Lessons In Love

by Sam Skelton
20 January 2016 3 min read
Lessons In Love
Agnetha, the Saab 9000 2.3 Turbo.

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with? I have, and her name was Agnetha. She may have looked somewhat cold and severe, but beneath that inscrutable skin beat a heart of passion and strength. I loved being with her. I adored her from that dark, wet night in Doncaster when we first met, I loved the sense of adrenaline I felt from just that first encounter, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her for days. It’s a shame she was a psychopath.

Agnetha is, of course, my SAAB 9000 2.3 Turbo. I spent just over two years with her, and while everything was sweet at first she soon unveiled her dark side – no amount of restorative therapy ever managed to reverse the repeat trend of breakdowns.

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We all have the odd automotive skeleton in our closets – cars we should have bought, cars we shouldn’t have sold, and – in this case – the car I shouldn’t have bought. My SAAB was the best reason why you shouldn’t buy a car on a dark wet December night without a proper inspection. Especially one which, just 6 months earlier, had been languishing in a hedge in Leicestershire. It was, and still is, in gorgeous condition – as the photograph at the top of this column shows. I bought it after failing to find a nice Alfa 164 – I needed to get my beloved Montego off the road for winter and this was available, taxed, cheap, and interesting. As a worst case I’d run it until the tax was up and sell it, hopefully breaking even.

I hadn’t counted on its ability to charm me like few other cars can. I hadn’t counted on its ability to soak up a 600 mile afternoon, pausing only to refuel. I hadn’t counted on its ability to do its duty quite as effectively as it could. Very soon I became smitten; nothing else I’ve driven before or since accelerated in quite the same way as dear Agnetha, and those seats are still among the most comfortable I’ve used.

What I hadn’t counted on was her chronic unreliability. You name it, and that 9000 broke it – from the wastegate actuator rod 2 days after purchase, via main coolant hoses to coil packs. The latter provided a mildly terrifying incident in which, immediately after overtaking a lorry on the M62, the car cut out and refused to re-fire. Cue an emergency dive to the hard shoulder and a lorry driver who certainly saw a funny side to things.

After these incidents and more, though, I loved Agnetha dearly. And I kept mending her problems, waving goodbye to hopes of holidays and my Bentley Turbo R savings pot in a desperate attempt to keep my steel starship going. And then she began to drop second gear. And finally, on the way back from a photoshoot in October, the gearbox cured this problem by jamming resolutely into first.

Should I mend her? Should I sell her? Should I scrap her – perform automotive euthanasia on a beloved companion who had never been entirely well? So many enthusiasts have been in the same position, driven to the brink of sanity itself by a car which won’t give it a rest and work for a change. I’d resorted to the purchase of a Citroen XM as a more reliable daily proposition by this point, and the SAAB was my backup vehicle when that succumbed to the odd French foible. I didn’t need it, and yet I didn’t have the heart to throw it to the wolves in such a state. It had engine donor written all over it.

Agnetha and I are no longer together, she’s with a friend of mine who will replace the gearbox, and who I’m sure will love and cherish her. I hope she’s rather better behaved for him – though frankly after the number of parts I’ve replaced I would be very surprised if she wasn’t. To those who’ve never made a motoring mistake, I doff my cap. You are the wise owls of the classic car scene – you don’t let emotion get in the way of your hobby, and you don’t emerge a shadow of what you were when you started. But you miss out on the rollercoaster. Those ups and downs – those fallings out and makings up – the pain when things go wrong – that’s love. And why do we run classic cars at all, if it isn’t because we love them?

It’s all too easy to think in terms of the ones which got away – the cars you couldn’t cure, the cars you will always regret moving on. But there’s another way to look at it – look back at the good times and enjoy those instead. After all; ‘tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

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  • Queensland .Australia 4215 says:

    The most dangerous experience I had in my 9000 Carlsson (still owned) was turning on lights when in transit, immediately cut the motor….every time!,,,,SAAB couldn’t fix the problem. I did, after painstaking wiring thinking I changed the headlight switch…end of problem. The 9000 is a fabulous driver’s car and the only front wheeler I’d buy….SAAB’s worst feature by far was not making it RWD, like a real car should be done. I am currently restoring mine mechanically after it has sat for nearly 10 years owing to my working overseas and the like. Just before that I’d had new clutch kit, suspension ‘Bistein’ uprated and engine mounts replaced. The (was new)concentric slave cylinder was now leaking..To not do the (was new) clutch kit again and the (was new) rear main oil seal and again check and lightly skim the flywheel would be bad choice. I replaced clutch gear and rear oil-seal . I don’t go for nylon bushes but after the long sitting have replaced any rubber showing distress. The headling has dropped…that has to be replaced. The entire brake system other than ABS has been rebuilt a couple of weeks ago. For me brakes and suspension are number one but whatever is done ….”do it once do it well”. The cat is ok but will be replaced by a 200 cell high flow with a higher flow muffler…but without the ‘boy racer moron ‘ noise pollution. There were so few 2.3T Carlssons built that saving the balance is a very worthy project. No rust. Viewed from any angle the 9000 Carlsson is form-beauty….Mine is unusual being white with red Carlsson striping. I also has the best steering wheel position of any car. I’d be ok to hear from other Carlsson owners on

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