DAY 1, AUGUST 16TH, 1996
It's closing in on midnight after day one of The Saab Summit 96 here in Kirkwood, California. The weather is beautiful and quite a relief compared to the 109 degree temperature reading when I drove through Jackson at 6PM on my way up Thursday. Once the sun goes down, it even gets cold up here. There are a number of forest fires in the area (one outside Jackson and one in Yellowstone) that are affecting the Kirkwood area. Thursday night was quite smokey, although tonight is much clearer (caught a few shooting stars).
Registration opened at 9 and we were given a nice Saab Summit tote bag, wine glass, pin, The History of Saab as seen on The History Channel video, and even a Duraguard PF53 oil filter. At 10:30 I gave one of the first two seminars which focused on Saab resources on the Internet. I was surprised that already there were enough people to pack the room. Since I can't give a 8 valve to 16 valve conversion seminar but still wanted to impart some knowledge on the attendees, my presentation started off with a 10 minute crash course on the Internet and the 'engines' behind it followed by a history of The Saab Network and what it was. After that, we used a live Internet connection to go visit The Saab Network web site and about 20 other Saab-related sites (like the Saab Cars USA site and Saab Soundings).
I went to Bud Clark's Two-Stroke seminar at 1. He talked about dreaded early detonation. It's quite a realization for me to see how much gasoline has changed over the years and the effect it has on older cars.
At 3, Satch Carlsson, Tim Winker, Diane Sargent gave a class on rallying. This was fantastic for me as I've never participated in a rally before. I'm going as a passenger in tomorrow's rally and figure this will be the hook that draws me in. I loved the explanation of DIY's (Do It Yourself Checkpoints). Satch wrote on the board, "Never tell the truth."
There was a reception at 7pm which packed the Kirkwood hall. At 11pm, a few of us were left with flashlights examining the new 900 rally car that had arrived this evening.
I think the niftiest car I saw today was a Saab 99 pickup truck (24K). It had parts from 6 different cars (the tailgate was from a 1990 Nissan).
DAY 2, AUGUST 17TH, 1996
Another long day starting with an 8AM breakfast and ending now, just after midnight. I had breakfast with Barbara and Susan Olencki (18K) (twin sisters, both over 6 feet tall, blonde, and totally in love with their cars [89 and 85 900's]). They generously offered to let me ride with them in the rally that afternoon. I was excited since I've never done one before.
After breakfast, I took in John Moss's seminar on turbos. He went through some of the basic concepts of how the turbo works and common problems. He showed us a clean turbo (cut open) versus one that had suffered a lot of coking. He took us through the various types of wastegates that have been used and finally the APC system. Meanwhile, in the adjacent conference room, the Olencki sisters were taking Tim & Diane's Rally School class that I attended the day before.
At 11 I gave the second seminar on The Saab Network and other Saab related resources on the Internet. We packed the room again and although our Internet connection dropped on us a couple of times, everything went remarkably well. We even found a new Saab dealer on the web that I hadn't seen before and left a message on webfoot.
After lunch at 2, it was time for the rally. I found Barbara and Susan, but when I approached their car, Barbara was sitting in the back seat. I said, "No way, I'm not ready to do any navigating." Barbara said we would be co-navigators and they insisted I sit up front. I walked up to the rally master car to sync my watch up with official time and was dumbfounded to find that my watch was already synced to the second. The starter was as amazed as I was. I walked back to our car and reported our good omen.
Armed with paper, pen, and calculator, we were the 36th of 56 cars out on the course. Since this was the first rally for all three of us, we participated in the Novice Class. We completed the ODO leg and found our odometer was pretty close to official at .98 of actual. We left on the first timed stage which ended with a DIY (do it yourself) checkpoint. I was furiously calculating when we were SUPPOSED to be at that checkpoint. Even though we arrived late, we put in this time (as we learned in Rally School) and took off immediately since we were late leaving for the next stage already.
In progress view out the navigator's window (22K)
Susan compensated on the next few CAST (change average speed to) instructions to try to get us on time. Each time we CAST a new speed, I went to work with the calculator. This is were Barbara saved us by calling out the markers we were supposed to find while I had my head buried in the calculator. We arrived at the end of the second stage which was another DIY and again we calculated when we were supposed to be there and put in that time. This time, we actually had 20 extra seconds to spend before we were supposed to leave on the next timed stage.
By this time, we had caught up with the Saab in front of us (they let them off 1 each minute at the start). We found instructions that had us turn left and watched as the Saab in front of us went straight. This caused a lot of confusion in our car. We were second guessing ourselves quite a bit since this was our first time. Could it be that we had made the mistake and not the Saab in front of us? We kept going however and soon ran into another Saab stopped on the side of the road. We did a 5 second comparing of notes and decided we were heading in the right direction and off we went. Susan was defintely driving above the CAST speed and I wasn't complaining. I figured the sooner we got to the next DIY, the more time I'd have to calculate when we SHOULD have been there. Big mistake! We rounded a corner and suddenly there was an unannounced manned checkpoint. To give credit to Susan, she immediately put the brakes on and began to creep as best she could. We didn't get any wave signal from the checkpoint and were able creep right up to the line.
