Monster 60th Anniversary Snippets

This will be the final entry in terms of coverage of the 60th Anniversary event in San Diego in early February 2007.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Mike M for the incredibly comprehensive coverage he’s provided for everyone. It’s given us all a fascinating look into the event, the 60th Anniversary vehicles, the Heritage Collection – and the man himself, Erik Carlsson.

Thanks Mike for an incredible volume of work. A volume that was honest, unpretentious, humorous, comprehensive and timely.

———-

Following are comments by 1985 Gripen, who attended the Saab USA 60th Anniversary press event, which included not only a drive in the new 60th Anniversary Edition Saabs, but a drive of some pristine old school Saabs from GM’s own Heritage Collection.

These are notes that Gripen recorded along the way, and once again they make for a fascinating insight into the event, the cars and the people.

Enjoy!

———-

I’ve been using this as a blank slate to note everything I remember from the experience that I haven’t already noted either in installments of the story I’ve sent you or in captions to pictures. It’s a mishmash of memories I wanted to get written before I forget them.

—–

Let me point out that I apologize for referring to Erik Carlsson in this telling of my story as “Erik”. I don’t mean to sound pretentious. It’s just a lot easier than trying to find all the variations I can use to change it up. Mr. Carlsson, “Mr. SAAB”, Erik Carlsson, Erik… However, we are on a first-name basis, Erik and I. I kept respectfully referring to him as Mr. Carlsson and after a few times while we were walking he stopped, turned to me, and said, “it’s Erik”. Yeah, Erik and I: we’re like this (crosses fingers). I guess that doesn’t translate well on the written page, does it?

Mike%20n%20Erik.jpg

—–

I have been using every possible opportunity to say and write, “the other day when I was driving a SAAB with Erik Carlsson we were discussing…”!!!

—–

I asked Mr. Carlsson if he had the chance to drive the Cadillac BLS yet and he told me he had. He had a favorable impression of the car. He said it’s different than the SAAB and explained that the suspension is softer than the SAAB and that he likes the interior. He didn’t come out and say it but I got the impression though he likes the BLS, just not as much as the SAAB.

—–

I asked Erik if he’s a football (soccer) fan. He said he does indeed enjoy watching matches, but only the major teams. He’s not really interested in lower level leagues. He doesn’t care too much for cricket or rugby. I told him that David Beckham has signed to play in Los Angeles now. He told me that David Beckham’s wife Victoria is quite attractive and I responded that I noticed that too!

—–

I mentioned to him that I’m a big Los Angeles Kings hockey fan and told him that the team’s captain is a Swedish defenseman named Mattias Norstrom, who is very good. Erik told me that he went to an ice hockey game once in Toronto. There was a SAAB event going on up there and they went to a hockey game while they were there. He told me they love their hockey in Canada and I agreed, pointing out that on the reverse side of a Canadian 5-dollar bill is a scene of children playing hockey on a frozen lake!

—–

His least favorite rally was the Acropolis rally in Greece because when it would rain the rain would mix with the olive oil on the road and make the road surface extremely slick. Also, it was one of the few rallies (or maybe this was Spain he was talking about, I don’t remember) where the roads the rally course was run on were not closed to the public. He would often encounter large trucks and would have little time to swerve to avoid oncoming traffic as he rounded a bend.

—–

He oftentimes told me how much better the navigation equipment is for today’s rally teams. Back then they had a little book and some unreliable equipment. He told me even the tripmeter’s readings would vary from car to car. He told me that the tripmeter in today’s cars is calibrated so very accurately but back when he was rallying it was very difficult. Even the tripmeter in the average road car is very accurate today. Failure of the navigator’s equipment sometimes caused an early end to the race due to the team getting lost. I pointed out I read that’s how the Safari Rally he ran with Sterling Moss as his navigator ended, with the equipment failing and their getting lost.

—–

I asked if he’d ever spent any time on the internet. He said he hasn’t. I told him that I spend quite a bit of time on it and he quickly said “I know”, and pointed to my badge which read “Trollhattan SAAB Weblog”. So he was at least familiar with what I was doing there. I explained that he’s got his own encyclopedia (wikipedia) listing on the internet and that I’d read it to learn more about him. I also told him I was able to view some old videos he had made for SAAB (at SAABvideos.com) as well as a documentary film about him. He didn’t seem to get why I was so excited about it, or maybe he was just too humble to make a big “to do” about it. He never “tooted his own horn” the whole day.

