This week my German friend Peter Wendt steps up as guest author. I met Peter around 1996 or ’97, early in my learning about the differences between American and European vehicle regulations, standards, and equipment. He had put up a homepage about the Chrysler Saratoga, which I guess I found via Lycos or Altavista or some other pre-Google search engine. I never saw in person the cars described in this instalment, let alone rode in one—the closest we came to that was when Peter rang the wrecking yard from across the ocean, then I (out of five people who could have) answered the phone, he said “Wanna buy a red Saratoga?”, and we had a good laff. But Peter and his car were a central inspiration for me, so here they are. More, stories of German-car ownership in America are common, but the vice-versa not so much. So with Peter’s kind permission, then, I present here his stories as he wrote them—his English beats the Schweinwerfer out my all-but-nonexistent German—and as he illustrated them (his own photos, images from the brochures, plus more images added). Mind, in German usage the decimal point is a comma and the thousands-separator is a period. Take it away, Peter!
April 1990: I’m working for nearly two years now at CompuNet in Hamburg. Every Monday morning I’ve been driving 250 km from my hometown Lemgo to Hamburg, every Friday driving back 250 km from Hamburg to Lemgo. Along the week I have a small apartment 20 km outside of Hamburg. During work it may appear that I have to visit our customers outside and used to take my own car, because it is much more comfortable than the company’s cars, have my cassettes with me and may smoke as much as I like in the car.
Those days our customers were spread in a much larger area than today, CompuNet Hannover and Kiel weren’t existing yet and some customers reside in locations maybe 300 kilometers off from Hamburg. During the years I have reached an average of about 50.000 km a year. My old Opel Senator had reached the 300.000 km mark and the next TÜV-exam for road-worthiness should be held in August. The waterpump and the radiator were leaking, the undersides of the front doors were rusted through and there were some larger and expensive repairs to come at all. A new car had to be purchased.
So I made some visits to the car dealers. It should have been another Opel as well, cause I knew them very well. In that year the Opel Omega with the 2.6 liter straight-six engine and 150 hp came out—a fine car and a potential powerful and reliable motor. This one it should be: either a sedan or a caravan, either coloured in black or dark red. But my Opel-Dealer wanted to make me wait until August/September—they have a delivery forecast of some month. Alright—I’ll have to wait. I didn’t order one in advance, cause maybe I find something else.
Half a year ago the girl-friend of my old fellow Roland had bought a Chrysler ES with that 2.5 liter / 145 hp turbo-engine. A real great thing, elegant, fast and remarkable inexpensive. I’ve been driving some rounds with that car and found him really impressive. But from the layout it was a complete different type of car I originally wanted: four cylinder, manual gearbox, two door Sports-Coupé.
Well—at least there should have been a Sedan of that type available. So I went to the local Chrysler dealer. Accidently I knew this guy from some years ago. Roland and I had helped him with some of his computer related problems and he listens to what I wanted.
The limousine to the ES was the GTS. It was available with the 2.5 liter / 98 hp-engine with manual and automatic gearbox, with the 2.5 liter / 145 hp turbo-engine only with manual gearbox and with the 2.2 liter / 177 hp Turbo-engine and manual shifting. A Turbo-Automatic version was not available. I’ve been testing the 98 hp-automatic version. Result: you may forget about it. The automatic of those time was an old-fashion 3-speed type and the engine was too powerless.
Six cylinders? No chance. Not in the GTS, not even the LeBaron of those days had one. That was available only in the Voyager (Mini-Van) or in the Saratoga.
“Saratoga? What is that anyway?”
A four-door Sedan with numerous extras, a 141 hp / 3.0 liter V-6 engine, an electronic controlled 4-speed automatic gearbox and a—for Europeans—very unusual look. I hadn’t heard about that before. A first walk around the car. Well—it has about the size of the Senator but looks a little different in shape: wider, taller. Alu wheels, hmm, 205 tires, aha, dark-red metallic.
“And how does it drive ?” I asked the dealer. I shall find out by myself. This is his presentation car and he hands me the key. “You should come back before we close.”
First way leads me back to my house. When I enter the parking lot behind the house I nearly come off the way. This thing has got 13 meters turning diameter. The Senator has got 10 meters. That may cause problems. Minor—probably. So I drive on the federal road leading eastwards out of town. The automatic shifts soft and nearly unnoticeable, a lot power is available. Roadholding, Acceleration and driving through bends is excellent. The major equiment is electrified: power windows rear and front, both outer mirrors, adjustment of drivers’ seat. Tinted windows, Cassetteradio with four speakers, tilted steering wheel with integrated speed-control buttons, cupholders. Sorry, but no Air Condition. And no Anti-Lock Brakes and no Airbag, but I haven’t missed that until today. I could have an A/C installed after selling, the installation-kit including cables is already built in the
car, but I didnt’t miss it that much that I had spent much money on it. It was okay without one until now. Sometime I drove back to the dealer from test-driving.
The presentation car was half a year old (November 13th, 1989 first allowance for traffic) and had about 6.000 km on the counter. The warranty lasted until 110.000 km or three years—under my conditons 110.000 might be the point. The official selling-price was 39.990 DM plus delivery, first inspection and additional extras. The metallic paint would have been an extra, which might have cost another 500 DM. A/C and an optional sunroof would have cost extra money, but the car came without that.
After some dealing and calculating we made an agreement over 32.000 DM. Therefore the dealer hadn’t to take my old Senator. That was promised to another one of my fellows. On July the 3rd 1990 I have got the Saratoga with the VIN 1C3BA7634LF736669 into traffic with my name in its papers. The sign on the number-plate—taken over from the dealer as first owner—is DT-AX 917 and the counter was on 6.551 kilometers.
The first reactions of friends, neighbours and relations: “Well—will that go fine all the way?” Funny people. They have no problems buying a Japanese, a French or even a Korean car—but if you mention, that you own an American car they still use to think in terms of street-cruisers, gasoline guzzlers, poor quality and lousy economic stats. They ignore the fact, that American car-manufacturers have taken giant efforts to make their cars more efficient and competitive. Those US-guys haven’t sleeped all the time—especially not at Chrysler, which was close to bankruptcy some years ago and came back onto the US market in a triumph with a brand new variety of small, economic cars worth the money they cost. At those days I owned the only American car far around. Not included the several Mini-Vans that often were not recognized as alien, American cars anyway.