Lance Cole: Notes from a Saab Island

As some of you know, I am on holiday here in Australia and our man Swade has kindly agreed to let me make a somewhat personal post…

People have taken Saab and the spirit of Saab to their hearts the world over. Yet in a far off land with cultural frameworks far removed from a Swedish winter, Saab has a following that has surprised even this dedicated Saabist.

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Lance Cole is a writer living in England and has penned several books on automobiles and aviation. Saab enthusiasts would know him best for the book Saab 99 and 900: The Complete Story, which is an excellent volume and available for sale at the TS Shop. At the bottom of the left sidebar you’ll see a list of authors here at TS. Click Lance’s name to read all of his contributed pieces.

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All photos by Lance Cole. Click to enlarge

You know that there is an Australian stereotype – in fact there are several. Cars ‘Down Under’ have always been big, brawny, rear wheel drive affairs best suited to the huge mileages Aussies do on their cross country and interstate journeys. Holden and Ford have ruled the roost for decades with their own brands of modified bodies and engines that started life in Europe and the US as other cars.

GM used the doors off the old European Opel Ascona/Vauxhall Cavalier to create a Holden Commodore a few years back. And by adding huge front and rear overhangs to the Opel Omega, the Aussies created the last-but-one, Holden Statesman.

But times and fashions change and other cars have now begun to make inroads into the Aussie car market.

Yet, Saab is huge here and has been for decades. They bought 99s and 900s in vast numbers – and now 9-3s and 9-5s.

On a drive up into the Blue Mountains west of Sydney I was swept aside by a red Classic 900 SPG Turbo, a three door beauty blasting up Katoomba hill. The car had to be 15 years old and yet it looked brand new. Coming down the hill a few minutes later was an early Classic 900 turbo in white, screaming down through the S bends – its driver grinning hugely.

Then there was the farmer’s wife driving a red Classic 900 convertible, which seemed incongruous in a land of huge four wheel drive monsters and pick ups – ‘Utes’ to the locals. And the old 1950s Saab 93 I found as a barn find in the back-of-beyond in Victoria underlined the point. Melbourne is packed with Saabs – especially convertibles.

In Sydney, the local Saab Car Club blokes, organised by Brendon – Trollhattan Saab readers all – turned out in cars ranging from a new Turbo X to Simon’s pristine, restored 99 Turbo three door in Cardinal Red metallic. The by-now infamous Belgian Beer Cafe provided a strong backdrop. These guys are true hardcore Saab nuts.

Joe Lobo asked me what was it that made Saabs so popular in Britain. I guess the next question is what is it that makes Saabs so popular in Australia?

En route to finding the answer via Swade, I discovered the stunning, amazing collage of scenery that is Tasmania. Imagine the Scottish highlands, the Lake District, the Blue Hills of Virginia, blended with vistas of Kenya and dotted with lochs, lakes, harbours and wooden lodges.

I came here to meet Mr TS – our man Swade and visit Trollhattan Towers. And if I thought mainland Australia – the Big Island – was Saab mad, that was as nothing to the sheer size of the Saab population in Tasmania.

Hobart and the rest of the place is seething with Saabs – it’s a Saab island, however small; the locals love them. I saw eight Classic 900 four doors in a few days, hoardes of convertibles and it is a sea of newer models too.

Maybe this Saabness is in part behind Swade’s obvious passion and dedication to Saab. Maybe that is part of the creation and success of Trollhattan Saab – mixed in with the Big Island’s love of Saabs too?

It was a privilege to meet Mr Trollhattan Saab and see him at work. I have tried to convince of his achievement with TS but he is so modest he hates any suggestion of PR plugging! But I reckon there’s a whole lot more to come from TS.

Drew B – he of the incredible Saab collection and local Saab Club Chair, organised a dealer day with the local Saab dealer (Motors Saab) and we took off to the hills in a range of cars including a Turbo X wagon – great fun on amazing roads.

Drew and I also headed south a few days later in the beautifully balanced 9-3 TTiD courtesy of Saab and took some photos. It is superb car and in my view pick of the sub-Turbo X range – except for the rubbish electric window switches and low-rent fascia plastics. The auto box works really well with the TTiD, by the way. Despite the poor cabin trim, I loved this car and reckon it is the best diesel power application on the market – it’s turbine smooth with that auto.

