SAAB Car Company – Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to SAAB cars. I viewed the TopGear UK (season 18/Ep 5) show this weekend at my brother’s request, and found that Jeremy Clarkson and James May had some nice and not so nice things to say about the loss of SAAB (Swedish) car company late last year.  Since I still drive a 2001 9-3 SE turbo 4-door hatchback (117,000 miles), this episode review is also a summary of my thoughts on losing my brand and the history I have with my car.

First off, I was surprised to see the TG UK guys mentioning the SAAB cars at all, since it has been about 5 years since they have included any SAAB cars for review or inclusion in their show.

Their review segment provided a look back into the history of SAABs that included some interesting and odd findings:

black vintage saab top gear uk 2012

1. After WWII the SAAB company found that the need for their airplanes was greatly diminished and put a wing designer to work designing a car for consumer purposes. The result? A profile of a car that looked like the profile of a wing.

Top Gear James May Driving a Vintage Saab

2. Some of the earliest SAAB cars had issues with small 2 stroke motors that required the gas & brake pedal to be used at the same time since these (lawn mower) engines mixed the gas and oil together, lubricating and fueling the engine all at once. When driving down a hill there was still a need to lubricate the engine, hence the gas/brake pedal use together. This resulted in some issues with brake failure as James demonstrates in the photo above.

3. They also cite that in later years GM had several budget talks with SAAB engineers about making their cars the same as another brand/car/platform with just the badges/grille/tail lights different (like how GM is trying to cheapen/kill Buick right now by inserting Chevys like the Sonic as the Verano) and SAAB continued to defy them until their last days by making vastly better cars in safety, design and usability. I am glad that someone told the arses at GM that this strategy never works, it only cannibalizes your market by making expensive cars that look just like the cheap ones. On the other hand, SAAB was massively in debt because of their decisions and that did lead to their end.

saab history cars ads

Image from Flickr

4. Top Gear also showed the old SAAB jets in almost every advertisement possible. The only ads I remember were the quirky hand drawn animated ones that starred my car. I thought the “Born from Jets” line was a more recent one, but in reality it was a very tired and worn out marketing line that has no actual relevance to the cars. The only similarity between the cars and the planes is that they were both made from steel. It is too bad they never came up with an ad for “the smartest people on the road” featuring the geek-eliete with their vintage framed glasses and european scarves that are so popular these days.

Jeremy & James also went into detail about some of the best hits of the SAAB years.

1. They demonstrate quite literally that if you drop a SAAB on its head (upside down from 8 ft off the ground) it is much more surviveable than a similar BMW dropped from that height. Nuff said.

2. They also point out that in their opinion, SAAB drivers are some of the most educated people driving. Not car education, just generally well-educated folks. They keep referring to architects as the target market, but the people I have known to drive SAABs have been doctors. At least that is who introduced me to SAAB cars, and I have been driving one ever since.

My take on things:

Even though I bought my SAAB used in 2004 (for $14,000), I will agree with the TG guys that these SAAB designers/engineers have always been quirky and brilliant at the same time. I had previously owned 2 almost-identical ruby red 2 door Buick Regals and this black-midnight-egg car seemed so much more sophisticated, luxurious, sporty and european. Because it was.

1. I found the origami folding cup holder both hilarious and very functional in a small space, although when the coffee mug gets stuck and you yank upward to release it, the mug hits the rear view mirror and splatters coffee all over the dash.

2. I decided that I really like a Turbo charged engine for both efficiency and power. There was always a small turbo lag, but then it kicks you in the seat and take off whether you have the sport button on or not. All this, and I get 25 mpg average and previously I was getting around 18 mpg with a much slower car.

3. I found out that heated leather seats are a necessity in Chicago. No matter that they are a dark grey/black and require layering towels on them in the summer after sitting in the sun for hours so you don’t burn your bum.

saab car full of stuff

This is what moving looks like with the hatch full.

4. I don’t know how I ever lived before I had flip down seats and a 4 door hatchback for carrying things. I have impressed so many loading dock guys when I transform the car like origami and they remark “what kind of a car is this?” while loading furniture/TV/boxes in the back. It also made moving to three different locations a lot easier. Did I mention it hauls like an SUV and gets 25 MPG?

5. I am quite proud that with the SAAB sport button on, I can usually beat my husband’s Integra GSR in a drag race. This may be because he has to waste time shifting gears manually and I don’t. (I understand that isn’t the proper theory but he doesn’t shift quickly)

But it hasn’t been all wine, roses and warm heated seats with the SAAB.

