Buying a Saab for European delivery: 

Charlie Stalnaker Recounts His Experiences

European Delivery!  Yes it has a nice ring to it and, after renting numerous cars in Europe I decided to take the leap to purchase a car  and drive it in Europe. Rental car companies in Europe charge a lot for their cars, are starting to charge for mileage, and place a cap on the age of the driver!  This plus the added benefit that in CA, if a car remains out of the country for 90 days then there is no sales tax.  Heck, I gotta test this.  Which car  though?  For me it was, initially, just a financial decision as I looked at this as a high end "rental car".  Which automaker -- offering European delivery and a discount of 7% to 10% -- made sense?

NOTE:  I received a quarterly tax bulletin from the CA State Board of Equalization dated December 2004. .  This arrived AFTER I had shipped my Saab back to the US.  Apparently, The State Senate passed Bill 1100 (Stats. 2004, Ch. 226, effective August 16,2004)  Period October 1, 2004 through July 1, 2006.  This states that Vehicles, Vessels and Aircraft Purchased Outside California...and brought into the state within 12 months.. are now subject to California use tax.  It appears I made it in under the wire and "grandfathered" in under the old Bill.  However, check your individual state to see if they have a tax exemption program for your European Delivery car.

BMW I have owned BMWs, like the car  and the 3- or 5-series seemed just the ticket so I visited the dealership, told the salesman what I had in mind, and took an SAV (sport-utility style vehicle) for a test drive.  This is not a BMW in ride, comfort or  anything except badging.  Nix that.  Plus, I don't get frequent flyer miles on Lufthansa for the trip to Germany.  I even went to the Paris Auto Show and the BMW folks there wouldn't let me near their cars!  No blood bluer, no brow's not for me as I want to like the car buying experience and at least think that they want me as a customer.  Plus, in Southern California just  about everyone seems to drive a BMW or Mercedes.  Some individuality would be nice.

Mercedes Never owned one but I have friends that have had so many electrical problems that I just dismissed this car until their build quality improves. The International Herald Tribune also had just interviewed the CEO and his statement was that he was trying to save the brand through improved build quality. Which will probably be years and I wanted a car with some

Audi, VW, Mini or Jaguar:  None of these offer European delivery and we already own a Jaguar  S-Type.

Porsche:    They want a premium on European delivery... not from me!

Volvo  This brand is the most advertised internationally.  It is probably the most logical decision for delivery and resale, plus I really like the S60R with a stick.  Reminiscent of "muscle cars" when I was young.  However, this IS a FORD! (and as my wife reminds me, so is the Jag!).  Travel arrangements are palatable on SAS but not outstanding.  The quest continues.

Saab: ( ) I had never driven one or even been in one.  It's a GM product though and my mom had worked for GM for years so this may be the opportunity to "score some points" by showing my allegiance to the company.  After some internet due diligence and realizing that most Saab owners swear by, as opposed to "at", their cars, I decided to consider this further.  Consumer reports had two-year-old data and most of the automotive rags had no useful and timely information on the 9-3.  Most had "vanilla" comments about the car that sounded as though they were attempting to avoid a libel suit rather than giving an honest review.  Still, the lineage suggested that the brand and the car were good but the potential resale numbers, upon return stateside, didn't look as good as the 3-series BMW. 

So I still didn't have the catalyst to purchase a car I knew very little about.  So...all things being equal, what would be the decision maker?  Here it reimbursement!!!  Saab is the ONLY automaker that offers hard dollars for travel, thus decreasing the overall cost of the car.

Every company offering European delivery has a price discount (except Porsche) and some sort of affiliation or friend-flies-free offer.  Saab actually offers $2,000 for travel!  This allowed me to use my frequent flyer miles on American to book a flight and also to visit Helsinki on my way to Sweden.  I get 8% off MSRP plus $2,000 cash back, plus no sales tax...Sold. 

So, having never even been in the car or test driving it, I purchased a Saab 9-3 Aero with a stick shift  (the local dealer didn't have any stick shifts available for test drive) for delivery at the Saab factory in Trollhattan, Sweden.  Saab advertising states:  "People who test drive a Saab usually buy one!"  I told them that for me they should change it to: "People who buy a Saab, usually end up drivng one!"

I made the US arrangements with Jim Vickers at Saab South County in Mission Viejo, CA .  First, you have to realize that no dealer I spoke with had all the correct answers for picking up one of their cars in Europe and most didn't know about the California sales tax issue until I told them.  Perhaps this is the turnover in sales people or further indictment of the car sales profession.  But at least Jim, who was more knowledgeable than any other dealers on European delivery, was forthright in telling me that he would have to get the answers from Saab USA (Atlanta) if he didn't know something. He followed through and also kept me apprised via email.  As an aside, GM employee discounts do not work when purchasing a Saab for European Delivery. 