—–

Erik told me that for one rally they had a plane flying ahead of the car with a radio to communicate with the car, but this was short-lived as it was quickly disallowed.

—–

I told him that I’ve watched rallies on TV and noticed that the “navigator” communicates with the driver through a microphone and headset. Erik told me that they only had this setup for one of the last races he ran and prior to that the navigator would just have to yell directions to the driver. I asked if the navigator would have no voice left at the end of the day from yelling and he told me this is so.

—–

I asked him to relay the story about how he “borrowed” a part from a civilian’s car during a rally. He explained that he was driving the British Rally and at the time SAABs were not that common in Britain. He was between stages and he had a problem with the axle on his 96. Back at the hotel he saw parked in the parking lot a SAAB 96 in the exact same color as his rally car, even! Without bothering to tell the owner, he snuck out and procured the part from the gentleman’s car to replace the faulty one on his rally car. I told Erik that I had read that although the owner was initially quite angry after he cooled down the two became pretty good friends and kept in touch for years afterward. E rik told me that “the chap even called to ask my opinion when he was buying a new SAAB!”

—–

Speaking with John Libbos and Jorgen Nylen over dinner I mentioned that I had read an account on a SAAB internet chat site that a 9-5 owner in California had mixed a pretty high percentage of E85 with unleaded gasoline in his non-BioPower 9-5 and didn’t have any problems. Both seemed very dismayed and suggested you never do that. Jorgen pointed out that to run ethanol you need to make hardware changes to the seals and fuel system components because over time these will corrode and this won’t be covered under warranty. John pointed out that they bought one of these aftermarket kits that allegedly allow one to convert their late model SAABs to run off of E85 and he said it consists of just an ECU change. No hardware change. He said the ECU change is no good without changing the fuel system components as well and that it’s highly recommended the driver not run E85 if the car isn’t specifically a BioPower model from SAAB.

—–

Speaking the next day with a technical person from SAAB I mentioned the 300 bhp kit Hirsch out of Switzerland is selling and he told me SAAB USA had bought one and had it shipped over to the U.S. and had been testing it.

—–

I told Jorgen Nylen I’m a fan of the Los Angeles Kings ice hockey team. He asked if they’re any good and I admitted they’re amongst the worst teams in the National Hockey League. He asked if there are any Swedes on the team and I told him that the Kings’ captain is a defenseman named Mattias Norstrom. He said, “and they’re still not good?”

—–

While I was driving the 9-3 SportCombi 60th Anniversary Edition with automatic transmission John Libbos was riding “shotgun” with Mr. Carlsson in the back seat. Erik marvelled at how quiet the sunroof is. He insisted John open it. When John opened the sunroof it was remarkably quiet. Very little wind buffeting noise. I pointed out that even with the sunroof closed it is extremely quiet as compared to my wife’s 2001 OG9-3 which has an annoying air buffeting noise coming from the sunroof at all times, even when it’s closed. John agreed that this sunroof is very superior to the one in that model. Erik then asked John if the sunroof option is very common and John pointed out that a very high percentage (I think it was 95%) of the SAABs sold in this market (the United States) have a sunroof. The Aero model of the 9-3 and all trim levels of the 9-5 have a sunroof as standard and on even the base models of the 9-3 on which a sunroof is an option a large majority of buyers buy the option (I think it was 85%). He explained that American car buyers consider a sunroof a “must” on a premium European automobile. Erik Carlsson seemed very surprised by this. I gather the sunroof isn’t as popular in Europe.

—–

One of the few negative things I heard all day from Mr. Carlsson was about the cupholder in the 9-3. He said he hates it and I forget his exact words but they were something to the effect that it’s junk. And he wasn’t telling me this (I didn’t even bring up the subject), he was telling John Libbos. I pointed-out that the one on the dash of the 2001 9-3 is horrible and John agreed that one was worse than useless. It was flimsy and felt like it would break if you put anything heavier than a 12 oz. can of soda in it. John pointed out that the cupholder in the current SAAB models is much stronger than it looks. I don’t think he convinced Erik though.

