Legend Diver back from Switzerland service!

Finally! Sweet reunion with my beloved Longines Legend Diver. It has been away for service in Switzerland for 3 months. The fact that the service cost as a service for an Audi A6 has to be repressed I guess…I might be known for coveting Russian watches (I own 4 of them!), but my Longines is closest to my heart. The subtile retro design, the finishing – Isn’t it Beautiful?!

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Filip Ericsson

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My watch collection – Steve Zissou’s Vostok Amphibia

So my fourth Russian watch arrived today, the Zissou Vostok Amphibia, a must have in a Russian watch collection if you ask me! Yes, this is the diving tool of Captain Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) in the cult flick The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. While Owen Wilson sports a Rolex Submariner, Murray goes with a somewhat more eccentric choice. But mind you, it does the same job as the famous Swiss diver for a fraction of the price.

This Amphibia is 100 % Zissou – the 420 case, the “dotted” bezel, the black face with the boat steering wheel/anchor. But I haven’t yet found the thick rubber strap of Zissou so I strapped on a Nato/Bond one in the meantime. Not bad either and it suits the watch perfectly. Remember that Sean Connery used this (or at least similar) strap in Goldfinger, on a Rolex Submariner as well…

As all Vostoks, this Amphibia 420 carries an automatic mechanical movement made in Russia, as they have since the Amphibia diving watch was created in 1967 to supply the Soviet Navy with a proper time keeper. This means that the second hand runs as smoothly as the mentioned Rolex!

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Filip Ericsson

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My watch collection – Poljot Aviator Alarm

Poljot Aviator is a classic Russian pilot’s watch, before used by the Soviet Air Force. The Poljot factory is located in Moscow and originates from Stalin’s watch factory which opened in 1930, as the Soviets thought they needed their own watch manufacure to supply the armed forces and to compete with the Western powers.

A while ago I ordered a Poljot Aviator Alarm from an internet dealer and after one long month it finally arrived. Mine is no. 131 out of 999 units made of this exact model and the movement is mechanical and manually wound. The movement (Poljot Caliber 2612.1) originates from the 1960’s and the production ceased some years ago. The remaining quantities of this unique alarm movement were later put into new watches made in limited numbers. Also the alarm is hand-wound with the upper crown and then set at desired time, releasing a small hammer onto the steel case.

So, I had a little present at the post office recently when I got back from 3 weeks of travelling – The Aviator Alarm is now in my possession! The watch is perfect and the alarm gives away this sweet little tune, just like an old alarm clock but a lot more high pitched. The Aviator will serve as an excellent complement to my vintage Omega, my Longines Legend Diver and my three Vostok Amphibias! Enjoy pictures below.

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Filip Ericsson

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50 years of Porsche 911 – Story of an icon

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“Porsche 911” – listen to that. The expression sits like granite in the human culture, at least among the millions of people around the globe that have the least interest in cars. This year it becomes 50 and I believe it’s some sort of a duty to acknowledge the jubilee.  

The 911 has become what it seems an eternal element in Porsche’s line-up and stands for something utterly unique in the sports car offerings of the world’s manufacturers.  But the rear-engined sports car hasn’t been uncontroversial. It’s been deemed insidious, dangerous and antique to the level that Porsche has tried to kill it off on several occasions already back in the 1970s. But the attempts to replace the old model proved impossible as enthusiasts got together in an outcry that forced a continued production and development of the car.

The fact is that the 911 already from the start 50 years ago has offered qualities and abilities that have given it a perpetual place among the world’s best sports cars, despite that its base technology got 35 years old before it was replaced by an all-new 911 that saw the light of day in 1998.

The model has always functioned as an every-day vehicle all year at the same time as it has managed respectable lap-times at a racetrack for those who have been able to manage its distinctive road manners. Its superior build quality combined with excellent brakes and astonishing efficiency with a proper driver behind the wheel, have also led to great racing successes. These characteristics pigeonholed the 911 in 1963 and keep doing it today 50 years on.

