Sunday, 26 September 2010

Just Another Saab Story

I have photos somewhere, I know I do, of my old Saab 9000. I loved that car, I loved its effortlessness, its total lack of brand stigma. I even loved its anaemic old two-litre non-turbocharged four cylinder engine. Yes, it was slower than the moon rising, but it was always with a pleasant, Saabey woofle from the exhaust as it dragged me down the road. This week I came awfully close to renewing myself as Pilot of a car Born From Jets.

It came into our group as a part exchange, and was mightily tempting at just north of a thousand pounds. A 2000 9-5 SE, with the grunty 2.3 turbocharged derivation of that ancient old Saab-Triumph engine. Best of all, it was an Estate, shapeliest of all the 9-5s, and understated in metallic black.

Every now and again my appetite for Saabness is whetted to the point of investing my working hours trawling Autotrader and eBay for examples of the breed. There is plenty of choice out there, Part of me lusts after a classic 900 Turbo convertible, but the practical man in me leans towards another 9000, perhaps in Aero flavour this time for ultimate power. The NG900s never really interested me, due to high GM content, but the 9-5 still has quite a lot of my old 9000 under the surface, and a nicely turboed version could be quite interesting.

And suddenly there's one right under my nose at work. It had actually been sitting there for two days before I realised it was there. It would be off the premises pretty soon, off to auction and to make somebody a healthy profit no doubt.

I had the key. Only one, and the remote fob wasn't working, but hey-ho. Unlock and that friendly old smell of Saab Bridge Of Weir leather greets me, with an added infusion of old cigarette smoke. I'd smelt worse, I could live with that. I made a cursory inspection of the outside first, from a few yards away the upgraded Aero style alloys dominated the picture, but closer up I could see there was work to be done. A few scuffs to the plastic air-dam at the front, a few chips here and there, a patch of surface corrosion where moisture had got under the lacquer on the bonnet. Nothing overly serious, but enough to handily drive the value down as a trade-in. So far, I was about 50 percent convinced I should go all the way and throw down my hard-earned.

I eased myself into the drivers seat and memories of the 9000 came flooding back. The controls were in the same place, the driving position seemed just how I left it and the dials had the same old typeface. There was also the added bonus of the Night Panel switch, a gadget I have loved ever since I first played with it in an NG Viggen. I started her up, same old ever-so-slightly flatulent, warm exhaust note, very slightly uneven tickover. Like mine, this was an automatic and had a similar selector to that I remembered.

Out onto the main road, the car didn't seem as fast as I expected. There should have been about fifty horsepower more than in my old steed, perhaps I had forgotten just how slow mine had been. It wasn't necessarily an issue even if those horses had bolted for good, the 2.3 Turbo motor seems to be almost infinitely tuneable. This could end up being a Q-Ship par excellence.

Sadly, though, while I'd love a 9-5, it won't be this one. The reflexes it should have just weren't evident in this car, who's handling bore evidence of every one of the 117k miles it had covered. There was a sloth about the steering that I didn't expect, there was more pitch in turn-in and less eagerness to change direction. I know this was only an SE, never a dynamic masterclass as such but it always felt at least class-competitive. This didn't. New dampers and bushes all round out to make all the difference, but more worrying was the gearbox's reluctance to kick down, and when I was warned to expect no more than 120k out of my old ZF unit, the potential costs started to build up.

My decision to park the car up and let her slip from my mind was made when I searched in vain for the service history. It had been lost by the previous owner, there was no note of who had maintained the car in its early life. Walk away now, Chris. There'll be others.

So, for now my prospect of re-joining the brotherhood of Scania is on the back burner once more. Maybe, if my ever-reliable Audi starts to let me down, temptation will get the better of me sooner rather than later.