Lance Cole: Saab Encounters of the Further Kind

Lance Cole is a writer living in England and has penned several books on automobiles and aviation. Saab enthusiasts would know him best for the book Saab 99 and 900: The Complete Story, which is an excellent and essential volume and available for sale at the SU Bookshop.

Click here to read all of Lance’s previous contributions at Trollhattan Saab.

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Saab Encounters of the Further Kind – Lance Cole with a travelogue of another Saab day out…

Photos by the author – click to enlarge

1Saab 93 TTiD Cole.jpg A year ago, I was driving around southern Tasmania with Swade and Drew B in a 93 TTID, which was available courtesy of Saab Australia.

As you can see from the photo, I coerced Drew B into backing the car down a boat ramp in search of a good shot. Gladly we did not test the car’s water handling capabilities…
The TTID was, and remains, one of my favourite cars – if I am paying the bills…

A year on, to the month, I found myself having further Saab encounters in Brittany- France, and Dublin.

Just as I found down under in Notes from a Saab Island, it seems the Saab love affair remains, all over the world. Australia was packed with Saabs. So too, are France and Ireland.

Perhaps because the French buy so many of their own cars, perhaps because they are so nationalistic (no judgement inferred), and perhaps because I have also owned some classic Citroens, the last thing I expected to find was a population of Saabs out in the backwoods of rural Brittany.

Brittany is the west tip of France – on the north the coast it is rugged and Celtic, in the south of the Department, it is warmer and softer; it’s a wonderful rural landscape of honeyed stone cottages and quintessential French geezers smoking stereotypically away 2 French TV Babe Cole.jpgas they quaff cheap wine, eat fresh fish and rabbit, all finished off with local cheese and proper, locally produced cider – ‘Cidre’: It is paradise. Oh and as you can see from the photo, the TV newsreader woman is stunning – makes watching TV worthwhile- shallow I know but c’est la vie….

The lanes and towns are populated by noisy old Citroens and Peugeots while Renaults potter about as well. I never saw a Honda, nor any of those wretched Hyundia-Kia things. As you know by now, I despise them utterly, despite so many journalists plugging their (fleeting) value for money.

But, while there were French cars, there were also Saabs – new and old. Now, that was not to be expected.

The French it seems agree with those of us who see both an emotional and design based link, between Saab and Citroen. I even met a man with a Saab and a Citroen- a 96V4 and a lovely beige GS just like the one I had in 1986 before rust ate it for lunch.

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In the medieval town of Malestroit, there were new model and old model Saab 93s a plenty. But, as the photos opposite show, the best bit was the lovely, 900 Turbo Classic- a flat front model in dark blue with an unusual beige velour interior. It was in fine fettle- with all the spoilers and dangly bits still attached.

Across the road, there lay a basking beast at rest – a Citroen DS23. Somehow the Saab made an equally strong statement. Locally registered and utterly timeless, the 900 Turbo 3 door made my week out in the last redoubt of Frenchification.

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Just up the road, in the heart of the Forest of Paimpont, where relics of Merlin, King Arthur and legends of old can be found amid stone circles and standing Dolmens, there were French registered Saabs buzzing about like a squadron of fighters. A black new shape 93 came and parked next to my bicycle as I rested next to Merlin’s Grave. It was surreal.

Where were the legions of 2CVs and Renault 4s? Gone, rusted away it seems.
The Bretons, fierce, loyal, independent, and briefly, part of old Britain in centuries past, love their Saabs. Why? I have no idea, and when questioned (in French), a local Saab owner just shrugged and said “It is a Saab”. That apparently, is enough….

6 French saab owners.jpg

Abandoning Brittany, I sped over to Roscoff on a train that travelled at 186 MPH – designed by Paul Bracq – that master of industrial and car design who has worked for Mercedes, BMW and Peugeot to name a few. His design for the front end of the French Train Grand Vitesse (TGV) and its windscreen architecture looks evocative and fresh 20 years on.

From Roscoff, I ventured to Ireland via the brilliant service of a company named Brittany Ferries – who you should all try because they know how to do service and style. And the food was way beyond what we Brits used to endure on a ferry line we called ‘Sea Stink’ – it was actually named Sea Link and they had several vomit-comets…
The ferry- named Pont Aven, was packed with Saab cars and Scania trucks. There were moments when I thought I was nearing Sweden.

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My mate’s wife picked me up in her nearly new 95 Biopower and we headed through Dublin. Dublin was full of Saabs: Saab must have made a mint out of the Irish. I tell you, adjusted for land mass and population Saab is bigger in Eire than anywhere I can think of. Every model, every age and every hue: The Grafton Street area was packed with them. Howth harbour near Dublin- well worth a visit, was teeming with Saabs – including the silver 95 by night in the photo.

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It would have been rude not to go out touring in the same mate’s cosmic blue 93 hatch – an LPT model. So we did. Ageing with style, who cares, it was a Saab in Cosmic Blue and it hit the spot: These little cars are so good, and Saab needs a replacement, pronto.

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Black, Classic 900 Turbos, red, new model 93s, and beautiful brunettes driving all models of Saab convertibles from 1980s classics to the latest jobs, Dublin, Cork, even the back of beyond was Saab country. Saab 99s were seen -including one in that rare off white / green colour. Even country market towns way out in Ireland’s beautiful west, were stuffed with Saabs.

A quick survey amongst Irish Saab owners revealed a more forthcoming explanation than the French supplied:

” Saabs- love them. Not Audis, not Beemers, not Volvos.”
“Timeless”. “Love the shape, love the curves”. ” Real character cars”.
“Love the cockpit”. ” They look like boats or planes”
” Bring back the hatch”.

So there you have it. From the far flung corners of Tasmania, across the red outback of Aus, and into the heart of Brittany and on into the beyond of Ireland – Saabs rule.
It makes you think of the wasted GM years, the crassness of the Saab – Subaru era, and the sheer dedication of a bunch of people across the world- people like you, who whatever the trials and tribulations, remain loyal to Saab, as do the workforce.

Koenigsegg, you better be good.

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And a little more scenery from Brittany….

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