“Third time’s the charm.”
In the last installment I left off with the successful installation of brand new Koni Yellow Adjustable Dampeners and H&R lowering springs at each corner. My plan was to treat myself to a ‘stage 2’ tune from Tuning by MPS as a gift for completing my junior year of college, but my car had something else in mind. I knew the clutch was going to be the weakest link, but with just shy of 60,000 miles, I didn’t expect it to start slipping yet. I was wrong.
I had two options, use the car as it was until I had time to get a new clutch installed or tune the car, be civil, and hope it lasted. As much as I desired more power, what was a few more months to do things the correct way. The plus side to all of this was having the time to do my research for both part selection and maintenance procedure.
Since I had no idea what I was doing at this point, the first thing I started to research was how to perform the task at hand. After a little Googling and forum reading I stumbled upon the SAAB WIS, or Workshop Information System. This program includes repair procedures, fault code diagnostics, service intervals, and more. I also had my trusty Hanes manual should I need any supplemental information. I was confident I had the right resources in place.
The next part, and arguably the hardest part, was to find a clutch kit with decent performance at a reasonable price. I wanted something that could outperform the stock internals, an upgrade that would probably be my threshold on this car, so I set my sights at 350/350.
I looked at various brands such as SPEC, South Bend, KY Clutch.
SPEC seemed to have mixed reviews at the time, and I wasn’t going to do this job twice, so I decided to pass.
The South Bend clutches quoted some respectable power numbers at a decent price, but I couldn’t find much first hand experience with them on Saabs which made me weary, another pass.
KY clutch was a brand I kept coming back to, but would always pass because I just didn’t want to have to make a phone call (their site didn’t have a store). Eventually I gave in, and I wish I did far sooner. They offered me an unsprung 6-puck clutch kit capable of 450lb-ft of torque to match the OEM dual-mass flywheel. The perfect marriage of performance and comfort in my eyes.
By the time my plan became financially viable it was already fall semester of my senior year. I finally had the parts, but time was at an all-time low. Thankfully my roommate Josh offered up his assistance, lift, and heated garage to tackle the job over Thanksgiving break.
We started as early as we could on the week we had off. Our goal was to have the transmission out the first day and everything back together by the end of the second. We came pretty close to that goal, but we did experience some hangups along the way. For the sake of this narrative I won’t go into extreme detail, but keep your eyes peeled for a step-by-step guide in the future.
- The first thing we realized after the car was halfway apart was that we parked the car backwards if we inteded to use the ceiling crane to keep the engine stable with all but 1 mount removed. This wasn’t a huge issue since we had a cherry picker as well, but that still took up more room. Always read through ALL of the directions before starting.
- The transmission was out and in the process of replacing the slave cylinder I stripped the hex heads. We hammered a socket over the bolts to get them out. Be very careful when removing small fasteners for this exact reason. We replaced them with metric 10.9 hex cap bolts to prevent this from happening in the future.
- When installing the flywheel remember that the stock bolts are stretch-to-yield and SHOULD NOT be reused. We also had a lot of issues lining up the bolts holes, which led to us putting bolts in and out a handful of times.
- We were laying on the ground attempting to lift the transmission back into place when the hydraulic clutch line, which was tied up with a zip tie, fell out of place and dripped brake fluid directly in my eyes. Losing the ability to use your eyes mixed with the shear burning sensation is not a scenario you want to be in while holding a transmission over your face. When you tie something up, make sure its actually tied up (I’ve ripped my share of suspension boots for this reason too).
- By the end of the second day the car was back together. The only line item left was to bleed the clutch. After about an hour with little to no progress we threw our hands in the air and called it a day. I later learned that even though the fluid reservoir looked full, there was a sectioned-off rear portion for the clutch that was completely empty. I poured more fluid in, watched it run into the rear section of the reservoir, and the clutch was bled 10 minutes later.
The largest project I had done on a car was complete, and much to my surprise, it went smoother than I planned for. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and I was relieved to have the car finished with a handful of days to test drive it before having to make the trip back to school.
It was the great Thanksgiving Eve, the holiday every college kid looked forward to. I took my Saab 9-3 over to my friends house being particularly careful to shift under 3000RPM as I broke in my new clutch. As I was parking the car, my foot was on the clutch and I was about to shift into reverse when I heard (and felt) a loud pop from the transmission area. The clutch would no longer disengage, and my heart sank.
