Project Car Revisited: A year with Mellis

So it’s now been over a year since I got Mellis and basically stopped writing this blog. My bad. I guess I’ve been savoring the joys of owning a 33 year old Saab? Those joys include: fighting rust, replacing dead batteries, slave cylinders, heater control valves, and other bits and bobs. Now that I’m sort of trying to make a regular effort of updating this blog, I thought I’d look back on my first year as Mellis’ guardian.

12277492_551020805075158_1400620836_nIt all began one a fateful May day last year, when I snuck out of work a bit early, took the train from Boston to Providence and was met by Jim at the train station with my new-to-me Saab 900. As a reminder, Mellis is an ’84 Saab 900 8-Valve turbo. Jim found the car sometime in the fall of 2013, forlorn and forgotten in a field in Western Mass. He originally suggested that I buy the car, but in retrospect given the amount of work he put into it in the time he owned it, I would have been a terrible steward of the car.

Glamour shots!

Glamour shots!

A week or so after picking her up from Jim, I was on the road to Carlisle, PA, which if you’re a Saab idiot, you’ll recognize as the East Coast’s biggest Saab show. Driving a 33 year old car with more than 240,000 miles on a road trip of more than 1600 miles ain’t for the faint of heart, but Mellis didn’t disappoint. The 8-valve turbo can’t hold a candle to the much brawnier 16-valve models that supplanted it, but I still found the car had plenty of passing power at speed and full a rolling boil. I didn’t bother to track my fuel economy, because racecar. Mellis may have been born from jets, but her profile – blunt nose, roof-rack + fairing, rear louvers, and all windows and vents opened – meant I was cutting a jagged line through the air. A nine long road trip was the perfect shake-down cruise for me and the car and I got to know its quirks. For instance, it seems happiest with Talking Heads or Pink Floyd album in the CD player.

Following the highpoint that was Carlisle, Mellis and I enjoyed a series of New England adventures – mostly errands in and around Boston. And for the third year in a row, I had a car to bring to Swedish Car Day, this time my second 900! The winter was harder on Mellis, with the heater control valve letting go in December, dramatically spilling coolant on my shoes while we were out picking up a Christmas tree. Turns out those valves are now unobtanium and it took me weeks to find a new one from a junked donor car. Following that debacle a cable fell of the alternator killing the batter and render the car inert. Then there was a high idle, solved with a new idle control valve, which has resulted in a low idle. Oh, and then there was an alarming issue with the car “overheating” which seems to have been more of an issue with either, the thermostat, fan control switch, or a bad fuse. I replaced all 3 for good measure and the car seems to be running normally now. So like I said, never a dull moment with a 30+ year old Swedish car.

So we’re now a year into ownership, and the old girl is more or less humming along. I have some deferred body maintenance coming up – the spoiler’s mounting hardware rusted away after 30 some New England Winters and I need to put the louvers back on, but other than that the old girl soldiers on.

Parked: Peepin’ Cars in Williamsburg and Green Point

Square back love!

For a city that allegedly isn’t very car friendly, you do see a lot of interesting stuff. Over the weekend I was in NYC and couldn’t help my itchy trigger finger and captured these snaps.

With a body and paint this clean, I'd be very scared of street parking something this nice.

With a body and paint this clean, I’d be very scared of street parking something this nice.

Nifty - Speedwell wheels!

Nifty – Speedwell wheels!

This is a pretty perfect car in every sense.

This is a pretty perfect car in every sense.

Now compare that with its modern equivalent, my ’16 Golf Sportwagen.

Small VW family wagons FTW!

Small VW family wagons FTW!

We took the Golf, plus Bear and Baby (and all of Baby’s accoutrement) to NYC for the weekend, in order to accommodate all the stuff the VW grew a helpful appendage:

13129782_935162509937832_2046111149_nThe amazing thing about it though, even with the AC going, the roof box on top and consistent speeds of 75-80 mph, the Golf returned a very nice 33.2 MPG on the return leg of the trip. Our old Subaru? HAHAHAH. Not in a million years. God I love this car.

