Classic Saabs at the 2010 Mille Miglia

Saab and Spyker CEOs to Drive Classic Saabs on Mille Miglia – April 23, 2010

Italian hillsides are about to reverberate again to the distinctive crackle of a Saab two-stroke engine. Providing the soundtrack will be Saab Automobile CEO Jan Åke Jonsson and Saab Automobile Chairman and Spyker Cars CEO Victor Muller, who will each drive a 1957-vintage Saab 93 at this year´s historic Mille Miglia road race.

The two executives are celebrating the 93´s class win on this unique event 53 years ago with cars prepared by the Saab Car Museum in Sweden. Jonsson and Muller will be following, at a more leisurely pace, in the wheel tracks of the 1957 class winner crewed by Charlie Lohmander and co-driver Harald Kronegård. Today´s annual classic recreation of the 1,000-mile (1,600 km) Brescia-Rome-Brescia route is held over three days on open roads and decided on punctuality between check-points. Jonsson and Muller will be co-driven by their sons, Christian, 38, and Olivier,18, respectively.

Powered by a 45 hp, 748 cc, three-cylinder engine, but weighing only 810 kilos, the Saab 93´s agile handling and good aerodynamics enabled it to embarrass far more powerful, larger cars. “Saab´s early success on this event is part of our rich heritage,” said Jan Åke Jonsson. “We´re looking forward to competing once again with the Saab 93, although we won´t be driving it quite so fast.”

This year´s event, from 6 — 8 May, is Victor Muller´s tenth Mille Miglia. “The 93 is unlike any other car I´ve entered, which is hardly surprising as it´s a Saab,” he said. “Jan Åke and I will enjoy the event and we´re looking forward to a little friendly rivalry between team-mates. It certainly won´t be as intense as the competition between Eklund and Blomqvist when they were rallying with Saabs in the late 70s.”

Saab´s 1957 Mille Miglia success was followed by Erik ‘Mr Saab´ Carlsson´s overall victory on the Finnish 1000 Lakes Rally later the same year, both results bringing early international recognition for the Saab brand. Carlsson would go on to achieve back-to-backMonte Carlowins and a hat-trick of RAC Rally victories in the early 60s.

Between 1955 and 1960, 52,731 Saab 93s were built at Trollhättan, where Saabs are still produced today. Its frontal styling introduced a new face for Saab, carried forward by the 96 sedan and 95 station wagon which stayed in production until 1980.

Report from Mille Miglia – May 7, 2010

At 20h30 Thursday night this year’s Mille Miglia started in Brescia, Italy. About one hour later both Jan Åke Jonsson and Victor Muller and their co-drivers, the sons Christian respectively Olivier, were on their way on the 350 kilometer long lap to Bologna.

Apart from a problem with the generator on Victor Muller’s car, that was fixed during the night, both the Saab 93’s are running well in this classic rally. Today they are driving from Bologna to Rome and tomorrow the route is Rome-Brescia.

The fact that both the CEO and the Chairman of the Board are attending this rally, gets some attention and they have already been interviewed by i.e Auto Motor & Sport. Mille Miglia is a big crowd-puller. Famous cars and famous people add the rally zest to the competition and along the roads a lot of people are gathering in big crowds to enjoy classic cars, the atmosphere, the excitement as well as the food and drinks they bring with them.

It is a popular festival that has spectators from all over the world. No one wants to miss Mille Miglia. The big interest for this event is obvious when looking at the numbers of cars applying for taking part in the rally: 1400! Only 375 cars and drivers were selected and among them the two Saab 93’s driven by Muller and Jonsson.

Reflections from Mille Miglia by Jan Åke Jonsson – May 11, 2010

On Sunday night, both Victor and I — along with our sons — crossed the finish line in our 1957 vintage Saab 93s. This marked the end of an amazing experience that none of us will ever forget. The race took us from Brescia to Bologna, then Bologna to Rome and finally from Rome to Brescia on open roads with ordinary motorists.

Following Victor from Brescia, at unbelievable speeds, I knew I had to forget everything I had learned in driving school about existing traffic rules and common sense. Now the aim was to travel along the route as fast as possible – a mindset that was clearly shared by all participants. Thankfully, Victor was an excellent teacher and I picked things up very quickly.

The trip went very well apart from a broken generator, a few fuel leaks, worn brakes and a buckled rear bumper. I have to admit that the buckled bumper was my fault as I was driving “a bit” fast and a building was standing in the way as my car skidded sideways.

Traveling through these parts of Italy was a fantastic experience full of beautiful, quaint villages and small towns with an abundance of good food and drink on offer. Unfortunately exploring our surroundings wasn´t the purpose of this trip — our focus was on the driving — but we´ll make sure we go back and enjoy the area at a later date.

Our participation in this event also had a promotional aspect to it. When Saab has the chance to compete alongside Ferrari, Aston Martin, Maserati, Jaguar and Mercedes, it´s an ideal opportunity to expose the brand to people interested in buying premium European cars. Given the amount of recognition and positive feedback we received during the trip, we know our participation was a great success in this respect.

When you drive through towns and squares lined with people who nod in recognition and call out “Saab” as you go past, it really shows people have a genuine affection for the brand. The fact that we often overtook an Aston Martin or Maserati on the windy roads was also a great motivator for me and helped spur us on!

When I look back on this trip I will remember the challenging Serpentine road, the beautiful classic car brands, police escorts in Bologna and Rome, the runs we had through the streets of Bologna, Rome, Sienna, Florence and Brescia as well as several of the small villages and much, much more.

However, what made the biggest impression on me were the two magnificent vintage Saab 9-3s that we drove. What became apparent as we took to the roads was that in 1957 our designers were already producing cars with exceptional handling characteristics. The fact that we were able to keep up with cars that had 100 — 200 bhp, when we had only 50 bhp, is a fitting tribute to the talent of the designers who worked on these classic models.

Finally, I´d like to thank Hans-Göran Persson who kindly let us borrow his car. He had participated in the event himself last year so this was the second time the vehicle had been put through its paces in this amazing spectacle.

Even though our finishing position was modest, the main purpose of taking part was to show that Saab was up to the challenge while gaining exposure and building support for the brand. Given the interest and feedback we received during the trip, it´s safe to say that our involvement was a huge success.

Jan Åke

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