Trackside Classics: Volvos and a Saab at Waterford Hills – Persona Grata

For a guy who is perfectly at home taking a nap under a ’74 Firebird, I am a snob.  I mostly read classic books, I visit art museums whenever I can, I’ll only drink bourbon if it’s at least from the second shelf, and I love foreign films.  Recently, I watched Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s challenging Persona for the second time, hoping for a lightning bolt of illumination; but like many others, I found myself again asking more questions than I got answers.  Regardless, all people wear a mask before others, and even before themselves to some extent.  Of course, this must have something to do with cars, right?

Of course it does.  I own nine American cars, but as I’ve previously attested, I’m presenting an incomplete image of myself as a person in doing so.  For several years, I’ve harbored a not-so-secret desire for a Swedish car.  As indecisive as I am, I cannot decide between a Volvo Amazon or a Saab 96, but on a hot July day in 2018, a showroom opened up under the cloudless sky as open-headered vintage race cars rumbled past.

The first car in line was a Volvo 122 wagon, from the second half of the 1960s if the grille and wheels are any indication.  I love wagons, but this bodystyle of Amazon is a mixed metaphor for me: The boxy roof predates the hipster-friendly 240 of later decades while the rest of the car looks like something from 1966’s Persona itself.

Oh yeah, it was.  Regardless, this model is not the Swede for which I seek.

Next in line was this PV544, a model that lasted all the way into 1965.  It looks for all the world like a small 1939 Ford, but underneath the facade is a durable Swedish car that was as comfortable on the Midnight Sun Rally as it was on the streets of Dearborn.

I’m including this photograph for reference, mostly because it’s awesome.

Our featured PV544 was built toward the end of production, since it wears a B18 badge, indicating that it has a B18 engine.  Unfortunately, it too will be a dead end.  My wife dislikes the appearance of the PV544, and although she doesn’t particularly care what I buy as long as I’m happy with it, it’s the least I can do to take her opinions into account.

The next car in nature’s showroom was this Volvo 122, or Amazon, as the rest of the world called it.  This very nice version is an early model, 1956-61, judging by the grille and hubcaps.

Although I own some fairly flashy American iron, my true self prefers a conservative look.  It’s impossible to not draw attention in an old car, but I like that attention to be indicated through admiring glances rather than through some hyperbolic windbag talking about the one he used to have while I am trying to fill the car up at the gas station.  This subdued hued Amazon is nearly perfect.

Please allow me to post several pictures so you too can admire all the nerdy loveliness of the Amazon sedan.

You’d never know how tank-like and durable the Amazon is from this angle.

One more and we’ll move on.  I obviously love the Amazon, but at this moment, my ardor for it may be surpassed by an even quirkier Swede.

It’s the Saab 96.  This is a later model, a few years into the Ford V4 era.  It’s the perfect color (I love most blues: three of my seven old cars are blue).

I prefer the 1966-’68 front end.  This 1967 96 appeared on eBay a couple of years ago; it was the last of the two-strokes and it sold for under $7000.  Maybe I just wasn’t feeling it that day, but another reason I’ve avoided buying a 96 is that parts are not as easy to come by as they are for the Amazon.

A two-stroke three-cylinder and a V4 were both available in 1967, but by the time our featured 96 was built (1969 at the earliest), the V4 was the only option.  Although the snotty snowblower would be an unbelievable amount of fun, I imagine the V4 would be a much more practical experience, and if I’m buying a Swedish car, practicality is something I must take into account, even if it’s against my nature.

Therefore, if I were going to buy my Swedish car today, I’d buy a 1967 or ’68 Saab 96 with a V4, in blue or that really nice Seafoam Green on the eBay car.  It’s not like the 96 is falling out of garages in America, so it might be a while before I find the right one, and by that point, my vacillating self may have moved back to the Amazon.  Or maybe I’ll find a P1800 that I can afford.

On this particular July day, however, I showed up and left in my weirdest car, as I often do when watching the vintage races.  As odd and cool as a four-speed Corvair convertible is, however, it’s not even remotely Swedish, but who knows?  Maybe that grille-less face is hiding something after all.