We received an email earlier today from James McGuire and Julie Gardner with a great read on their combined events that came together on January 14th. This is too good not to share with everyone.
When I (Julie) first heard there were to be worldwide rallies to support SAAB in January I must admit it did not immediately occur to me to host one. Mostly because I knew my dealer principal was set to lose quite a chunk of money on his new car inventory and that the brand was a bit of a sore subject here- quite understandably from his point-of-view. But also because I never did anything like this before. Then the phone rang and my friend, James McGuire, he wanted to know what I was doing to show support. He wanted to host an event because the nearest one at that point seemed to be in Boston. He felt he could get the support of his local dealer, SAAB of Willow Grove (a.k.a.The Great Britains), and I said I would talk to the wife of my dealer principal about the idea. Fortunately, she saw the value to holding such a rally and gave me her stamp of approval. Jim was quite excited about the prospect of doing something in his area too but we were concerned two events on the same day and so close to one another would only take away from us individually. He then came up with the genius idea of meeting individually, but convoying to a third, neutral point by both our groups and a real plan was born.
As we began planning and I spoke to my own club (Central Penn SAAB Club) about support, I was able to find a local supplier for the stickers to show solidarity and pick up a couple of classics from our group to place in the showroom for conversation and general “eye-candy”. I found that we had a few folks who would be happy to attend and got advice on a route for the convoy to avoid traffic and provide a more scenic route. I got the OK to order donuts and coffee for the attendees and made up a flyer to post around the dealership to make our customers aware of our commitment to supporting SAAB post-bankruptcy. Over the next couple weeks I received many emails and had more than a few conversations with service and parts customers regarding the “state-of-SAAB” and where Kelly SAAB stood in the grand scheme of things. The list of RSVP’s continued to grow and soon I had a list of over 50 attendees and 35 cars planning to show on January 14 and show the world what the SAAB brand is all about.
On Friday, January 6, the excitement was bumped a notch when I received an email that Tim Colbeck, President and COO of SAAB Cars North America, wanted to join us at Longwood Gardens, our neutral meeting spot for the two convoys! I actually had to read it twice to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. Would it be OK if he arrived at 2:15? Are you kidding? It would have been OK if he wanted to come at 3am! LOL! I replied that we would be pleased to have him join us and that we would adjust our departure time from the dealerships to accommodate his scheduled arrival. I contacted Jim at once and he was as enthusiastic and excited as me at the honor of having Mr. Colbeck join us. We wanted to alert the press of course but did not want to put him in a situation where GM haters or folks only looking to give him a hard time would attend the event, so decided to keep it under wraps. We advertised a “VERY Special Surprise Guest” to join us and it wasn’t until the morning of the rally that we announced just who the guest would be to our respective attendees.
January 14 arrived and was a cold, windy day with only intermittent sun in Lancaster. Thankfully, no snow was on the ground or forecasted, so even the classics would be sure to make the event. We had a 1974 Sonnett III courtesy of Theresa and Ryan Gamber and a 1978 99T courtesy of John Webber in our showroom as well as the most recent 2011 SAAB 9-5 sedan in Java and a Laser Red 2011 9-3 to show just how the cars have developed over the years. The selection of vehicles that arrived over the next 2 hours showcased all that is amazing about SAAB- from the “Klassisks” like my own 87 900Turbo Convertible, to the 900 3 and 5 door models, to the NG 900, the 9-3, 9-7x and finally the newest 9-5 and 9-4x models, we had them all covered from the last 3 decades. What an awesome sight indeed!
After some coffee to warm our bones, some donuts to fill our bellies, and conversation to stimulate our brains, we were off to Longwood in a convoy some 35 cars long. It all started out OK with a trip through Lancaster City where we got a little bit split up due to traffic and lights (where was that police convoy I ordered, dammit? haha) but once out onto a country bypass we re-grouped and had quite a nice ride going. Then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw POOF! A big cloud of smoke and the Sonnett pulling to the side of the road. What I initially hoped was a simple flat tire quickly became apparent was something a bit more catastrophic. A call to the end of the line found they’d blown the passenger side head gasket and would be awaiting a tow from family. Though they hoped to join us later, we were to go on and get to our destination safely. Just a couple of buggies- what would a ride through Lancaster County be without a few buggies?- and some 40 miles later, we arrived at Longwood to find a group of about 20 cars waiting.