—–

I asked Erik what the last professional rally was that he drove, not counting celebrity rallies and such. He told me it was in 1967. I asked the result. He said he won it, a Porsche 911 came in second, and Pat Carlsson came in third. She was driving for Ford at the time. I told him it must be nice to have gone out on top like that and he admitted that it was a good way to end his career, winning his last rally.

—–

At one point we were discussing Porsche and I told him that I like the new Porsche Cayman, which is slated between the Boxster and the 911. He told me the Boxster is made at the “old Finnish SAAB plant”. I asked him, “Valmet?” and he nodded. We later saw a Boxster S on the road and he said, “there’s one of the Boxsters they make in Finland. At least I know they make the “S” model there, but I’m not sure about the others”.

—–

I asked Erik how he learned his rally driving techniques, if someone taught him or if he was self-taught. He told me he was self-taught. I asked him if he just figured everything out from trial-and-error, when to brake, when to accelerate, how to slide through a corner, everything? He said yes. He figured everything out on his own without being taught.

—–

I told Erik that when I’ve watched rallies on television or on the internet I see spectators lining the sides of the road cheering him on and asked if it was ever distracting for him or if he was ever worried he’d slide off the road and hit one of them. He told me that it did occasionally happen (I don’t think to him personally, but it happens in rally racing). As for the distractions he told me that the really good rally drivers don’t even see the spectators there. I asked, “so you can just “tune them out”?” and he replied that he did.

—–

The fact that we are able to drive the Heritage Collection cars was pointed out by several people as to be an astonishing and unprecedented opportunity (as if I didn’t already know!). The cars have never been brought out and allowed to be driven like this and the only other time anyone can remember something even slightly similar happening was when seven years ago Buick brought their Heritage Collection cars out to be shown. But even then nobody was allowed to start them up and drive them! This is an opportunity that may never happen again and I understand just how lucky I was to be a part of it.

—–

I asked Erik apologetically if he ever gets tired of fans asking him to tell the same stories over and over. He responded that he doesn’t mind at all.

—–

Erik kept mentioning how he only drives an automatic transmission-equipped car anymore and the new auto boxes are so good there’s no reason for a manual transmission anymore. I opined that I still prefer the actual changing of gears manually with a clutch pedal and all. He replied, “yes well, you’re young”.

—–

I impressed Mr. Carlsson with a driving ability he doesn’t have: patience in heavy traffic. When we hit some heavy traffic on a freeway he marveled that I can sit in heavy traffic for many hours at a time without getting frustrated. I explained that I learned growing up in Los Angeles that after a while you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re stuck there, can’t go any faster, and if you stress-out about it you’re only hurting yourself. I also explained that because I’m by myself in that traffic music is very important to me and helps me stay sane. I asked him if he prefers to listen to music in the car and he told me he does not.

—–

I pointed out to Erik that he seems to be in love with the 9-5 and asked if he owns one. He said, “oh yes” as if it should have been a given and added that he just got a new 9-5 last month. I then said, “well, I sure do hope you get a heck of a discount from SAAB” and he told me that he has a deal where he gets two cars a year. I said, “I guess you sort of worked that into your contract with SAAB” and he kind of nodded, but I’m sure he can’t really speak of the terms of his deal for traveling the world doing promotional events for SAAB.

—–

At one point on our drive Erik and I saw a Hyundai Elantra sedan with a huge, obnoxious aftermarket wing on the back. We both were pretty amused at the sight. I pondered aloud whether it makes the car go any faster, but then pointed out it’s a Hyundai Elantra and the weight of the wing could possibly be slowing it down.

—–

Erik Carlsson kept insisting he’s not a good passenger and I told him that I guess it’s like pilots: they always like to be flying but don’t like to be flown. He also claimed to be a poor navigator. He would sometimes lose track of turns we already made and would have to re-focus to figure out where we were at any given time. One time we were so deep in conversation that I missed a turnoff for a checkpoint.

I then broke the conversation saying, “by the way, what’s our next turn?” and he said “turn right onto Stelzer County Park, 34.8”. I looked at the tripmeter and said, “we’re at 38.7 already. We were supposed to turn? It seems like we’re going the right way as we’re following the Barona Casino bus and you said that the other day during wave one you saw the big casino building”.