The original 911 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the fall of 1963 and the car was intended as a successor to the four-cylinder, VW Beetle-based mother Porsche – the 356. Due to the higher demands on safety and ride quality at that time, the 911 became larger, heavier and considerably more comfortable than the 356. The new car kept the basic concept of the VW Type 1 with an air-cooled boxer engine in the back, but it now sported six cylinders and over-head camshafts. All technical relation to Hitler’s old people’s car was thereby lost.

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Above from the left: A 356 Coupé from the late 50s next to the very first 911, premiered in 1963.

The 911 was offered with several outputs from the start and quickly span off into several variants like the semi open-toped Targa and the four-cylinder entry-level 912. At first the flat six incorporated two liters but grew steadily through the years due to the increasing demands on more power as the years went by. At its peak, the engine offered as much as 4.0 liters.

The original 911 couldn’t have lived so long without several updates and improvements that took place over the years. The first serious update came in 1969 as the wheelbase increased for more humble road manners. This updated version is called the ”B-Series” in Porsche circles.

A more extensive facelift came in 1974, with revised bodywork, larger bumpers and a few general technical improvements. Also at this point the base engine grew to 2.7 liters. This generation is usually called the “930” and would stay in production until 1989. In 1975 the famous Turbo was introduced, a supercar that was immediately glorified with an almost supernatural aura created around it. The Turbo was a real “widowmaker”, infamous for its fickleness and its toxic road manners on the limit. Very few people in the world were said to have the ability to fully master a 911 Turbo on a race track.

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Above: A 911 SC from 1978, the base model of the time with a 3 litre Engine.

In 1983 a full Convertible was introduced, certainly a life-saver on the American market. Watch the 80’s drama Against all odds where Jeff Bridges has a hard time in his red 911 Convertible against James Woods in a black Ferrari 308 GTS, the two tangled up in a raging playboy race along the country roads in the hills around Los Angelses. In 1984 the name of the base model was changed to 911 Carrera 3.2 which included a last minor refresh of the “930” before a new (well..) 911 took over.

The 911 codenamed 964 showed up in 1989, at first in a four wheel drive version called the Carrera 4. The “normal”, rear-wheel drive Carrera 2 came the following year. The limited development budget was noticed by the fact that the 964 was no more than a substantial facelift of the 930, and not an entirely new car.  The body received more aerodynamic lines and an electrically adjustable spoiler took place on the rear hood. Additionally, the classic flat six got a twin spark set-up (just like old Alfa Romeos) and increased volume that now reached 3.6 liters. Coil springs replaced the old-fashioned torsion beams underneath. Just like before, the 964 was offered in several versions like the Coupé, Targa, Convertible and Turbo, as well as the race-bred RS and the retro, open-top Speedster.

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Above: A 964 Coupé next to a Convertible.

But the platform, sections of the body and the ancient dashboard were basically the same as before. The 911 now started to look a bit old and had difficulties to compete with modern sports cars like for instance the fabulous Honda NSX. Economic difficulties, caused by an ineffective production and an ageing line-up, made the future of the 911 unsecure once again.

These severe problems forced the conservative brand to take extraordinary measures like modernizing the production line and investing in an all-new, cheaper sports car (the Boxter), as well as in one last overhaul of the old 911 – the most extensive ever. The 993 was thus born in 1993 and meant a huge step forward regarding design as well as safety and technical refinement.

A sweeping bodywork oozing of Porsche genes, refined engine electronics and a new , multi-link rear axle, made a considerable more appealing package than the dated 964. However, much of the original body, the air-cooled engine, the standing pedals and the antique (but most charming!) dashboard remained.

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Above: The incredibly successful and pretty 993 next to its enormously Classic interior.