Parked: A Foreign Visitor to Somerville

Finally! A blue #c900 in my neighborhood that isn't mine! No, this one is much more special being a late, right hand drive, euro five door model! Holy wow, I've seen this driving before but this is the first time I've been able to photograph it. #saab #saab900turbo #saab900 #saabnation #classiccars

Finally! A blue #c900 in my neighborhood that isn’t mine! No, this one is much more special being a late, right hand drive, euro five door model! Holy wow, I’ve seen this driving before but this is the first time I’ve been able to photograph it. #saab #saab900turbo #saab900 #saabnation #classiccars

Saab Stories: Meet Mellis!

Like meeting an old friend in the middle of nowhere. Ex­cellent chair-height seats, visibility, in­struments. Five-speed shifter rubbery and imprecise, especially when trying to find reverse (mandatory for removing ignition key from console). Window and mirror controls on dash okay for long­time owner but hard to find for occa­sional driver. On balance, a superb car for long, hard drives over bad roads.

Car & Driver, July 1983

Right around that time that issue went to press, I emerged into the world, a blubbering baby. A little less than a year later, a platinum blue metallic Saab 900 8-valve turbo rolled off the production line in Trollhattan, Sweden and made it way onto the decks of a ro-ro for the transatlantic journey to the Port of Baltimore. After clearing customs it was shipped out and sold to its first owner. Where it went from there is a mystery lost to history, until it was bought by a woman in New Salem, Mass who owned the car for some period of time before parking it under some trees on her property and letting it sit for a while. Eventually, it made its way on the Craigslist where, Jim found it, in this rather sad state:

Jim's #saab900 is very rusty…

A video posted by Zack Dagneau (@zackdag) on


Jim is engaging in a bit of “Saab dentistry” to treat some surface rust on Mellis.

Jim, never being one to let sleeping dogs lie, dove into saving the car that his son quickly christened Mellis. A portmanteau of Mouse Ellis from a Judy Blume book. As all good names do, it stuck and I’ve continued to refer to the car by that name. So, in the two-ish years that Mellis was owned by Jim, she was the subject to his considerable care and attention. For a car that Jim used as his winter beater, it’s in damned fine shape now. Sure, she’s still a bit rusty, but I can report that her degree of decay has been halted and in pursuit of a “rolling” restoration, she’s developed a rather nice “patina.”


Mellis and Sven hanging out at Zo’s secret compound in Southern Mass.

The result of which, is that I’ve lucked into a pretty incredible car! Despite its age and mileage, it drives nothing like you’d expect a car that’s been to the moon and is on its way back. Whereas, with Sven there was always something on the list, Mellis is a near perfect driver. A fact I was able to put to the test about two weeks ago when I drove her 900 miles to Carlisle, Pennsylvania and back to attended the Carlisle Import and Kit National Car Show.

Saab Stories: Sven is for sale

Anyone want to buy a nice classic #saab 900? It's a '93 900S 16v with a 5 speed. Mileage is 222k. Needs work but has had a lot done to it since I've owned it - ecodes, new tires, stereo, roof rack, studded snows. Plus a lot of mechanical work. DM if interested. Looking for $1500. Located in Boston. #saabclub #steadysaabin #saab900classic #saab900 #saabnation #saab4life #saabforsale

So my time with Sven seems to be at an end! I’m now the proud new owner of an ‘84 8V Turbo formerly owned by Jim over at Old Dead Volvos. The ’84, as all good cars do, has a name and it’s Mellis. Once Mellis has joined the fleet in Somerville, I’ll give a full rundown of her. For now, my focus is finding a good new home for Sven.

As a recap, Sven is a 1993 900S, which means he’s got a 2.1liter 16V naturally-aspirated slant inline-four. Power makes its way to the front wheels through a 5 speed manual transmission. The trans fluid was recently replaced with Shell Rotella and shifts smoothly. Total mileage is in the range of 220,000. All accessories – windows, sunroof, fog lights work! With the exception of the front seat, which are pretty beat up, the interior is in good shape.

