I had plans last year to do a Saab Pride book, however time and a few other things scuttled the idea, unfortunately.
This is the entry that my SU partner-in-prose, Eggs n Grits sent in. Eggs has since bought another C900 convertible to replace this white car and when we spoke on the weekend, it seemed the fate of this car is still a little uncertain.
So I thought I’d better get this story and these shots online before the white car is parted out, or otherwise ceases to look as good as it does here. The story’s been told once before, back in the old TS days, but bears repeating.
To read all of the Saab Pride stories, where owners like you tell your stories, click here.
Click the photos to enlarge.
Why I drive a Saab
My first ride in a Saab was in 1982. I was a freshman at Vanderbilt University, and one of my friends there had a 1978 Saab 99. It was silver with a maroon cloth interior. At the time, I had just traded my 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass S for a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. That is, I leaned towards American muscle cars rather than towards anything European or Japanese. I liked the Saab, but it was, to me, alien given that the key was between the seats and it had a tiny (at the time) 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the most spartan of interiors. After all, my ’75 Oldsmobile had a 350-cubic-inch (5.8-liter) V-8 and the 1979 Oldsmobile had enough padding under the velour to fill your average sleeper sofa! On the other hand, I loved the way that his car sounded, and I loved the fact that the car was utterly different from anything that I’d ever ridden in before.
About the same time, I also took notice of an advertising campaign from, of all marques, Buick. In 1982, Buick re-introduced the Grand National. The advertisement went something like this: “there are only four turbocharged vehicles available in America — and two of them are Buicks” (the second car being the decidedly pedestrian Buick LeSabre). Being an American muscle fan and avid reader of Motor Trend, I likely noticed the ad right about the same time as I first rode in Jeff’s 99. Of course, the other two vehicles were the Saab 900 and the Volvo 200-series (240, I think). This piqued my curiousity about Swedish cars, which had previously been off the radar for me. Why didn’t we have more of them? Why were they so different?
I did my homework. I started to read about these Swedish cars. The Volvo’s styling never did much for me except for the 1800 which wasn’t in production anymore. The Saab, on the other hand, I loved. It was different, it was practical, it was cool. Urbane in ways that the Oldsmobile that I was driving could never be. Both Saab and Volvo were also known for longevity and reliability, and one thing was for certain: the 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass was NOT. Perhaps a perfect poster child for Detroit’s reputation for poor engineering, the ’78-’79 Cutlass was plagued with problems. My car had no fewer than three transmissions, the result of a corporate decision to mate the Turbo-Hydramatic 250 transmission (originally designed for the newly introduced GM V-6 engine) to a 260-cu.in. (4.3-liter) V-8 engine. It also had a penchant for failing to start at some of the most awkward times — the electrical system wasn’t solid. Add to that the near-instant fading of the interior fabric and the brittle plastics used for trim and you’ve got the picture. I wasn’t going to buy into that junk again. Especially given that the Oldsmobile’s performance was lacking, too.
Several people at school were rich enough to have any car they wanted — I wasn’t. I could only watch with envy as the number of Saab 900’s grew. One guy that lived across the street from me had a perfect Saab 900 Turbo 3-door in Rose Quartz. I always liked that color. He had it tricked out with the louvers that said ‘SAAB’ down the side and the Shelby wheels. A girl from Florida that I knew pretty well had a black 900 turbo four-door that she treated horribly. But it still sounded great and she looked great driving it.
I went to the dealership in Nashville to shop for a Saab the minute that I graduated in the spring of 1986. The experience was unbelievable. At the time, Thoroughbred Motorcars was the local dealer for Saab, Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Rover, MG, Land Rover and Alfa-Romeo. They still had the Lancia signs up inside the dealership, but Lancia had long since pulled out of the US market. This was a place to shop for cars. I was tempted mightily by the Spider Veloce, but the Saab was why I was there. After a quick buzz through the showroom, I was out on the lot calculating what I could afford. I knew from the beginning that the Turbo models were out of my price range, for sure. As I recall, that added at least $5000 to the price — about a 30% premium over the 900 S.
I settled on a 1986 900S 3-door with a five-speed transmission in Admiral Blue because I couldn’t afford the paint upgrade for metallic or ‘special black’ paint. Those choices dictated that I got the slate blue/grey interior and the ‘manhole cover’ wheels and that was that. My father, fresh from buying a Lincoln, absolutely couldn’t believe how few options there were and thought that I was nuts for letting a car company like Saab tell me how to build my car. He probably had literally 50 or 60 options to consider, and I had three performance levels, transmission type and color. That’s it.
I was giddy with the purchase for two reasons. First, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that I got the first year with the 16-valve engine. I loved, and still love, that iconic valve cover inside the engine compartment.
Second, you would not believe the service that this dealership rolled out for their customers! I was stunned at the details: the initial 500-mile service included a complete detail of the car and, for me, a new set of tires since their alignment machine had been out of calibration when I drove the car off the first time! When you drove your car into the service bay, there was a valet to take your car. You knew where to stop in the service department because there was actual red carpet where you stepped out of the vehicle! Finally, you ‘met with’ the service technician in a conference room/wating area with leather furniture, artwork and music while he went through an exhaustive list of questions about the car’s appearance, handling, performance and overall service. They gave you a loaner vehicle (in this case, a light blue base 900 4-door with an automatic transmission) for the day, no problem!
I loved that car. I babied it in every way imaginable. I loved the manual sunroof — instant open! Flip the catch, pull and you’re off! I studied the proper way to drive it (understeer has to be managed, too!), I found the perfect replacement tires (the Falkens were much, MUCH better than the Pirellis that were original equipment) and I lived with the cost even though it kept rising with every insurance claim. But that’s another story.
In the time since, I’ve had a 1993 900 SPG (why did I sell that car? why?!) and my current 1988 900 Turbo Convertible in Cirrus White. I’ve also had (for mixed business and personal use) a 1996 Mercury Sable, a 1999 Pontiac Bonneville, a 2001 Ford Taurus and my current 2006 Chevrolet Impala. I can tell you that I stay with Saabs (specifically C900) simply for this reason: I’ve never wanted anything else. I’ve driven other cars, and I must say that I’ve liked a few; the Infiniti G-series and the Audi A6 are both great cars. A little antiseptic, but both are very good. For my wife, I really, really like the Toyota Avalon. A nearly perfect balance of size, performance and reliability. Of course, Swade is correct — it’s a soulless machine, but it is well refined.
Here’s hoping that the next generation of Saabs captures that spirit of uniqueness.