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Not ready for retirement

I have this Saab 99GL, a 1978 wagonback model. It was weird looking when it was new, with its unsexy but distinctive and distinctly odd profile, and this one a strange brown color, like toasted turmeric. I didn't get it brand new - I bought it cheap from a Saab mechanic in Vermont in the fall of 2009, at the beginning of a brief but quite insane period of vintage Saab acquisition. At the apogee of my madness, I'd collected seven, ranging from a 1968 93 and 95 through a second 1978, a 99GLE that I turned into a turbocharged terror before I sold it. Ultimately I sold them all, except for the first one. This one.

I don't really need it. I still have a 2007 Volvo V70 wagon that I got brand new, which I've maintained well enough that I expect to drive it for a few more years. It's handsome, comfortable, quiet, safe, and has all the conveniences and comforts that the '78 Saab lacks, like blemish free paint, air conditioning, power windows and locks, a great stereo, leather seats, cup holders ... and I have a 1974 MGB ragtop that I likewise don't need. And yet.

The 99GL is a snaggletoothed beast with a couple of dents and a finish that's fading and discolored where it isn't rusting. The windows are hard to crank, the steering is manual, as is the 4 speed transmission, and the engine is merely a normally aspirated 2.0 liter. There's no A/C, the cloth upholstery is tired and worn, the wiper motor will intermittently squall like a cat getting its tail slammed in a door. The speedometer and gas gauge don't work, nor does the radio. But I've bonded with it in a way that I've never loved any other car, and I've had some pretty cool cars. For one thing, the view in all directions, what I like to call "driver prospect", is minimally impeded, and from a high eyepoint. The cabin feels snug but not at all constricting. The suspension was slightly modified for better performance and handling by my predecessor in Vermont, and it is extremely engaging to drive. Sport steering rack, stiff springs, Bilstein shocks. It's no rocket, but when I'm behind the wheel, it's like an extension of my own body, more so than any sports cars I've ever driven. My favorite mechanic at Swedish Motors, who used to race a '78 99 Turbo, adores it. When I drive it (often), I feel giddy like a kid on a fast bike.

Yeah, it would have been nice had I been able to give it a concours quality body and paint job and could have kept it garaged instead of sitting out on the curb these seven and a half years that I've owned it. But part of its appeal to me is that it's showing its age. I identify with it. And it's far more interesting and unique than the young hotshots out on the road. I'm not inclined to retire it any time soon.


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