Part 1 of this event diary is here and I highly recommend you read it first to get a feel for things leading up to this instalment.
I’ve deputized 1985Gripen as a TrollhattanSaab representative at a press event being held by SaabUSA in San Diego. This is his story.
I should mention that much like myself, Gripen’s not very good with full names, and doesn’t drink very often. Just in case you miss it in the text.
This is a long instalment, but well worth the read. Gripen’s a regular Saab enthusiast just like you and me. This is our attempt to bring you right into the event.
Pictures will start floating in over the next few days…..
I don’t know where to start. First of all, the reception began at 6:00 out on the rooftop terrace. I arrived to see candles around the modernist terrace grounds and several tall tables illuminated from the inside, each topped with a little silhouette model, the kind you see at the dealer as a color sample. Around these tables were gathered several people, none of which I recognized except Erik Carlsson, who stood out not simply because of his height, which is impressive, but because he was the only person wearing light-colored clothing. It was a zippered creme-colored sweater embroidered over the left side of his chest with the word “SAAB”, also in creme I would discover later.
Too intimidated to introduce myself to Mr. Carlsson, I slowly tried to blend in to a group of about ten people. Immediately a tall man came over and introduced himself as Jan-Willem Vester. Mr. Vester and I had spoken on the telephone before the event so he was the only person with whom I had any prior contact. We immediately began discussing our SAABs, and I asked him about the C900 5-door he has in storage in his native Netherlands.
I had to reluctantly admit to him that I had to drive my company-supplied fleet car (a Dodge Stratus) to the event because I still have not completed the removal of the head from my 1985 900 Turbo to replace the head gasket. It’s been on my “to-do” list for months now. I know… I know… I warned the valet parking attendant that I knew the exact mileage on the Stratus and not to take it out for a joyride, as tempting as that might be.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Bob Sinclair, former President of SAAB USA introduced himself and we were entertained by stories of him running the Baja 1000 race in the mid-1980s. His stories were great and he’s a very personable guy. He lives somewhat near where I live. After that Jay Spenchian came over and introduced himself. When I explained I’m there to represent TrollhattanSAAB he remembered being interviewed by you and relayed to me with glee that you were trying to hit him up for a position at SAAB!
(Glee, huh? Hmmmmm – SW)
Still hiding in the corner trying not to stick out like a sore thumb, a lovely woman named Leann (I’m so horrible with names, I forgot her last name already!) introduced herself. After conversing for a while with Leann, she insisted I meet Mr. John… OH MY GOODNESS! WHY DIDN’T THEY SUPPLY ME WITH A ROSTER OR SOMETHING!?!? I forgot HIS name as well.
Everyone was so personable and I can’t even remember everyone’s last name!!! Anyway, John works for SAAB USA and is in charge of the 9-3 and 9-5 programs. In what capacity, I don’t remember. I think Engineering.
Let me explain: I’m not much of a drinker. And I’m terrified of social situations, this being one of them. So I drank a beer. So that loosened me up a little but now I’m trying not to make an ass of myself. I figure, try to talk as little as possible (something I find VERY difficult as I’m a rambler…) so nobody is “on” to the fact that you probably really don’t belong here…
Anyway, speaking with John he was familiar with TrollhattanSAAB. Then a wonderful SAAB employee from Sweden, Jergen Somethingorother (did I mention I’m horrible with names??? I really should have been taking notes, but I’m afraid that would have looked very strange and out of place) came over and introduced himself. He’s in charge of some aspect of 9-3 and 9-5 development or engineering or something. Did I ever mention I have no journalism training whatsoever? I hope it doesn’t show.
He had mentioned his dismay at being over at TrollhattanSAAB just this morning and seeing the spy shots of the new 9-3. He was disgusted at the access that the photographer got, even so far as getting shots of the underside of the car! I tried to make him feel better that all the feedback I’ve read on the internet was positive regarding the new styling. He’s responsible for the testing going on in Northern Sweden I would learn later, so the drivers report to him.
Mr. Carlsson was entertaining a small crowd of people and I was still too intimidated to go over and introduce myself. I hung out for a bit with John and Jergen talking shop while we were called down to dinner in the hotel’s “wine room”.
Each table had a centerpiece with one of those color sample silhouettes surrounded by faux diamonds, later pointed out to symbolize SAAB’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years).
Okay, so the place is called the “wine room”. Guess the first thing they were serving. Yes, it was wine. The wine waiter (I know there’s a technical name for this person’s job, it’s probably French, but I’m too uncultured to know it) asked what kind of wine I wanted. The blahblahblah or the otherthingIdon’trecognizethenameof. Being totally unknowlegeable about wine I asked him to choose. He explained that if I planned to eat the sea bass I’d want the blahblahblah and if I was to dine on the fillet I would prefer the otherthingIdon’trecognizethenameof. I told him I planned to have the fillet so I got some red wine (why the heck can’t they just ask if you want white or red wine?). Apparently cola wasn’t on the menu.
I did mention already that I’m not much of a drinker. So now I’m trying to ride out the buzz from the bottle of Heineken I was hiding behind at the reception and trying to see through the effects of red wine, all the while trying to remain sociable but not make an ass of myself. This is quite a juggling act.
I sat at a table with Leann, John, and Jergen (who coincidentally are the three people whose last names I can’t recall). Mr. Spenchian, Mr. Vester, Mr. Carlsson, and Mr… Jergen all made toasts and discussed the 60th Anniversary a bit. The most detail came from Jergen. He explained that within three to four years SAAB plans to increase their model variations by 100%.
