SAAB Story

…a young man’s quest for the perfect beater…

Last month I had an opportunity to sell my 2004 Infiniti G35 coupe for a very attractive price. I purchased it new and really enjoyed the automobile…but the offer was too good to pass up. So I didn’t.

Reflecting on my options, I looked at Mini’s, the new Ford Fiesta, Mazda’s, and browsed Craig’s list for used BMW’s and Audi’s. In doing so, I discovered two things:

(1) used BMW’s and Audi’s were still a lot of money
(2) Would I be paying a lot for someone else’s problems?

Right then I decided just to search out a beater and expect some issues. The magic is to have the right mix of a low price and manageable repairs over time.

Returning to Craig’s List, I searched for “cars under $2500”. Perhaps in California this would return well-used Hondas and Toyotas, but in addition to that in GA, it returns bizarre vehicles with mis-matched wheels, the tops cut off, and luxo Caddies where none of the electrics worked. And also some middle-aged Saabs.

I hadn’t really thought much about a Saab, but have friends (and relatives) who own and love them. A Saab. I liked what that said about me…if if it was a beater. Hmmm. I adjusted my search to Saab’s and found some really nice “sounding” ones (at least in ad-speak). I spoke to nice people by phone who apparently loved their cars, but needed to be rid of it for one reason or another. Hmmm…a Saab.

I quickly decided that if I was going to buy a beater, I was going to try and find one with a personality.  One that spoke to those who saw me driving it. And didn’t just tell them I was a cheapass loser. A Saab convertible. Yeah.

Emmett and I drove up to a very nice suburban home near Lawrenceville, and there it sat: a 1995 Saab 900S Convertible. Black over tan leather. New tires, new brakes, nearly new top, good leather, the hydraulic top worked, and no body damage. Wow. Even though it showed 161,000 miles, it was a two owner car with a clean CarFax. After a quick drive and some serious talkin‘ I bought it for the princely sum of $1700. The tires alone were worth half of that. I pealed off 17 crisp one-hundred dollar bills, had the owner sign over the title, and we were out of there.

On the way home, I discovered that a Saab can be mechanically perfect, but if the electrics are fucked, you may be too. Idiot lights and chimes went off constantly, check engine lights flickered, and a giant RED exclamation sign was lit up within a large triangle in the middle of the instruments. Plus, it was 98 degrees and the air didn’t work. Yeah, I knew that, but I thought, hey: its a freakin’ convertible. You don’t need air in a convertible! In GA you do.

I had done my homework, so I already knew of a Saab specialist near my home that I immediately drove toward. The car cruised on the freeway like a dream, but the damn chimes and bells and lights were concerning. I rationalized: If its all fatal, I’ll donate it and take the write off. Its only $1700. Right.

Sovereign Motors is a serene little place off the beaten track in Roswell, a nearby suburb. Surrounded by trees, with a little patio where you could chill while waiting for your car. Staffed by guys named Bob, Danny, and Jim, and an attractive blonde named Tracy; all of them Saab Certified mechanics. There are Saabs everywhere. The shop is spotless. And they detail every car on its way out of the shop and place two peppermint candies on the dash, delivering it to the front door of the shop.

The owner Bob took my car in, and gave it a through examination. He resolved some of the electrical gremlins, and came back with a verdict: Overall it was in terrific shape, but it did need a new computer mod in order to pass the required GA emissions test. “…a new one will cost about $1200,” he said. “Its still a good deal”, I rationalized. And then he said the magic words, “I’d suggest you find a used mod. I’ll put some feelers out. Here’s the part number if you want to do some research.” DUDE! Its what I do! I’m all over this! An hour later, I had found the exact part I needed at a reputable salvage yard in Lincoln NE, and had it shipped. $135 including shipping. A week later Bob charged me $90 to install it. Lets see…$225 vs $1250…I just saved over $1000!

