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Thoughts:  My Swedish Blonde, by Richard Clark

There I was first in the queue at Gothenburg Docks with some mad Swede jabbering away at me like the chef on the Muppet Show, waving me onto the North Sea Ferry. Didn�t he realise I had no idea where to go or what he was saying. Still I suppose sitting in a left hand drive, Swedish plated Saab he must have thought I was a native and not a mad Englishman driving his newly purchased dream blonde home.
But I�m in danger of telling the tale from the wrong end. Why on earth did I want an old Saab and what events had taken place to get me to this final part of the journey.
It started years ago; my Father was a graphic artist and had been responsible for the design of a few car badges (the script �one point five� badge on the early 60�s Riley was from his fair hand). His advertising Agency was involved in putting Saab on the map here in the UK. We had a Mini at the time � Dad did a bit of rallying and Auto tests and I had been mad about Motor Sport more or less from birth.
One night he turned up at home with the most shapely car I had ever seen, a mid blue 96  2 stroke (9985HX) which was one of the press cars in the UK at the time. I remember it clearly, although it was dark outside, the car sitting under a street lamp. The boot was big enough for me to climb in and lie down (much more fun than the mini) and when Dad started the engine I was hooked, such a sweet note � different from any small road car I had known, but remenicsent of all the wonderful straight sixes I drooled over at Goodwood and Crystal Palace, Maserati 250F�s Ferrari 250 SWB, Aston Martins and 3.8 MkII Coombes Jags.
Over a weekend and the following week we took photos of the car all over South London, notably in Richmond Park down by Penn Ponds. The high spot of that time for me was a trip to Brands Hatch where Eric Carlson gave the Minis (buzz bombs) a good thrashing, the 96 cocking it�s inside wheel in the air as he went full bore through Paddock Bend and up Druids Hill. I met Eric and Co later in the pressroom.  Of such things dreams are made.
Well that was it � the car had to be given back and we went back to Minis, Morris 1100�s and Ford Cortinas and other mundane stuff. The Saab made a significant impact on me yet it took a full 30 years to come full circle when I would own my own.
There was one brief interlude when a friend of my elder brother turned up at our house from University with a Shortnose � it must have been around �69 or �70 just before I got my Drivers License � the memories of 7-8 years previous came flooding back and I knew one day I�d have to have one.
My misspent youth and early twenties had me roaring about in Hairy Anglias with big 1650 pushrod and V4 2000 engines shoehorned under the bonnet. I even helped one friend fit an Essex 3 litre V6 into an Anglia. It went like a rocket until you got to the corners when it went straight on with major understeer due to the weight up front Sanity and the start of my family brought a boring Morris Marina but I managed to do some Autocross and Circuit work with the Anglia before it finally had to go. However every time I saw a Saab 96 I had to follow it for a while, my wife luckily understood my obsession.
I first went seriously looking 12 years ago, scanning the Classic Car magazines, adverts for Shortnoses were rare, I saw a dark blue basket case in South East London, too far gone for me, all the suspension pick up points plated, holes everywhere, I drove to Southend to look at a car described as a �64 which turned out to be a Longnose �65.  Real cars - but not for me.
Inevitably the family and job took over. I joined Volvo Car UK and moved out into the country as an Area Service Manager, bought a Mini Cooper and sold it on with no regrets.   I was promoted into Volvo Head office at Marlow, only two buildings away from Saab GB, a friend of mine new of my interest in 96�s and told me that he�d seen a Carlson Replica rally car outside the Saab Building.  Grasping the nettle I walked into the Saab reception one lunchtime and asked to see the man with the 2 stroke Saab.

