Photo Credit: Charles Gould
Saab enthusiast, Charles Gould has recently written a rather detailed account of his “barn find” acquisition of a 1962 Saab 96.
Below is the first chapter of this incredible story.
Another Saab Story- Barn Find 1962 Saab Model 96!
Written by Charles Gould
Photos by Gabriele Isenbrand
I received the Craigslist ad from a friend on Friday night, even before I saw it on the Vintage Saab list, where it had also been posted. The ad said that the 1962 Saab, had been parked in this garage by a little old lady in 1978, and that it had sat there ever since. The ad confessed that the engine was stuck, and that the rest of the car’s condition was unknown, but the photos made it look fairly derelict, with all of the dust and debris which had collected on it for those thirty-three years.
Everyone on the Vintage Saab list had speculated that thirty-three years in a dark, damp New Jersey garage could not have done it well, and that between the salt air, and the obvious mice infestation, it was probably a fairly rusty candidate for restoration.
The ad stated that the little car would be sold to the highest bidder at an estate sale, which was to be held the following afternoon at 4:00 PM. There was only one problem. The estate was over 200 miles away! Although I wanted to go to see the car in person, I was not prepared to get there in time for the Saturday 4:00 pm deadline. So, I made arrangements to place a bid over the telephone, sight unseen.
I had lost three other “bullnose” “stroker” Saabs, and I did not want to lose another. One was from an estate sale in Texas, and the executor had promised to sell it to me for $4,500, and then decided to increase it to $5,500, and then decided to get it running first, and then demanded $6,500, which I was still prepared to pay, as it had a factory rebuilt engine, and a GT hood, even though it was not a true GT. He then decided to place it on EBay, where it drew close to 12K from a European buyer. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be!
So, I was very excited about this New Jersey barn find car, as I really love original cars with years of patina, and I also truly love barn find stories. I was “willing” this to be a nice original car, and although the posts on the Saab list were getting pretty discouraging, I did not give up hope.
At 10:00 am on Saturday, I decided that I really needed to see this Saab in person, and that I had to be there to bid live, and to be sure that my telephone bid did not fall through for a bad reception problem, or some other glitch. So, I called several friends and nobody was available to take the 200-mile road trip. As I was getting ready to set out alone, my friends Carter & Gabrielle called to say that they were in town and wanted to visit. I asked if they were up for a road trip, and they set out to my house, while I went to the bank to get some cash!
I debated whether to drag the trailer along, because it always seems that when I bring the trailer, the car is always a disappointment, and when I leave the trailer home, the car turns out to be great, and I have to frantically hunt down a U-Haul in the vicinity of the purchase.
I finally decided to grab the trailer from my shop on the way out, and we bolted down to New Jersey. We arrived at 3:20, and were greeted by four other very knowledgeable Saab enthusiasts, the three estate sale ladies, and some assorted customers buying other estate trinkets from inside of the home.
We were sent out to the garage behind the house, at the end of a long and very narrow driveway, which had long since been overgrown with trees and shrubs which had made the narrow access even narrower. It was obvious that this narrow driveway, and the overgrown trees and shrubs would preclude getting the trailer anywhere near the little Saab which had been tucked away thirty-two years prior.
When we finally got a chance to check it out, I was so excited to climb through the sad and lonely looking little teardrop. As someone on the list had posted, all four tires were flat, and all four wheels were stuck, so we were wondering how we were going to get it out of there if we were successful. Anyway, our investigation in that dark garage made it obvious that this was a remarkable example, even though it was covered in thirty-three years of dust and crud, and looked like hell on the surface. This was clearly a remarkably well preserved, time capsule, owned by a woman who was the original purchaser late in 1961. She had parked it here in this garage in 1978 when she fell ill, and there it sat until being unveiled again in the last thirty days!
There was almost no rust whatsoever, and what little was there, was limited to surface deterioration on the bulkhead, where the mice had nested and urinated on the metal, which contrary to an earlier post, did not penetrate through the metal, but did remove the paint and caused some pretty deep surface rust in the corner on the driver’s side.
Contrary to the earlier post, although a previous owner had bent the steel up above the battery tray to accept a larger battery, they did not cut the metal, and I figured that it could be bent back close to original. The plywood panels in the trunk were near perfect, and under the rear seat looked like brand new.
Yes, the engine was stuck, but we are always saying that mechanical stuff is easy to fix, but rust is such a headache. The upholstery and headliner were simply amazing, and even the dash pad was not cracked. The oil change stickers confirmed the mileage and dates, and contrary to an earlier post, the paint on the door seals was transfer from the door, after being closed for thirty years. There was no overspray on the door seals, although I was surprised to see both door striker mechanisms on the jamb were painted. Does anyone know if these were painted at the factory?
There appeared to be some minor repair work on one rear fender, but it was done quite well. Otherwise it was remarkably unmolested, and well preserved, and even had the optional white face Blaupunkt radio, speaker, antenna and even the grounding straps for the radio installation kit.