As it turns out the factory was unable to provide me with a stick shift (since it was so late in the model year) and asked me if I would accept an automatic ($1400 upgrade) at no additional charge.  Twist my arm some more and you know what the answer was.  So on June 7, 2004, a jet-lagged Cindy and I flew into Gothenberg and were met by a driver arranged by Saab's European delivery program.  He took us to the darkened and "surprised" factory visitor's center in Trollhattan where we asked to take the tour of the factory.  After about an hour of waiting, we were greeted by a friendly young lady who provided us with a "no photos please" tour.  We  then went across the street to the local dealer, picked up the documentation, Certificate of Origin and they unveiled my Saab.  Nice looking car!

However, I will note that the person in charge of European delivery for Saab merely met us in the hallway and we never saw her again.  If you are looking for ruffles and flourishes you are in the wrong place, you are just another customer toting your luggage through their immaculate factory and showroom on your way to pick up a car that was purchased at a great price.  In any event the salesman gave me a brief orientation; by the way, they filled the gas tank -- which is not inconsequential at $5/gal-- and we were on our way.  I promptly adhered to MPH instead of KPH and had to be reminded constantly of this and my other faults by Cindy -- my map-reader and wife.  One of the questions you may have is:  "What happens if you speed?"  Email me and I will tell you!

Before you decide to drive about the continent, you should determine where your insurance allows you to roam.  I had been told that several countries we wanted to visit were not covered.  These were Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  As it turns out, upon receipt of the insurance (green card) we were covered in every country except Iraq.  Not a huge disappointment.

The Saab 9-3 Aero has a stiff suspension and low-profile tires so the ride is harsh on some roads, particularly on some of the roads in Greece and "off Autobahn" roads in any country.  Road noise transmits to the cabin and the car could use some Supertherm as an undercoat for noise reduction.  Even downtown Paris, where I garaged the car, has its cobblestone challenges.  But, 95% of the roads allow absolutely great driving at high speeds and this car surprised the hell out of me. Very little wind noise and absolutely great handling at high speeds.   If you want to know about things like turbo lag and under/oversteer then look somewhere else like the Car and Driver or Road & Track guys testing cars you will never own, you won't find those evaluations here.

I was careful during the first 500 miles but after that, this car absolutely flies. I comfortably drove between 90 and 110 mph and occasionally hit 130 with plenty to spare.  I am sure that I went through some stationary radar sites so email me and I will share my experience there.  Upon departure I was concerned that all of my high speed transgressions would catch up to me and they would be kind of like savings bonds...the longer you keep them, the greater the maturity.

This thing not only performed great but turned heads.  I don't know if it was the export plates, Cindy,  low-profile US spec wheels or what... but I would look in my rear view mirror and people just turned to look.  And I can guarantee you it was the car or Cindy because it certainly wasn't me. 

So, off to Stockholm (a great city with the best Baltic herring on earth) and on to Denmark via the ferry at Helsingborg.  South to Germany and a neat little place called Tostedt.  Into Amsterdam where I parked the car for 3 days while we enjoyed the city.  Expect parking to be 25 to 30 euros a day in a major city unless you have a long term monthly contract like I did at Vinci Park in Paris in the Montparnasse area (about 180 Euros a month). 

From Amsterdam we crossed back through Germany to the Czech Republic to see the Bohemian glass districts. My wife Cindy is a glass artist -- -- so we bulked up on Czech beads and other glassware.  Back through Germany to Luxembourg and a visit to Clervaux to visit the Battle of the Bulge Museum where my Uncle Harold Stalnaker has many of his articles on display.  Then to Luxembourg City and a visit with old friends and a visit to the US Cemetery in Hamm where my Uncle's name is on the Wall of Missing and just steps from Patton's gravesite.  John Derneden devoted eight pages in his just-released second book to Uncle Harold and the excavation of his crash site by CILHI (Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii) in Kehlen near Luxembourg City. 

Luxembourg to Paris... where we used Paris as our base of operations to visit Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Greece.  We did spend time in the south of France at St. Paul de Vence visiting our friends John and Ann -- owners of the fabulous Villa St. Maxime.  John offered to let us park there, but we just never had the desire to fly in and out of Nice or take the TGV out of Avignon. 

