Thursday, March 20, 2008

Saabyurk's Story

Let me digress a little and tell you about my ride home from the dealer in my new (to me) red 1966 Saab 96. It was a winter day with packed snow (white ice) covering most of the rural road. I was thrilled beyond belief to be effortlessly cruising the two lane country roads with quiet speed and confidence, a new experience for me. There was a sharp, city-street-like ninety degree right turn in the road, and I lifted off the throttle to slow for the turn. However, I was unaccustomed to the free-wheeling of the Saab, and the total silence lulled me into thinking the car was slowing. I glanced in the rear view mirror and noticed that a Corvair (a rear-engined Chevrolet of the time) had pulled up on me, and the driver had a fiendish gleam in his eyes, with both hands gripping the steering wheel as though expecting to do battle, and I wondered what was up. Then, just before entry into the turn, I glanced at the speedometer to make sure I had slowed enough and nearly panicked when I saw it reading 60 mph, and I was already at the turn-in point. I was 100% sure I was going to wreck my new Saab, and briefly debated whether to just continue straight into the snowy field ahead (but through a wooden fence), or try the turn. I decided to go for it, but was expecting to lose control and crash. Ha! Not even a slip or slide into the opposite lane! I knew then I would never drive another make as I watched the Corvair in my rear view mirror, sliding backend-first into the snow.

And now, to make this the longest post I will ever make, let me tell you about my “Big Yump”. I was young and foolish, with a heavy foot. Fortunately though, the little 2-stroke engine would only top out at about 85 mph, which is how I always drove her. Returning home late one night on a narrow, 2-lane road in a heavily wooded area, I was cruising my usual 85 mph. As I came out of a right hand bend, I noticed huge chuck holes, and the road was dirt instead of the asphalt I expected. I thought, “No problem, I can have fun weaving around them”, which I did. Then I realized that it wasn’t good to have paid so much attention to the chuck holes because a narrow bridge spanning a small stream was no longer there. The often-flooded bridge had been replaced by a much larger and longer bridge, but approximately six feet higher than the original. They hadn’t elevated the roadway on either end of the bridge yet, but they had put in temporary ramps for access, but with an incline of approximately 30 degrees. It’s funny how a 6 foot high, 30 degree incline, mimicks a wall when coming at you at 85 mph. Having no time to brake, I planted both hands on the wheel and braced myself. The whump was so hard that I was slammed into the 3-point seat belt and my head pitched down so far that I saw the famous Saab horn button logo in front of my nose. After my head stopped bobbing around, I noticed an eerie silence, and as I looked out the windshield, I saw nothing but blackness. Confused, I looked out the side window, and saw the shiny new stainless steel handrails of the new bridge at least 8 feet below me, receding into the background as I flew over. Looking through the windshield again, I realized the reason for the blackness was that the headlights had been aimed skyward with nothing to illuminate. But now they were starting to illuminate the roadway beneath me as the car started turing nose down while still very high in the air. As I approached the roadway, well past the bridge and opposite ramp, I remembered watching old movies where passengers of a crashing airplane screamed as the ground came up at them. As I descended, I thought to myself “So this is how I’ll die, in an airplane crash!” Upon impact, I got another look at the famous Saab horn button logo, and when my head stopped bobbing again, I realized that I had lived through the ordeal, and amazingly, the Saab was still on the road, at about 45 mph now, but steering a little funny. I continued slowly home where I examined the car. I had apparently stretched the upper wishbone mounting bolts on both sides because the alignment shims had fallen out, but they were conveniently laying on the unique Saab engine area floor pan. So I stuck them back in and tightened the bolts. An alignment check thereafter revealed still-perfect alignment! The only other problems were a major amount of undercoating scraped off the bottom of the car because it had bellied clear down to the road surface, and the shock absorber mounting studs were now curved because of over compressing the shocks on impact. These cars were absolutely brilliant and safe, ahead of their time. I think I may have been a fatality in any other car of the time. I’m sure, at least, that it would have been fatal to any other car.


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