I've been writing for various magazines over the years and here is an article I wrote that meant quit a bit to me. It's in the Sept/Aug 04 issue of the SAAB NINES magazine.
It's how I regained my enthusiasm for Saab.
Hope you enjoy it.
- Mark Kline
After 27 years of working on Saabs, I was getting a bit unenthusiastic about the whole subject. Now I have always been more businessman than technician, but I had long ago lost that "car" love that had started it all.
Thinking back recently, I remembered the day on the Dealers driveway when the idea had hit me. I suddenly realized I could do a much better job of customer service than I had been trained to do all those years working for GM Dealerships. However, many owners really wouldn’t care as they were only concerned with price. So big deal.
The write up area was outside under a canopy. Without turning to look, I knew a Saab had pulled up so I went out to greet the owner. I still remember his name...Pat. He always asked for me as I enjoyed caring for those that appreciated professional workmanship and service.
As I turned to go inside it hit me like a stone. Saabs, Saab owners, that was the piece of the puzzle I was missing. I could start my shop working on them. The owners loved and cared for them and could afford my best work. And the cars were great, logical, fun machines.
The rest is history. History that lead me to May 24th, 2004, 6:35 pm. That was the moment I glanced to a pile of protective covers in the far corner of my garage at home in the Colorado Rockies.
In about 1986 a five Saab customer had melted the engine and radiator of his 1978 99 Turbo. The China Syndrome comes to mind. (Why owners insist on driving overheating cars is far beyond my comprehension) After quoting him a damage cost comfortable at Fort Knox, he handed me the keys and title and said, enjoy.
On and off, over about 12 years I had slowly restored it. Some paint here, mechanicals there, new upholstery. A piece at a time. Even though toward the end the car was 95% finished, with the exception of one brief showing, I never drove it as my life had become very busy with one subject after another. After building my new and final house in the mountains, on a river in a beautiful valley one half hour from Denver, the car was transported to its resting place in the garages third back stall…. and there it sat…. patiently waiting.
So here I was, removing all the covers I had piled on it, wondering what was below them. Perhaps the mice had eaten it?
The tires had weather cracked but all else looked good. So I bled the old fuel from the lines, cleaned the injectors, replaced the tires, put in a new battery, changed the oil, and gave her the once over. Some fresh fuel and a cleaner later, I hit the key. Three cranks and life returned to sleeping beauty.
After a bit of complaining about being woken from a deep sleep, the car did something I had totaling forgotten about. It spoke to me. That wonderful Saab only language of the old exhaust systems. A deep droning growl that throbbed up and down with the frequency valve shifts caused by the oxygen sensor. Not loud, but with an authoritarian nature it said "I am a Saab. I sir, am different..."
Backing it out of the garage I gave it a good scrubbing to wash the sleep from it’s eyes. The custom pearl paint came to life in the evening light. So deep one could walk into it.
My mind raced back twenty seven years to that Dealer driveway.
Something happened and I found myself getting excited. Anxious to test drive what I had brought back to life. I opened the front gate, stepped into the seat and sat down. After looking for the seat buckle awhile I started laughing at myself. How quickly one forgets. I was now ready but didn’t move. I thought, what am I doing here? Why does this seem so important? I’ve driven thousands of Saabs in my carrier, why is this any different? Then it struck me. Because this trip will wildly exceed the speed limit as I will be traveling at the speed of time.
My road is a winding one that follows the river up the valley, that thirty years ago I had traveled in my first adventure into the Colorado Rocky mountains. The symbolism for me was astounding. How could all of these events, so far apart, now become tied together in this one drive in an old car?
Taking it easy, I went through the gears. Each one was happy to oblige and the car had forgotten nothing. It knew what it was. It was me that was confused. After a follow-up check over I decided the car and I were ready and onto the highway we went. It was amazing. I made broad sweeping pulls through the extent of each gear the Tach would allow. Each time the turbo burst to life, sweeping quickly to the maximum pressure, ready for the next gear. And the engine...I could hear the engine!
Having spent all the gears in no time I looked down and the speedometer was on the phone calling the police. It was dialing 105! But no one on board was complaining!
As I slowed for the tunnel I quickly rolled down the windows because I had remembered at the last minute a treat that awaited me...The moan of the exhaust resonated off the walls and bounced back into the cab to delight my brain with its unique power signature.
This...is Saab. Not the quiet, somewhat generic looking but refined machines of today. The manual, bump steering. The no, all go, of the turbo. The ping of a bit too much boost. The bumpy, stumpy, nasty sloping body. The sound of the engine and the wind and the exhaust talking, yelling...all at the same time for your attention.
The car talks to you. It tells you the story of the road it is reading. And this one was a best seller. It growls and wines and resonates. And when its pulling hard...it sings.
It wasn’t until then that I turned 53. I was officially old because for the first time I longed for the old days. The days when I could close my eyes and know, that was a Saab pulling into the driveway.