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Saab’s end brings back memories of a record-breaking run

The recent sad demise of Saab reminds me of happier times testing these once eclectic and interesting cars latterly made tedious and derivative by General Motors’ hopeless management of the brand.

Testing Saabs was always a fraught process. Despite their reputation for strength and reliability, under the rigours of formal test procedures, Saabs broke more regularly than any other car. The 900s simply ate their gearboxes if you attempted the kind of quick shift required to extract a representative acceleration run, while another breed – the 9000 I think – placed its distributor so close to the underside of the bonnet that when you dropped the clutch to make a necessarily brutal getaway, said distributor would be forced up into the bonnet and smash itself to pieces.

But my happiest memory of testing Saabs actually turned out rather well. In 1996 Saab decided to drive a 900 Turbo around the Talladega Super Speedway for a week. It was a crazy stunt, not least for its choice of location: a 900 Turbo was a quick car and a lap of Talladega at its top speed of over 150mph was less than straightforward. If it was dry at least one of the corners was on the limit and if you wanted any margin at all, it helped to take a line across the lanes of its banked turns. By the time I got there they’d already lost one car.

Happily they’d had the sense to take two so I was duly strapped into the survivor and sent out. The cars were completely standard in every respect, selected at random from the line by FIA officials and then mechanically sealed. Erik Carlsson was our crew chief.

That Saab eventually ran for 25,000 miles at an average of over 140mph inclusive of all stops. The record still stands 16 years later. Now Saab has gone, I’m proud to have played even a microscopic part in that success.

Andrew Frankel