Out front of the Saab Museum – part 1

I’ve still got a few stories left from my trip to Sweden earlier this year. Here’s part one of a three-part drive experience Dave R and I got to share in on our visit to the Saab Museum.

If you missed them, here’s a few entries from out the back of the Saab Museum:

Out the back of the Saab museum, part 1

Out the back of the Saab museum, part 2

I visited the Saab Museum on a Friday afternoon. In the morning I toured some of Saab’s technical development areas (I’m still trying to get photos to show for that) and I arrived at the museum just before lunch. Upon arriving there, I was greeted by three of the museum’s cars sitting out front.

We chatted for a while, had lunch, and then I was more than a little surprised when the museum’s director, Peter Bäckström, suggested we take the cars that were sitting out front for a test drive!

The first car we drove was this one – an original Saab 92.

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This was an enormous amount of fun, but in a strenuous kind of way. Any chance to drive part of Saab’s history is a chance worth taking and I wasn’t going to miss this for the world, but I have to be honest and say that this wasn’t the most pleasant drive I’ve ever had.

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The car has a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine capable of producing about as much power as an oscillating fan. It has a three-on-the-tree gearshift with no synchros in first, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I did clean the teeth just a little on one occasion. It was noted.

That engine and the confusing gearbox pattern meant that it took some time to get up to anything that resembled ‘speed’, but that’s a good thing because the brakes were so bad that in order to stop in the museum carpark, you needed to hit the brake pedal in Norway.

Being used to more modern cars, I’m not accustomed to how rough things were back in the old days. I was amazed that Saab actually managed to build a company on the back of this little green teardrop and it speaks volumes of the competition and the desire of the Swedish people for a car of their own that Saab managed to survive with this as their only offering.

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But survive they did, and thank goodness for that.

I know my brief thoughts don’t sound particularly complimentary, but driving this car was actually an absolute blast. It was an education. It was a fight that involved you from the moment you sat inside and tried to figure out the secret combination of buttons and levers that fires this baby up.

Once you get it going, figure out the gearshift and get just a little speed up, the car was an adventure in the truest sense of the word. It was noisy, rattly, hard work but exceptionally good fun.

Put it this way – I was very fortunate to drive it and I’m incredibly thankful for the privilege and the experience, but boy am I happy I live in the here and now.

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The beauty of this Saab 92 is in what it says about the Saab Museum and the collection there.

This car has marks on it. It has faded paint. But it’s in pretty good order over all, and like all the cars in the Saab Museum, the first priority is that it runs. The cars in the Saab Museum are all working cars, maintained by a couple of dedicated, retired engineers from the company.

The fact that it has some marks and some faded paint is illustrative of the fact that each car there has a story to tell. Some are brand new from the factory when they arrive there and some have a history. Saab don’t make a point of erasing that history simply for the sake of presenting a pristine vehicle.

That’s a very important distinction and a good illustrator about the practical mindset of the Swedes. Form follows function, and the function here is to show a working Saab 92 that’s had a rich life.

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Again, my endless thanks go to Peter Bäckström for an unforgettable day, part II of which will be coming along soon.

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