Saab-y days are here again

Every now and then, someone posts a bizarre photograph to the popbitch message board. It’s been going around the Internet forever, but if you haven’t seen it it’s a shot of a chubby bloke kneeling down in a field on a grey day. Two things make it bizarre: one, he’s wearing some sort of corset; two, he’s got his penis in the exhaust pipe of a Range Rover. The thing is, if he’d been getting friendly with a Saab instead of a Chelsea tractor I’d sorta understand.

Men (and many women, of course) love cars. They drive Ford Fiestas but in their dreams, they’re behind the wheel of a Porsche 911, or a Ferrari, or some overpowered American muscle car with panel gaps big enough to lose a small child in. Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I love those cars too; if I had a million quid I’d buy an Aston Martin (provided I could fit in one – they’re famously unaccommodating of tall drivers) or an AMG Merc or an Audi RS or something else expensive, impractical and suggestive of sexual inadequacy. But for the last ten years or so the car I’ve really, really wanted has been a gunmetal grey Saab 9-5 estate.

I’ve got a thing about Saabs. I know that underneath the skin they’re based on dreary GM workhorses (the 9-5’s based on a – aieeeee! – Vauxhall Vectra, albeit with a lot of tweakery) but I like them anyway. I like the stupid location of the ignition, which makes Saabs hard to steal but also makes it easy for passengers to kill everybody inside by turning the engine off. I like the seats, which make it feel as if you’re driving your living room. I like the dash, which envelops you and makes you feel like you’re driving a tank. I like the huge expanse of tailgate (long before Renault’s Megane made a feature of its prominent backside, the 9-5 had the best arse of any car, ever). I like the little button that turns off everything but the speedo when you’re driving in the dark. And I like its toughness – for a while, the 9-5 was the safest car you could buy and its ads emphasised this with slow-motion footage of 9-5s pranging one another at silly speeds.

They really are safe: I was talking to a bloke in the pub a few years ago, and he was telling me of a potentially fatal accident he’d had in an ageing 900 Turbo. He’d gone round a corner far too fast, gone off the road, driven off a (little, I assume) cliff and rolled the car several times. “When did that happen?” I asked. “About half an hour ago,” he said. Any car that can survive that kind of treatment and still get you to the pub is something special.

I’ve had first-hand experience of Saab safety too. I was sitting at traffic lights in a Saab 900 when a man in a Vauxhall Cavalier slammed into the back of me at around 40mph. His car was cubed (he was, miraculously, okay). The Saab? The silver trim on the back bumper fell off. And, er, that was it. Mind you, it does seem as if there’s a design flaw in Saabs: judging by the number of times people drove into the back of me, I can only assume that my knackered old 900 looked identical to an open road.

So yeah, I had a Saab for a few years. It wasn’t a good one – bottom of the range 900, white paint (white paint!), no fancy toys – and it wasn’t a 9-5 estate. But I loved it all the same. It’s the only car in which I’ve ever driven long distances and felt fine at the other end, and those superbly comfortable seats make a great bed when you’re knackered and fancy a nap. However, I had to get rid of it for one minor and one major reason. I’d moved to the West End of Glasgow and could never find a parking space big enough, and it was about to bankrupt me.

Unfortunately when Saabs go wrong they go expensively wrong, and my one – which was worth, at best, £1,100 at the time – was starting to die. After spending yet another big pile of cash on repairs, the mechanic showed me that the power steering was on its way out – something I already knew, but was trying not to think about because the cheapest repair would have been £1,200. So I got rid of it and got a Clio (great city car, but not exactly a Saab).

Since then, I’ve kept my Saab-related ambitions quiet – until we got Megan, Destroyer of Shoes. Black Labradors get big fast, and she’s outgrown the Clio already. My wife agreed: we needed an estate car. She also agreed that Saab 9-5s were indeed wonderful, but when we did the sums we discovered a very important thing: we didn’t have enough money to buy a Saab, unless we bought one with a million miles on the clock and a mister T. Rex as the previous owner. Boo and, indeed, hoo.

But! It seems the Saab gods were listening, because a nice chap called Tom had a 9-5 estate in the very colour I’d always lusted after. And he was going to the Middle East for a long-term job. And he was going in a week. And he needed to sell his car by then, so he advertised it at a very low price. And we saw his ad an hour after it was posted, which meant we were the first people to see the car. And view it. And drive it. And buy it. Woo-hoo!

