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Saab, Vintage & Classic — November 22, 2011 at 8:49 am

Thankful for Old Cars, Parents & Junkyards


Twenty-five years ago, I spent the morning and early afternoon of Thanksgiving day at a junkyard with my dad and sister. We were searching for parts for a Saab that my dad found in a parking lot and acquired at the cost of getting it home.

This 96 is newer than our church car, plus it's an 850 Monte Carlo. Still, it's the same color and also looks like it's been sitting for a while.

My dad drove past the 1963 Saab 96 that was rotting in the parking lot of Peachtree Presbyterian Church for a month before he finally stopped to inquire. He was stalking it because he’d owned a couple of two-stroke Saabs in the past, including an 850 Monte Carlo, the “high-performance” model that churned out 57 horsepower thanks to triple carbs and oil injection. The church folks said they didn’t know who abandoned the funny-looking car in their parking lot, but that they certainly wouldn’t miss it.

My dad placed notice on the car and waited, fulfilling the necessary steps to acquire an abandonment title. With a little work in the church parking lot, he was able to get the simple motor fired up and even drove the car home. This was not a vehicle that I thought was out of the ordinary. I’d spent plenty of time when I was younger riding around in a very similar car. In fact, I still have a scar on the top of my head shaped like the edge of a Saab 96 trunk lid, thanks to a grocery store bag boy who tried to prematurely slam it closed.

This newly acquired 96 was light blue and in fairly good shape, especially considering that someone had left it in a parking lot. It had a 841cc three-cylinder two-stroke motor and a three-speed tranny. A freewheel pedal kept the two-stroke from overrunning. My dad made a big deal about the motor having only seven moving parts. He really appreciated the Saab’s simplicity and was excited to get his new find fixed up and looking sharp.

Our junkyard list included a front left fender and some grille hardware. Since it was Thanksgiving, the mostly-Swedish car junkyard was closed, but my dad had arranged access with the owner ahead of time. Junkyards are always interesting places, and this one was no exception. We climbed around looking for the parts we needed and talking about the variety of cars rusting away on the lot. My dad educated us on which vehicles were powered by what motors and opined on the advantages and drawbacks of specific models and vintages. He told us stories of his experiences with this vehicle or that while we freed seized nuts and bolts with penetrating oil and brute force.

We got our parts, but we also got to spend what people would later call “quality time” together. When we got back home, it was time to eat. In fact, we were late, so my very patient and understanding mom was not thrilled. Maybe she knew that this was important time for her husband to spend with his children. Or maybe she was just glad to have us out of her hair while she prepared the annual feast and accepted our lateness as the price. Either way, it was a fun day at a junkyard that ended with pumpkin pie – pretty excellent stuff for a ten-year-old boy and a day that doesn’t easily fade from memory.