunderland. When I met the seller (Roger) I was immediately struck by his mad 9000 enthusiasm and his wealth of knowledge. The engine and gearbox both looked great and he included the turbo (not a Mitsu TD04 I’m afraid!) with the engine. The drive back was a nightmare. The little van seemed to weigh little more than the 9000 engine and at times the thing struggled to hold 70mph. Worse still, with the throttle nailed to the floor I was getting less than 30 mpg.

That night I fell into bed totally exhausted only to wake at 7am for the big day ahead. Yes, I was going to strike while the iron was hot and fit the engine and gearbox over the weekend. So, off I drove to pick up an engine crane I had hired. Then I drove to my little garage to start removing the old engine. Matthew had offered his services for the weekend and, before long, he arrived.

The misery had begun. On one of the hottest July weekends on record we began the task of removing the old engine and gearbox. Our aim by the end of day one was to have the new engine and gearbox located within the car.

Knackered engine has just been removed from the car.

New engine having the new flywheel and pressure plate fitted by me.

0bhp but I have saved some weight!

The working conditions.

Removing the engine and gearbox was not too difficult but this only led to a false sense of optimism. Once the engine was out I suddenly realised that the new engine was not TCS equipped and therefore had a different throttle body and wiring loom from my old engine. These had to be swapped over. Then, since it was an auto, it had the wrong turbo, so this had to be swapped. As if this was not enough, again, being an auto meant that the old engine and gearbox had to be split for some vital parts and then I had to fit the flywheel, pressure plate and friction plate...

As the day moved on, as we burned in the sun and as the full size of the job finally dawned on us, things just got worse. We simply couldn’t get the engine and gearbox to mate up. We must have spent two precious hours grovelling around on the gravel trying to get them to mate. And then, once we had done all of the bolts up, Matthew very helpfully pointed out that we had forgotten to put the release bearing in. I could have cried. Fortunately, Matthew wasn’t subject to the same roller-coaster ride of emotions that I displayed. In fact, he spent most of the time trying not to laugh at me as each and every nut tried to get its own back on me.

Preparing the engine to go in

Lowering the engine and gearbox in. Note the length of the shadows.

Alanb totally wrecked

All packed up back in the garage for the night. Note the thoughtful way that I had put my bike away.

By 8.30pm, with little energy left and with the light beginning to fade, we began to hoist the new engine and gearbox into the car and onto its new mounts. This had to be done by the evening because we had to put the axles and wheels back on so that the car could be wheeled into the garage. Leaving the car, hoist and engine parts out for the night was not an option since the local kids would have taken just about everything by the morning. The pressure was on but, oddly enough, apart from the fact that Saab had decided to fit the longest bolts in history to the mounts, fitting the engine was straightforward. By 9.52pm we had achieved our aim of fitting the engine and we drove back in darkness with a selection of beers to talk over the events of the day.

We chatted, ate a curry and drunk until 3am. I woke up at 7am to do my weekly 10 mile run. I felt tired, drunk, sunburnt and sick but I still dragged my cadaver for the full distance. After I had showered and Matthew had eaten the biggest bowl of porridge I had seen in my life, we drove up to the place of hell to start on the car.

Sunday was even hotter than Saturday but we figured that there was so little to do that we could take it easy. How mistaken we were. Matthew must have spent three or more hours fighting to fit the power steering pump, alternator, ac unit and serpentine belt tensioner. Meanwhile, I stuggled to change over the wiring loom. There were so many jobs that by 5pm I was certain we would never get the car running. This was a serious problem since I had to return the engine crane to the hire firm by the morning and Matthew’s car wasn’t able to carry it.

Once again the pressure was on and, once again, the car battled very hard to stop us meeting our objective. For example, we spent about two hours trying to fit the turbo only to find that the exhaust wouldn’t fit. As the shadows began to lengthen, the car looked ready to be started. I turned the key and, within five seconds the car had fired into life. However, all was not well. There was a check engine light on and clouds of smoke were bellowing from the exhaust and the car became very difficult to start. Clearly, far too much fuel was being dumped.

Five minutes after the car had started.

Matthew phoned Alex to ask for a diagnosis of the check engine light fault but as he did so his mobile battery died. Then I called Alex on my mobile and my credit ran out. Alex rang us back and then my battery died! We could tell that the forces were really working against us. Eventually, Matthew managed to find some life in his battery and Alex phoned up to say that the code fault was a dodgy temp. sensor. Once I had changed it over the car fired into life and ran beautifully.

The gearbox felt brand new, the clutch didn’t slip any longer, the engine mounts were fixed and the engine ran faultlessly. We were amazed. We managed to get back to my place by 9.30pm (an early finish) but Matthew felt too tired and unwell to go back home, so he stayed overnight.

Alanb proudly by his motor

The finished job

Matthew stands by his joint creation

The working conditions

All done (it seemed) and time for a photo of both our cars together.

Monday morning and I had to return the engine crane in my car. As I sat in a traffic jam I saw the battery light go on. I pulled over to find the serpentine belt had fallen off. So I had no drive to the alternator or water pump. Still, I battled on to the hire shop, turning engine off and freewheeling wherever possible. When we got back we found the cause of the problem: the ac pump wasn’t bolted on properly. The other problem was that I had no turbo boost. However, this was simply fixed by swapping around the vacuum hoses that led into the TCS/throttle assembly.

So, two days after the job was done I’ve travelled 70 plus miles with no problems. I’m running without the Dawes MBC now (guess why!) so I guess the car is only putting out 280bhp. I am very pleased with the engine and gearbox though. I got lucky in buying such good units so cheaply and I got lucky in finding such a good friend as Matt.

The daddy lives again!


A tip in Bombay of a garage in Bath? You guess.

Back home, where it belongs

A happy looking Matthew ready to get away from me and my car as fast as possible.