Now we just needed our special surprise guest and the day would be complete. I got a call from Tim that he would be arriving shortly and was happy to see him do so in a new 9-5 sedan soon thereafter. He wanted to look around at the cars present and talk to the smiling SAABers before addressing the crowd and taking a group shot for the press. His mom even joined us (though she is currently a Subaru driver) because she wanted “to see what all the fuss was about” and I’m fairly sure she left with warm fuzzy feelings for SAAB and their owners. (How could she not?) A few words from Tim about his sense of pride in SAAB and the people who own them and about the employee appreciation for the support of our beloved brand and he was gone…
You just read how Julie and I teamed up to create what turned out to be a really nice gathering. I have never planned a car rally and really did not know what to do or what to expect. When I approached Saab of Willow Grove to host an event, I was kind of nervous. I was afraid the current situation would drive them to think it was too little too late. Much to my relief they were very welcoming to the idea and eagerly agreed to host. After many calls, emails and visits I felt as if we had something special in the works.
Friday 13 January… I arrive home after work and I was just nervous as hell. I kept asking myself what if no one shows, what if it is a total failure? I sipped on some tea, printed WAMWAS mini-banners, took my SAAB flag off the garage wall, finished packing the SportCombi and called it a day.
Saturday morning at 0945 I arrived and was surprised to see some attendees already there. As I walked in Mike Didio and Ed Collins greeted me with a nervous smile and handshake. Today was the day we have all been waiting for. The showroom looked wonderful, filled with a vibrant mix of very SAABY colors. Naturally they know I have a weakness for Laser Red so a beautiful 2011 SS Aero was there hidden behind two other temptations, convertibles! The Lynx Yellow drop top caught my eye while the blue over parchment would be the drool generator for my wife.
More and more SAAB fans continued to show up creating a nice buzz of conversation within the showroom. By the time my wife arrived at 1130 in her 2007 Aero, she had to make her own parking spot! I smiled with pride as I looked around the showroom. The coffee was flowing while donuts and other snacks were being munched on. We all talked as if we were good friends, not strangers brought together to support our favorite car company. I informed the guests that we would be delaying our departure for Longwood, and when I told them why, everyone smiled.
1230, Time to rally the troops and send them on their way! I had envisioned one big convoy of SAAB but in this area, it would just be too difficult given the route we were taking. We broke into three groups of cars having the first two groups leave around 1245. The first “flight” was led by a rather nice Turbo X. Thank you to Jeff who stepped up to lead the convoy! Everyone acted as if this convoy stuff was second nature to them as no considerable direction was needed. My son finally made it to the rally along with another last minute arrival. After a quick directions check the last four cars took off towards our destination. I was point in my 2006 Combi Aero, followed by my son in his 2011 9-3SS, a 2006 SS Aero and then my good friend Andrey in his 2000 9-5 super hauler (wagon) pulling duty as the anchor.
When we arrived at Longwood, I was simply stunned at the turn out. It was a bitter cold day in January yet we had close to 75-80 maybe even 100 cars arrive! (Regretfully, no one counted) It was very uplifting and truly a special time for me. I spotted Julie all bundled up in cold weather gear smiling ear to ear. After a hug we simply smiled and said “we did it”.
At the end of the day we were left feeling extremely proud of ourselves. Proud of the stylish, safe, sexy cars made by the company we both love. Proud of the folks who showed up on a cold day in January to show the world that this is not just a car company. Proud of myself and of Jim for arranging an awesome meeting of like-minded people to share their SAAB stories and love of a little car brand that knows nothing of giving up. No matter what the future holds, no one can ever take our cars, or the memories made in them and with them, from us.
Thankfully Carlisle 2012 is only 122 days away! We can’t wait to get and give more SAAB love!
Great job on teaming up like that and bringing two meets together and showing that We are many, we are SAAB.