Thursday, April 15, 2010

COTD 2 - Saab 900


Car Of The Day for today is the "classic" 78-93 Saab 900 series and more specifically, it's "Sven" - my 1986 Saab 900i Automatic.
I owned Sven between early 2004 and sometime around late 2005/early 2006. Registered D21 XJF, Sven was the 3rd and final 900 I looked at one Saturday afternoon. The first was a minty fresh 3-door 90 GL in grey but it looked like shifting out of my price range as the owner had it on EBay and wouldn't end the auction early. I remember he showed me a complete set of spare fuses in a Saab carry case that came with the car.
The second was a 900 Turbo in 2-tone black and grey. It looked amazing but just as I was about to lay the money down, the owner began nervously detailing worrying faults with the car until he bizarrely talked me out of the sale. Finally I went to see a metallic blue 5-door 900i Auto in Leicestershire somewhere and after a short test drive I walked away with the keys.
I'd wanted a 900 for ages. They're stereotypically architects' and Guardian readers' cars and I don't mind that. My Grandad had an absolutely killer 99 Turbo in black with the checkered alloys and a deep orange velour interior (registered "6 GOA" which is now on a Fiesta according to My friend Alex swore by them too and the band I was in borrowed his 900i one evening to shift some equipment and were won over by it's size, grunt and lovely velvety heated seats. When the head gasket blew on my shitty Citroen AX there was only one car that I wanted to replace it.


The honeymoon period lasted precisely 25 minutes. "The fuel gauge must be fucked" thought I, watching the needle visibly plummet as I sunk my right foot into the shagpile on the way home. Nope: 21 mpg if you're lucky. This thing weighed the same as a tank, was an automatic and probably wasn't in factory-fresh condition under the hood. No problems, I thought, what I saved in buying an older car could be used to fuel it. I remained optmistic. My friends and girlfriend all loved it too and christened it "Sven" on account of it's Swedish heritage.
The Sunday after buying it I took my housemates out to a car boot sale in it. The sun was shining, the electric sunroof worked nicely (as did everything electrical unlike my current Peugeot which electrically shits the bed almost weekly) and it felt like driving a beautifully engineered and very, very rapid tank. The automatic box took a bit of getting used to (Alex's was a manual though it was identical in every other way) but at least it meant I could pick my nose and drive in complete safety. And the illuminated floor-mounted ignition was the coolest thing imaginable.
Other drivers nodded and waved, we got to Calverton in what seemed like three minutes and went and bought some tat and a dirty burger. But come home time and Sven was dead. I may as well have put my key up my arse and turned it. Lucky for me that I am not more mechanically minded as my answer to this was to sit and try the ignition again and again for about 15 mins. Eventually (and as if nothing amiss had gone on), the engine fired and we were off.
Suspecting something hideous was occurring, I took Sven to the lovely folks over at Volsaab in Derby (I don't think they exist anymore). They couldn't find anything wrong with it and so started the biggest problem with Sven. Periodically, the ignition would be dead - nothing. Then give it a few minutes and it'd be fine. This is not so bad on a Sunday afternoon but when you're late for work it's agony. And when you give your car a persona and a name you can't help but feel "he" is just fucking with you on purpose.
I finally got to the bottom of the ignition problem after a drunken friend of a friend overheard me discussing it and declared he could fix it "in 5 mins". Which he did. Something to do with the starter motor.
But by then, Sven had all manner of other problems in the engine department that were slowly turning him from an excellent vintage car into a nice extension to my lounge in that he was very comfortable to sit in but didn't go anywhere.
I finally relented and put him on EBay where I received the princely sum of £31 from a mechanic and his Dad from Wales. The EBay listing fee was £22. I treated myself to a takeaway with the proceeds and bought an Astra Estate with blacked out Barry windows that smelled of cum from an "adult entertainer" I went to school with.
The last I saw of my Saab 900 was on Pullman Rd in Sneinton, where I lived and where I left the aforementioned mechanic trying to get it started to take it away. I didn't look round, I just gave him the keys, took the money and walked away. It was a sad moment. It wasn't there the next day so he must have got it moving. A quick registration check shows it's not around anymore though, unless someone with a sense of humour put a personal plate on it.
This has been my only (so far) foray into classic car ownership and it dented my wallet and my heart severely.
However, despite it being the oldest car I've owned, it was also the fastest as I found out when I nudged 120 on the A1 before looking at the speedo. Prior to that I thought to myself "Wow, the Saab's feeling nice today". It felt better and smoother the faster it went. Pottering over Nottingham's speedbumps seemed to be slowly killing it, but wind it up on a straight stretch of road and it barely wobbled. I slept in it's cavernous boot on several occasions (Simon Feirn once managed to fit a mattress in there for a good night's sleep in Norwich) and I'd never tire of it's gadgets or it's front-hinging bonnet. It's also the only car I've ever owned that drew admiring glances from strangers. I was once at a party and people were talking about how rubbish modern cars were. A young lady piped up that the only car she liked was "the blue Saab on Pullman Rd". I nearly choked on my Red Stripe.

Sven - My Saab 900

So there you have it, COTD 2 is the Saab 900. I see a young chap driving a red one in Nottingham from time to time and a sharp stab of jealousy hits me as I notice him grinning in traffic. I don't think I'd ever ask him to loan me a fiver though. Or give me a ride anywhere important.

Value now: In 2006 it was £31.00 evidently. You can get a near-perfect one now for less than £2000 though.

Pub Quiz Trivia Fact: A 1989 Saab 900 SPG owned by Peter Gilbert of Wisconsin, was driven over a million miles, before being donated to The Wisconsin Automotive Museum.

Saab Central
Saab Museum
Classic 900 Group on Flickr
For Sale in the UK
You Tube

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