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Exploring the Saab Heritage Car Museum

A unique museum in an unexpected location features beautifully-maintained classics from a lost but not forgotten brand.

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Geoffrey Morrison
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Saab Heritage Car Museum

Located in Sturgis, South Dakota, the Saab Heritage Car Museum has a surprisingly extensive collection of immaculate classic Saabs.

For a full look around this museum, check out A bit of Sweden in South Dakota: The Saab Heritage Car Museum.

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Rally

Saabs competed and won in rallies throughout Europe and the US. This specific car won the 1960 British RAC Rally, driven by Erik Carlsson.

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Rarest

This SUV might not seem too special, but it's rarer than most Ferraris and Lamborghinis. It's a Saab 9-4X, based on GM's Theta platform, which was also the basis for the Saturn Vue (remember those?), Cadillac SRX and others. 

Around 800 were built in 2011-2012 before the bankruptcy of Saab.

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Two-tone

This beautiful two-tone 96 was owned, lovingly maintained and later donated to the museum by an avid Saab collector named Larry Williams. 

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Bespoke paint

This modified 900S features custom-made body panels, bumpers and of course, the eye catching pearlescent paint job.

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16 valve

The creator, the owner of a Saab dealership in Minnesota and his employees, built the car to show off their talents and get buzz for their company at Saab events.

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Convertible

I have a fond memory from my early teen years going on a road trip in the back seats of a red convertible 900. 

This example is from 1989.

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Last year 900

A classic, first-generation 900 from its last year of production, 1993.

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At a tilt

The classic Saab "H" engine, which was a development of the Triumph Slant-4 from the 60s. It features an cast iron block and aluminum head and developed around 126 horsepower.

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Weird looking Saab

This Saab is not a Saab, but a Fiat 124 Sport Spider, one of a handful of non-Saabs at the museum. As blasphemous as that sounds.

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American steel

This big not-a-Saab is a 1957 Seagrave Pumper powered by a 2000-era Chevy Duramax Diesel. Like most of the vehicles in the museum, it still runs and frequents local events.

Activated by a button on the floor, its siren delights little kids... little kids like me (end of the video).

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3 Sonett IIIs

In the 60s and 70s Saab made a series of sports cars called the Sonett, ending with the delightfully angular Sonett III seen here.

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Low miles

This is probably the lowest mileage III in the world, with just 44 original miles.

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V4

The III was powered by a V4, one of the rarest auto engine configurations.

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Wrong time

Unfortunately, the III didn't sell well, and Saab ended production in 1974.

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II

Before the III was the II -- and while outwardly they look different, underneath they were quite similar. The biggest difference was the engine, which was the same 3-cylinder 2-stroke found in other Saabs of the era.

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9-5

An early 9-5, from 1998.

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Many 9000s

Before the 9-5 Saab had the 9000. Larger and higher-end than the 900, it was in production from 1986 to 1998.  

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Concurrent

This 9000, from 1998, might have been on a dealer lot at the same time as the newer 9-5.

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Coming and going

Your eyes don't deceive you. This is two 900s joined at the back-to-back at the B pillar. It was built by the former technical director for Saab USA and was intended for a fun way for couples to test their communication and driving skills, as one one sit and steer at each end while navigating a cone road coarse.

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'58

Like most of the cars in the museum, this 1958 93B runs. Unlike most of the cars in the museum, you can get in and start it up. The 3-cylinder, 2-stroke engine sounds unlike any car engine you've ever heard.

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Incredible

This beautiful 900 is the part of GM's Heritage Center which extensively restores important classic cars from GM's history. This specific 900, on loan from GM, is from Saab's Special Performance Group which tweaked the engine for 15 more horsepower.

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Saabaru

From GM's Heritage Center, this is the rather controversial Subaru in Saab clothing, the 9-2X. But not just any 9-2X, the very first ever made.

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Heritage 99

Another from the Heritage Center, in this case a 99 from the first year of production. Interestingly, it was originally purchased by Tom Donney, the founder of this museum.

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Heritage III

A 1970 Sonett III from the Heritage Center.

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GT

A rare GT750, again on loan from the GM Heritage Center.

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50's 92

A 1952 92, an early example of one of Saab's first production cars. It looks brand new.

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Big power

The 92 is powered by a 2-cylinder, 2-stroke engine that develops 25 horsepower.

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Garage

In-house restoration and maintenance.

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Racers

One of the Saab-powered racers from the Barber Saab Pro Series that ran from the mid-80s to the mid-90s.

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Original Sonett

One of 6 original Saab Sonett prototypes. Fiberglass body, powered by a 748cc, 3-cylinder 2-stroke which develops a 57.5 horsepower.

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Almost proto

One of Saab's race drivers, Erik Carlsson, wanted one of the prototypes, but couldn't get one. So he and some of his people built their own. This is that.

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Mountain racer

This 1996 900 competed in the 1997 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

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2 IIs

Some delightful paint jobs on these Sonett IIs. The one on the left is an extremely rare V4 Sonett II with a wood dash. Most V4 IIs had fiberglass dashboards. 

While both were used for racing, the one on the right is far more modified, and features Minnesota Viking colors.

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Record holder

This 1966 96 Monte Carlo holds two speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats. Topping out at 112.642 mph.

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Wagon!

A 1966 95 Special, which featured front disc breaks, oil injection and a few extra horsepower.

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Oddly rare

This is a pre-production 95 from 1960. Unlike the production models, it has a dash from a 93 instead of from a 96.

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"Jerry's" Saab

This 1965 96 Monte Carlo is the actual car featured in season 5, episode 5 of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (listed under "Special Blend" on Netflix) where Jerry gets coffee with Fred Armisen.

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Under the hood

It's got a 850cc 3-cylinder, 2-stroke that develops 51 horsepower.

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Replacement

Apparently Jerry wanted a Sonett V4, but 4 days before production the owner of the Sonett pulled out. The owner of the museum and his son trailered this green machine to Portland.

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Like new

One of 300 96 Jubilee models to celebrate the end of production after 20 years. It only has 100 miles on it, having sat under a cover in a garage for 37 years. 

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Rare star

Another rare car, this is a 96 fitted with the GT750 package, usually only found on the 93. 

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Classic interior

It was also used by the factory in brochures.  

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Frowny face

The 92 was never sold in the US, so the owner of the museum imported this 1956 92B and its incredibly powerful... 27 horsepower engine.

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Elder statesman

One of the oldest cars in the museum, this 1950 92 is from the first full year Saab mass-produced cars. It has driven across country at least twice, in 1998 and in 2000. Not bad for a 50 year-old car.

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99s

Saab is arguably most famous for its 900 sedan, but the 900 wouldn't exist without the 99

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Best for last

This was my favorite from the museum, and unfortunately for my wallet I now desperately want one. It's a 1978 99 Turbo in Anthracite Grey.

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Pure 70's

This example's velour interior is in fantastic shape.

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Quintessential Saab

Couldn't end before showing one of the most quintessential Saab quirks, a key on the floor between the seats.

For the full story behind our tour and this museum, check out A bit of Sweden in South Dakota: The Saab Heritage Car Museum.   

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