Later, after sitting back down, I asked him to elaborate on this. He said that right now SAAB has essentially five model variations: 9-3 Convertible, Sedan, and Combi and the 9-5 Sedan and Combi. He said this will double in three to four years. I pointed out he didn’t count the 9-7X and he interjected that it’s going to be gone in a few years and I pointed out it will be replaced by the 9-4X, but he didn’t elaborate. So I guess he’s not counting the 9-4X in his “100% increase” as he wasn’t counting the 9-7X in the first place. I was dying to ask him if a true hatchback (rather than a Combi) was in the works but I bit my tongue. I’m sure he wouldn’t be allowed to tell me anyway and he knows I’m going to report back anything I learn to be shown to the world.
Jergen also mentioned in his speech that he can’t give a timeline but it’s a sure thing that BioPower will come to the U.S. He mentioned its introduction elsewhere in the world and pointed out that France is to get it within two months and that France is going to have 200 ethanol filling stations. I had mentioned to Jergen minutes earlier that the only ethanol pump open to the public in the entire State of California is about 15 minutes away from where we are dining. He brought this fact up when he was speaking to everyone and expressed his hope that available fueling stations will multiply.
It’s at this point that I’d like to point out a few facts: I had been drinking. I’m not used to drinking. I’m not a trained journalist. I have a horrible memory. Therefore ANYTHING I state as fact here can be wrong. I reserve the right to tell you that though I’m relaying info to the best of my ability I was a bit impaired at the time. I’m still a bit impaired while typing this in my hotel room. The good news is I don’t think I embarrassed myself too badly. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow at breakfast.
After a wonderful dinner and dessert we had coffee. Guests began excusing themselves to retire to their rooms and Leann explained to me that a lot of the guests are turning in early due to the fact that today was one of the Press Days at the Chicago Auto Show and many of the guests flew in directly from that event. They were jet-lagged due to the two-hour time difference. I looked around and noticed that I was one of the few non-SAAB employees still there. Wearing out my welcome. I’m going to make them THROW me out!
Just then I looked over and saw that Erik Carlsson was walking over to our table. He introduces himself and I’m proud to say I didn’t throw up there on the spot. I explained who I was and why I was there and though he surely didn’t know what the hell I was talking about he thanked me for coming and was sure I took time out of a busy schedule to be there (really, I took a couple of vacation days off from my day job to attend this. I’m on vacation!!!).
I’m sweating bullets to be in the presence of a legend (and I did mention I’m socially inept, right?) and did pretty well not to drool all over myself. I then realized that I really was one of the few people left in the room who is not a SAAB employee so I explained to Mr. Carlsson and the others that I best be off. Mr. Carlsson then pointed out I have a full glass of wine still on the table and I can’t leave an unemptied glass of wine. He explained that he drinks a lot of red wine and but no “hard” alcohol. He explained it’s very good for you.
So I start trying to guzzle the wine so I can run out with my tail between my legs now that I surely have worn out my welcome. Everyone was so kind and told me to hang out for longer and that they were going to move to the bar now. We all walked out to the very busy bar. This hotel bar is very chic and there were beautiful people – 20-somethings – everywhere. It was like an episode of the “O.C.” except that I’m hanging out with a 79-year-old Swedish racing legend. Erik Carlsson pointed out how crowded the bar was at 9:00 on a Thursday night. I don’t remember what I replied, but I hope it was fairly coherent.
I explained to Mr. Carlsson that the first time I had ever heard the name “Erik Carlsson” was when I read the James Bond novel “License Renewed” in 1981. I was 10-years-old. In that novel Erik Carlsson presented James Bond with his SAAB Turbo. In a subsequent novel, “Icebreaker” Erik Carlsson teaches Bond to drive on ice. In reality, Erik Carlsson taught the author of the James Bond books, John Gardner, how to drive on ice and those techniques were described in the book as to how Bond learned.
I told Mr. Carlsson that I hope he doesn’t mind but I brought with me a couple of copies of Icebreaker and License Renewed in hardcover and I hoped he might autograph them as well as my copies of “Mr. SAAB” tomorrow. He replied that he would be glad to.
After standing around awkwardly for a few minutes Mr. Vester came over and we had quite a great discussion. It was about SAAB sales increasing and how they really have a great campaign going with “Born From Jets” now. It’s already one of the most recognized slogans in the auto industry.
By now I’ve finished the entire glass of wine. Mr. Carlsson pointed out the fact to me and I admitted I don’t normally drink (I think for the second time, but I may have been slightly impaired the first time I mentioned it to him, and I mentioned my poor memory earlier). I told him I’m lucky to still be standing but I need to walk to my hotel room.
I thanked all who remained in attendance at the bar and bid them adieu until tomorrow morning. If you get a request not to ever send me to another SAAB function ever again, I apologize in advance.
I’ll report on what I experience tomorrow. Jergen has promised that I’ll be VERY impressed with the Anniversary Edition SAABs and I can’t wait to drive in some of the Heritage Collection cars. He already mentioned that there’s a 99 Turbo there and also I believe he said there’s a Sonett. I can’t wait to see what they brought out. I heard that the course is on a glider plane airport out in the desert I’ve coincidentally taken off from in a glider as a pre-teen before! Bob Sinclair was telling me that even on that short runway he was able to get a couple of the cars up to 100 mph! I’m definitely taking my ginger root pills (for motion sickness) tomorrow!
That’s it for now. I’m just now starting to see straight again in time for bed. I should get “bonus points” for typing while impaired…
P.S. EVERYONE seemed to be well familiar with TrollhattanSAAB and a couple of people say they check-in with the site daily. Well, everyone but Erik Carlsson…
P.S.S. I just found a paper with Leann’s last name and title on it. It’s Wandoff. She’s Manager of SAAB Communications. I would change it in the story above, but why ruin it at this point?