If any readers are interested, here’s a complete breakdown of what’s been done to him since I bought him in January 2014:

  • New CV joints on both sides
  • New driver’s side ball-joints (sale includes extra parts for passenger side)
  • Thermostat, and top-end hoses (sale includes extra hoses)
  • Valve-cover gasket
  • Major rust repair work – rebuilt front fenders (pic is recent but work is continuing)
  • Fresh V-belts
  • Brand new tires on SPG wheels, plus studded Nokian snows
  • E-code headlights (vastly improved over stock units)
  • Thule roofrack included in sale
  • Pioneer deck with AUX in, Bluetooth and handsfree phone + Rockford Fosgate 4in speakers.

Immediate needs: exhaust from the cat-back has rusted off (replacements are $160 via eEuroparts).

Asking: $1500, obo. 

Saab Stories: Back on the road

Well, a couple hundos later (ugh) it’s back on the road. Hopefully, this time it’ll last!


Meanwhile, as winter continues to stick around (seriously, it’s going to snow tonight!) progress on the Saab has been a bit … slow. Alas, the work keeps adding up! I’ve got a growing list that I won’t bore you with, but suffice to say, this car is gonna keep me in Saab Stories for a while yet. I’ve been balancing two needs – on the one hand, the car needs to be brought up to stage 0-level reliability, and the other hand it needs some livability improvements. For instance, most recently I upgrades the very blown and very bad JVC speakers in the dash to a pair of much nicer Rockford Fosgates. The Rockfords will pair nicely with the Pioneer head-unit I installed last fall. In terms of jobs on the Saab this has to have been the easiest. Seriously, I was done in 20 minutes, my beer, if I’d had any that day, wouldn’t have even gotten warm in the time to do this!

So how’s that for a barn-burner of an update? At least there was no little blood!


Saab Stories: Rites of Spring


After a very long winter here in Boston, we’re back on the road! Ahem, that is until the belts that have been making a bloody racket these last few weeks decide to heave-too and disintegrate. Welp, not this again.


Yeah, that’s no good.


Oh, and I has such plans today! I was off to a friend’s garage to fiddle with a few things, including measuring out the necessary sheet metal to weld up the floors and finish the months-long body work project. Alas, old Sven had other ideas, thankfully the belts gave up the ghost close to home and with AAA the tow only cost me eight bucks out of pocket. The car is now back at ABJ in Somerville, where they’ll hopefully sort the mess for me this week. Ugh.

Makin’ do

As you probably know, Boston has been nailed with historic snow amounts in the late month – the official count is now well over 70 inches! Even more is coming down as I write this. As you might imagine, these epic snow amounts have made having a car in Boston – a city not known for its easily navigable streets and thoughtful urban planning at the best of times – a total nightmare. I’ve shoveled out my car more times in the last 3 weeks than I can remember in all my years of growing up in Michigan! It’s getting to the point where there’s almost no place left to pile the snow.


I’m here to help! Also, this Lego Unimog is just the cutest thing!

Thankfully, I live on a quiet side street where parking isn’t too hard to come by. My neighborhood isn’t one known for the insidious but often necessary practice of parking savers. The real challenge of street parking with snow amounts like these, is finding places to pile it. See after a storm, owners dutifully go and find their cars – usually employing some sort of divining rod, metal detectors or the panic button on their keys. Once the car located under a shapeless mass of snow, the owner begins the process of digging out.

Simple enough right? Except that after 2-3 hours shoveling, people get tired and lazy. Those massive berms of snow between your car and the one in front and behind? Eh, someone else’s problem. You’ve beaten a path to your car and cleared out juuuust enough snow so that you can pull out and truck your way over to Whole Foods because you’ve run out of kombucha, again. Of course, before you leave you make sure your space saver is left behind, securing your parking spot from all the other predatory Massholes out there. After all, that miserable stretch of pavement is yours, you dug it out!


No Whole Foods run today.

See how this can start to become a problem? Thank god for high taxes. Yes, really. We may pay more taxes here, but we do get our money’s worth.


Inset – snow-chewing hell-beast! Bonus: it’s a Volvo!

The City of Somerville does a pretty effective job of handling snow. No major blizzard is going to sneak up on our city officials (I mean really how could one, with the damned Weather Channel each one an “event”) without an appropriate response. The above photo was from a clean-up following our first and second major storms a few weeks ago. Yep, that’s a Volvo front-end loader with some sort of industrial grade snowblower attached, which is chewing up and shooting the snow at high speed into a giant dump-truck. Godbless.