SAAB TOO FAR…

This is the first in number of short stories best entitled, this really did happen… 

 

LOUD KNOCK…
A loud knock on my door woke me from thoughts… It was 10.30 pm and to my shock there were two policeman…

“Mr Small, do you own a blue SAAB 900 convertible?”

“Err, yes why?”

They then told me that it was now hanging over a wall in a local car park. No, not joy riders but simply the handbrake failing and this was it’s resting place.

Where I live, we play the parking lottery every day. There is a free car park behind the main street. It is steep and despite being mostly rectangular at one end cars can park at an angle. This was where I’d left the SAAB an hour or so before…



Assessing the situation. 

I followed the Bobby’s down and there was my car. Resting on the wall it was sitting partly on the petrol tank and across the back axle. We were all amazed that it didn’t touch another car during its 60ft passage. With one wheel was about 3 ft over the wall. The damage was minimal, yet unless I was careful much more might be done moving it. The police told me that couldn’t get an Hi AB in to pick the car up. Did I have any ideas…

The Saab rolled from where the blue car is parked past the garage on the left to about where silver car is. Quite a distance and how steep the car park is clear.

Solution. 

The SAAB being front wheel drive and those wheels thankfully were on the tarmac… So, in theory I could drive it off… Mentioning this to the police, they expressed concerns about the tank rupturing. As I’d helped my banger racing mates, I knew how tough the tanks are. As it was  a pre General Motors SAAB, which meant the tank was super strong. Also, being an older design, the back axle was about 3ft from the rear of the car, or a lot to catch on the way off.

The police agreed that this was the best option. Then told me to take it gently. I sat letting the car warm up for a couple of minutes. They gave me the OK.

This was the point I dumped the clutch at 4000 rpm. I didn’t see the faces of my audience, but as the rear wheel hit the far edge of the wall the suspension compressed and then rebounded. This bounced the rear of the car up as I planned. Clearing the wall, no further damage to the car was done and with only a few scratches in the render of the wall the police told me not to worry about it. Then came the question of where to park it until I could get it fixed. The only level parking space was taken by a scruffy Triumph Spitfire, my Spitfire…

 

Afterwards

After admitting to owning it the Spitfire, I swapped the cars over and in the morning drove it less than a ¼ of mile to my local tyre and exhaust centre to get the back box replaced. Then my local SAAB Specialist fixed the handbrake. Anyone who has owned a proper SAAB knows that they are very well engineered cars, but it takes a while to learn the idiosyncrasies. So easier to get someone who knows what they are doing than to struggle for hours.

It could have been so much worse. Sadly, the one thing that could kill the car did a few years later. With an odd engine and gearbox design, this was the weak spot, and when second gear went, I drove the car to the end of its mot and then sold it to my mate the specialist.

Oddly this car, despite being well made, comfortable, more economical than expected, very stylish, and with good handling I never truly bonded with it.

Having had another front wheel drive, four-seater convertible, a MK3 VW Golf, that one I still miss. The SAAB, glad I had it, but somehow it was less than the sum of its parts.

Oh, and every time I’m in the car park, I remember and grin.
And the Spitfire has its story… Well lots, but there was one story that relates to this one that will be told.

 

Bel, MX5 Update.



Now that I’m writing again, it is time to do an update on the fleet. The first is Bel, my little MX5.  So, after 8 months…

Small. scruffy red sports car on top of a hill overlooking a wild beach Cornish beach with waves crashing in.
Bel near Porthtowan

First, I never intended to buy a sports car, but then that goes for a lot of us… In other blogs, the buying and MOT process has been covered.  Since then we have shared about 3000 miles. Some longer trips, once even getting caught in the snow and of course lots of local driving.

Bel has proven to be remarkably reliable, well to anyone used to a British sports car she would be. I can feel confident even after leaving her for a week or so she will start up. For a cheap car, one that was saved from the scrapyard, this is amazing. After checking her fluids, she is safe to drive 500 miles.  And each one will be with a smile, roof down most of the time. Cruising at the legal maximum without strain. Even a lower spec 1600 is plenty fast for the overcrowded roads of Britain. 

Here in Cornwall, on the narrow lanes, she has the right combination of speed, power, size, and grip. Every mile is a grin and when safe, even with narrow 14inch tyres she can carry a lot of speed. Her heater makes going top-down easy on the coldest of days. Yes, we did get caught on the edge of the snowfall. After my Vitara had passed her MOT in the morning, I was asked if I could do a Penzance to Newquay airport run. No problems, except I’d not checked the weather. As we went around the Hayle bypass we started to notice cars coming towards us with snow on their roofs, this did not bode well.  As we headed towards Avers roundabout near Redruth the snow on the ground started to get thicker. I made the decision to come off the A30 and either drop my friend off at the train station or go and get Tug, my little Vitara.  This being Cornwall, no one had any idea of how to drive in the conditions. Once we managed to get up the slope, I had worked out that you can drive an MX5 in the snow if you are careful. After dropping my friend off at the train station I popped the roof and tried to fight my way out of Redruth. With traffic moving slowly the technique I found was to go from grippy spot to grippy spot. sometimes resting her rear wheels on speed bumps to get a little momentum on the gentle hill. Bel seemed to be connected to my nervous system. The feedback was amazing. We managed to climb out of Redruth and carefully drop into Lanner, by the bottom of the hill the snow had cleared. If I wasn’t impressed before, I really was now. We had become a team. We were even spotted by a couple of friends, roof down…

You don’t drive an MX5, you bond, become one.