In 1998 this never-ending story suddenly came to an end when, finally, an all-new 911 saw the light of day, a new sports car whose technical base was shared with the mid-engined and smaller Boxter that had been unveiled a year or so earlier. Of course, the enthusiasts were worried and the classic roofline was certainly gone, just like the last of the Beetle feeling that despite all had been there somewhere to the bitter end.

The new car – the 996 – was no doubt faithful to the original concept with a flat six in the rear. But it was larger than before, received a completely new engine with air-cooling and four valves per cylinder, as well as a completely new interior with modern ergonomics. In true 911 fashion, the standard Coupé was followed by a Convertible, Turbo and Targa, and a stripped-out and driver-focused version now called the GT3. Four-wheel drive was also offered throughout the program (not in the GT3, standard in the Turbo).

The public’s worry that the 911 was now dead was a copiously wrong assumption. 996 had all the qualities that have glorified the 911 since 1963. High quality with every-day and year-around usability in combination with race track competence and sensitive driver’s controls (chassis-steering-gearbox) that truly involved the driver in the action. Everything was there. At the same time, the 911 had now become hugely more civilized, comfortable and driveable.

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Above: The all-new 996 from 1998

Compared with the 993, the harsh road manners on the limit had been honed and it was now a considerably safer car to drive at the limit. The 996 didn’t perhaps look all that exciting but no one could deny that it was still a hugely competent and usable sports car, just like a 911 has to be. Above all it became a sales success that filled Porsche’s coffers to the brink, which showed that they had put their bets on the right horse, with the 996 as well as with the Boxter.

The successor, the 997, was presented in 2004 and was a somewhat flashier figure with more classic attributes and obvious Porsche curves in its design. The 997 was not an entirely new car but an extensive facelift of the 996. The interior on the other hand was all-new with a strict layout that better echoed the image of the conservative German quality sports car.

997 continued the success that had commenced with the 996 and remained a benchmark to others to reach up to during its whole lifespan. But as the competition hardened from the likes of the wonderfully balanced Audi R8, the bar was raised and the 997 could later feel a tad “analogue” and traditional. For instance this was illuminated in a duel between the race-bred 911 GT3 RS and a Ferrari 458 Italia in a British magazine a few years ago.

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Above the very succesful 997, a significantly updated 996 with a new more classic shape, new interior and refined technology.

The technical revolution at Ferrari and Porsche’s nearly maniacal strife for perfection of its products, at last led to the birth of the seventh 911 generation – the 991. Actually it was only the third all-new 911 since 1963!

991 was premiered at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2011, and not surprisingly the new car got a bit larger and more powerful, but also lighter and more fuel-efficient than the car it replaced.  The 997 had offered great proportions with good amounts of original archetypal Porsche in its lines. Those sensually curvaceous but also powerful shapes were replaced by a more out-stretched and coolly elegant posture than before. It is foremost the longer wheelbase that has changed the stance of the classic 911 shape.

But at a quick glance it still looks like nothing but a classic 911 which probably makes everyone except true Porsche fans to wonder what all the fuzz is about. But the fact that the 991 looks exactly like a Porsche 911 is surely exactly how the buyers want it.

So the new 991 has grown, but ambitious dieting with lots of aluminium has lowered the weight with as much as 50 kilos. The engine in the base version (Carrera) is basically the same unit as in the current Cayman S and therefore sports 3.4 litres and gives a healthy 350 ps, while the Carrera S uses the unit from the 997 which means 3.8 litres and 400 ps. Both are direct injected. The seven (!) speed manual is new and the already established seven-speed double clutch box (PDK) is optional. Thankfully, the slow-witted Tiptronic automatic is long gone!

The engines are not entirely new then, but modified to save fuel and diminish pollution. To achieve this Porsche has added a start/stop system and improved the aerodynamics of the body. Despite these measurements the 991 is faster than its predecessor, and I guess no one had expected anything else from a company like Porsche. Certainly the lap time around German Nürburg Ring has been improved and the new active “anti-sway bars” ought to be part of the explanation.