Some of the funniest moments have been when it fails.

And SAABs fail in the most spectacular ways possible. And when I say spectacular, I mean expensive and weird.

saab won't start

SAAB won’t start – service men pushing it from the car wash

1. For the last 6 months I have had issues starting the car after running errands, stopping at the store and getting my car washed. We initially thought it was a water/rain related problem shorting out the electrical and security systems because after 30 minutes of inactivity it always starts fine (yes it has done this exactly 7 times). This past weekend I had this happen again and found that after locking myself in the car it started fine. Bizzare.

Towing after the fuel pump line crack spewing gas problem

2. I had a fuel pump line crack after some Chicago winter snow hydroplane-ing in the alleys (which don’t get plowed and you just drive through them as fast as possible so you don’t get stuck) which resulted in my 16 gallon tank of gas being spewed out all over I-88 on my way to Aurora, and it was empty within 60 minutes. It is freaky when you smell gas and you turn the car off and see nothing dripping, no puddles, nothing. Then see the gas gauge dropping by the second as you drive. Freaky-Weird-Bizzare.

Saab at service dealer

Somebody at the dealer liked my car enough to park it like this.

3. I had to replace the turbo at 80,000 miles within a month after the 6 year warranty expired. I was on my cell phone in the showroom with customer service yelling that “this is why nobody buys a SAAB twice”. They paid for 1/2 the $3,000 cost.

4. I have also had the odd collection of failures like the LED dashboard displays ($800 each) and the electric antenna (stuck up then, stuck down now) as well as small things like headlights that go out and come back at random, regardless of the age of the bulb, the air conditioning system needing to totally be replaced (both the condenser and the compressor) Another $3,000.

5. The brakes always squeak when I am backing out of parking and the electric side view mirrors broke within a few months of the warranty expiring. The fog lamps have never worked. And the wheel wells are rusting because of the salt on the roads in Chicago.

A little burlwood on the dash makes a girl happy.

All these things have gone wrong so, why am I so reluctant to give up this car?

It is unique, my black egg car looks like nothing else available today, and is the only car that I have ever seen that combines the best of all possible features into one. In this crazy over-diversified car market where there are too many companies and too many models to choose from, I really enjoy a car that gets all of the qualities you want in one vehicle. I am waiting for another car company to see the value in this all-in-one-car strategy because I think they will win a lot of the public’s respect and sales. Here are the strategy highlights:

koeneggsaab

We had hope for a few weeks that it would become a koeneggsaab, but that never happened. I also wondered why Alfa Romeo didn’t buy SAAB since they made quirky cars also and the 9-5 looks a lot like several alfas.

1. Safety (I have never had to test this) Having not had an accident, I would say that great brakes are a plus, airbags a must and a structural frame that can be dropped upside down is a differentiator.

2. Luxury/Comfort (don’t go overboard) But leather heated seats and an upscale interior is a must. A little burlwood on the dashboard makes a girl happy, but no chrome and no carbon fiber or suede. (ick)

3. Sport (for everyday use) Use of Turbo 4 Cylinders has recently caught on with Buick via Opel. I want an e-Assist and a Turbo in the same engine. Possibly a supercharger too.

4. Fuel Efficiency (25-40 mpg) More would be even better.

5. Convertibility (hauling in a hatch, see A7, Panamera) I see so many sedans on the road that could become a 5 door without changing much. Once people have the availability of this feature with a luxury car they won’t ever want to buy anything else.

6. Reliability (ok they could have been better) But over the years I have been driving my SAAB I have had some great long distance trips and most days I get to work just fine, no matter how cold it is outside. Those Swedes knew how to make a car for the cold Chicago winter.

The 9-3 lived outside for the first 5 years I had it.

Someone came to this post with the search term “saab born from jets, killed by assholes“. Congratulations for being the funniest search term I’ve seen this week.

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TopGear’s MyFirstCar contest

You may know by now that I’ve been a huge Top Gear UK fan for about 7 years now. I discovered the show when I was on a quest for Eddie Izzard comedy performances and saw that he was a guest on the show. This slightly crazy show really caught my interest. I almost immediately found the Top Gear episode where they take 3 supercars through France and get them stuck in a parking garage and I was hooked because it reminded me exactly of the stuff that my brother and I were into back in High School and college.

When I heard about the #MyFirstCar contest from BBC America I thought, we had a good story to tell. And although it is a cost saving move to ask your fans to do your advertising for you, I was still hooked.

