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Our Cars Week: “Saab 9000 Aero”

(Submitted by Car Lust reader Julian Santa-Rita)

104_0405I have been naming my cars since my first one. Each is its own personality to me. My first was a grey Volvo 240 with velour seats, and I named it ” Nigel.” Later a 1986 RX-7 I named “Chu-Chu Rocket” passed through my hands. There was a Subaru GL called “Roo-Badoo” and a MKII Jetta who was renamed loads of “happy expletives,” depending on whether one or both of us was in a saucy mood that particular moment.

But it took me almost a year to understand my Saab 9000 Aero well enough to finally give it the pet name “E.M.,” which was shorthand for “Executive Missile.” The relationship began as I left college to move to my new home 1,000 miles away, and I needed to replace the “expletive” Jetta. My father brought me to see this somewhat awkward silver Saab which I’d never even heard of before and I’d certainly never seen one in person. Someone had traded it in on a Subaru WRX.

Its rakishness and creases were not immediately beautiful to my young eyes, though its designer dipped his ink to pen some of my favorite legends like the Lotus Esprit, VW Golf, DeLorean DMC-12, and BMW’s M1 Supercar.

DSC02663My Saab was no DMC-12 with its bulbous 5-door hatchback shape and 3-spoke wheels, I thought, but it seemed to drive with a new tier of urgency. The right(chous) pedal contained threatening levels of acceleration… levels which DeLorean drivers often find lacking in their stainless steel steeds. Even early Esprits would be found tested and lacking. In fact, around this time most of my “cool” friends were getting Celicas and Mustang GTs, but none of them were near as quick as the weird little 5-door I’d discovered almost completely by accident. In the first week, I’d realized that this was a true sleeper car in the performance department, despite its extreme comfort and sensible hatchback, when I found it listed on supercars.net.

This, it turned out, was a real driver’s car… rewarding every input, reacting accordingly to every subtle input change, and in time of need I could fit a whole refrigerator in the hatch. Pictured is an 8-foot futon couch. Eat it, U-Haul.

I owned the sweet little Saab for 6 years. I used it to move all of my things across the country, take me to job interviews, travel around town, and elsewhere. This little supercar sedan set me up in my adult life. I did my own maintenance (sometimes frequently) and eventually my own tuning with software I found online for free (t5suite).

One thing that Saab has is a loyal following of smarty-pants nuttier types who are very willing to share their insanity and knowledge. Within two years my sleeper had sway bars, more boost, better brakes, better cooling, and a few other niceties which enhanced the driving experience alongside the typical maintenance.

DSC02664It taught me how to treat it along the way, even responding ever so slightly to old oil, and every sensation of the driving experience seemed communicated so cleanly to the cockpit. We went on road courses, off-road to campsites, on date nights, and ran errands together.

E.M. was one of those rare perfect pieces of design, a wondercar capable of utility, speed, comfort, reliability, passion, and it was never too old to teach a young guy a few things about overall goodness of design. I reluctantly sold E.M. because of a leaking sunroof and growing mileage count. Like so many, I thought I needed a newer model.

We were best friends for 6 years, and I traded E.M. in on an Audi Wagon, for which I will never forgive myself.

I last tracked her to Stilwell, O-Kay-lahoma, where I’m sure her heart still beats for someone. If you see her around, please say hello for me, as I think of her often.

–Julian Santa-Rita

Image Credits: Thanks to Julian for the images of the Saab.