Sweden – Back to the Future by Peter Gilbert

Posted on 12. Jul, 2007 by in 2000-2009


Photo Credit: Peter Gilbert

Peter Gilbert, the individual that received the brand new Saab 9-5 Aero SportCombi for free who pushed his 1989 Saab SPG to over the million mile mark last August during the Saab Owner’s Convention has recently provided Saab History an article about his revisit to Saab Automobile’s homeland, Sweden. Enjoy his writeup in his own words below.

“Back to The Future”

Forty years ago, I disembarked from the all-day voyage from Hull, in England, to the impressively clean port of Gothenburg. That was the last time I had visited Sweden, and I was so impressed with how advanced the country had become. I arrived by ship with my 1966 Saab 96 2-stroke, which to me seemed so ahead in automotive design at the time.

Now I was retuning by air, wondering what advancements were awaiting for me this time. As I breezed through customs, and on to the shuttle-bus to take me to Avis at Arlanda Airport.

I cannot thank Avis enough, for not only arranging to have a 2007 9-5 Combi be available to me, they even ordered a Titan Grey car for me. This was to make my Swedish experience as close, to bringing my own car with me!

What I was not expecting, was this brand new Saab 9-5 was the BioPower 2.0t. Until now I could only read about this car, now as I looked down at the odometer, there were only 9 kilometers displayed, and the impending sense of adventure, made anxious to commence my upcomming week of adventure.

I got down to business in the cockpit, noticing the differences, with my own vehicle. The main differences were, the angled tip to the drivers’ side mirror, no miles on the clock to give me reference and no talk radio!

The first thing to make me chuckle, was that this was going to be the third brand new Saab engine, that I would be braking-in, during the last several months! This was not to difficult as the respect for lower speed limits, and not using the cruise control made this a breeze.

Unlike my own Combi, the rental was a 5-speed, just like my Viggen. However this BioPower was full of power, and torque. This first tank-full of E-85 was certainly making me stand up and take notice. As I drove towards Linkoping (home of the Saab Aircraft Division), I could not help notice how many Combi’s were on the road. I was to find out later, that the 9-5 Combi BioPower, is now the best selling car in Sweden,
I was on my way to the Swedish Air Force Museum, for a private tour, and to fulfill my other passion, airplanes. One of my goals, was to see if one of the last Viggen fighters could be be sent to a museum, in The USA. One of the enjoyable features of Linkoping, was seeing Saab Aircraft being displayed on pedestals, at each exit on the motorvag (free way).

Another surprise awaited me as I went to my room, in The Good Evening Hotel, in the heart of Linkoping. Not only were the corridor walls decorated with murals of Saab planes, but the walls of my room were displaying framed photographs of Saab aircraft!

After a much needed sleep, I was now beginning my second day not only to make it to Trollhattan, by evening, but to experience driving on Sweden’s National Day, with all ephemeral beauty of the blue, and yellow flags.

Now the terrain was making the driving more interesting, and enjoyable. I was now doing more engine braking, and hill climbing. Having hit all those deer during my years behind the wheel, I was now seeing beware of the moose signs! This was one Saab experience, that had no interest in, Although it would have been amusing to see a sign with a Saab on it, warning the moose, that I was coming down the highway!

I was now on Hwy 44, a two-lane road, with hills and curves. The transmission was very easy and smooth, as was the clutch. The power was always available, and to remind our readers, this was the 2.0t engine, with less power than the proposed 2.3T engine with could be available next year in The States. With all that extra power, I can hardly wait to test-drive that model!
This car is so practical, that I bought some groceries, and placed a bag of frozen vegetables by the battery, when I stopped at a wayside a short while later, my hot lunch was ready!

After forty years of driving Saabs I was now overlooking the factory, where all my many cars had been created. That was a very proud moment. I even felt proud seeing the little Cadillacs on the lot, awaiting their new owners.
Because all the hotels were booked-up in advance of the Saab Festival, I was now on my way to my hotel in Uddevalla, west of Trollhattan. This mean I was going to have a most pleasant daily commute in a great car, with no traffic. Not only was the ride of the BioPower much smoother than my Aero, but the roads were as good as I have experienced in my globetrekking.I am no longer buying the excuse, that we have potholes in Wisconsin, due to the weather, as we have the same climate.

With all this driving, I glanced at the fuel gauge, which was becoming illuminated. I was about to have two new Saab firsts, one was personally buying E-85 with an American credit card for the first time. The E-85 was not available with cash, and credit cards have to have pin numbers. Well as luck would have it, I seek ed permission the previous week for my debit card (pin) to be valid in Sweden. However I was limited to 55 Litres, because of the new US limits on some cards. Being a new car the fuel consumption figures are always less, with a new engine anyway.

Now with the evening before the convention looming, I was going to explore the craggy coastline of western Sweden. The roads were very narrow, and hilly. They say you can judge a car from the country it came from. Well this is why Saabs are what what they are. The braking, acceleration and cornering, I was really having fun, while viewing beautiful scenery (carefully).

Thursday morning, I was on my first visit to the factory. It was so exciting seeing the production line, even though most of the production was on a maintenance schedule, this week. One interesting fact was that the locally produced Leer seats are brought, just in time for installation, just as Leer seats which are also manufactured in Janesville, Wisconsin, are brought over to the Chevy Tahoe plant.

One of the most interesting seminars at the convention, was given by Kjell AC Bergstrom. Who explained how the BioPower engine worked, and about the way special characteristics of E-85. It explained why there was no smell when I refuelled, because of the lower evaporation point of the ethanol. I had my epiphany at this session, because I was not only experiencing the car that Kjell was talking about, but with the generous government subsidy, I was only paying about US$4.09 per gallon, which was only 12cents more than in Chicago, the week before for premium! For Europe this was a steal!

I was now averaging 25 miles per gallon, which was truly remarkable for the power, and price for fuel.
For obvious reasons this journal could be much longer, but the whole experience was a real an eye opener. The Swedes I met were so friendly, and I even found the language fun to learn, in the short week I was there.

How do we market the BioPower in The USA? It is not the engineering as this engine is a world beater, but it is how we overcome the perceived negative backlash to ethanol in the country. I would love to see the BioPower premiered at the world class Milwaukee Art Museum, as this car is an absolute work of art.

Peter G Gilbert


Also available online in two parts.

GM Fastlane Blogs – Part 1 http://fyi.gmblogs.com/2007/07/back_to_the_future_part_1.html#more
GM Fastlane Blogs – Part 2 http://fyi.gmblogs.com/2007/07/back_to_the_future_part_2.html#more

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