For the contest I set out to figure out how one makes a video with the very limited tools I had available. I did not want to talk in front of a webcam, it felt too awkward, and I’m not exactly a glamour model at this point in time. Plus I’m never going to be as interesting on camera as Jeremy Clarkson without some training.

I was looking for the “ken burns” slow zoom effect on some photos because that is mostly what I had to work with, 1990’s advantix camera photos. I thought I might be able to do a voice over narration and possibly talk Scott into it too, but it ended up just as me in the end. 

We did find that Scott had one vhs tape with some stuff a guy Paul had taped and given copies to the guys. It was fun to watch and see some of the racing stuff I had not seen them do but most wasn’t fit for broadcasting due to my flip camera video of the TV and the nature of the comedy on screen.

I ended taking a few shots with the Flip camera I got from work for Christmas and used them at the end with the car in the garage and we pooled photos from my house, his and my parents. Scanning them in and finding the software wasn’t that hard. (I found Muvee and it wasn’t hard to learn to use, although some people may find it too automated)

Writing the story was the most difficult part. I wrote out a few versions, Scott edited them and then we realized the photos and content were nowhere near as long as the written piece. And I could not read it and watch the pictures to keep up at the same time. So I was winging it, and I say “Um, So, Yea” a lot as I’m thinking of what to say next. We also found we didn’t have photos of crucial parts of the story that were funny so they were cut. We also tend to be funniest when we play off eachother and make fun of eachother and he wouldn’t take part because he’s shy or something.

The end result isn’t a funny video like I had hoped, but like I said most of the funny content wasn’t suitable for publishing. We ended up with a more sentimental documentary piece. It doesn’t have the views to really be a contender in the competition. It was fun though to do something new and try and think about the story in a video creation like what they do on TG all the time. I have even more respect for what they do and the high level of quality in their work.

UPDATE: it is now 2/8/2011, a week into this contest and my video has received a whole 62 views. This is in comparison to the other people’s videos who had really old falling apart cars as their first car and weird stories as to how horrible they were are all 1,000 views and such.

I guess my video isn’t the intended story they wanted to tell. And I admit my storytelling wasn’t great considering my editing ability is limited and the story had to fit what the software and photos provided. And I can’t exactly get on camera and talk about this right now. And I’m just more low key than the guys jumping around on their cars in the videos.

I suppose that I should have expected this. I haven’t been to an improv class in far too long. Best of luck to the rest of the crowd, I applaud your ability to get the BBC people to put your videos on TV.

UPDATE: 2/8/2011 As I was lamenting that the video has not performed very well with views, I got an email from BBCA. Plot twist…

Update: 2.28.2011 – So, they did email us a release form to use the video in their promotional process for TG UK (America). We did see that they did post our video to the Top Gear My First Car Tumblr feed, of which drove about 400 views to the video. I’m guessing that is where our story ends. We haven’t heard anything since and although I asked if our video would be included in snippets used to advertise the contest on TV, and they said yes, we never saw it there. Granted, it has been a pretty busy few weeks so I could have missed it. .

This was fun and all, but considering that Rutledge Wood posted on FB today that he was flying to the UK to meet Hammond for the first time today, and he’s the host of the USA show, I’m not going to hold out thinking that the general public will have any way of enjoying Top Gear in person anytime soon.

I kind of wish I did re-record the voice over since I think I sound like a dork in it, but I’m not going to have time at the moment. Maybe at a later time I will be able to spend more time on car related videos.

Update 3.1.2011 – I finally had time to go through the episodes on BBC America tonight and look for the 1 commercial spot they use the #myfirstcar clips in, which is usually somewhere in the 2nd half. I saw a one second glimpse of a  photo from my video used, so they did indeed use something after sending me all kinds of forms to sign. It wasn’t actually a picture of the car we had as our first car though. (possibly the assignment had a bit of scope creep adding the history like that) So the Electra – Park Avenue gets its brief moment to shine instead of the IROC camaro. I think they had to use this picture because it had people in it and they seem to want someone’s face involved in the video. I’m not wild about my appearance these days so I thought I’d spare people the pain, and keep the focus on the cars but I guess that wasn’t outlined in the guidelines, but it was still important.  I kind of want to reshoot it and start over, but time is fleeting and the contest is almost over.

Update: March 2011. I ended up with about 400 views on the video and have taken it down now since the contest is over and things have moved on.