KimoSAABee passed emissions, was registered and tagged, and is an outrageously fun little runabout for the (primarily) local driving I do. There are still a couple quirks to work out and fix (like a driver’s seatbelt that wont pull out very far and nearly strangles me), but I’m pleased with my purchase. I’ve joined the local Saab club. I’m on Saab parts mailing lists worldwide. I have had admiring glances over the last couple weeks as I have driven around town. Not bad for under $2000. Photos of KimoSAABee can be found here:

http://gallery.me.com/tomrector#100017

Beat that, Brian.

PS: Ironically, I took a Henning Mankell mystery with me to read while I was waiting at Sovereign Motors…little realizing that he is a Swedish writer. Coincidence? I think not!

3 thoughts on “SAAB Story

  1. Nice ride. Don’t know if I can beat it (or what exactly I’m challenged to beat) but I did recently exchange a ’96 Camry and $2,650 for a ’00 Tacoma with 4WD. Up here in NV, the latter is eminently more useful, as about 99% of the state is served by dirt roads. When I lived in south GA, I thought about getting a convertible but figured the only really practical time to have the top down was evening, altho the spring and fall should be nice (when it’s not raining).
    I’ve always been a big proponent of buying cars on their last legs. For one thing, the price of a car over its lifetime can be pretty accurately graphed as a hyperbolic curve starting high and dropping quickly before leveling off, so you get yer best value at the far end of the curve. Also, I don’t feel like I need a factory to use raw materials to make me a car when there are jillions of fine used vehicles out there. I also like not having a car payment and if yer lucky, you might be able to sell the car later for more than you paid for it. Perhaps the main thing that separates new-car people from used-car people is the difference in attitude toward car repair. The former are traumatized by the threat of the unexpected and crave the security (blanket) of a new car with a warranty (for which they’ll pay handsomely up front). The latter roll with the punches. I suppose you could match these two sets pretty closely with glass-half-empty and glass-half-full people, respectively.
    You may be aware of my used-car-buying formula, which I share with anyone who will listen and will now publish for the benefit of the whole world: For every dollar you pay, you should get 10 miles from the car. Pretty hard to achieve with a new car, esp. with the 20% you lose straight away in driving off the lot. Doesn’t include regular maintenance, like gas, tires, brakes, etc., but does include major irregular mishaps like yer computer mod, or patching the leak in the roof that you won’t discover until you drive it in the rain to a nice dinner with Kelly and she gets a big stain on her new dress. So it’s an ongoing calculation, depending on what might come up that you don’t know about yet. For example, when the tranny fell out of my ’87 Crown Vic a few months after I bought it (in Lincoln, NE, home of reputable Saab junkyards), I had to add that expense to the formula and tack on an extra 9,000 or so miles. You can also make allowances in the formula for things like it being a fun ride or, in the case of my truck (and my Subaru Outback, which comes with a much longer story), the utility of having 4WD/AWD in a place where it’s really useful (like for visiting beautiful, isolated places or getting over the Sierra in the snow). Bottom line: if you can get 20k miles out of that car, I would consider you ahead of the game — and that’s not counting how much you might someday be able to sell it for (which, of course, reduces the mileage requirement in the formula by 10 miles for each dollar recovered). All in all, it looks like a pretty good deal, Kimosaabe!

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  2. Thanks Dr B. I knew your formula (yur ol man tol me) but that was not in my mind when I decided. There are a lot of Saab’s out there with over 200k on the clock, so I can expect to drive it for 40-50k or more before its no longer feasible to fix it. I have alsreday researched and found SIX salvage yards in the ATL area with 95 Saabs in their yards. My brother in law and I will likely take his truck out and scour them one of these days soon for a new drivers seat, seatbelt assembley, micro switch for the top latches, and various and sundry badges. Everything else works and/or has been replaced. The secret of this purchase was the fact that the guy selling it had already given up…it ws on Craig’s two months with no bites. I waltz in with foldin money, and he folds. (That is anohter secret…create your search to show oldest posts first…those are the ones who are most desparate.) Over and out, KimoSAABee.

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  3. Welcome to the SAAB bandwagon, bro. Must be a way different ride after your lifetime of muscle cars and SUVs. Looks good, too.

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