I decided that I really wanted this car, and when I learned that it would be a sealed bid auction, I got very concerned, as there were about three or four other knowledgeable Saab enthusiasts at the site, and three more bidding by telephone. There was also another guy who arrived carrying a 6 amp battery charger, and who had intended to plug that into the garage outlet, in the hopes that he could get the stuck engine to spin on the 6 amps of available power!
It was nerve racking to try to decide what to bid, as I really had no idea what the others would bid. Well, we all must have had a pretty good idea as to value, as four of the six bids were within $200.00 of each other, and my bid was $99.00 higher than the next lower bid! Fortunately, we were the high bidder, except for one telephone bid that had a contingency that the seller provide a title at that price, which the seller could not do.
So, now we had to decide how we were going to drag it out of that narrow driveway, and figured that we would have to call a local wrecker with a long, long winch cable. I decided to unhook the trailer and back my MDX down the narrow driveway to see if it was possible to drag it out to the street for loading. Unfortunately, I had cleaned out my MDX last week to go in for a new transmission, and I had forgotten to put my tools, air compressor or tow cable back into the truck before we left, so we had no way to pump up the tires before trying to see if any of the wheels would roll, before calling the wrecker.
Now, I have pulled literally hundreds of old cars out of barns, and I am a consummate optimist, so I was “willing” the wheels to free up, as we tied up two ratchet straps to the rear control arms, and hooked them to my trailer hitch, half expecting them to break. As we tugged gently, two wheels rolled, and two dragged for about one foot before the third freed up, and another two feet before the fourth wheel freed up and started to roll. The brakes were still dragging a little, but the wheels were rolling!
We were able to slowly drag the little Saab all the way out to the street without any real problems except that occasionally the wheels would dig in, as though the little car was holding on tight, and afraid to be dragged away. I suspect that when he went to sleep in this garage over thirty years ago, nobody collected old Saabs, and now he probably feared being dragged to a junk-yard after hiding successfully here in this garage for thirty-three years.
The trailer battery, which runs the winch, died before we could drag the little car all the way onto the trailer, but we kept letting it rest and pulling six more inches, until we got the whole car safely up on the trailer. So, within thirty minutes of having won the bid, we had the little 96 loaded on the trailer and we were ready to head off for home in Massachusetts!
One of the ladies handed us the baggie, which contained the original owners manual, service coupon booklet, and brochures for the Blaupunkt radio, as well as several period road maps of New Jersey and New York. The three ladies who were running the estate sale were really sweet, and I had a lot of respect for how honest and fair they were in handling the sealed bid situation. It was really a pleasure to deal with them.
So, we were now on the road again, and headed back to Massachusetts. We had almost 100 miles under our belt, with most of those miles spent with me sneaking peeks at the cheeky front of this barn find through the rear view mirror, when we hit a huge pothole on the road. This pothole was so big that I was just waiting to feel a tire collapse! Well, nothing seemed to be wrong, so we proceeded up to Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT, about 85 miles from home, for dinner. Reins is a traditional stop for us whenever we return from a car retrieval in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or anywhere else southwest of us here in Massachusetts!
Dinner was great as usual, but apparently we had developed a slow leak in one of the trailer tires from the pothole, and although we didn’t realize it until we left Rein’s, the tire completely blew apart three miles later on Route 84! We pulled into a small 24-hour gas and convenience store to have some light to work under, as it was now almost 9 pm.
As I had forgotten to put my tools back in my truck before we had left Massachusetts, we were stuck with no tools and no spare trailer tire. We could not get the tire off, and with the self leveling equalizer link on the leaf springs between the two right side trailer tires, there did not appear to be any way to get the dead tire off of the roadway. So, it looked like our newest acquisition would have to sit out at a rest stop overnight, until we could come back with a replacement tire and tools.
We decided to jack up the trailer suspension to bias the rear trailer tire down and the front one up, using the MDX jack. Once we had achieved the desired position, we went into the store, and carefully selected a pack of firewood, with one log just the right size and shape to jamb into the shackle mount, to hold the proper orientation for the trailer suspension to lift the front destroyed tire off of the roadway. With our custom-made hardwood suspension adjustment device now in place, we limped home the final 82 miles at a reasonably slow speed, and made it home before 11:00 pm, safe and sound!
Now with my back thrown out, and exhausted from the tension of driving that last 82 miles, while waiting for the second trailer tire to blow, we went right to bed leaving the little Saab on the trailer in the driveway overnight. Our plan was to have a closer look in the light of day, and try cleaning it up in the morning.
The following photos, which Gabrielle Isenbrand shot to document this barn find retrieval, really reveal how sad this little neglected teardrop Saab had become from being entombed in that New Jersey garage for so many years:
All I will say at this point is that I am delighted to have acquired this little time capsule, and I can’t wait to start on this project. Thanks to Carter Willey, for being such an amazing reference source on this car, and to Gabriel Isenbrand for documenting this barn find retrieval on her digital camera! Finally, thanks to both Carter and Gabrielle for all of their hard work, help, moral support and encouragement in chasing down this barn find dream! Please let me know your thoughts and comments after viewing the photos and whether you want me to write the next chapter of this story, and thanks for all of the support on saving this little 96!
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