The Saab Spirit Lives On in our minds and in our hearts. As Saab fans, and with many of us having jumped the border to Saab crazies, there’s no doubting the truth of that statement.

At the Simeone Foundation Museum on the evening of February 22nd we saw that spirit on full display.

Dr. Simeone’s museum is unique, and special, for several reasons that are important. He will talk at length about the preservation aspect, where he espouses the importance of NOT restoring a car because it erases so much history. He will explain his theme, kept pure all through his years of collecting, of “sports racing cars”. For me though, the aspect I applaud the most is something else.

↑ 1964 Cobra Daytona Coupe

As a car enthusiast I have always been saddened by automotive museums. In their most common guise, they show the cars as a collection that has been gathered, cleaned, drained of fluids, and put under a spotlight with a placard. Done, please buy a ticket.

To me this “kills” the car. Their engines will never be heard again and never again will sunlight dance along their flanks.

You have heard cars referred to as works of art, and you will get no argument from me there. But have you not also read descriptions of their animalistic behaviors? What about the passions they stir and emotions they invoke when driven? Perhaps you’ve felt the sounds they make like music and understood the engineers as composers?

Of course, we all have. So then why not make the automotive museum more like a safari, where the animals roam? Or a stage, where plays are acted out and concerts held?

↑ 1975 Alfa Romeo 33 TT 12 (foreground), 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza (background)

At the Simeone Foundation Museum every last car is maintained as a running, driving, “alive” example. Demonstration days are held regularly where the cars are exercised in the large lot behind the museum. You can hear the squeal of tires, roar of engines, and whine of gears. You see the dust kicked up, suspension move, and vibrations work through the car. You smell the effects of heat as it works through rubber, metal, leather, and wood. This is the car alive! Sign me up, where do I buy tickets to THAT?

↑ 1956 Jaguar D-Type (foreground), 1953 Jaguar C-Type (background)

It was in this environment that the display of Bill Jacobson’s Saab collection, peerless in this country for its comprehensiveness, was launched to a crowd TWO TIMES larger than any the museum had hosted previously! At the table where my wife, the lovely Annalisa, and I were seated, we discussed the fantastic (fanatic?) attendance. My explanation was “Saab people are crazy, every last one of us.”

The formal presentation commenced with a brief note from Dr. Simeone who read remarks from a conversation with his friend Victor Muller. Muller, the Dutchman who attempted to save Saab, had planned to attend the launch party but a court date related to that tussle with GM forced him to change his plans. Dr. Simeone then gave way to the former Saab Cars USA President and current Saab Automobile Parts North America CEO, Tim Colbeck. He told the story of how he came to be a part of Saab with Victor and how he had such high hopes for the brand’s future. His dedication to providing parts and service support, and thereby a future for current Saab owners, was clear for all to see. We were very lucky that he contacted the organizers and expressed his interest in being a part of this event. Finally, John Moss stood up to give his talk. To me my wife exclaimed with some playful irritation “You didn’t tell me I was sitting next to the main speaker!”

↑ John Moss gives his talk

John spent 37 years with Saab, starting as a technician and becoming the Senior Technical Training Instructor in the USA. His long association with Saab meant that he knew, and befriended, many of the legends of the brand. His stories were particularly telling and appropriate to the event’s theme, showing how these legends enabled, or more accurately DROVE Saab to become the spirited brand we all fell in love with.

The museum is essentially a large open space, with Dr. Simeone’s cars mostly arranged along the outside wall in artfully created diorama-like settings appropriate to that car’s most famous moments. Automotive historian’s and fans take note, these are the best of the legendary sports cars still in existence. Take a look at the museum’s website for a semi-complete list but view the photos I’ve taken for a small taste.

Bill Jacobson’s collection of 20 Saabs was arranged in a ring around the central section of the museum, with some of the dedicated racers on display on and around the presentation stage. Each car gleamed and in the reflections could be seen its brethren to either side. Key parts of Saab’s history were exemplified in the cars he brought.

  • 1956 Saab Sonett 1
  • 1959 Saab 750 GT
  • 1964 Saab Quantum Formula “S”
  • 1964 Saab Bullnose Wagon
  • 1965 Saab Longnose Wagon
  • 1967 Saab Sonett II 2-stroke
  • 1970 Saab 99
  • 1978 Saab 99 Turbo
  • 1980 Saab 900 5 door
  • 1986 Saab 900 T Convertible
  • 1990 Barber Saab Pro Series Formula Car
  • 1991 Saab 900 SPG Convertible
  • 1993 Saab 9000 Cut-Away
  • 1993 900T Limited Edition
  • 1996 900 Turbo SE Talladega Challenge
  • 1998 Saab 9000 CSET Aspen Police
  • 2000 Saab 9-3 Viggen Convertible
  • 2011 Saab 9-5 Aero

Space limitations meant that some of the collection had to be left home, but he kindly made room for one “invitational” vehicle. My 1959 Quantum Two was invited, in part because it fit perfectly with Dr. Simeone’s ideal of “original to a fault” condition. It sat among all the wonderful cars, with its paint peeling and dents popping, but otherwise unchanged since it last raced in the early 60’s.

While the cars were all special, I was equally impressed with the people that showed up. Fans of the marque turned out in droves and most drove their Saabs to the party. The parking lot was a show of its own with a couple of lovely 96s sitting pretty right outside of the entrance. (Here is a gallery from attendee Paul Henderson) I saw many folks whom I recognized from owners conventions and other club meetings. There were people who I was meeting for the first time, even though we’d corresponded over email for years. There were even some who had raced Saabs (among many other cars) in the two-stroke and V4 days and who are truly important parts of the story of automobile racing in the US. Look up George Alderman and Bill Rutan if you are so inclined.

↑ Walking past the LeMans pits

Lastly I should mention a connection that I didn’t learn about until the party itself. This blurb is taken from

“The Swedish American Chamber of Commerce (SACC) is partnering with the Simeone Museum to help promote the Saab Spirit Lives On show to its members. The SACC mission is to encourage and promote the exchange of technology, trade and culture between Sweden and the Greater Philadelphia region, while providing members with a spectrum of services and social events.”

I don’t know if it was the SACC who was responsible for the very tasty Swedish themed recipes they served at dinner, but I want to thank whomever it was. The Swedish meatballs and beet salad were delicious.

I hope you were able to attend the show, if not during the launch party then at some point during its three week run. I feel lucky indeed that my wife and I did. Perhaps, given the excellent attendance we witnessed, it may be possible to do this again next year? I certainly hope so.

-Stefan Vapaa

↑ Study of the Skip Barber Pro Series SAAB 

↑ Wooden wheels in the Annex

↑ The Lovely Annalisa examines the 1924 Lancia Lambda (built the same year as our house!)

↑ Chatting Saab in front of the Alfas of the legendary Mille Miglia

↑ Observing the 1975 Alfa Romeo 33 TT 12

↑ 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO NART (North American Racing Team)

↑ 1963 Ferrari 250 LM (foreground), 1970 Porsche 917 LH (behind)

↑ 1936/48 Delahaye 135S (forground), 1938 Peugeot Darl'mat LeMans

↑ (Foreground) 1967 Ford Mk IV, 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II, (background) 1929 du Pont LeMans Speedster