Travel Notes – Day 8

There’s been no entries here today, but here’s a bumper edition of travel notes to make up for it. Sit back as it’s a long one.

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This morning saw an early start so that we could make it out to Kinnekulle Racetrack for the Saab track day. I never thought I’d come to Sweden and get stinking hot and sunburned, but that’s exactly what happened.

The temperature was easily into the 30s (celcius) and whilst it gets that hot in summer in Hobart, we have a cool breeze coming off the river that makes it pretty pleasant. Not so today. I haven’t been burned like this since I was a teenager.

Sweden in the summer, whodathunkit?

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The race day itself was outstanding. So many cars and so many great runs. I shot plenty of video, but unfortunately that will have to wait until I get home for editing. It’s a great shame, but this Windows laptop is just no good for that sort of stuff. As I write this the software is rendering a film of Erik Carlsson, Gunnar Palm and Stig Blomqvist at tonight’s dinner and it’s going to take about 75 minutes to render a 12 minute clip (and that’s at a lower quality resolution than what I’ve been using previously this week).

But back to the track day….

The two strokers went out first and it was quite a sight to see these little cars, some of which were literally flying down the straight. They were very, very noisy but you could tell the drivers were having an absolute blast, one in particular as he was throwing the car around corners with almost total abandon with tyres screeching as the tail flew from side to side.

A bullnose Saab screaming around a course at speed is a wondrous sight to behold.

Cars proceeded to be released onto the track around 10 or so at a time. V4’s, 99s, 900s, 9000s, 9-3s, 9-5s – all were well represented.

The surpise-car-of-the-day award goes to a light blue silver-bumper Saab 99 that must have had something special under the hood. Whilst many of the cars were ordered chronologically, this little 99 went out with a bunch of 9000s and cars of a similar vintage – and it whooped them all!! It was a sight to behold and I can’t wait to show you the film of it.

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For 100SEK, drivers got six laps on the track, which wasn’t bad value really. The hard part was the waiting as there were so many cars lined up to go on the track.

Site regular Robin Morley from the UK, embarked on his session just before the break. With a 1300-or-so kilometer drive home awaiting him after the festival is over, the purpose was to get around and not break anything. I’m pleased to report that he did just that, and even managed to pass two 9000s in his 9-5 Aero Wagon. One was a pink stretch limousine from Poland (100% true) and the other was parked in a hedge.

That said, he did better than I did (see below).

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The public part of the track day was postponed for an hour or so whilst some of the vintage cars from the Saab Museum were driven around the track by some Saab notables such as General Manager Jan Ake Jonsson and Museum Manager, Peter Backstrom, amongst others.

Cars on the track included an original 99 Turbo, the Saab Formula Junior race car, several rally 96s and one of the Talledaga 9000s.

The great thing about this is that these are museum pieces and not only did they all start and run OK, they absolutely blitzed out on the track. Seeing (and hearing) the revolutionary monocoque Saab Junior go ’round the Kinnekulle track was pretty darn inspirational. I’ll share more of the Formula Junior story via video later – it’s very, very interesting.

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Next were the Saab Performance Team, who came out and did their usual set of stunts for a very appreciative crowd.

Just prior to this, I was briefly introduced to a young lady with a stunning smile. I’d have never known unless I was told, but she’s an engineer with Saab and currently works with gearboxes. Not only that, but apparently she’s a potential Saab Performance Team driver – it seems they’re looking to up the photogenic qualities of the team!

She may just get her chance, too. There was a minor hiccup with the performance today, with one of the cars getting its tail lamps modified after a clip with the wall during one of those manouvres where they drive in reverse, nose to nose with another car driving forwards and then spin out to go forwards again (at least that’s what I think it was, the crowd was pretty thick and I couldn’t really see).

Again, film of this performance will be forthcoming (don’t blame me, blame Bill Gates! I want my Mac back!!!)

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After the Performance Team did their thing, the track was turned over to the public once again and this is when I finally got my shot. I wasn’t going to fly half way around the world and niss out on a drive at Kinnekulle, was I?

There are several things I can offer in my own defence, but the fact of the matter is I got passed by everyone on my lap session except for a Saab 900.

Defence 1 – Everyone else had a pretty decent head start. As the cars were shuffling out onto the track behind the Swedish Police pace car for the first lap, I had my window down talking to Saab Sweden’s Christer Nilsson, explaining to him that yes, I was going to really, REALLY look after the car he had lent me for the week. I looked up from talking to him and there was at least a 50 meter gap as the other cars were already on the track and I was still stationary in the pits. When I finally got on track the first car was already in my mirrors,having finished it’s pace lap and it was coming down the straight. Here I was having to learn the track with cars coming at me, at speed.

Defence 2 – I was in an automatic diesel convertible. ‘Nuff said.

Defence 3 – Paramount in my mind was not to have an off like I did the last time I drove a Saab diesel on a track. That just would have been disastrous!!

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We left Kinnekulle feeling hot, sunburned and almost totally dehydrated. After filling up on liquids at a shop along the way, our convoy of four stopped by the side of the highway for a photoshoot with a Viggen:

Viggen4cars.jpg

A vintage Saab arrived about the same time as we did, so we included it in our photo too:

Viggen%205%20cars.jpg

Soon after we were joined by a bunch of like minded people on the way back from Kinnekulle and we expanded the fleet to nine different cars!!

Viggen9cars.jpg

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Back at the hotel, and one long cool shower later, it was time to go to the dinner. I felt honored to have a pace reserved for me, with a name card and everything, but it was a little useless in the end as I was constantly down the front of the auditorium with a video camera in front of my eyes.

