Saab-u, Snow Car of the North

It snowed here on Christmas day, almost a foot falling over 24 hours. This was an increasingly rare event for the southern end of the Willamette valley in Oregon; the last time we had any real snow was three winters ago. Last year, there wasn't even a hint of snow, and the year before that there were a few flurries but nothing stuck. With very little real wintery weather here, we've never felt a need to have an all wheel drive car. For the few days when the roads are rough going, it's a good excuse to just stay home and enjoy the hot cocoa, rather than be out on the streets rubbing elbows and smashing fenders with the teeming masses.

To the right in the picture above, you can see the beginning of digging our car out for a grocery run on the morning of the 27th. By the second day after the holiday, our food stock was down to stockings full of chocolate, crusty ends of snack sausage and questionable cheese, horrid glazed popcorn finger food, and worst of all, no beer.

Back when we lived in Montana, Minnesota, and Illinois, digging cars out from under a pile of snow was a real chore. In Colorado and northern New Mexico it was a job not needed very often, and here in western Oregon, it's actually fun.

Here's the car, a 1996 Saab 900SE, after we got back from a short but complete shopping trip (Trader Joe's, The Kiva, and the neighborhood Safeway). By that time the beautiful sunshine had gone, replaced by the usual dreary cloudy ick, and threatening to rain.

In fact that's what it did, and after a day of that, almost all of the clean fluffy white snow was melted, leaving only a few dirty piles here and there, left over from plowing and shoveling.

Now, let's talk about why we renamed this car "Saab-u, Snow Car of the North":

We never thought our '96 Saab was going to be very driveable in winter weather. Although it's true that it was designed and built in Sverige (Sweden), by actual Swedes who should know a thing or two about long and snowy winters, this particular Saab was the "sporty" model for that year. Stanced lower than the regular 900 line, with very little ground clearance, and shod with wide low profile tires on rims too wide to fit any reasonably narrow tires for good traction, it was made for flinging around curves at speed, not for any sure-footedness on snow and ice.

Our usual get-around grocery, kid and canoe hauler, a made in Nihon (Japan) Isuzu Oasis - a re-badged 1st Gen Honda Odyssey - was stuck in the steep driveway with tired 3 year old tires (shown here alongside the lovely McKenzie River, when the rubber was new):

The Saab's skins are nearly new, so we decided to dig the 900SE out and see how it did in snow, although we didn't expect much from it. Surprisingly, in spite of being the "wrong" car for the job, it did amazingly well - it smoothly got out onto the slippery street and down the hill to town with a minimum of wiggle and drift, and just generally behaved itself. Coming back, the Saab marched up the snow packed and ice-glazed hilly streets of our part of town, with no problems or odd handling at all, then backed into its parking spot and sat there (I think) with a satisfied grin on its cute face.

This should not have been the surprise that it was. After all, this model of Saab was one of the last "real" made in wintry Sweden Saabs to be designed and built prior to General Motors getting its filthy hands on the company and eventually driving it into bankruptcy - not before foisting some really horrible cars on an unsuspecting public, such as rebranded Saturns. The Saab "9-2" model, basically a re-badged Subaru WRX, wasn't bad at all, but by then it was too late, and yet another limited production maker of interesting, innovative, and practical cars ceased production.

Here's a "real" Saab:

A 1984 Saab 900 Turbo, it's the only car I've really regretted selling. Almost perfectly engineered in every way, fast and stable, easy and fun to drive, with sensible 15" wheels that easily fit narrow 185/65x15 tires for great traction in snow rain or sunshine, and able to haul an incredible payload under its well designed rear 3rd door. And no, that's not a "hatchback"; those that know classic Saabs call it a 3rd or 5th door, since it goes all the way down to the top of the rear bumper, creating an easy to get into and out, flat load floor.

At the time we had one too many cars, and we let this Saab go. The guy I sold it to promised to love it forever, but within a couple years he, like GM, drove the Saab 900T literally into the ground. It's now sitting in the weeds, defaulted, at a Saab mechanic's lot in Jefferson Oregon, with peeling paint, ruined interior, and unknown mechanical problems and uncertain title status. Very sad to see an old friend fallen upon hard times.

We kept this made in Bayern (Bavaria) 1975 BMW 325:

A real tiny terror, with a fairly large straight six somehow shoe-horned into the smallish engine compartment, it was also very fun to drive, and almost trouble free for the time we had it. But it was not a snow car; whenever we took it out in winter weather it would, like a cat, stop every now and then and shake its paws and whine. Not very confidence inspiring. When the 325 got to a certain age and mileage we replaced it with the '96 Saab 900SE.

Now that we know what a competent snow car Saab-u is, we'll be looking around for a set of narrower 15" rims, and replace the "performance" wide profile 16" tires with some sensible shoes. And look forward to the next time it snows here, maybe in 2 or 3 years.

Here's a couple more shots of Saab-u:

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