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Subject: "Ask Gryphon Anything (2021 edition)"     Previous Topic | Next Topic
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Peter Eng
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1826 posts
Aug-19-21, 10:05 PM (EDT)
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"Ask Gryphon Anything (2021 edition)"
   While re-reading your car stories, I ran into a mention of a Saab.

So, was the Saab one of the cars you've owned that did nothing of particular note, or do you have an interesting Saab story?

Peter Eng
Yes, half the reason I'm asking is because I will probably never have the opportunity to ask that question in all seriousness.

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Aug-20-21, 03:11 AM (EDT)
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1. "Car Adventures: Saab 900S convertible"
In response to message #0
   LAST EDITED ON Aug-20-21 AT 03:12 AM (EDT)
>While re-reading your car stories, I ran into a mention of a Saab.
>So, was the Saab one of the cars you've owned that did nothing of
>particular note, or do you have an interesting Saab story?

Oh, yeah, I didn't get to the Saab, did I? Chronologically, the series sort of fizzled out with the car immediately before it, the Crown Vic.

I should probably set the scene a little. In the fall of 2000, I still lived in Waltham. I'd just taken what I didn't know at the time would be my last tech job. A few general time references: Symphony of the Sword was not yet a thing. The third season of NXE had just recently wrapped up and the movie was in the plotting phase. Twilight (the UF miniseries, not... the other thing) wasn't finished yet. William J. Clinton was still President of the United States.

The New York World Trade Center was still there.

It was the last year of the second millennium. It was a different age.

As I mentioned in the Crown Vic post, I'd decided to start looking for a smaller, newer car. I had actually sold the Crown Vic to someone my father knew, while back in Maine visiting family, and was driving the Spare Oldsmobile (every family should have one) while I shopped for something new. In particular, I had my eye on the Volkswagen Jetta, which had just entered its fourth generation and still had fairly boxy styling. At the time, VW sold a Jetta trim level called the "Wolfsburg Edition" that I quite liked the looks of, for reasons that escape me now.

And here's the thing: I couldn't find one. Well, that's not true. I found several! What I couldn't find was a dealership that I was willing to buy one from. My first attempt was at the VW garage up here, in Bangor, but the salesman I talked with there refused to negotiate in any way whatsoever. I'm not exaggerating, he demanded full sticker price or no sale. This wasn't because the Wolfsburg Edition was particularly rare and in high demand, or anything market-driven like that; it was simply because I lived out of state, and, as he bluntly told me, they wouldn't make any money out of me for service after the sale, so they had no incentive to make any kind of deal with me.

So I left.

(As it turned out, the joke was on him; I moved back to Maine within 18 months, so they would've had me for more than two-thirds of the warranty period.)

After returning home, I tried again at a dealership in southern New Hampshire, but at that one, when I told the guy I was looking for a Jetta, he said dismissively, "You don't want one of those. That's a chick car," and started aggressively upselling the larger, more expensive Passat in its place.

So I left.

Now thoroughly annoyed, I decided I'd give Volkswagen one last chance and presented myself at VW of Boston, which was (and I assume still is) on Route 20, not far from the Watertown line. The location will become important in a second. There, I found the exact car I was looking for, in the right color, with the right stuff. To my mild surprise at that point, I also found a salesman who wasn't a dick. We got to a workable price, and it seemed like the thing was finally going to go down...

... until I got to the finance guy, who turned out to be the dick at that particular dealership. He didn't want anything to do with the preapproved auto loan from the bank affiliated with my insurance company I already had, and insisted that I apply for their in-house financing. When I told him I had no intention of using any financing other than the package I already had, he said I could still go with my own, but "giving them their chance" was a condition of the sale.

So I left, because I already told him I didn't care to do that, I don't like to repeat myself, and I was sick and tired of getting fucked around with by smarmy tie-wearers at Volkswagen dealerships anyway.

On my way back to Waltham on Route 20, still pissed off and muttering to myself, I stopped at a traffic light in Waltham and noticed a Saab dealership on the corner. I'd seen it before, because it was near a restaurant where Zoner, Truss, and I used to eat pretty often, but never given it much thought. Now, as I idly looked it over, I noticed they had a couple of 900 convertibles out on the forecourt. On a whim, I pulled in, parked, and got out to have a look.