So we turned around and when driving back the way we came from we passed other SAABs from our group who were behind us and the people inside had a very quizzical look on their faces like “what the hell is he doing? He’s going the wrong way. And he’s got Erik Carlsson!”. It turns out the turn we missed was simply a checkpoint where we were supposed to do a driver change Erik didn’t want to do anyway, but if we hadn’t checked in and been checked-off in the book as having arrived there the event organizers likely would have been worried the SAAB freak went and stole one of their SAABs and kidnapped Erik Carlsson.

—–

I asked Mr. SAAB how he injured his knee, if it was just degrading on its own or if he injured it somehow. He told me he injured it a long time ago. I asked him “driving?” and he nodded and said “driving, motorcycle…” as if to say he’s injured it so many times there’s no telling what did the real damage.

—–

The night of the reception someone had warned me that Mr. Carlsson is a bit hard of hearing so you have to speak loudly to him. When we were at the Julian Pie Company one of the other “guests” at the event sat at the table Erik, Bob Sinclair, and I were talking at and asked Erik if she could interview him.

She asked him if he likes the new SAABs and he said that he indeed does. She then asked if there’s anything he misses from the old SAABs. He paused for a long time and admitted he didn’t understand the question. She rephrased the question but he still didn’t understand (or didn’t want to answer the question so he feigned not understanding). After trying a few different ways he told her he’s a bit hard of hearing and she explained that she understands that she has a high-pitched voice and that she has had the experience that people who are hard of hearing have a hard time hearing her because of it so she tries to lower the pitch of her voice the best she can.

Erik then changed the tactic to flattery. He told her, “you ask very good questions”. She thanked him and he then said something about how beautiful she is. He’s a truly classy guy. He makes everyone around him feel very comfortable and compliments everyone. You don’t know how good it feels to have Erik Carlsson tell you you’re a good driver. I was pretty self conscious driving for Erik but he put me at ease, whether he believed what he was saying or not. It’s impressive to spend time with such a humble, pleasant man.

—–

I knew that SAAB USA probably wanted me to push the limits of the SAAB Anniversary Editions I was driving a little more to experience how great the handling and acceleration and braking are. But I was so freaked out that I’d take a corner too fast and slide off the road to the consternation of Mr. SAAB that I drove pretty tamely.

I apologized to Erik for this and admitted that I’ve never really done any kind of performance driving so I hope he didn’t mind that we were taking a more leisurely drive than he probably had expected. He told me he didn’t mind at all and that it was nice and comfortable for him. At one point I practically lulled him to sleep. We were quiet for a few minutes and I asked him suddenly what our next turn is. He kind of jumped as I startled him and said that I woke him up!

—–

Bob Sinclair recalled that he got pretty injured in a motorcycle accident some years back and broke his hand. Erik then pointed out the injury Bob suffered to his rear end, which Bob then admitted he got some serious road rash on his butt in the accident. I quipped aloud that I don’t even want to know how Erik knew about the road rash. They both had a straight face so I’d like to believe neither heard me rather than thinking my witty little quip didn’t go over well. Uncomfortable…

—–

When I had Mr. SAAB sign my copies of the James Bond novels Icebreaker and License Renewed he told all who were sitting at our table for breakfast that he taught the author to drive on ice. He then said, “he was an Irishman and quite thirsty”. I joked, “don’t the two go together?” hoping he wouldn’t look down and see my last name on my name tag and realize I myself am a “mick”.

I don’t know if he heard me or if it was the first of my “jokes” he didn’t find funny, because he had no reaction to my quip. He then added “he was drunk”. One of the other guests said “like many of those in his profession, I gather”. Erik then said, “no. He was drunk when I was teaching him to drive!” He then complained about a technical mistake the author wrote into one of the books that Erik found ludicrous and disgusted by. I don’t recall exactly what it was. I’m going to have to re-read those books to see if I can remember what it was when I read it.

He seemed very unimpressed with the whole experience, despite John Gardner’s apparent affinity for Erik. In the acknowledgments and author’s note in Icebreaker John Gardner wrote, “I would like to thank those who gave invaluable assistance in the preparation of this book. First, my good friends Erik Carlsson and Simo Lampinen, who put up with me in the Arctic Circle”. Upon reading this Bob Sinclair, who was sitting next to me said, “hey Erik, he mentions Simo in here! I haven’t spoken to him in years. Have you seen him recently?” and Erik replied that he had been in contact with him, but I don’t remember the circumstances of when.