The interior is brand new and strongly inspired by the Panamera luxury sedan with its characteristic, sloping dash. The quality impression has been heightened at least two steps and there is still a strong Porsche taste to it all.

Expectedly, the 991 has spun off into more variants like the 4WD Carrera 4, a Convertible, a stripped-out GT3, a new Turbo and a Targa, and now we´re waiting for the top-end, mental GT2.

So the 911 is as strong as ever and still it can manage to function as an all-rounder like no other sports car. The eternal Porsche thus keeps its distinctiveness in the world of sports cars. How sweet that something is constant in our crazy world!

Filip Ericsson

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The sweetest engine notes in the world – Top three!

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The citizens of the earth have adored fast cars ever since the automobile was invented. I suspect that an important part of this universal passion is the sound of the engines, where men across the globe have gathered in garages and shared some serious male-bonding moments as the heart of a cool car has come to life.

Undeniably many cars produce an engine note that is pure music to our ears. The hard part is to choose the prettiest one! But a few actually pop up in my head spontaneously, and I’m delighted every time these multi-cylinder symphonies echo somewhere in the back of my mind.

Ferrari 400i

Many probably think of Ferrari and the brand can hardly be left out in an engine note discussion. But I’m not thinking about the modern day, insanely revving Ferrari V8s that drone like angry bees, or the contemporary V12s that only purr softly at idle. No, I’m thinking of the exceptionally vocal soundtrack of the Ferraris of the old days. I actually advocate all twelve-cylinder Ferrari models during the “Colombo-engine” era that prevailed for forty years, from the birth of the marque in the 1940s and on.

Ferrari’s first engine, a 1.5 litre V12 with single overhead camshafts, was designed in 1947 by a Gioacchino Colombo, previously engineer and designer at Alfa Romeo. The Colombo engine instantly became a crucial part of the Ferrari myth, which was entirely a result of the many victories in prestigious races across Europe in the following years.

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Ferrari 400i

The successful Colombo engine design was used in front-engined Ferraris until the unloved GT car 412 at last threw in the towel in 1990. The soundtrack of every Ferrari that ever held this iconic machine was nothing but divine. It’s irascible, “tinny” and high-frequent. At the same time it’s deep and as full-bodied as a cream cake. Finally it contains a musicality I believe no other car engine has ever matched, perhaps with some competition from contemporary Lamborghinis!

In the movie Rainman from 1988, Tom Cruise drives around in a Ferrari 400i, an earlier variant of the above mentioned, four-seated GT whose customers Enzo Ferrari actually called losers (!). The hollow, racing-derived snarl immediately caught my child’s ears and this veritable symphony still echoes inside my head.

Aston Martin V8

Another favourite engine soundtrack originates from Aston Martin’s hand-built GT cars when they were equipped with the equally handmade aluminium V8 that stayed in production for more than 30 years, 1969-2000. The machine, a high-revving creation with double overhead camshafts, was designed by Polish engineer Tadek Marek and premiered in the DBS, a new, avant-garde GT car replacing the ageing DB6 in 1967. If the citizens of the western world had missed the DBS, they were likely reminded of it if they ever watched the cult series The Persuaders in which Roger Moore carelessly thrusts a golden DBS V8 on the curvy roads surrounding Monte Carlo.

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Above from the left: James Bond starred by Timothy Dalton driving his company car, an Aston Martin V8 Volante with manual gearbox. To the right a V8 Saloon that Aston called their coupés at the time, in the late eighties.

The lovely notes that discharge from the exhaust pipes of an Aston V8 didn’t however catch my attention until I (as a small boy) happened to watch the 1987 Bond flick The Living Daylights. In one scene, James Bond (this time portrayed by Timothy Dalton) casually turns up in a dark green Aston Martin V8 Volante at a castle occupied by the British Secret Service. Following the compulsory ID check he throws in first gear of the harsh ZF ‘box and revs the potent V8 enough to give a high-pitched, deep and wonderful musical growl that tickled far down my spine.

