If you've followed my blog all along or ventured into a particular gallery devoted to Saabs on this site, you probably recognize this car. I bought it from a Saab mechanic turned aerospace engineer from Rutland, Vermont late in 2009. It is the only one of seven vintage Saabs that (for reasons that took me some time to understand) I bought over the next several months that I haven't let go of.
My 1978 Saab 99 GL is a mechanical entity and 22 years my junior. It can't carry a conversation but it has carried me as far away as Maine and back with very little complaining. It has a 2.0 liter 8 valve engine, (not a turbo), a 4 speed manual gearbox, a manual steering rack out of a sportier Saab EMS, and the suspension is lower and stiffer than it was when it left Sweden for its first American owner. It isn't particularly fast, but it's an absolute screaming delight behind the wheel. A real driver's car.
There are large patches of surface rust scale in several places (but no serious cancer yet) and much of the paint is weathered. Small dents are apparent in several places with one big one under the right rear passenger door, along with a few chips in the windshield, some missing trim strips, and the upholstery is a bit worn although remarkably intact. Big points in its favor. My own interpretation of the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi is in play here. No beauty queen. But it leaves an indelible impression on those who notice it, and it gets noticed a lot.
This morning I picked it up after having the summer tires put on it, just a day after part of a new wiring harness was patched in and an exploded rear muffler replaced. The guy behind the counter and I were talking about how rare it is to see these cars still on the road, and I quipped about how much more special it was because of its dog eared patina. Josh joked, "Yeah, it takes a certain kind of guy to be able to pull that off, kind of like wearing a pink shirt."
Lately though, the 99 has been showing some age. I've had to have it towed a couple of times in the last year, after many miles of trouble free service. Ignition problems, other parts giving out. But one of the best independent Saab shops in the country is just a mile from my house, and they have a cache of vintage parts both new and used, and an outstanding mechanic who appreciates how attached I am to this sturdy, quirky old car. And when I get it back, it still wants to be driven like a sports car, so that's how I drive it.
I have a 2007 Volvo, but I prefer the Saab to the younger car. The Volvo is air conditioned, has a sunroof and a terrific stereo, airbags and power seats, leather upholstery, sleek styling (for a wagon) all items or qualities of which the Saab has none. It is shiny and still looks almost brand new. It's comfortable and dependable. But so is the 99, with character that even sexy newer cars lack. In some indescribable but compelling way, it still seems and is young. You couldn't even trade me for a Ferrari. Not that I don't admire them - it just isn't who I really am.