I’m posting one of these sessions shortly, and the rest will come quite soon (as they don’t have to be edited).

The dinner was held in a large building that seated around 1600 people. This was certainly an enthusiast gathering and it was pretty amazing to see many of the men you read about in Saab books seated right there at the table. I remember reading about Rolf Mellde and the early years of Saab with him as an executive AND a rally driver – tonight he spoke about those early years.

If there was one downside to this event, however, it was that many of the speakers were in their very senior years, all were Swedish and all the interviews were conducted in English, which was not their mother tongue. I’ve found that all Swedes speak English at different levels with most of them being incredibly fluent. The synapses were working overtime tonight with these austere gents, however, and for some of them I’d have been happy to endure the delays of a translation if it meant they got their point across with more flow and eloquence.

A minor point, but a point nonetheless.

The interview sessions covered one decade at a time and over all they were incredibly informative and entertaining.

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I was introduced to several prominent Saab people from years past and present. I’ll keep the nature of those conversations quiet for now as they’ll form the basis for future posts here, but all were very, very interesting to say the least. There’s a few bodies buried out there…..

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One thing I will tell you, though (a reward for reading this far, I guess) is that not only will Saab be showing the XWD 2008 Saab 9-3 tomorrow, the press will be allowed a short ‘teaser’ drive of it during the press events that will be held for the 2WD model over the next three weeks.

Yep – I’ll be driving the XWD Saab 9-3 on Monday.

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Toward the end of the evening I mustered up the courage to introduce myself to Jan-Ake Jonsson, the General Manager, CEO, Grand Poobah and Head Honcho of Saab Sweden. I told him my name and that I was from Australia and blah blah blah. Just as his eyes were in danger of glazing over I mentioned that I run a website called Trollhattan Saab.

“You’re that guy!!!” he said.

And the conversation went swimmingly from there. Tidbits:

I mentioned to him that I’d seen him leave a hotel in Trollhattan this afternoon in a black Saab 9-3 Aero – a black turbo – and wondered if there was any significance to this or if there was anything he could tell me about “a black turbo”.

“Well, a black turbo 900 was significant in Saab’s advertising back in the 1980’s…..”

Clever.

I also asked him about what Saabs he’d owned in the past. It’s an extensive list, starting with a Saab 96 two-stroke that he purchased privately from two young women who didn’t like the dashboard as it came from the factory, so they painted it pink! More surprising than the fact that he bought it like this was the fact that he waited two years to repaint it (in silver).

His garage after the two stroke reads like a full history of post-1967 Saab itself, including a Saab 600!

It was a great chat and he offered some further communication in the future, an offer I wouldn’t dare take up lightly, and an offer with one proviso: No more questions about the black turbo.

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It’s 3.31am (T-hat time) as I finish this. You’re up to date and I’m off to bed.

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10 Comments

  1. It’s striking how much smaller the 96 was than the modern SAABs you can really see it in that side-by-side picture with the Viggen fighter.

    You keep saying how hot it was out but every picture I’ve seen has the top up on your convertible! Did you have the air conditioning on full-blast and were trying to keep the sun off your already burnt skin? 😉

    You do know that it is your DUTY to try and get that 9-3 to lose traction, right? It’s a challenge. I don’t want to hear your nightmare stories about sliding that diesel 9-5 off the track in Australia. This is an XWD car. You shouldn’t be able to lose traction even if you TRY! ;-0

    So Jan-Ake’s experience with a silver dash didn’t teach him anything about silver (or chrome) dash treatments? I would think that thing would have reflected off his windshield something FIERCE!

    You’re going to bed? At DAWN? I envy you, sir. You are a true party animal.

    Lastly Swade, you’re a SUPERSTAR!

  2. Swade, you have to print up a special one-off TS shirt that says “That guy” really big on the front. 🙂

  3. I’m guessing others are thinking the same thing, but when do you think they’ll just go ahead and call the 9-3 “Black Turbo” a Viggen?

  4. Wow, long post, many thoughts:

    1. Jan Ake knew who you were! You’ve got connections now!

    2. Windows edits video as quickly as Mac. Your software on the notebook isn’t up-to-snuff or it’s lacking in the hardware department. I’m betting that it’s a combination of the two. Remember: the PowerPC Macs aren’t available in low-spec trim, so you’re likely comparing apples and oranges.

    Again, Macs are great, but Wintel boxes are too!

    3. Again, a DIESEL convertible? Ouch.

    And, finally:

    4. Swade, even NASCAR fans know how to keep from getting sunburned at the track!

    And, LP: I wonder if they can still use the Viggen moniker? Saab Defence may not let them anymore.

  5. I think they should go with Draken this time, there’s already a Viggen. It sounds more like something that would be called a “black turbo”. Remember, the original Viggen was the yellow 900 SVO so “thunderbolt” (viggen in English) made sense.

    As for the size of the 96, it’s odd how from the 50’s to today, European cars have gotten so much bigger, while American cars have gotten so much smaller. It just goes to show where the roots of the respective industries lie and the psyche of the two areas.

  6. Re:
    —Yep – I’ll be driving the XWD Saab 9-3 on Monday.—
    and
    —“You’re that guy!!!” he said—

    Steven, I’m glad to see you’ve gotten so much recognition and respect from Saab. You deserve it.

    PS: I vote for Draken as the name. Just sounds more powerful, and the Draken was probably one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring jets of all time.

  7. Swade I think that you are the greatest. I can’t think of anyone better to be in the place where you are now.
    I adore the question about the back turbo.:-) Things like that shows very high level of your thinking process. Your reports are so well written that it makes the reader feel like he is there in person.

    I’m glad that you are in Trollhattan now, you definitely deserve it.

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