I’ll cover some of the work and the non-performance upgrades I’ve done in another post. In an earlier blog, I covered my favourite 5 cars I’ve owned. The best being the little Triumph Spitfire 1500. That spot is now shared, with Bel, my MX5.

They share the same essential essence.

And rust issues…

Mazda MX5 First Driving Impressions

 

What is an MX5 like to drive?

 

Having not had a convertible in almost 2 years and a two-seater one in almost 8 years, having the roof down is such a joy.  But, then if you have ever gone topless, you will know that.

In my first blog post, I wrote about how I was not impressed 12 years ago after borrowing an MK2 1.6 MX5 for an hour or so. This experience put me off them for a long time. A few years later I did get to drive a much later MK2 1.8 model with low profile wheels and tyres and a six-speed gearbox. Sadly, I could only drive it at 40 mph…. But it did seem a lot better.

 

After buying my MX5 (Bel) on impulse, and at the time on a purely rational basis what is she like to drive?  In one word, sublime. Write I’m done now…

 

OK, a little more, let me explain.

First, Bel is a driver’s car, she talks to the driver who wants to listen. The experience is completely immersive. Most cars, well modern ones are like driving less interesting video game, and by doing this, they make the passionate driver want to slit their wrists.  The other type of car seems only to become interesting at speeds that either mean an instant ban and you are travelling too fast for the safety of others.

 

Bel is not like that, at normal and legal speeds she is fun. I do a lot of driving on tight, narrow Cornish back lanes. Often getting close to the speed limit is far too fast. Here her poise and well-balanced steering is a joy. On faster roads, she is lovely and stable at 80 mph, at 100, very skittish. I will add that I only hit that speed for about 3 seconds before dropping back down to more legal speeds. Sorry officer.

 

They have been described as minimal when compared to modern cars they are. Compared to my much-missed Triumph Spitfire, even a basic spec MX5 is loaded with such features as no leaking roof, stereo, a handbrake that works, etc, etc… It is only a question of perspective… Not only does all that tec weight a lot, it is more to go wrong.

One such feature that is outstanding and is important for driving a convertible in the winter… Her heater is amazing, the best I’ve ever felt. Toasted feet on the coldest of days, or nights.

 

I still think that space wise they are cramped and carrying capacity is a joke, compared to my Spitfire there is hardly any at all. I would argue that some bigger touring bikes can carry more.  A little creative packaging will be required when I go away to see my mother later in the year.

Yet…  Those downsides are nothing compared to the driving experience.

What are MX5’s like to drive?

 

Amazing… They are driver’s cars.

 

 

Project MX5

I have an addiction, a lifelong one. Ever since the age of 4 months old I’ve loved cars, well old cars. Sadly, for me, modern ones just don’t hold that much interest… Except now at the age 46, yes really, how did that happen?  I find myself driving cars that at were new when I was younger.

I’m writing this as the latest product of this expensive habit is being tested for it’s first MOT in my hands.  The car in question is an 18-year-old Mazda MX 5 Isola. One of the lesser special additions of the most popular sports car ever made.  For Ford fanatics, yes, I know the Mustang has sold millions and millions.  But apart from perhaps one or two models have they ever really been a considered a sports car. A muscle car, pony car certainly but not a sports car.

Every petrolhead knows that back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s Mazda started looking at the small sports car market. They wondered if they could take the essence of the classic British sports car, front engine, rear wheel drive and joyful handling. This combined with just enough power to have fun, but not so much to become a handful. Let’s be honest just making it reliable would have been a major improvement…

This they did, and the result was the MX5 being launched in 1989 to much acclaim, with the affordable two-seater sports car was back after almost a decade. Now I should make a confession here, about 12 years ago I borrowed an MX5 to picked up a fuel pump for a friend’s MG MGB. I had the chance to drive it alone… And despite trying to like it, I just couldn’t. In fact, a month later I went and bought Triumph Spitfire 1500. A car that I loved very dearly for 5 years, but certainly was a classic British sports car with both rust and the ongoing personal development program that is such an essential part of the experience.

 

I always said that I should have bought an MX5, but never could. Until last week that is. After being asked to start a car for a friend, an MOT failure, one that she was trying to get rid of, but not get ripped off with. I duly started the car, drove it around the car park and felt that there was a good car just waiting to get back on the road.

A couple of days later I found myself handing over not that much for the car and taking it to a safe place where I could work on it. The half-mile drive was so much fun, a grin was on my face.

I’ve just driven the car far further than have since buying it (about 4 miles) to the place I always take my cars to.  The garage is firm but fair and are all petrolheads.

The heat wave has gone, it is the finest Cornish mizzle. So of course, I had the roof down as I threaded her through the winding back lanes.

From being a hater, or perhaps not fully appreciating just how much fun an MX5 can, I think I might have been converted, no pun intended.

I now await nervously for the result… How much more will I need to do to get her back on the road…

PS….

 

IT PASSED…