But the party doesn’t stop there. On to the Volante is welded a roof under strict supervision of the perpetual technical wizard “Q”. The awfully expensive convertible is thus transformed into a “standard” V8 Saloon that later is chased by Czechoslovakian police driving Vaz 2101. It’s a true pleasure to watch the discrete but powerful aluminium suit slide through the snow, of course accompanied by the rasping, trimmed thunder from under the bonnet.

Maserati GranTurismo/Quattroporte

Number three on my list must go to Maserati’s V8-powered cars, models that saw the light of day in 1990 with the ultra-fast sports car Shamal. The engine was a pure Maserati design of 3.2 litres helped by four overhead camshafts and twin turbo chargers. It was replaced in 2002 by a Ferrari-developed, naturally aspirated 4.2 (and later 4.7) litre machine.

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Above from the left: The stunning sports saloon Maserati Quattroporte in its previous generation. To the right the beautiful V8 engine, here in its firtst and turbo-charged, 3.2 litre version. The QP to the left, however, embraces a later, Ferrari-developed 4.2 litre unit without turbo-charging, but still more power! Today, some models have gained brand new Bi-turbo engines, also developed by Ferrari.

These pure pieces of art sit in cars that directly compete with the German sports and luxury car offerings, but the Germans don’t come near the tunes produced by the Italian machines. My best Maserati memory comes from Hong Kong where I happened to spend a few months a few years ago.

It all went down during my daily power walk up the famous Victoria Peak Mountain on Hong Kong Island. And it wasn’t the exercise that had the major positive impact on my health, but the drama and sound offered by the noblest breeds that rolled up the hill with a soothing continuity. The Maseratis were the ones sounding the absolute best, undeniably sweeter than the somewhat too civilized modern Ferrari V12s that thankfully also frequented these roads. Up the steep road struggled shapely Quattroportes and stunning GranTurismos, the whole scene surrounded by the trimmed music that revealed every single full-bred gene.    

Filip Ericsson

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The Saabs of my childhood and beyond

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I was born in a Sweden of the 1970s, and that means to a world that looked really different from what it looks like today. It was “Folkhem” (“people’s home”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folkhemmet) and Cold War and Sweden had become rich on heavy industry. Words like social exclusion, integration, globalization and Euro were not yet invented. The information society with broadband, apps and smart phones still lay far in the future. Instead, we watched Roger Moore Bond movies on VHS and were amazed with the Commodore 64s of our friends.

Some of my first memories in life originate from the early 1980s and I clearly remember a safe and swell childhood in a small industrial town where most of the Swedish military weaponry was manufactured in order to defend our mixed economy democracy from the Soviet threat.

I got interested in cars as soon as I learned to walk and therefore the cars of my childhood are forever welded into my brain. Those were the days when Saab and Volvo were Swedish for real, the times when BMW was a relative rarity on Swedish roads, when Mercedes had better quality than other cars and when people in general thought that Japanese cars were programmed to last for no more than 60 000 miles. Those were also the good old days when you had to really drive your car without all that electronic safety equipment to interfere.

Believe it or not, but in those days most Swedish car owners either drove a Saab or a Volvo. These cars were actually our Fords and Chevrolets and not the premium anachronisms of the export markets. In Sweden there were the Saab people and the Volvo people and they were different personality types that seldom crossed the line and swapped brands. My family belonged to the Saab people and we’ve never owned any Volvos (except for a short period of Volvo 244 ownership on my part!). So here are the Saabs of my childhood, and beyond:

Saab 99 EMS (1974)

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Above: A seven year old me during the yearly Easter trip to the mountains close to the Norwegian border. The year should be 1983 or a little earlier. In the background mom’s and dad’s sporty Saab 99 EMS from 1974, properly soaked in the obligatory Swedish winter road slush. Fuel injection and 110 PS, four-cog ‘box and a promised top speed of 170 km/h. In the background another typical Swedish family car, a white Volvo 145!