I called AAA to get the car towed back to my parents’ house. The entire time I waited all I could think about was “What could this be?” A few things ran through my mind, but my focus was on the hydraulic system. The clutch wouldn’t disengage, which meant there wasn’t enough pressure in the system to push on the fingers of the pressure plate to release the clutch. The second scenario was that there was an obstruction somewhere in the system. Regardless, I didn’t have the time to source the parts and disassemble everything in only a few days. I caught a ride back to school with my neighbor, best friend, and fellow Saabro, Frankie, and borrowed cars to get to work until I was home again a month later for semester break.
In the blink of an eye it was a month later, and I was back at my parents’ house gearing up to tackle the job in the middle of a single-digit tundra with only an uninsulated, drafty garage as my shelter. The only benefit it offered was constant light and protection from the wind. My heating source was a small, electric heater that did nothing more than keep my tools from freezing to my hands.
In addition to the cold, this time around I had no lift and less space to operate. After two days of however long I could bare the cold, the transmission was on the ground for a second time. At the time I was still convinced it was a hydraulic failure, so my mind was set on the slave cylinder. It sounded like the seals had failed, something I thought was a reasonable assumption due to the amount of air I pushed through it in an ill-attempt to bleed my clutch the first time around. I decided I didn’t even need to remove the pressure plate; the failure was there in my hands, so I ordered a new slave cylinder.
Skip ahead a few days and the slave cylinder was installed. My step-dad came down to help me get the transmission back in place, and we started getting everything put back together. It was late and cold, so we decided to bleed the clutch and try it out and finish putting the car back together tomorrow. Well, I was able to bleed the clutch, but I still couldn’t get it to disengage. I was shocked, I knew the slave was the answer.
In a hail mary fashion I ordered a new clutch master cylinder, but predictably, it didn’t fix the issue. As I sat trying to figure out where I went wrong, I wondered: “Why didn’t I try bleeding the clutch immediately after the transmission was back in the car?” and “Why didn’t I take the clutch assembly apart while I had the transmission out?” but hindsight is always 20/20.
My Christmas vacation was running down, and I couldn’t stand to even look at the car at this point due to pure disgust in my own inabilities at the time. My grandfather was kind enough to offer up his 1981 Ford F150 for me to use during the spring semester. Unfortunately, that meant my Saab would sit for 5 months until I graduated college.
The summer after graduation, specifically July, is when I finally got my Saab back on the road after disassembling and reassembling everything a 3rd time. One of the flywheel bolts sheared in half, even with the surface of the crankshaft, and the head of the bolt lodged itself between the pressure plate and clutch. I very carefully drilled out the bolt and ran a tap through it to clean up the threads before installing a new bolt.
My theory: As I mentioned above, we had issues getting the flywheel lined up and had to take it on and off a handful of times. I think that during this process we accidently installed an old bolt that had already yielded. The bolt was then retorqued and suffered a catastrophic failure due to its compromised integrity. That, or the flywheel bolt was compromised from the supplier, but I think that is the less probable scenario.
This project was the most in-depth thing I had ever done, and therefore, provided me with some of the most valuable lessons I carry today.
- Once you’re done researching, research some more. Make sure you are as prepared as possible going into a project because there will always be something that pops up. This is especially important when working on a tight timeline.
- Be thorough and keep an open mind. You may think you have the full proof solution, but you shouldn’t let that keep you from examining the whole system.
- Test and evaluate early. The moment you can test your solution, do it. The progress you make putting everything back together will all be negated if you misdiagnosed the issue.
- Cut yourself some slack. You are your biggest critic. This is both a blessing and a curse. If things are going well, it keeps you delivering your highest caliber work regardless of how mundane the task. However, once things go south, it can lead to overthinking and self-doubt, which can start to interfere with your work flow.
I didn’t even get to the end of July without going to visit Mike from Tuning by MPS in Avoca, PA. The tune may have been a year later than I planned, but that extra sacrifice made it so much more enjoyable. The car drove like a dream, and at that point, I pretty much considered it done. That was, until the Saabros found SCCA solo autocross events in our area, but that’s a story for next time.