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.