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Above: Road trip to England in the summer of 1983; what a nostalgic and time specific picture! Our 99 EMS again. I’m the one sitting in the sporty passenger seat of vinyl and brown cloth. And note the cool alloy wheels! The side stripe is the last detail that encircles a sporty Saab. The accompanying family’s forest green Volkswagen Passat from the early eighties can be glimpsed further back. A highly ordinary car but wasn’t it a bit lower and more slender than later Passats?

Saab 99 GL (1983)

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Above: Eternal summer at my family home in Karlskoga. Is that an unsuspecting bumble bee I’m aiming at? Beautifully blurry back there is a Saab 99 GL from 1983, the final edition of the old 99 series. Carburettor engine with 100 PS; it was the only option in the final years of the Saab 99. Apparently, dad seems to conduct some kind of service or perhaps he’s just tidying an already tidy car. The senior citizen feel is kept away with a sporty two-door body, black trim and door knobs, potently wide tires and a non-standard three spoke sports steering wheel. “5 Speed” is printed on the boot lid – In the 1980s oil crisis, Saab took the fuel consumption race seriously!

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Above: A clearer photo of our Saab 99 GL, a true entry level car being the cheapest new Saab on sale in 1983. A 15 year old design at the time, it was not a modern car, even though it was constantly modernized through the years. This late 99 was a quality item; simple and reliable but also a heavy drive in town with a reluctant gearbox, lack of power steering and a somewhat stubborn carburettor engine. The photo indicates a typical weekend drive to the woods for a mini hike, and what could be better for that activity than a Saab 99?!

Saab 99 GL (1983)

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Above: No, this is not the same car as the red 1983 99 GL further up. This red 1983 99 GL used to belong to my grandpa! The difference is clear if you notice the four doors and the more conservative chrome trim. Following grandpa’s passing his car was taken over by my cousin who later sold it to my brother in the summer of 2000. This picture (from the following summer) shows that my brother had taken good care of it!

 Saab 96 V4 (1973) 

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Above: Commute cars came and went during the years. In the background, behind my brother’s daring exercises, one can spot the sharp profile of a “half pear”, a Saab 96 V4 from the first half of the 1970s in a somewhat tatty condition. The photo should be from the mid eighties and it is early spring as it seems. At least, the girl from next door seems to be impressed.

Saab 900 GL (1980)

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Above: My uncle’s and aunt’s painfully handsome Saab 900 GL, the second model year of the classic 900, and painted in a gorgeous green metallic. So Saabs were the mode of transportation for my larger family as well. The environment is Swedish far north, exotic even by my (Swedish) standards. The sporty elegance of the three-door body completes the perfect picture!

Saab 9000i (1986)

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Above: Same uncle, same aunt visiting us in mid-Sweden (it’s a 1200 km drive!), but this time with their new 1986 Saab 9000i. We were amazed by the tremendously modern creation; the 9000 was so roomy and refined! Just like many American cars, it was draped in red velvet and that swoopy dashboard blew our minds. The 9000 was certainly an astronomic step forward even though it lacked the quirky charm of the classic 900. My uncle’s 9000i was the entry level version that was introduced a year after the famous Turbo. It was actually a condition for the model to become a best seller in Sweden (in contrary to the US where most Saabs were fully loaded and turbo equipped). The introduction of the base model soon led to that every other Swedish family would drive around in a Saab 9000, and still today they are fairly common on the Swedish roads!

Saab 96 (1964)

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Above: My first car, and what a car! It was mid-1990s, I was in my twenties and my cousin’s renowned royal blue two-stroke Saab 96 from 1964 was up for sale. The car was beautiful and driveable and cheap so I just couldn’t avoid buying it, could I? This crisp photo displays a youthful summer of 1996, or perhaps 1997, at my family home. Washing Ann was certainly a pleasure, letting the sponge glide over her curvaceous body (even though I seem to use a brush at this particular occasion).

