ESometimes cars submit to repairs, sometimes they fight back. This is the story of a long legged Saab that fought back. But we fought back harder. And, just now at least, it looks like we may have won.
The story concerns my 1989 Saab 900 T16S Aero and its boomerang mechanicals, particularly the engine and gearbox, which have been in and out of the car twice in 2013. I bought this car in 2011 because I’ve always wanted a full fat, full pressure 900. It has the full Aero body kit with obligatory whale tail and smoked out rear windows – borderline chav, but seems to rather work. I love it.
The car had covered 212,000 miles when I bought it. After a further 7,000 miles in January 2013 the gearbox began to exhibit traditional signs of Saab weakness by popping out of reverse. Great Escape’s Workshop Manager Julian Mills took the engine and box out and we sent it to a succession of gearbox specialists for repair. The trouble, we quickly realised, is that parts supply for old Saabs is virtually non-existent. The situation wasn’t helped by this Saab being from a changeover year, making sourcing parts even harder. In the end we found a reputable specialist who cobbled together a repair, although he didn’t sound too confident that it would work.
This process took until May, meaning that we were Saab-less for a long period. To enable us to fulfil hires – and give me a daily runaround – I bought a second 900 T16S, another red car with Aero kit. But sadly no whale tail and a slightly lower power specification.
The Saab the languished in the unit for a couple of months as Julian dealt with the daily demands of keeping 60 classic cars mobile for customers. Last week he got the new box back in. The 900 is a bit of a technical tour de force and the gearbox sits directly underneath the engine, which is canted to one side. This means everything has to come out to access the box. Although reverse gear was now operational it wasn’t brilliant and quite likely to fail sooner rather than later. Which it did the next day. Now we faced a problem because the Saab was due on a long hire with a Saab enthusiast from Australia who was keen to have the whale tail car. The only option was to take a risk and fit a second hand box. So it was onto EBay the same day where we found and collected a box. The second engine and box removal is underway and the car will be ready and tested well ahead of its hire.
This story highlights some of the issues facing anyone who hires out classic cars, or relies on one as a daily driver. As hirers we need to balance what cars will be popular with how easy and quickly they can be repaired when they inevitably go wrong. There is a reason, for instance, that MGBs are popular – spares supply is almost as good as a modern car. Similarly, Lamborghini Espadas may be glorious but the outlook on parts supply is less rosy. I’ve learnt the hard way what cars are easy to run as hire vehicles and which aren’t – either because they’re unreliable by nature or parts are hard to get. And yet, poor parts supply won’t stop us renting a car that we love or we think our customers will. Like the Saab. When it works – which is usually – it is a brilliant car, perhaps one of the best of the 80s. So we find a way around the parts problem, like buying a second ‘just in case’ car.
The story also highlights the advantages of having our own in-house workshop. Great Escape is one of the only classic car hire companies with full workshop facilities. This investment means that we can repair our cars quickly and more cost effectively. A job like the Saab would have been uneconomical through a third party garage and the car would doubtless have been broken for parts. The workshop also means that our Workshop Manager Julian really gets to know the fleet and can control the maintenance and servicing. If we used outside garages we would lose that knowledge of each car. For customers the workshop means we can turn around cars quickly when they go wrong and we can maintain them to a higher standard than would be possible if we were paying garage premiums.