—–

Mr. Vester told me that we’re very lucky to be able to drive his favorite of the Heritage Collection cars, the 1978 99 Turbo, because they were having mechanical problems with it just days before the event but got them ironed-out in time for the event. I noticed that many of the SAAB employees looked almost as excited as the guests were to be driving these cars. This is a special opportunity even for them! Jan-Willem jumped at the chance to drive both 99s they had there. The happiest I ever saw Erik Carlsson all day was when he was driving the old 96. He said he still loves driving it!

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18 Comments

  1. Here in Sweden we usually donโ€™t use titles, we donโ€™t use Herr (Mr) or other words like that. We usually pronounce people by there first name even if it is somebody you just have meet. So I am not surprised that Erik Carlsson wanted to be called Erik.

  2. I have one of those canadian 5 dollar bills in my wallet! There is also a kid sledding, and another pair of kids ice skating.

    Too bad Wings will always be #1… Sorry…

  3. Thanks for crushing my belief, Psycho Dave! I thought Erik and I were close! Now I learn it’s just a Swedish “thing”? Oh well. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Saaboy: I have the 5 dollar bill I was referring to right here in my office in my “Kings shrine” along with pucks and a picture of me with the Stanley Cup (on tour during the All-Star Game in L.A. a few years back as you know the Kings have played the most games in the league without ever having won the Cup).

    If the Wings are so good and they’re based in Motor City (Detroit) along with SAAB, maybe SAAB can try to get Nicolas Lidstrom to do SAAB commercials! Erik also told me the reason he was in Toronto was that at the time there was a Swedish player SAAB was trying to woo to do ads for them but it didn’t work out.

  4. What a great article, it really took me there and had a sense of occasion.

    Still want to see San Diego saab owners club post on this site!

  5. 1985 Gripen,

    I have much memoribilia myself… The Stanley Cup deal is impressive. Wings have many other Swedish players too, that’s why they’re so good… most of the time…

  6. Eric`s positive judgement of the Cadillac BLS relating to it`s interior and softer suspension is interesting for me.
    My personal impression of the BLS only by taking a seat in it is similar to Eric`s opinion.
    The Cadillac BLS seems to be the more comfortable Saab 9-3.
    saabaudi

  7. Wish there was more 60th Anniversary event stuff to read…it was all extremely entertaining.

    Fantastic job relating it all, Gripen.

    Oh, almost forgot. Curse you for getting to do what we only dream of. Thanks a lot.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. great picture of ‘Mike and Erik’! look like the best of friends!
    Kudos to Swade for assigning the job to someone, instead of just declining to go.
    Thanks, Swade!

  9. saabaudi: After I re-read how I phrased that bit about Erik and the BLS, I realized how it could easily be interpreted the way you did. However, that’s not how I intended it to read.

    Erik said that he likes the BLS overall. He then mentioned that the suspension is softer and the interior is different than the SAAB’s. I don’t think he was saying he liked the softer suspension and interior of the BLS better than the SAAB. He also then interjected that he doesn’t think they’ve been selling well and I told him that’s what I heard as well.

  10. Thanks for the kind words, RJ. If it makes you feel any better I appreciated what a great opportunity and experience it was and attempted to enjoy the day to its fullest. Wouldn’t you have been upset if someone who didn’t even appreciate it got to go (like someone from a major car magazine…)? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Saaboy: You’ve not been paying attention, apparently. Actually, the Red Wings have only recently caught up to a one-point difference. Nashville had an 11-point advantage at the All-Star break.

  12. And the “Dead Things” have Swede (in my best John Houseman voice, a la John Buccigross) Henrik Zetterberrrrrrrg now to counter Nashville’s Peter Forsberg. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. 1985 Gripen, thanks for your answer. Perhaps my last sentence concerning the BLS I had better ended with a question mark. As Saab-enthusiasts we are driving this make since 1973 interrupted on some occasions by a Ford and an Audi A6 before buying a Saab again. Now we are owner of a Saab 9-3 II SC.
    In our opinion her suspension is a little bit hard. We are comparing it with the Audi`s one whose suspension was softer. Therefore the comfort was better in this special point.
    Nevertheless we are loving our car but sometimes we are looking at her “Trollhattan built companian” the BLS.
    saabaudi

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