Ann was a celebration to drive, with perfect balance, sweet steering, a gearbox with a nice mechanical feel and a rich three-pot soundtrack not second to a Maserati. Its 38 PS, though, didn’t make it as fast as one! I shouldn’t have sold her, but being a poor student who couldn’t take care of her properly, I chose to after only two years of wonderful ownership. I hope that one day I can buy her back.

Saab 900c (1988)

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Above: It was just a matter of time for me, I guess, before getting a classic Saab 900. The obvious Swedish family carrier in the 1980s, besides the Volvo 240, and at the same time a natural choice for the North American university professor draped in corduroy. The 900 was really different from other family cars, but for us Swedes it became the normality and we quickly forgot what a special vehicle it actually was. The 900 offered many qualities that made it a great family car and viewing the picture of my white Saab 900c from 1988, we can conclude that it also looks really good!

I got it for just over 1000 USD in the spring of 2005 to enjoy a cheap and fun car for the summer. It’s the face-lifted version that came with the -87 model year, the lower front-end being the clearest clue. The “c” indicates a carburettor instead of the more common fuel injection, specifying the base model. As you can see it was the three-door hatch version and equipped with the turbo model’s attractive alloys, making it a really pretty car. Also, despite the rather slow 100 PS engine, it was a feast to drive fast on curvy back roads thanks to a stiff chassis and sweet steering. I shouldn’t tell you this but I actually lost my license in it (got it back after two months)!

Saab 9000 CD 2.0i (1994)

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Above: Another Saab, another summer ride but still a very different thing. The Saab 9000 was the brand’s first large executive car. It sported a brand new chassis with transversally mounted engine (shared with Fiat/Alfa/Lancia), modern bodywork that made it much roomier and more aerodynamic, and Saab’s modern 16 valve four pot with double overhead camshafts. As you can see, my 9000 was the more conservative four-door sedan, the 9000 CD, and in entry level 2.0i form. This means no turbo and 130 PS, making a not so fast but a quiet and cultivated ride to enjoy on long journeys. Roomy, safe and comfortable and nothing beats those great seats!

Due to an upcoming long-term trip abroad I chose to sell also this Saab, but I don’t really miss it, not in the same way as I miss the 96 or 900. The 9000 just isn’t as much “Saab” as they are. Sure, it’s a better and more modern car, but at the same time it’s less quirky and a flatter design. So isn’t it time for the resurrected Saab to develop a new 9-3 in the same spirit as the classic 900? Former Saab chief designer Jason Castriota has a finished design, so why don’t they use it!?

Filip Ericsson

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Mazda Miata 25 Years!

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The Japanese offensive in the automotive industry had started already during the seventies and reached hurricane strength during the eighties. Everyone was afraid of the Japanese in a similar way that we are scared of the Chinese today, and with horror in their eyes western citizens started talking about supernatural robot quality. Survival strategy was set in and rumours started to circulate that Japanese cars were programmed to last for 60.000 miles and not an inch more. Of course, this was complete rubbish.

By the end of the eighties the infiltration had reached a step further. The Japanese manufacturers were no longer satisfied with conquering the compact car segments and instead started eying the luxury and sports car segments. And they did it with ferocity.

Two of the wonders came from Honda (with the razor-sharp supercar NSX) and Toyota with its magical Lexus LS400. The third came from Mazda that came to reinvent the classic sports car, a genre that the British first created about a century ago. We’re talking about the simple, open-top two-seater sports tool that ordinary folks could afford, and names like Triumph TR2, MG Midget, MGB and Alfa Spider spontaneously pop up in one’s head. In February of 1989 at the motor show in Chicago, the new Japanese wonder child was shown to the world.

