My Saab Awakening
…or, “How I Became a Saab Freak”
By Kevin Miller
Growing up in the 1980s, I was a kid who liked cars. I played in our family’s cars regularly. I liked our 1982 VW Vanagon and 1978 Toyota truck. My first realization of Saab came when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was riding with my parents and we were merging onto the freeway near our home. I looked out the side window and saw what I now know was a 900 sedan. What stood out to me was the curve of the C-pillar trim on the rear door. While most sedans in the 1980s had very straight, angular window and trim profiles (as do many vehicles still today), the 900 sedan had a smooth curve to the rear quarter window and the chrome trim that outlines it. I thought it looked cool and unique.
1982 Saab 900 Sedan, showing the unique-for-1980s curved C-Pillar Trim
Several months later, in the summer time. I was with my mother at the gas station in our neighborhood. A man was fueling his new 900 Turbo convertible. It was Eucalyptus Green with tan leather, and the top was down. It was the first time I noticed a Saab with headlight wipers. I thought that car was very sporty and upscale, but also very pretentious and yuppie. Certainly a car I aspired to, but one that I thought was out of my reach or the reach of my family.
Fast forward a handful of years. Lauren, a friend of mine in high school, drove a nicely kept Volvo 240 sedan. It was a great vehicle. She was a fan of Volvos and Saabs, and we talked about the cars sometimes. In the waning days of our high school career, following a senior-year breakfast, Lauren and I went to the local Saab/Volvo dealer to check out the 1992 Saab 900 convertible. We arrived in her immaculate 240; I was in a suit and she was in a nice dress. The salesperson was either high, really stupid, or respectful to a fault, because he showed us a red 900 Turbo convertible, put the top down, and we went for a drive. I drove first, and then Lauren drove. It was great. Absolutely the quickest car I had ever driven. And the nicest. The salesman asked us where we worked and how long we had been married. He was bizarre; the car was sublime. It was a turning point in my obsession with Saabs.
Also during my senior year in high school, I was in an elective class which was full of freshmen. One of those freshmen was a girl named Jenny, who became a friend of mine. Her father restored and showed early ‘70s Camaros, and was the sales manager at a Chevrolet/Saab dealership in a neighboring town, so Jenny and I talked about cars while we should have been learning Spanish. As the year ended, Jenny told me that her dad’s dealership was looking for a lot attendant – the person who washes cars and does other thankless chores around the dealership. I applied, was interviewed and got the job, ending my three-year career at the local McDonald’s.
It was the summer of 1992. The dealership was “Washington State’s Oldest and Most Respected Saab Dealer”, but was in a blue-collar suburb and sold relatively few Saabs. They sold a lot of Chevrolets- Luminas, Berettas, Camaros, Suburbans, and Geo Prisms were hot sellers. My primary responsibility was keeping vehicles clean on the used car lot. So while I was around the new Saabs, I was also around a lot of used domestic cars from the 1980s. I spent that summer washing a lot of cars, getting a farmer tan and having wet feet for two continuous months. Before I left that job at the end of the summer to start college, I got some 1992 Saab product brochures and posters. Obsessive Saab lover that I am, I’ve still got them. They’re pinned to my garage wall.
During the ensuing summers home from college, I had an internship with an engineering firm’s R&D shop, but I stopped by the Chevy/Saab store to visit the people I had worked with. In late summer of 1995, my father was shopping for a new car to replace his ’89 Thunderbird, which was aging quickly. He shopped BMW, Mercedes, Lincoln, Cadillac, and Saab. My friends from the Chevy/Saab dealer let me bring cars home mid-day for Dad to test drive, and we returned them together later the same evening. The third car I brought home was a black 900SE 3-door with black leather interior, heated front seats, 6-disc CD changer, and 5-speed manual transmission; absolute perfection on wheels. My dad saw it and drove it, and decided to buy it. My parents bought it the next day for $500 over invoice (a perk of my having worked at the dealership), and that very night I took it on a date, before leaving the next day to start my senior year in college. I lusted after that 900 SE Turbo when I was away at school.
I graduated the next summer and was ready to replace my no-frills ’88 Mazda MX-6. It had recently stranded me in the suburbs with a dead alternator and battery, and I’d done it no favors by involving it in two accidents during the two-and-a-half years I owned it. My replacement car would be a 2-door, priced around $20,000. I test drove all sorts of cars; older BMW 3-series, first generation Saab 900 convertible, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry (!gasp!) 2-doors, and the new Mazda MX-6. My parents owned my dream car, the 1995 Saab 900 SE turbo coupe. On a weekend trip from my home in Oregon to Seattle in October 1996, I found my new car advertised in the newspaper at a Saab/VW dealer: a 1995 900 S 3-door. Black with charcoal cloth upholstery, heated front seats, 6-disc changer, and manual transmission, and just 30,000 miles for $19,995.
That autumn afternoon in 1996, I bought the car over which I have spent more hours obsessing than any car before or since. I grew to truly love the car. It fit me more comfortably than any of the cars my wife and I currently own. The shape of the driver’s seat and the car’s driving posture make the driver’s environment more comfortable than any other car I’ve ever driven. The biggest upgrade I gave my 900 was new 3-spoke wheels in early 1999, which (in my opinion) greatly improved the car’s appearance. When I sold the car in May of 2004, on the same day we picked up our custom-ordered Volvo V70R, my heart was very heavy. Over the years I owned it, the 900 reached 157,000 miles. The miles weren’t all trouble-free, but I look back fondly on my time spent with the 900. Its interior features, sleek styling, occupant comfort, luggage capacity, sure-footedness in any driving condition combined to truly make it my version of automotive zen.
No matter how many vehicles I own, no matter how expensive, fast, or distinctive they may be, my 1995 Saab 900 S coupe will always stand out as a fondly remembered favorite. That vehicle is the one that fit me best, that I was most comfortable in, that I’ve gotten the most enjoyment out of. Though I’ve purchased two other Saab models since, both of which are full of thoughtful features and are solidly engineered and built(and both of which I still own), neither one has moved me in quite the way my ’95 did. That said, I’m looking forward to many more adventures- and many more Saabs- as my Saab obsession continues.
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