Rattles + Squeaks: SAAB is back

Musings, ramblings and rants of FeralCars founder Bob Merlis

Saw an article today about the fact that the Chinese-Japanese company that owns the SAAB brand actually produced a car in the heretofore-shuttered Trollhättan factory; the first new SAAB to have been built in 30 months.

My initial impulse was to share the news with my friend Ante Wendel, a transplant from Sweden who worked for Volvo for many years, first in New Jersey where he met and married Gerry, a self-described “Jersey Girl,” and ultimately in Southern California where the couple relocated after Volvo became part of Ford’s ill-fated Premier Automotive Group.  Doubtless, he would have been up to speed on this heartening development back in his homeland as he was on most obscure automotive topics.

Ante – yes, you pronounce it as you would the diminutive version of your mom or dad’s sister — however, died suddenly a few weeks ago and I had to go without sharing this with him.  I miss him just about every day because there’s so much out there that makes me think of him.

You know when you just lock in with a fellow car geek because you can mention something offhandedly about the fact that Hans Ledwinka, designer of the (Czech-built, rear engine) Tatra successfully sued Volkswagen for stealing his ideas and won a substantial settlement in the early 60s, and have instant recognition. Ante would certainly know there is a car called Tatra – he often wore a Tatra t-shirt — and that Ledwinka engeered it.  He was well aware that many of Ledwinka’s revolutionary ideas such as the “backbone chassis,” swing axles, air-cooled “boxer” motor in the rear, etc. were claimed by Ferdinand Porsche, the man, apart from Adolph Hitler, usually credited as the father of the VW Beetle.  Ante was that kind of a guy.

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Of course Jay Leno has a Tatra!

I was at the San Diego airport earlier this summer when a ’64 Volvo 544 rolled up.  It had just  been driven from Tucson. The car is an everyday driver and it was a thrill to have that encounter which was, truly, an Ante kind of thing. It wasn’t really unexpected when he chimed in almost immediately after I posted a shot of it on Facebook, noting, “Great. Same as my 1st car + 1st offroad gravity defying experience in a car.”  Fun guy.

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Here’s that great old Volvo 544, the same kind that Ante may have mistaken for a Land Rover or Hovercraft back home in Sweden.

We both enjoyed talking about Soviet bloc cars – Skodas, Tatras, Ladas, Volgas, etc. and he actually owned a USSR-built Zaporozhets back in Sweden.  Over here, of course, he drove a Volvo but also harbored a huge mid-70s Cadillac Eldorado convertible in his garage – one of those “I’m going to get around to this” kind of projects.  Ante certainly ran the automotive gamut and was anything but snobbish; everybody who met him took a shine to him.

We were at a film festival at screening of the original Swedish language version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and director Niels Arden Oplay was there and asked for a show of hands to determine which of us had actually read Stieg Larsson’s novel.  At least half of those in attendance raised their hands, Ante among them.  I whispered, “Yeah, but you read it in Swedish” to which he replied, “No, I read it in English.”  The point being he was at home wherever he went.

Earlier this year, I contributed a Collectible Classic piece to Automobile Magazine about Mark Rose’s beautiful ’89 Volvo 780 Bertone – a unique Volvo variant built in Italy.  I got to include a story Ante shared about a customer who credited his own 780’s sturdy construction with deflecting a shot from a .38 revolver fired from six feet away. The bullet went through the B-pillar and ricocheted off the seat frame, saving the driver’s life.  “We resisted the temptation to use that in advertising,” Ante commented, in his understated but mirthful way.

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Mark Rose’s Volvo Bertone 780

Yes, they actually built a  new SAAB today but the news isn’t as good as it could have been if Ante were here to share it  with. Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 6.24.01 PM

Gerry and Ante: he would have been happy about today’s SAAB news.


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