The story of Saab is an all too familiar tragedy.
A company known for building exceptional products struggles to stay afloat, slowly compromising and working with inferior companies before eventually becoming a hollow shell of what it once was, and optionally collapsing. GM killed Saab in 2011 after acquiring them 11 years prior. But before that, Saab made some amazing cars.
Roomie is a bit of a Saab aficionado, he has the whole history of the company etched into his brain. I bought my first Saab off him almost a year ago, it was his "first car", though it wasn't truly his first it was the first he cared about, and it became my "first car" too. I loved that 9-3, but over the summer I blew a spark plug out of the head and our mechanic was only willing to do a full engine replacement, which was about the same price as a new car.
So I got my 9-5 2.3T wagon from a nice old man in Oakland. He was also a big Saab guy, he had 2 others that he showed me. About 2 minutes after I gave him the money, I turned the key, and it incessantly cranked without starting. He mentioned that it occasionally would do that, It was due to a faulty Direct Ignition Cassette (DIC) which is Saab's interesting version of ignition coils. These DICs are known to go bad and he had a spare with a different issue in the trunk that could be used to start it up. The new one he got wasn't arriving for a few days and since I didn't want to make the trek back to the Bay Area again I opted that he just ship it to me when it arrived. So I swapped the DICs and started onto the highway, only for it to misfire and stall on the on ramp! I panicked, 2 issues within the first 10 minutes of ownership! I started it up again and made it to the next exit only for it to sputter out again on the side of the road immediately after getting off the highway. I swapped the DICs again out of desperation, but sure enough the engine jumped to life and I was able to drive back home without issue. I got the new DIC a few days later and sure enough the non-starting issue disappeared!
A month or so later I got a new issue, on the drive back home after going on a particularly windy road I got a low coolant notification. I stopped the car and suddenly a plume of steam flew out from under the hood and the smell of burning coolant filled the cabin. I carefully drove back the rest of the way home, keeping an eye on the thermostat to make sure it didn't over-heat, which it didn't. I topped it off with coolant only to have it all splash out a few moments later when I started it up. One of the rubber hoses had given up after 17 years and had cracked. This led me and Roomie on a chase for other Saab 9-5s at local car salvage yards in 105 degree heat. It really was a true bonding experience for us, dedicating a whole day to diagnosing and fixing the problem; struggling with the hose clamps and getting absolutely filthy. Even though I was extremely worried about the car, it is one of the fondest memories I have of the past year.
For the past couple weeks the car has been in and out of the shop, replacing some bad motor mounts, fixing a broken valve that was causing it to misfire, and fixing an oil leak he found along the way. This has allowed me to become friends with the only Saab mechanic in Sacramento, Marian. He's in his late 50s/ early 60s and has lived a full life. Born in Poland and living there until moving to Germany some time around the fall of the Berlin Wall, finally moving to Sacramento some time in the late 90s, he's been a mechanic all his life. He'll talk your ear off and loves making jokes, instilling wisdom, and telling stories of when he was a boy. He's an honest man who loves Saabs. From floor to ceiling in his shop are posters, articles, photos all about Saabs. He always does what's best for the car, almost to a fault. After all he didn't want to fix my 9-3 because the engine mileage was too high and he knew there would just be more issues in a few years unless he swapped the engine.
With all these issues one might think I'm crazy for keeping it around, but I'd go through all of this again in a heartbeat. The driving experience of a Saab is like nothing else. It shoots off like an arrow, it feels confident at high speeds and around corners, it communicates to the driver like no other car. All while being able to carry almost as much as your standard SUV and getting the gas mileage of a sedan. It does all this with a turbocharged inline 4, coming with all the benefits of a low cylinder count engine while making it fun with that extra bit of boost that will throw you up into the higher revs in an instant. There is nothing like dropping down a gear and zipping around a Prius going 70 in the left-most lane.
The interior is completely driver oriented, laid out in a logical and easy to use manner that makes any adjustment only a button press or two away. The green and orange displays make it easy on your eyes at night and make you feel like a fighter pilot. The airplane theme continues throughout the car with notification dings, a fasten seat-belt sign, and positionable dome lights all like an airplane. The exterior of the car isn't flashy like other performance vehicles, opting instead for a design that simultaneously blends into the crowd while looking completely different than anything else on the road. Once you know what to look for suddenly a Saab sticks out like a sore thumb, but not to the eye of highway patrol. It does all this while being one of the safest vehicles of it's generation.
All the words in the world cannot describe the driving experience of a Saab. You just have to try it and see.
But truly the most unique thing about Saab is its community. Saab drivers are the friendliest people! You'll just be driving along when suddenly a thumbs up will appear in your peripheral vision and another Saab will be there. You'll be filling up gas when a middle-aged man will spark up conversation about his old Saab. At car meets you'll be sure to find all the Saabs lined up with all their various drivers proudly showing off their bizarre Swedish toys. Whether it be Roomie, Marian, or any of the other wonderful people I've met, I'm glad I'm able to call them friends.
I love my Saab 9-5! I pray it has a long life with me and that whatever replaces it is another wonderful Saab.