A real Swedish ride: Saab enthusiasts keep the car brand alive in Maine


Larry Jewett’s 1971 Saab Sonett III sits in his garage in Leeds. Jewett won numerous car show awards with the vehicle. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

There’s a ghost haunting the roads of Maine – a four-wheeled blast from the past revered by car enthusiasts with cult glee. No, it’s not the DeLorean, but another original car, equally iconic in design but superior in performance.

Saab automobiles, once highly sought after for their durability and Swedish-made quality, are dotted in traffic, mingling with newer vehicle models and sometimes going completely unnoticed. Considering they haven’t been made in almost a decade, their importance seems odd for a brand that should be slowly dying out if it isn’t already completely obsolete.

And in a way, he did. The parts needed to service these vehicles have become scarce as demand declines, although the online second-hand market remains relatively reliable thanks to a network of avid enthusiasts who exchange advice and links to sellers. . The used market for Saab remains alive and kicking, with cars sometimes fetching over $10,000.

Ultimately, as long as there are fans of the marque, it can continue to exist – and given its seniority in the global automotive industry, the number of cars still owned and sold will have enthusiasts’ hands. full for a while. Legions of Saab fans come together every year to conventions across the country sponsored by Saab Club of North America, sharing their love and experiences in threads sub-Reddit and Facebook groups.

And Maine remains home to its fiery share of them, with owners who value the brand’s fun-to-drive experience, ease of repair and pioneering safety features.

Larry Jewett’s 1991 Saab 900SE is in (almost) original condition, in Monte Carlo yellow. The only part that has been replaced is the soft top. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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Saab Automobile was founded in Trollhättan, Sweden in 1937 on an aircraft parts manufacturing site that was modified to accommodate automobile assembly. Its parent company, Saab AB, is an aerospace and defense company still present today, with locations in Virginia, Washington DC, Florida and two in New York. The company’s roots in aerospace design had a significant influence on the shape of their cars.

The company was in direct competition with its 10-year-old Swedish big brother, Volvo. But with the determination of Viking, she set out to conquer the emerging automotive market at the time: the United States. Saab made its American debut at the 1956 American Auto Show in Manhattan and sold 1,410 in its first full year of US sales in 1957.

Models developed over the years, including the 99 Turbo, the 900 Turbo and its convertible version, as well as the 9-5 Aero and the 9-3 Viggen, have enhanced the manufacturer’s reputation in the United States and abroad.

In 1989, the company restructured and General Motors took over 50%, taking full control of the company in 2000. In 2010, GM sold its Saab subsidiary to Dutch car manufacturer Spyker Cars NV, which made bankruptcy in 2011. A newly formed company, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, took over the bankrupt estate in 2012 and began manufacturing Saabs in 2013, but lost its Saab manufacturing license in 2014, ending production of the brand.

In North America, the largest concentration of Saabs exist in New England and parts of the mid-Atlantic. There are 2,805 Saabs currently registered in the state of Maine alone, 31 of which are considered antiques. The 2008 models are the most popular here, with 453 registered, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s office. The oldest model on the road in Maine dates back to 1952. Late model years 2000 through 2010 are commonly used as everyday vehicles.

Larry Jewett of Leeds inherited his love of Saab from his mother, who bought the first in the family in 1959. Now the proud owner of four, Jewett belongs to the largest online community of Saab enthusiasts who grew up with the brand at the height of their popularity. and may have owned a variety of models during their production run.

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Larry Jewett stands in his garage recently with his red 1971 Saab Sonett III and his yellow 1991 Saab 900SE convertible. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

“There’s a younger generation that is taking notice and recognizing that these are good cars and they’re easily adjustable, and (they) are embracing the brand now as well,” Jewett said.

“They’re good solid cars and they’re great in the snow. Saab introduced many safety additions, starting with seat belts (when they were released in the 1950s). Saab and Volvo have offered many safety features as standard on the cars: double diagonal brakes, for example,” Jewett said.

Saab has also earned a reputation for its rugged construction, including offering better rollover protection. The company even created a commercial in 1995 demonstrating its safety and durability. For this reason, the 900 model in particular has become a fan favorite on the rally circuit. in Maine and abroad.

In Lisbon, Lewis Auto Sales services around 20-25 Saabs on average per month and has become well known for its work on Saabs and its passion for the brand. Company owner and ardent Saab fanatic Mary Newman says the proof is in the driving experience itself.

“These are fantastic cars to drive,” Newman said. “It’s a cult. Once you ride one and enjoy it, you just want another one. Then your friends see them and drive them and it’s kind of the same. It’s way better than driving (any other) car,” Newman said, citing the marque’s peppy turbo engine as one of the factors for its drivability.

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Larry Jewett’s rare 1967 Sonett V4 features a wooden dashboard. Only 60 Saabs were made with the combination of a V4 engine and a wooden dashboard, Jewett said. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

Saabs have also carved out a place as a true connoisseur’s car, with many owners opting to modify and maintain them themselves, undertaking a sort of perpetual restoration project.

“With the limitation of parts and models available decreasing every year, I wouldn’t recommend them to a new driver, or anyone who doesn’t like to tinker or work on their car,” said resident Joe Smoe. of Lewiston who bought his first Saab, a 2001 9-3, in college.

“The first time I made a turn in second gear, I was in love; I think they have (maintained their popularity) because of their quirkiness, and (because) we have dedicated mechanics working on them,” Smoe said.

Perhaps the love and care this generation gives to its models will be a gift for those to come, who will carry the torch of devoted fans of this revered automotive brand.

Larry Jewett’s 1971 Saab Sonett III in his garage in Leeds. Jewett won numerous car show awards with the vehicle. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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