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A bit of Sweden in South Dakota: The Saab Heritage Car Museum

An amazing collection of classic Saabs in an unlikely place.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

When you think of Saab, you probably think of Sweden. Maybe you remember the marketing and think, "Born from jets." You probably don't think of South Dakota. And yet, that's where I am, in the town of Sturgis, best known for its infamous annual bike rally

On the edge of town, in a fairly nondescript building, is the Saab Heritage Car Museum. What started as a few cars owned by an avid Saab mechanic and fan has turned into one of the best collections of classic Saabs in the world. 

On a blistering summer day, I welcome the cool air from the museum as I venture inside. Here's how it looks. 

From 92 to 9000 and beyond  

The museum is easy to navigate, with similar series cars near each other, older cars in the center, newer cars along the walls. Heading counterclockwise, I first pass a row of 900 and 900 convertibles. These are the cars I most associate with Saab and I bet it's the same for many of you. Cars with bespoke paint jobs catch the eye, while others that still look like new. 

Most of the cars have their hoods slightly ajar. I ask about this and I'm impressed to learn that they do this to keep the batteries charged. Nearly all the cars in the museum can move under their own power and those that can, they keep in running order. That's extremely rare for any car museum, especially one with as many cars as this one.

Since so many of the cars run, it's a treat to find one they let visitors start up. It's a 63-year-old 92B and, while it would be fun starting up any car from that era, this features Saab's classic three-cylinder, two-stroke engine. It sounds unlike any car you've ever heard (unless you owned one).

Along the back wall are a trio of Saab's sports cars: Sonett IIIs along with their predecessors, the Sonett IIs. The far wall has a bunch of 9000s, a design I personally don't think has aged particularly well, but maybe that's just me.

Closer to where I came in are several cars on long-term loan from GM's Heritage Center. This is GM's special in-house restoration facility, where they usually spend over $100,000 to get important cars from GM's history back to like-new condition. 

In the center are a mix of race cars and even older classics. It's possible many people don't realize Saab had a long history of racing, particularly in rallies throughout Europe, US and Canada. Before switching to Minis, my grandfather actually raced them in the early '60s. In a row at the museum are cars that raced Pike's Peak, record-holders from Bonneville and more. The oldest cars date back to the first full year of mass production, 1950.

My favorite in the museum is a bit newer, a 1978 99 Turbo in Anthracite Gray. It's in perfect condition and now I want one. That's a risk I take whenever I go to a car museum. One that frustrates my wallet immensely. 

From Sweden to Sturgis

The Black Hills of South Dakota, especially the nearby Badlands, offer up some absolutely incredible scenery. I'd bet most people passing through Sturgis are either on bikes or towing one. So it's quite a surprise to find such a fantastic car museum in a town known for motorcycles. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Or maybe not. I bet there are a lot of people who are, like me, just fans of well made and legendary machines. 

If your plans don't include western South Dakota anytime soon, check out the gallery above. If they do, the Saab Heritage Car Museum is definitely worth a visit.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.