We set off on the next timed stage and had Susan follow the CAST instructions as best she could as we knew the next checkpoint was manned. We made it there without any problems and took off on the final timed stage which ended with a DIY. Even though we got caught behind a heavy truck and later a car trailing a boat that caused us to drive significantly under the CAST instructions, we were able to calculate what our final checkpoint time was supposed to be and put that in. All this while, Barbara kept pointing out the markers that I would surely have missed while punching buttons. The funny thing is that after we got by the traffic, Susan had tried to compensate for our slower speeds and we arrived within 20 seconds of when I calculated we should have arrived anyway.
We achieved our one goal. We navigated the course without making a single mistake. We didn't care much about our time. We were happy.
After that, Susan insisted on doing the auto-cross special stage where they had set up pylons on a dirt parking lot. I rode shotgun and it was fun! She started out with a time of about 42 seconds and was able to lower it to 38.9 on her last try (13K). The winning time was 36.8 by a Saab driver who used his rented Neon on the course. The Saab Pro Rally team (15K) did the course in 34.6, I believe, but lost a CV boot/joint on the last turn and had to call it a day.
Dinner was at 7 and was punctuated by a nice speech from Eric 'On the Roof' Carlsson. They also announced the rally outcome. To our excited surprise, Barbara, Susan, and I finished 2nd place, not just in the Novice Class, but out of the entire 56 car field. Not only had I made two new and very nice friends, but we were successful rallyists. To put it simply, I'm hooked! Thanks go to Don Young, the rally master, who has been a participant on The Saab Network for some time now and who is part of the steeing committee for The Bay Area Saab Club. He created an event that was fun and pulled a good number of new people into the sport of rallying.
DAY 3, AUGUST 18TH, 1996
Today was a half day that started with breakfast at 8 followed by poster signing by the Pro Rally team, Eric Carlsson, and Peter Backstrom, curator of The Saab Car Museum. After this, the "Stump the Experts" technical session was held. I managed to win a 1/43 scale 1967 Sonett II by Somerville with a question, however, I think I stumped the panel more with my halting mechanicalese as I described a series of electronic ignition module problems and ultimate solution. Elke Martin, head of PR for Saab Cars, USA, was judging the questions and rated mine better than it might otherwise have been.
Next was the roundtable with Saab Cars USA headed up by Joel Manby, new CEO. Joel gave us some background about his experience with GM and in the retail channel with Saturn. Joel's very articulate and it's clear he has a very good grasp of the automotive marketplace. He explained that Saab needs to focus on creating a consistent 'moment of truth,' which he defined as 'any time you interact with Saab.' To accomplish this, they will try to create a more consistent channel so that there is not as much variance in satisifaction among dealers. One way to achieve this is to try to stay away from dual dealerships, in other words, have Saab dealers that sell only Saab cars. This way, the dealer has a stake in making sure you want to buy a Saab. One person asked Joel if there were plans to expand the number of dealers. Joel replied with an authoritative, "No."
Some of the other highlights of the talk, at least from my point of view, were the confirmation of a 900 Aero. Joel said, "Yes, it's in the product plans. It's going to be a great car." However, he did mention that it was not approved by the board yet. It was also revealed that Saab was going to return to Talladega for another "Long Run" again with 900's this time from Oct 16th-25th and Elke assured everyone that records set here would be leveraged to the hilt in Saab marketing and advertising.
After this ended, the remaining crowd said their goodbyes and slowly broke up to head their separate ways.
This was a way fun convention. I'm more excited about my cars than ever before and I'm really tired too. It was great to meet so many members from The Saab Network and to be able to put a face to a name. Ken Van Riper (Ken was the first person to ever send me a photo of his car), Stephen Carrellas and his wife Martha, Rob Gardner (both Stephen and Rob are founding subscribers) Tim Winker and Diane Sargent (NINES), Mark Dayan, John Steiner and his father, Bruce Berger, Dan Saaroney, Carl Nation, Bob Landry, Thom Hendricks, Darreld Olander, Jess Gibson, Suwathin Phiansunthon and his wife, Warren Marts, Robert Alimi, John Miller, Dan Hoyle, Don Young, Doug Morse (Dan, Don, and Doug worked hard to make this event as successful as it was), Bob Sinclair (former CEO of Saab Cars USA), Jack Ashcraft and Chris Hartman (The Saab Journal), and Jason (fireman19). I know I'm forgetting another dozen people, so please forgive me.
Finally, I think Saab cars USA and B&B Saab deserve a lot of credit for really backing up the Bay Area Saab Club with tremendous support for this event. I feel like there's a company in Norcross, GA that really cares about how I feel about Saabs and there's a dealer in my own backyard that may be the best in the nation.
Time for some sleep,