The 1966 SAAB 96 Monte Carlo 850 of Phil Lacefield from North Bend, Washington in front of the XXX Root-Beer drive-in, Issaquah, Washington. Out of 30,000 SAAB 96 series automobiles built in 1966, reportedly only 1,362 were to Monte Carlo specifications. That included larger carburetors and different porting on the engine. That engine was a two-stroke, three cylinder engine of 844 cubic-centimeters; producing 55 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 68 lbs./feet or torque at 3,800 rpm. This example is one of only four, in running condition, in North America. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
Those who revere Swedish automobiles have had a bit of a tough go, the past year. SAAB, whose name is an acronynm that originally meant Svenska Aero Aktiebolaget when it began life as an aircraft manufacturer in 1921, had to suspend automobile production in the Spring. Victor Muller, the company's CEO and chairman worked dilgently to find investors to bring the company back; however on December 19, 2011, after General Motors, which had owned SAAB and remained a principal, blocked Chinese company Zhejiang Youngman Lotus from acquiring SAAB, Mr. Muller was forced to file for bankruptcy. Since then, while some other companies have tried to acquire SAAB, the General has blocked any purchase, for reasons of its own.
What that has done has ensured that those who cherish SAABs have become even more dedicated to preserving the breed. So it was that the Northwest SAAB Owners Club joined the Puget Sound chapter of Volvo Sports America for the 6th Annual Swedish Car Cruise-in at the XXX (Root Beer) drive-in restaurant in Issaquah, Washington on Sunday, February 19.
Two Swedish sports cars together: the blue 1973 SAAB Sonnett III of Jon Birdwell from Redmond, Washington (foreground) next to the metallic brown 1969 Volvo P1800 of Gail Ritchie, a member of the Puget Sound chapter, Volvo Sports America. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
Dennis Wright, who has owned 9 Volvos, brought a modified 1967 Volvo 122S over from Port Orchard, Washington, on the other side of the Puget Sound inlet. It sported a tuned exhaust and Weber downdraft carburetors. He'd also rewired the entire car, before taking it out on the road; along with fitting the engine with high-temperature valves, due to what he called "a horrible experience using regular gas" with regular valves.
Wright said that while he'd started out with a 1955 Chevrolet, and "a few cars in between," he eventually gravitated towards Volvos.
"Back when I was in college, they were cheap and reliable," he recalled, adding, "A lot more reliable than a Volkswagen."
Dennis Wright's 1967 Volvo 122S leads a line of vintage Volvos on display in Issaquah, Washington at the XXX Root-Beer drive-in. The black Volvo next to it is a 1953 444 sedan belonging to Walt Tartar; who purchased it from the noted glass artist, Dale Chihully. It received an award for the oldest car on display. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
While Swedish cars are noted for safety, they have also done well in rally racing and on the track. Riley Shirey brought a red 1967 Volvo 1800S, that he'd acquired from his nephew, David Winter, who'd campaigned it in SOVREN (Society of Vintage Racing Enthusiasts) at tracks in the Northwest.
Those aren't Volvo wheels on this Volvo 1800S racecar; instead, they're from a 1985 Lincoln, according to its owner, Riley Shirey. But "they don't weigh a thing," he said and coupled with things such as plexiglass windows and doors sans lifting mechanisms and inside panels, contribute to a curb weight of just 2,000 pounds. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
The engine in Shirey's Volvo is a B18 in-line four cylinder unit of 2,000 cubic-centimeters; fitted with dual SU carburetors, shaved cylinder heads, a high-performance camshaft and backed by a lightened flywheel. It'll spin to 7,000 rpm, he added. With a four-speed manual transmission and a Posi-traction rear-end, Shirey said, "David got to be a better driver with it and got it breathing better," to ensure it would get right into a pack of MGs and do the job.
The B18 Volvo four cylinder engine in Riley Shirey's P1800 will spin to 7,000 rpm, readily, thanks to engine modifications that include a high-performance camshaft and shaved cylinder heads. Fuel delivery comes via dual SU carburetors. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
Last year, according to Gary Ramstead, PSVSA Chapter Coordinator and a Volvo Sports America (VSA) vice-president, there were about 100 Volvos and 40 SAABs; however, no one did an exact count this year. So while there still appeared to be more Volvos than SAABs, the SAAB turn-out appeared to at least match last year's count, as the photo below would indicate.
A view of the SAAB automobiles that came to visit at the XXX Root-Beer drive-in at Issaquah, Washington, along with Volvo owners of various vintages, on February 19, from the southeast corner of the parking lot. It was an eclectic mixture - of people and automobiles. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
SAAB automobiles gained international prominence early on, due to success in rally racing. Indeed it even led to a model called the Monte Carlo 850 (an example of which is seen in the photo that leads this feature) after Erik Carlsson won the Monte Carlo rally in both 1962 and '63. Front-wheel drive, an engineering feature of the marque from its inception, helped.
This bright red 1960 SAAB 93F, on display in what amounted to SAAB row at the 6th Annual Swedish Car Cruise-in at the XXX Root-Beer drive-in restaurant, in Issaquah, Washington, was the sort of automobile that helped SAAB acquire a reputation. This particular car was equipped with a 38 horsepower,three-cylinder, two-stroke engine; however, a variant was made for rally racing that carried a 850 cubic-centimeter engine with triple carburetors. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst) The engine in this 93F is shown just below. This engine was the only engine in SAAB autos, until 1967; when, a four-cylinder engine became available, along with the three cylinder. The SAAB 96, which could be had with either engine, was produced in Finland, until the end of 1970.
The SAAB 99, which was the first to have the ignition key between the front seats - so as not to injure the driver's knee in a crash - appeared in dealerships in 1969. It was well represented at the Swedish Cruise-In by Dan Morley's turquoise 1975 SAAB 99; shown just below.
The original engine in the SAAB 99 was a Triumph-designed 1.7 litre four-cylinder that grew to 2 litres in 1972. That engine achieved 110 horsepower with the fuel-injected 99 series EMS and hit 140 horsepower with turbocharger assist, starting in 1978. However, the engine in this 1975 SAAB 99 is retrofitted from a 1985 SAAB 99 and fitted with two Weber 40 DCOE carburetors, ensuring good freeway performance. (Photo copyright by Terry Parkhurst)
In addition to being the president of the Northwest SAAB Owners Club, Morley also is involved with vintage trucks; and has a 1958 Mack Class 8 tractor that he likes to display with other members of the American Truck Historical Society. He works as an engineer at Boeing and calls his '75 modified SAAB 99 "my daily driver."
So while SAAB becomes part of automotive history, and Volvo is now owned by a Chinese company (Zhejiang Geely Holdings), for dedicated enthusiasts such as Dan Morley or Gary Ramstead, home will be where the heart is; and their hearts will remain in Trollhattan or Gothenburg, both in Sweden. -- Terry Parkhurst