Mazda’s sports car project began in 1976 as American automotive journalist Bob Hall met with a top Mazda Executive and presented the idea of a new sports car in the same league as the classic British sports cars, a segment that at the time had almost vanished. Mazda finally embraced the idea and quickly produced several concept designs, where a tiny, rear-wheel drive roadster was the winning bet. It had two seats, a modest front-mounted, four-cylinder engine and a design that was shamelessly inspired by the Lotus Elan of the 1960s.

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The response in Chicago was enormous. The Miata had actually nothing that in itself was technically revolutionary, but the cute little car was somehow larger than the sum of its parts. A Miata wave with epicentre in the US started rolling all over the world and suddenly everyone wanted one. At launch, the retail price in the US was within the reach for everyone with a pay check, but despite the simple specifications and the tiny price tag there was definitely something special about the Miata, a notion that was proven by the fact that many of the picky automotive journalists around the world got their own Miata.

The Miata culture grew with clubs and accessory lists long as wedding dresses, and Miata drivers started waving to each-other when they met on the road. The feeling behind the wheel was fantastic and that is obvious as soon as you take a seat in one. You sit low, far back and overview a wonderfully simple and straightforward sports car interior with classical instruments and no luxury as far as you could see.

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The most dazzling thing however, was that wrist-sized gear change that was perfectly placed for the driver’s hand to naturally land on, a tiny but vastly conscious detail that added heaps to the Miata character and that still lacks parallel among cars. According to the chief engineer of the project, the objective had been to get the gear lever to feel like a mixture of the springiness of an old BMW 733i and the metallic sense of a Jaguar E-Type 1967! And the gear change really does run with a metallic “click” that is as unique as it is pure medicine for your soul. It just can’t get better.

The mechanics were otherwise simple and straightforward but also outmost refined. A band new, light and stiff monocoque chassis with double wishbones all around was developed solely for the Miata. Thereby, the car didn’t have to share the underpinnings with a simple, front-wheel drive standard car like too many other sports car efforts in the past.

The front-mounted engine came from the shelf, however; a 1.6 litre four with double overhead camshafts that produced a rather mild output of 116 ps. As the car weighed in at around the ton it was fast enough, but the speed wasn’t really the thing with the Miata. It was the experience of speed, the balance and the deliciously direct feel of the driver controls.

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The engine was a perfect fit for the car; it revved easily and was refined in the typical Japanese way. Above all it gave an irresistible snarl from the specially tuned exhaust pipe. I once read about Miata owners in the US that preferred to go into tunnels just to enhance that great soundtrack!

The chassis balance, finally, was as delicate as the rest of the car, with perfect weight distribution that resulted in a tremendous flow through the bends also on a race track. It was remarkably easy to steer with the throttle and the Miata consequently became very popular in amateur racing. Despite this, however, the car offered a quite comfortable ride suitable for everyday use.

One thinks that Miata as a mania should have died out but it was actually the other way around. It paved way to a roadster wave that still lives on, and what would BMW, Mercedes or Porsche be today without their open two-seater offerings, the Z4, SLK and Boxter? They actually exist thanks to Bob Hall’s 1976 visit to Mazda and the Miata is therefore perhaps the clearest shining star of the nineties.

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Above: To the left the Miata in its second generation (1998-05). To the right the third and current generation (2006-) that has kept the soul of the Miata to the full, or has it?

In 1997, after eight remarkably successful years in production, the second generation took over. It was based on the old car but more grown up in terms of refinement. Make no mistake, the Miata values were still intact, the new car still being a tremendously fun, “direct” and affordable drive. In 2006 the third and current generation was revealed and it has kept the typical design philosophy and has thus continued to be the simple, light and affordable sports car like a Miata always must be.

It is now rumoured that Mazda has even higher ambitions for the next generation, that the next Miata will be even lighter than the current car and also more “back to basics” in its design. Moreover, the new car is presently being co-developed with Alfa Romeo that finally is about to reinvent its classical Spider. This fact is boding well for the future considering the greatness of the hyper-light 4C that has started to roll off the assembly line in Italy. Finer sports car times are thus awaiting!

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Filip Ericsson

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