Anne Elk’s theory on the SAAB 9-3

The Monty Python sketch “Anne Elk’s Theory on Brontosauruses” first appeared in a TV episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in November 1972. A month later it was released on vinyl record (“Monty Python’s Previous Record”) but this time the sketch ended with “A. Elk. Brackets Miss, brackets” being shot on the verge of another theory.

Click here to hear Anne Elk’s theory

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Anne took a long time to reveal her theory and state it was hers.. but in the end it was a pretty obvious line of thinking. However, Anne’s theory lives on: it’s used by the American Psychological Association style guide to show how to reference an article.

Click here to see Anne Elk get the recognition she craved

The Swedish automaker SAAB ended up having a lot in common with Anne. It was born in 1945, just a few years after Anne’s alter-ego John Cleese. Both had experience with the elk family: in SAAB’s case, it was for the famous “elk test”, where a car has to veer around an imaginary elk at up to 80 km/h. And both came to a stuttering end, just as they were about to unveil something new. SAAB production officially ended in 2011, as there was the promise of a new “Phoenix” model.

I’d seen the famous SAAB versus a jet TV ads in the 80s, playing on SAAB’s aviation heritage, plus Jerry Seinfeld’s SAAB 900s Cabrio, but my in-the-flesh introduction to SAABs came in the early noughties, when I bought a used 90s SAAB 9000 CS for my wife to drive around, because I had taken back my SEAT Ibiza from her.

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A similar SAAB 9000 CS. Pic OSX [Public domain]

I found the SAAB in a corner of a caryard, cheaply priced (SAABs and depreciation, see below!) for its seemingly-safe length and bulk of thick metal. But terrible tyres on it (imported used ones, I think) meant that in the wet, this long hatchback was scary to drive (once I heard the ABS kick in, approaching a wet roundabout). New tyres couldn’t shake our fears, and once the air conditioning gave up, we traded it in on a Renault Scenic.

Then in mid-2017, a year or so after selling the “family truckster” Hyundai Trajet, my wife was growing tired of driving my “spare” manual Citroen, so we started scanning online ads. We were coming back from a disappointing Gold Coast journey to check out a Honda and a Volkswagen, when I said we could stop and inspect a SAAB 9-3 at Eagle Farm, right by the Gateway. I got some pushback, and stories of that “other” SAAB, before I said we should inspect it anyway – we were going right past.

So, we met the owner of the 2006 SAAB 9-3 turbo 2-litre automatic, and my wife test drove it for just a few hundred metres, before announcing it was a great drive, and she wanted to buy it. So, for $5,100 we had an 11-year-old car that had cost $54,000 new! It’s been a great drive: the smooth turbo boost is quite addictive, as is the sunroof.

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So our love of SAABs was reignited. Everything from its ignition key between the front leather seats, next to the handbrake and shifter (aviation-inspired, but also to save your knees from hitting the keys in a crash), to the “freewheeling” sensation of the turbo (on a flat road with no push of the pedal, it wants to keep going).

I kept an eye out for any SAAB bargains, and I found one on the Sunshine Coast for about $900. It was silver, had a minor back door dent and less turbo pressure than my wife’s 9-3. It was badged as a 1.8, but both have the same 2-litre engine – just with different turbo outputs.

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I test drove it, and it was pretty much the same driving experience as our own SAAB. It had renewed air conditioning, however it needed oil leaks and the driver’s seat adjustment fixed, so I went home to think about it. A couple of weeks later, the price dropped and got my attention.. and after some bargaining I got my unregistered SAAB for $700, delivered.

The driver’s seat height adjuster just needed a screw tightened, but the oil leaks were coming from everywhere! My mechanic replaced the tappet cover seal, the oil pan gasket and a brake vacuum pump seal, before the leaks continued and his attention turned to the timing cover seal.

He removed it, to see that 2 plastic timing chain guides had snapped, and the chain itself was rubbing a tensioner. Usually, there is a rattling noise when the timing chain has trouble, but this SAAB had shown no symptoms.

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Under the timing cover

My SAAB was in my wife’s garage spot, so we couldn’t wait for spares to be sent from overseas. I had to buy these expensive bits of plastic, an equally expensive tensioner, and even more rubber seals from a northside SAAB expert.

With all four brake rotors replaced as well, repairs had cost me a lot – but the SAAB got its roadworthy and was put back on the road. While I drove it, I took the time to lubricate the sunroof to make it better behaved, plus fix its fold-out cupholder in the dashboard, after some intensive Googling on how it works.

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Cupholder: fixed

After I’d had my fun with the turbo boost and sunroof, I put the SAAB up for sale. The price wasn’t low, as I had spent so much on fixing it up. After a couple of insulting offers and an invitation from the SAAB Club to join a run, I had a local buyer asking about it.

The young lady had been intending to buy a car in Brisbane, but the seller was rude to her on the phone. So, she looked again locally – and found my car. She drove it briefly through a shopping centre carpark, then went away to think about it. With another buyer asking about the SAAB, I let her know as a courtesy.. and she said she would buy it.

I broke even – just.

SAAB cars have now gone the way of dinosaurs like Anne Elk’s brontosaurus. And just like her theory on them, money on SAABs can be small at first, much much bigger in the middle, and then small again at the end.

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