Values: How can this term can be ascribed to the subject of the motor car, and how much do I place upon my own vehicle?
Most of the time our cars are simply a tool, taken for granted and unconsidered unless we deign to clean them or the blasted thing refuses to start. There are currently two cars in my life. A 2013 Jaguar XF, (which isn’t in fact mine) and a 1996 Saab 900S, which is. The Jag was purchased about six months into its life, and is a low mileage, fairly cosseted luxury consumer durable. The Saab was purchased in 2014 with about 110,000 miles on its odometer, but with every stamp present in its service book. It’s still in remarkable condition despite not being cosseted at all. The XF cost its owner something in the region of quite a lot of money, while the Saab – well, lets just say my road bike was more expensive.
But that’s just one subset of the value equation. Others are perhaps more pertinent. The Jaguar is a very pleasant place to spend time and despite its grumbling diesel motor, is an effortless device. Long motorway journeys are its domain, when it simply oozes along consuming the miles with no more effort than engine revolutions. Thanks to the efforts of Mike Cross and his minions, it’s also a car that can be taken by the scruff of its Thomas Pink shirt collar and propelled down a B-road with an incisiveness that still impresses.
The Saab on the other hand is a car that requires a good deal more driver input. It’s engine is sluggish in the low ranges and in order to make decent progress requires frequent use of the gears – a tiresome and imprecise mechanism which elicits no tactile pleasure of any description. Combine this with a heavy and judder-prone clutch – (I’m reliably informed they all do this) – and the 900 can be a ponderous companion. Its occasionally hilarious interpretation of body control and simultaneously knobbly, yet spongy ride quality might suggest the Saab has all the dynamics of a wet spaniel, yet I enjoy driving it within (and occasionally well outside) its occasionally narrow limits.
But when it comes to real-world utility, the boot is however (quite literally) on the other foot. Over the past year, we’ve been through a major house extension which required vast quantities of materials to be transported – a task for which the limitations of the three volume saloon are ruthlessly exposed. Here the XF was hopeless, its boot being comparatively small with a desperately narrow aperture and worst of all, the rear seat is fixed. (Apparently folding rear seats are an extra-cost option). No, the Jaguar is far too much of a princess to get her fingernails dirty. Throughout the duration of the build, the Saab was pressed into service as carthorse and dumptruck, swallowing vast quantities of rubbish and building materials within its commodious rear deck without a murmur of protest. And now that we’ve turned our attention to the exterior, it’s once again proving its worth transporting soil, plants and various garden-of-Versailles accoutrements, while the XF, in Lady Chatterley fashion, idly admires herself in her hand mirror.
The Saab’s uncanny ability to swallow loads however, did have one significant downside about 18-months ago. En-route to the car ferry in Wales, laden to the gunwales as usual, I hit some road debris on the M4 motorway, suffering a rear tyre blowout. The ridiculously tiny spare is nestled in the bootfloor, thus entailing full decantation of luggage and personal effects on the hard shoulder while massive camions pelted by. Terrifying, but this remains the only breakdown I’ve suffered. While making regular journeys back and forth to Ireland, the otherwise metronomic dependability of the 900 has morphed fond regard into firm attachment, more so perhaps than other, more emotive cars I’ve owned in the past.
Which brings me back to the concept of Values. Is it not the case that a car’s true value lies in the places it’s taken you and the events you’ve shared, less than monetary or aesthetic worth? If the Jag was sold tomorrow, it would still fetch a decent proportion of its purchase price – less depreciation. It would however be quickly forgotten – just as its predecessor has been. The Saab on the other hand has either plateaued in its deprecatory trajectory or is virtually worthless, depending on how you view it. The simple truth is that in monetary terms, it’s at a point where one sufficiently major component failure will be sufficient to render the car uneconomic to repair. Even without this eventuality, the London mayor’s proposed Ultra Low Emissions Zone could very well seal the Saab’s death warrant. Yet, its loss would be felt keenly.
Now it goes without saying that this era of 900 wasn’t necessarily Trollhätten’s finest hour, and I would never attempt to disguise the fact. But despite this, the 900 is a car that pleases me and more to the point, one that fits the life I live now. Additionally, everything about it feels as if it will readily last decades. So yes, for these and other more nebulous reasons I’ve come to value the Saab enormously, but even more, I salute the values of practicality and integrity this fine marque once embodied and that General Motors, despite their best efforts never quite expunged.