Chris Partington came out to meet me and we discovered our jobs for our respective Swedish car manufacturers were almost identical.  We had lunch another time, chatted about business, but mostly about old Saabs and he showed me over his rally car, as a parting shot I asked him to let me know if he ever heard of a shortnose for sale anywhere.
All went quiet again and then a call from Chris � would I be interested in a Swedish car? � described as being very original with a good interior � was I interested? I nearly flipped.  Chris said he would try and get some further details, they came as a copy registration doc and three photos showing a nice Polar White Shortnose, was I interested � Oh yes indeed. My Swedish Blonde was becoming a possibility, would she live up to my dreams?
It took a lot of organising � some great telephone calls to Ingmar, the owner in Sweden timing things to coincide with a business trip to Volvo in Gothenburg.  Finally the flight to Sweden, Insurance and Green Card organised (�just in case I bought her!�) traveller�s cheques, -lots of traveller�s cheques - a ferry booking from Gothenburg to Harwich sailing on Saturday night taking 23 hrs to cross the North Sea. Conversations with Customs and Excise on what to do on return. Everything that could be done was done.
My week�s business in the Volvo Plant at Torslanda was a great success and my host left me at my hotel at 4.30pm on Friday afternoon. I have never known time to pass so slowly. I phoned Ingmar to see if everything was ok, he was trailering the car from Koping half way to Stockholm using a friends trailer. He had one problem the battery was u/s and they couldn�t get a correct replacement, the small Italian style terminals had to be modified and he would get to Gothenburg docks as some time Saturday afternoon. Then the next problem, the car had hardly run over the last 3 or 4 years, he knew I was planning to drive across England and was concerned about reliability so a test drive before purchase might be a problem��� I said I�d push it home if I had to.  Then the next bombshell, driving with no tax is a serious offence in Sweden, I would have to take the risks myself.  Finally it would be too difficult to drive into downtown Gothenburg and collect me from the Hotel as planned I would have to meet in the docks at the ferry terminal.
So I phoned my Volvo host, yes, he was free on Saturday afternoon. If I stood him lunch he would get the mad Englishman to the Ferry Terminal, by the way did I know he had served his apprenticeship at Saab on strokers.  Yes, he would help me through the road test, yes, he would help with the purchase, he would wave goodbye to the boat with a handkerchief in his hand if required.  The Swedish race may be considered reserved or even dull, (I never thought so, they sing just the same as the rest of us after a few aqua-vits) but ask them for help and they respond admirably.
The final drive into the port was wonderful � rounding the bend to the terminal my Swedish Blonde off the trailer and ready for anything.  She fired up instantly and I drove round the docks, dodging the tramlines,
using all the service roads, no police in sight. All the planning finally coming to fruition. We haggled about the price over a beer (only one as it�s �4.50 per half litre in Sweden) A few problems pointed out on the car get the price just right � we shake hands transfer documents and receipts and wave goodbye. Profuse thanks to my host and another farewell.
Well it was all downhill now. I�m first in the queue with still two hours to wait, my boarding pass in the window of my Saab says �Commodore Class� whatever that is.  And now we�re where we started with that Swedish Chef character frantically waving at me. Commodore class is first class, first in the queue, first on the boat.  Well here goes, fire her up, blue smoke every where, up the ramp into the stern, up to the bow and back towards the stern, lots of admiring looks from the other passengers.  I stayed with my new Blonde to ensure no one dragged any bags across the paintwork.  Finally up to my cabin for the 23 hour trip.  There�s absolutely nothing to do on the boat apart from eat and drink and look out at the grey sea � how people enjoy cruises I shall never understand. The Swedish food is first class so a few calories are taken on during the trip.
It�s dark when we get to England � a final check round the cabin � down to the car guarding the bodywork again � more admiring looks and questions.  Yes, I have brought her to England, yes, I love old Saabs, doesn�t everyone in Sweden? It appears they do.
Then down the ramp, keeping her running. It�s the fifth or sixth startup with little or no running in between, hope the new battery holds out.  Into the Customs Hall, declaring the Import, getting the necessary documents or you can�t get an English registration. Paying the TAX !!!!!  Finally at about 8.30 pm on a cold November night in damp old England I am nursing my Swedish Blonde down the A12 experiencing for the first time in a long time how horrendous crossply tyres are. Noisy, multi-directional, weaving in and out of the depressions left in the road by the masses of 32 tonners which use the A12 from London to Harwich and back.
This dream is really happening, the car is running beautifully for the first time in quite a few years. Some of the modern manufacturers could learn a bit about reliability.
Finally after a couple of hundred miles I�m cuddling my English Brunette with my Swedish Blonde tucked up in the garage, ready for anything.
That was November 1991, nearly ten years ago, both the Blonde and the Brunette are wearing well, I�m not saying which gives me more pleasure
Richard Clark
Oxfordshire, England

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Last modified: January 10, 2023