Oh and Tasmania is full of Alfas too – so we can forgive Swade picking me up at the airport in an Italian job… I think it’s just his sense of humour.

All the Aussie Saab nuts need now are new models and like me, they cannot understand the delays to the 9-5 and 9-4X. After all, Bob Lutz justified the stop-gap Saab-Subarus by saying they would create new models whilst Saab dealers and customers awaited the real, new Saabs. Ok, so now they are ready, using that logic, how on earth does Saab justify the reverse logic of delaying these cars?

The Saab Island expects.

Finally, huge thanks to Swade and everyone for hosting me and making it the trip of a lifetime for Saab nerd from Mud Island.

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From Swade:

And if I may respond, it was an absolute pleasure having Lance come visit with us at Chateau TS. My thanks to Lance for his patience and forebearance with this addicted Saab blogger, and for resisting temptation and not photographing me at work writing blog articles in my dressing gown and ugg boots (dressing gown = housecoat for you alt speakers).

And of course, thanks for this reflection on what is an uncharacteristically Saaby country. See you on the rebound, mate!

SW

10 thoughts on “Lance Cole: Notes from a Saab Island

  1. I’m glad you’re enjoying your stay Lance. Saabs in Oz are a strange phenomenon.

    In and around the small coastal town where I live there are several 900s and a 9000 (besides ours). And up and down the highway I travel each day I’m always seeing different cars from 900s to 9-5s. There is something about the honest, frugal robustness of these cars that appeals. For us we know our cars can withstand the salty air like almost nothing else can. Both our Sportcombi and the 9000 eat the kms with turbocharged aloofness. Both cars get over 700kms (about 450miles) a tank with our country to city driving. Seats are comfy, and their heaters are essential.

    People wonder how I can stand driving 2 hours a day on the open road. For me, and other TS readers I’m sure, it is no wonder. Now we are soon to pickup a new. very loaded, TiD Sportcombi and can’t wait to eat the miles with it.

  2. This site and all the work and continuous dedication that Swade is pouring in to it have also created some great new friendships around the traps here Down Under. I have met some of the finest people through this community and enjoy their friendship very much. Until I found TS, there was a great deal of isolation and loneliness around as I didn’t know other enthusiasts to share the passion with. I know that many others around the world have also had similar experiences. We all must acknowledge also the effect that this site has had and must thank Swade for being the key contributor. We are all very fond of him and what he does.

  3. I am in Perth W.A. now and it is full of Saabs too. Here in Cottelsoe beach I have just spotted a grey classic 900 three door with the rare 2.1 litre 16valve engine option- and a badge on the hatch to prove it.

    Saab- you have huge market here in Australia and if they do not get a new model soon, they will go elsewhere- VW/Audi and Subaru – probably.

    Any W.A. Saabers out here reading TS?

  4. I just ordered your book on the 900. I have a lot of literature, including the Sonnet book, but didn’t have this one. Looking forward to it.

  5. I would love to drive the roads of Tasmania one day too, Lance.

    Do you know if this 93 barn find in Victoria is for sale and if so, could you pleeeaaase email me the details at lsalle at bigpond dot net dot au?

    At the moment, I have a Viggen as my daily driver. I love it but I am looking for a simple second car. I managed to find a V4 that I’m going to check out (the ’68 was my second car as a teenager :-) but a 93 from the fifties is even nicer. I absolutely love that sound from a high revving 2-stroke. Those classics are so rare here.

  6. AussieLars -Its sold – I dithered and a local bought it for resto – he say he will keep us posted…

    Arnold -hope you get through the book ok. it was reprinted lat year or so.

  7. Thanks Lance!

    Hope it got a good home. Such a lovely car and they don’t get much more urSAAB than a 93. :)

  8. I never realised that SAAB was so prolific in Tasmania and mianland Australia. It must be making your holiday all the more enjoyable.

    I’ve put your book on the 99 and 900 on my Christmas wish list, but if my wife doesn’t take the hint I’ll be availing myself of a copy regardless. With all the favourable comments upon your work I’m looking forward to a good read.

    More power to your pen.

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