Which is a long way of saying, if you ever see a photo of a slap-headed tech hack with his dangly bits in the exhaust pipe of a Saab 9-5, it’s probably me.

17 thoughts on “Saab-y days are here again

  1. Gary says:

    Well, by “tall” I mean “above average height” rather than “in comparison to Squander Two, who has to be folded sixteen times in order to fit in a mini”.

  2. Stephen says:

    Ah, I love happy endings! (sniff)

    You’re not kidding about the Astons: I got a lift in a DB7 once. Thank goodness it was a convertible: the windscreen only came halfway up my face.

  3. Gary says:

    That’s the trouble with dream cars. Sometimes they’re best left in your dreams – it’s something my dad experienced. He had the same thing about Jags as I do about Saabs, only more so: he’d loved them since he was very small and could never afford one during his thirties or forties. Finally he gets to the point where the mortgage is paid off, he’s stopped smoking, he’s got the money to get the XJ saloon he’s always wanted. It didn’t work out.

    Jaguar did (and maybe still does) 48-hour test drives, so he went on a nice big drive down to the Scottish borders (lovely bit of the world, when it isn’t raining). The car was lovely, a real joy to drive and everything he’d imagined it would be. But the handbrake was in a strange position that meant it jabbed into his thigh. Constantly. So on his return he had a huge angry bruise that took up most of his left leg. The handbrake can’t be moved or even bent, and he’s not going to change his sitting position after 30-odd years behind the wheel, so that ruled out the jag for him.

    Incidentally, that same month he test-drove a Saab 9000 (as was) and let me have a go. He didn’t like it but I was hooked :)

  4. Stephen says:

    Very true. Have you ever sat in a Ferrari? The 308 GTSi (the Magnum Ferrari, if you’re old enough!) has the steering wheel at a really odd angle: the gearshift is far too long and also a bit wierdly positioned, and the pedals are shifted so far to the left that even George Galloway would struggle to find them.

  5. Gary says:

    I haven’t, no. The closest I’ve come to supercar greatness was a visit to the Aston factory (the one in newport pagnell, I think they’ve moved to a big shed since) to watch an auction of every Aston you can possibly imagine. Real life car porn :)

    I’ve never fancied Ferraris, I must admit. There’s something that makes them admirable rather than likeable, for me at least. That and italian cars are designed for people with weird physiques, judging by the driving positions in ’em :)

  6. Squander Two says:

    > italian cars are designed for people with weird physiques

    Yeah, Italians.

    First thing I check in any car is how central the steering wheel is; second thing is the pedals. Anything off-centre means you’re twisting your spine while driving. My spine’s particularly sensitive to it and I’ll get literally crippling back-ache within half an hour driving such a car, but even people who aren’t so sensitive to it are still more sensitive than they realise and end up with chronic pain. And they never twig that it’s their car doing it.

    Fiat started an interesting trend a few years back with the Punto: they designed it back-to-front, starting with the ideal driving position, designing the pedals, wheel, seat, and dash around that, then the engineering and bodywork. And Fiats are indeed pretty comfortable these days.

    My little Gold Mark 2 is very comfortable. When the engine finally goes, I’m going to just get a new engine for it. No point getting rid of something that good. Vic’s Mercedes A-Class is a wonderful car in very many ways, but the steering wheel’s a bit to the left, and I can’t drive it for long before my back’s fucked.

  7. Gary says:

    Blimey, it’s a small world – I was looking at your blog the other day. I’ll no doubt come a-searching for info on audio system upgrading…

  8. david says:

    Beware the Saab fanboys. ;-D

    Actually I hate Saabs at the moment. Someone in a 9-5 decided that right of way is something that other people think about this morning.

  9. Gary says:

    Must be the time of year. I had three very close near-misses in the space of 15 minutes the other evening – all three of ’em when I was turning right from main roads into side streets. People coming out of the side streets were so intent on spotting a gap in the oncoming traffic that they didn’t notice THERE WAS A SODDING CAR RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.

    Gaaaah.

  10. david says:

    I was heading along a 2 lane road with parked cars all the way along the right hand side. A Saab decided that there was plenty of room and just pulled out onto my side of the road and gestured angrily for me to get out of the way. Dick.

  11. david says:

    And on the way home some woman in a 206 did something similar and managed to knock the glass out of my wing mirror. Didn’t stop either. Luckily it was fixable.

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