There were two of them, both dark blue (basically the same color I'd been looking for a Jetta in), and peering inside, I saw that one of them had a manual transmission. A salesman came out of the building and walked over, asking if he could help me.

"How much do you want for this?" I asked, nodding to the 900 with the stick shift.

He told me it was a 1997 program car (i.e., a car that had just been returned to the manufacturer at the end of a three-year lease) that had been somebody's company car in New Jersey, and I could drive it away for about $3,000 more I'd been looking at paying for a new Jetta. Figuring there was no chance but I might as well, I counteroffered with the figure I'd already mentally spent at three Volkswagen dealerships.

"Hang on a sec," he said, and went inside. A few minutes later he was back. "We can do that."

So... that was easy. The only wrinkle was that I had to come back for it the next day, because it had literally just come off the truck that morning and they hadn't had a chance to give it a presale inspection or detail it yet. But, since I wasn't going to trade in the car I was driving anyway, that was fine. We did the paperwork on the spot; I went back the next day and they had it all ready for me, with license plates and everything. There was no dicking around of any kind.

I had that car for 12 years, far longer than any other, and out of all the ones I've had, it's the one I want back the most. It's the car that Truss and I drove out to Chicago for Anime Central 2001, the road trip during which we ended up plotting most of Symphony 1. The one that could hold a Surprising Amount of Luggage. When I moved back to Maine, it carried me back and forth to all the various places (most of them rather dreary and repetitive) I had to visit during my brief career in journalism. It was the only second-gen 900/first-gen 9-3 I ever saw in which the dot-matrix display shared by the onboard computer and the radio remained legible (they usually devolved into Martian after three or four years). The first car in which I experienced the magic of heated seats. My first and only convertible.

Also, Wolfgang's favorite car.

Eventually, inevitably, it started showing its age. The driver's side seat heater failed, the clutch started to get flaky at around 150,000 miles, and, most troubling, the roof developed a very weird problem with water. It didn't leak, as such--if the top was up and it rained, there weren't any drips inside the cabin or anything, but the next time I opened it, water would pour out from inside the frame at the joints as they folded up. Very strange.

On the fourth of July in 2012, I was getting ready to take my mother to watch the fireworks with the top down. It had rained the day before, so the water started coming out of the frame when it was halfway down as usual. Mother, startled, grabbed the towel I kept in the back seat to mop up after these events, and it looked like she was going to try to stop the flow immediately. I took my finger off the button and yelled at her not to mess with it while the machinery was still moving. A short argument ensued as she insisted that she hadn't been about to do any such thing (I'm still pretty sure she was), and then, when I tried to put the roof the rest of the way down, I found that it had jammed. It wouldn't go back up, either. In the end, I had to pull the emergency release, which permanently disconnected the power top mechanism, in order to close it again.

The next day, I called around to the service departments at several Saab dealerships, and none of them had ever heard of one leaking like that, or knew what might be causing it, let alone how the problem might be corrected. They could repair the power top mechanism itself, since the emergency release thing was a known failure condition, but one of the service managers I talked to came right out and said it wouldn't be worth what he would have to charge to fix it. Who repairs a 15-year-old car anyway?

Not long afterward, the company went under, the dealership and service network shut down, and the point became a bit moot.

Even so, if I had a garage, I'm convinced I would still have that car. I'd have done whatever was necessary to put the top down one last time and then left it that way, and it would have taken up a gentle retirement as a warm-weather toy, brought out to take advantage of the one hour and forty-three minutes of nice weather per year we get up here. But I don't have a garage, and I was back in school and didn't have any money either, so when someone saw it sitting in my father's driveway awaiting repair and offered him a few bucks for it, he badgered me to Be Practical until I finally gave up and let him sell it.

I saw my old Saab one more time, a couple of years later, in the parking lot of a supermarket near the University of Maine campus. I knew it was mine because the new owners hadn't bothered to remove the Decepticon insignia sticker from the windshield. It was a nice day and the top was down; I've occasionally wondered whether the people who bought it got it fixed, or just did what I reckoned I would've done and kept it in a garage except on nice days. Either way, I was tempted to leave a note on it, but decided to leave well enough alone and went back to campus. I never saw it again.

So yeah. In the end, it is kind of a sob story.

Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.

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