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  • Writer's pictureStephen

My First Second

About one year ago I purchased a second car, and my final choice was a 2001 Saab 9-3 Viggen with roughly 180k miles on the clock.  This may sound like a stupid idea already, but to add to it, I live in New York City.  Now, there are probably a few questions running through your mind, and trust me I asked myself the same questions, mainly; “Why do I need a second car if I live in the city, I do not even need one”, and “How soon will the car blow up in a million pieces”.  Well, one year on and the answer to one of these questions may surprise you.

I got the idea for buying a second car as my brother and I (who lived with me at the time) kept a car in the city and would manage the street parking.  We both have cars we care about dearly.  Me, a 1983 Mercedes 300D (my first car), and him a clean and slammed 1993 Mercedes 400E.  The 300D is actually a phenomenal city car.  It soaked up the moon-like surface craters of NYC roads like it was the autobahn, was durable, reliable, and not to mention looked fitting.  It is also not of any show car quality.  It has its fair share of rust, and still bits of stuck PlastiDip from 2015 when I wanted to “protect” the paint in the winter (that is a whole other story).  Sitting out on the street during the winter, in addition to the other 6 years of daily driving had taken a toll on it.  I want to keep this car forever, and ultimately restore it.  If I could find a way to lessen the burden on the car in the meantime, I would be happy.

Photo Credit: @rubyd_photo

My brother’s 400E was a terrible city car.  The car looks great, but combination of lowering springs with some Bilstein HD’s meant that the car still had the bounce of the last seat in a school bus (especially now that the shocks had waned over the 3 years).  With every speed bump or highway expansion-joint, you had to tiptoe over it as if you were stepping out of the room of a sleeping newborn child.  The car, in contrast, was designed to be an autobahn bomber. Not a do-all tank like the 300D, which still taxi’s thousands of people across similarly beat European cities and across Middle Eastern deserts.

The answer became clear.  If neither of us were going to sell our cars, the next best thing was to buy another.  Was it necessary?  Of course not!  I could have sucked up the bangs and bruises on my 300D for a few more years until I was in a situation where it made more sense to have a second car.   Though, as a car-enthusiast, there was no fun in that.

The search is always the best part.  My criteria was cheap, easy to repair, manual, relatively reliable, good in the snow, and most importantly something I did not care too much about.  My mind went straight to B5 Audi A4’s.  It made sense.  There are tons with high miles that are cheap, and all would be good in the snow (plus I could get an Avant, how cool would that be).  I looked at a few, but none of them excited me.  The clutches were a springy piece of bubblegum stuck to your shoe and engaged at your kneecaps, while the steering felt like a seesaw with rubber bands attached to the ground on both sides.  For a while, I believed there was something wrong with me.  Thousands of people love these cars.  What was I missing?  Then I realized that the cars lent themselves to being modified.  People made them more exciting, and could do so to their preferences for relatively cheap (as aftermarket parts are numerous).  I did not want spend the extra money to make the car more exciting, and I did not trust any car that was already modified.  However, I am a car enthusiast and could not live with the idea of driving a car that did not excite me. The car I wanted would have to be interesting to drive with no major add-ons needed.

My whole search changed when my brother got me on the idea of the German’s whacky alternative wannabe cousins, the Swedes.  Of course the Swedes know a thing or two about driving in snow, and having fun.  What better represents that than Saab?!  For brief context, I had just dove into the Saab community and local networks earlier that summer when I

started a 24 Hours of LeMons team with a few friends, and picking up a 1997 Saab 9000 CSE to turn into our racer.  I was comfortable with them already, and they fit the criteria.  To hammer the nail on the head further, my brother even found the granddaddy, a 9-3 Viggen, and it was at a used car dealer in New Jersey.  Shortly thereafter, on a crummy slushy day in December, my brother and I were on our way to see it in my 300D.  We were given free-range at the dealer to inspect it, and drive it up and down the road.  I felt right at home in the driver seat, and deep down I knew it was the car.  After some discussion with the Saab experts on the LeMons team, and upon realization that it seemed to have most of the Viggen “rescue kit” (e.g., Bilstein HD’s, subframe brace, alloy steering rack brace, etc.), it seemed promising.  I called to tell the owners of an A4 Avant (that had half the amount of miles, for only a few grand more), that I was going with this Viggen, and they told me, “Good luck” as if I was walking towards a ticking time bomb. They had a point, but were they right?

Photo Credit: @rubyd_photo

Now, one year later I can mostly confirm that they were wrong!  I have already had so many great memories in the car.  We put roughly 5k miles on the car within the first 3 months of ownership without any major issues.  Obviously, I have forked up money for expected items (e.g., wheels/tires, bushings, engine/trans mounts, vacuum lines, coolant hoses), making the car safer and drive better.  There have also been some self-inflicted wounds (the exhaust rusted completely off on the highway during a hiking trip, and we eventually started melting the gas tank), but overall I could not be happier with my decision.  The car is plucky.  It is pretty much held together with hose clamps, but it carries on.  It is a ton of car for the money, and that is exactly what I needed.  Who knows how long I will keep it for, but unlike the 300D, I am ok with driving it into the ground.  When I look back I know I will view the entire experience fondly.

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