During the summer months we took the roads over the mountain passes in France and Switzerland whenever we had an opportunity.  I frankly don't know if I would attempt this again with a car that doesn't have the sure-footedness of the Saab.  These one lane roads with steep cliffs, sometimes on both sides, were a test of car and driver.  Often I would take a corner only to meet another car in my lane heading down the hill....both of us braking and furiously downshifting while sharing the one lane...side by side.  I told Cindy more than once that I would awaken her if things got bad, because she shouldn't miss a wreck like that! 

The Aero, with its aviation lineage, spelled "low drag coefficient", and narrow body with wide tire stance, was perfect for these roads.  And when we got off into the countryside and into some smaller towns with ancient buildings, it was difficult to tell if I was on the road...or a one-way sidewalk.  We retracted the mirrors more than once to squeeze through some tight places.

You have to love the Italian drivers.  When I have rented cars there is absolutely zero respect when driving on the A or D roads.  Drivers would routinely pass me on the left and then pull into my lane, with no signal, while straddling the center line.  Irritating, aggravating and just generally bad driving.  However, in the Saab, knowing that I had horsepower and speed to spare, seemed to generate a certain respect from the Italians as this rarely happened.  Perhaps also because my highway speeds were much greater than when driving a rental car with questionable maintenance and fewer horses.  I also don't believe in flashing the high beams when overtaking and there was more than one driver of "German iron" that was surprised as I became "larger" in his rear view.

All things considered, if I were to do this all over again, I would certainly purchase another Saab Aero.  This car is just plain fun to drive.  Sure, purists, car salesmen and automotive trade rag writers may dissuade a purchaser from the front wheel drive Saab, and it does have its quirks -- like the ignition in the console. But on the drivability fun scale it just works well.  Plus, during our stay in Europe the new crash tests came out that made this purchase seem like a very smart move.

I had no mechanical problems but did blow a fuse which I replaced with the spare provided.  Two days prior to my shipping the car back home a rock dinged the windscreen.  I contacted the European Insurance carrier and they directed me to the Saab Dealer in Paris.  The dealer recommended, that while safe to drive, the windscreen be replaced.  They wanted 750 Euros and two days for the seal to "cure".  I didn't have that much time prior to shipment home so decided to tell the insurance company that I would replace the windscreen upon return to the US.  My quote here was $580, a huge difference to the Parisian quote, even if they were just 3 blocks from the Eiffel Tower.  Bistro pricing I guess!!

Now, an interesting thing happened during my ownership of the Saab in Europe.  Saab and/or E.H. Harms, the car shipper, decided to raise their prices for drop points throughout Europe.  This was not a publicized event and was a little "surprise".  When I purchased the car in June 2004, the shipping from Paris was $200.  Upon my departure in January 2005, the shipper wanted 350 Euros (about $460) to ship the car.  I decided that I would drive the car to Antwerp, ship the car from there for 80 Euros and take the TGV Thalys high-speed train back to Gare du Nord in Paris.  Definitely more fun and  a bit more scenery to enjoy.

My plan now is to take delivery on my Aero here in the US in February, 2005, sell it and purchase another for European delivery.  There is, at present, no compelling financial reason to purchase another brand unless there is a significant change in offerings, although the MINI does look very nice and would be great around the narrow European roads.  There is also not a lot of compelling automotive reasons to purchase another brand.  This car works well and, just as I was loyal to Toyota for 14 years, I believe that Saab may have my loyalty as long as they continue to provide a car of this quality and safety rating at, what I perceive to be, value pricing.

My Saab Aero is, as I type, on its way across the Atlantic to Charleston, SC, then through the Panama Canal and on to Port Hueneme, CA.  I asked if I could go with it but was informed by the shipper that this used to be an option but is no longer available.  Pity!


Cars, boats, and Segways... pix from our Saab driving tour!

June 2004:  Arrival day in Trollhattan, Sweden, and pick up of the Saab! First day: lunch at a lakeside restaurant in Sweden
First night: Ronnum Manor Hotel, Sweden...compliments of Saab Driving around in Sweden
Waiting for our Saab's first ferry trip: Helsingborg, Sweden to Denmark September 2004:  Saab visits southern Italy, near the "trulli" stone huts of Alberobello
Brindisi, Italy:  Waiting to take the Saab (and us) on the ferry to Corfu, Greece Beautiful Mediterranean shot taken in the Cinque Terre region, Italy
Corfu, Greece Cindy & Charlie riding Segways in Paris... love Charlie's Eiffel Tower "headgear"!
January 2005: Dropping off the Saab for shipping in Antwerp, Belgium Charles bids his "baby" a fond goodbye... for now: next stop for our Saab:  Port Hueneme, California!

Contact me, Charlie Stalnaker, with any questions/comments: