It was 10 AM on a Saturday morning (September 6th, 2014 to be exact), at the center of a usual quiet weekend in the Santa Clara high-tech office park that was not even disturbed by the newly constructed football stadium. Yes, it was a quiet morning indeed. But, that was about to change: more on that later. The first item on our itinerary was a visit to the European Auto Factory. We observed various models: including 9-3s, 900s and of course the venerable Sonett. After nearly an hour of mingling, the quite air was filled with pistons firing and Turbochargers whistling: the 2014 San Francisco Bay Area Saab Club Meet and Drive was now on the move!
In my years before attending high school: my parents promised that they would make me take a course in automotive maintenance and repair. As much of my youth was spent dabbling with programming languages: I had little interest in reminding them of that promise. And oddly enough, my interest in cars didn’t go much beyond the large Lamborghini Contach posters adorning the walls of my bedroom. Don’t get me wrong: all that time spent learning software stuff has served me well.
But if I had known that 17 years later, I’d find myself with a pile of car parts, waiting to be installed into my Saab 9-3, maybe I’d take that automotive mechanic course. Of course, this “pile of car parts” is by no means just any “pile” that you’d find at your local spare parts retailer. It’s a complete Hirsch carbon-leather interior upgrade package, including aluminum pedals. Long-time readers may point out that this sounds awfully familiar: well, there is a good reason for that.
Of course, the first time: I was only installing the door-handles, smart-slot trim and hand brake handle. That proved to be a surprisingly time-consuming endeavor, but turned out to be nothing compared to the journey I was about to embark upon. Granted, I could have left this up to the professionals to perform the install, but that would mean I’d be missing out on a great learning opportunity. So, starting on a late Saturday, with the help of my wife, Jessie, we started with the first step: replacing the stock dash-board with Hirsch upgrade (Shown to the left).
I confess: I am a complete sucker for elegant and clever engineering/design. Notice how I lump both “engineering” and “design” together, almost as if any distinction between the two only bear significance to the likes of Merriam and Webster? No one could put it more succinctly than the late Steve Jobs: “Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.” Yes, I admit, comparing the Saab A/C vent to let’s say, an iPhone, is pretty silly. But, when it comes down to aesthetics and sheer ingenuity, this is a truly impressive piece of design. While most auto-manufacturers are content with independent X and Y axis control: Saab has managed to engineer a vent that allows complete freedom-of-motion across the X-Y plane. It’s a feature that I’ve always appreciated in my Saab 9-3. But, I never expected to get an inside look into this curious contraption: until it was time to install a complete Hirsch interior upgrade package.
It’s precisely eight past noon. Normally any resident of the lecture hall would be submerged in complete darkness, surrounded by rows upon rows of empty seats. Of course, as one would expect, the auditorium’s regular occupants are hard at work preparing for their upcoming mid-terms. But tonight: is a special night. For a room that is typically bathed in sunlight, has found itself illuminated by the soft glow of several banks of fluorescent lights.
With all of the excitement surrounding NEVS winning the bid for the Saab bankruptcy estate, and the clamoring for information on enticing rumors of Mahindra & Mahindra getting back in the game for a full-on restart of the Saab brand: there is a piece of news that slipped under our radar.
Most of us probably remember, and frankly would rather forget, the tear-jerking sight of hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful new Saabs sitting idle at USA seaports (with the Newark port in New Jersey gaining the most attention). As reported by SaabWorld, A total of 900 Saabs at USA seaports are being put up for auction by Ally Financial.
So why is it that this bank is getting involved? As you may recall, in January of this year, SCNA defaulted on outstanding loans to Ally Financial. As a result they have filed suit against SCNA and have seized the complete inventory of 151 cars at Port of Hueneme, California starting in January. Now a date has been set and starting June 28th, the first batch of 45 cars will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Initially, only US Saab dealers will be eligible to participate, but the next batch will be fair game for rental car companies and car exporters. Of course, company cars will be auctioned off as well.
What does this mean to those of us that live here in the United States? Chances are, higher-volume dealerships (which tend to be towards the eastern end of the country), are especially likely to have some of these cars up for sale. But what’s the chance that the next time one of us rents a car, that it will be a Spyker-era 9-3, 9-5 or 9-4X? That remains to be seen. Perhaps Hertz could use this opportunity to add some Saabs to their Prestige collection? If you ask me: renting a brand-new Saab would be dangerous, as I wonder if could bring myself to return it.
What we know for sure is these cars have suffered a fate that was never meant for them to endure. But, as Saab is about to start a new chapter in it’s life, we should take heart in the fact that many of these cars will find happy owners. And during their very first drive, it is my hope they will take a step back: and realize what they have been missing.
Just last week, I discussed the awesome braking performance of EBC’s kevlar-ceramic high-performance Green Stuff Brake pads. These pads truly live up to the hype, as they have a grip hard enough that you can actually feel the disc being clamped beneath your foot. But, if that is the case, why is it that they are now sitting in a box beneath my desk?
It was the second of September of 2009. I was at the tail end of, at the time, was a rather lengthy commute of about 10 minutes (assuming all of the lights were green). After the usual barrage of annoying radio ads, we were at the top of the news hour. “Today the Obama Administration has approved a loan guarantee to Solyndra for the amount of $535 million dollars”: I was speechless. Not only because I was driving alone but, at the very notion that a startup company, being as risky of an investment as it is, could acquire such a loan from the United States government. And that’s ignoring for the moment that the US was deep in the worst recession since The Great Depression. Granted, if the cylindrical solar panel company were able to successfully offer clean energy to the masses, then just maybe it wouldn’t have been such a call, after all, everyone get’s plenty of sunlight: for free.
Then months went by. And being not far from the site of the new Solyndra building in Fremont, California, I had the privilege of seeing this monument being erected. But, even after the building was completed, very little was reported about their progress. Then in early 2011, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Obviously the failure was quite unfortunate, but the real travesty was that half a billion was fast-tracked into this highly risky venture with one key ingredient missing: accountability. Yes, accountability, which sadly is a foreign concept for some and viewed as a proverbial white elephant for others. With accountability: your neck is on the line — produce, or die. Without it — well then, as they say “anything goes”.
One thing that has baffled me when I first joined the Saab community was: “If we love our Saabs so much, why do so many of us expend so much energy with upgrades and modifications”? But one day of driving Lars-Erik around town: it hit me. While Saab has opened our eyes to how much our cars can provide for us, they have also taught us to strive for perfection. There is something about the Saab experience that gives us the burning desire to make our car reach their full potential. One big step towards that goal was the MapTun software upgrade, which has unleashed the fury of Lars-Erik’s 2.0T engine. But, when it comes to bringing everything to a complete stop, the powerful brakes of the 9-3 Sport Sedan really were just begging for some brake pads with a bit more grip. Well, during my previous visit at the local service center in San Francisco, it was clear that my front brakes were due for maintenance. So it was time: I ordered a pair of EBC Green Stuff from State of Nine (distributed through MapTun). Upon delivery, the first thing that struck me was how heavy brake pads are. I suppose that this shouldn’t be surprising as brake pads need to be capable of stopping about 3,200 lbs (1,452 kg) of weight. Once they are installed, the improved grip of these high performance brake pads is immediately apparent. With less pressure on the brake pedal, I can keep the car from moving at a stop-light (Yes, I drive an automatic: but remember — San Francisco traffic). Furthermore, hard stops from high speeds are met with more immediacy as these brake pads will grab onto those discs like a pit bull. Yes, these brake pads are amazing: better brake feel and great performance. EBC Green Stuff pads are intended for drivers who spend most of the time on the highways and/or surface streets where heavy traffic is a regular occurrence. Perhaps, if I lived in a less populated area or make frequent visits to a race-track, I would have went for the EBC Red Stuff, but do bear in mind that those brake pads require slotted/vented brake discs. This is needed for the inevitable build-up of gases, during hard-breaking, to be properly expelled. At one point, I actually considered springing for a complete set of Ultimax Brake Discs and Red Stuff brake pads but after careful consideration of my particular use-case: Green Stuff just made the most sense for me.