I bought a car.

My 1990 T-Bird, acquired from Scott Glancy in April for one dollar (and worth every penny!), bit the dust about a week and a half ago. I thought about repairing it, but the darn thing already had so many problems that I figured I’d be better off putting the money into something more solid.

My plans for buying another junker for $500 quickly escalated into looking for cars in the $2000-$3000 range. Still crud by some standards, but solid enough to last a few years. About the same price as my computer, actually.

What I finally settled on, and just picked up this afternoon, is a 1983 Saab 900. Yeah, it’s seven years older than the T-Bird. But damn it’s in great shape. Even though it’s an eighteen-year-old car, it only has 130,000 miles on it–do the math. This car has not seen nearly as much road as its age would suggest.

And it’s beautiful. The body is in perfect shape, the original paint looks fabulous, and the interior is almost spotless. Really amazing condition. It’s even got the original Saab mini-spare and tool kit, complete with tube of color-matched body paint, and the manuals. In the manuals I found service records for the first 75,000 miles, which show that the original owner (a guy in San Diego) was responsible and regular about getting it serviced. After that it’s a blank, unfortunately, but at least it had a happy childhood. I know from the title search I did that it spent its last several years as a commercial vehicle of some sort. I’m guessing it belonged to a small company around town, either as an office car or for small deliveries. It’s a two-door hatchback, and when you drop the back seat it’s incredibly spacious for cargo.

I just took it on the interstate for some late-night driving, and it’s such a pleasure. Rock solid feel, great handling, and the five-speed stick-shift really lets you punch it just the way you want. When I started going up a hill, I dropped it into fourth and floored the pedal and actually accelerated to 85 going uphill–something I’m not used to doing in any meaningful way with the cars I’ve driven in the past. It’s just a four-cylinder engine, but it really seems to have what it needs for the road.

My favorite car up until now was a 1978 Datsun B210 that my parents bought used in the late 1980s. It was small and kind of weak but handled pretty well. By comparison, though, it felt really light and insubstantial. This Saab feels heavier, more massive, and it’s a comforting sort of weight.

My impression driving this thing sounds like ad copy: this car likes to drive. It really does. Driving around town, I started dropping it to second and speeding into turns at intersections, and it took those corners like a champ. No rock and roll, just steady power. What a ride!

I must admit, however foolish it sounds: my taste for driving really changed from playing a lot of Test Drive V-Rally for the Sega Dreamcast. It’s a fantastic driving game, and it’s all about racing on rural roads with real-life compact street models like this Saab. My experience playing that game actually transferred to some extent to my real-life driving, even before I got the Saab. I feel much more confident about what I can do with a car, and I’ve put in some time driving that way to develop that confidence. Not recklessly, but just with the full belief that I know what I’m doing enough to make the car do what I want it to do. It’s a great feeling. I understand now why people get obsessive about driving. Once it stops just being absent-minded transport and becomes something you invest your brain and muscle memory into, there are real rewards to the experience.

And in a happy twist, when I got back to my studio from the dealership, the car next to me was a late-model Saab. As I was fussing over my car, the driver of that car came out of the building and we started talking. He’s a Saab lover, and recommended a Saab-only service shop that he’s had good experiences with. Sometime early next year I hope to take it by there to get it checked out and see what kind of work I might should invest in it.

God knows, something awful could happen with this car. It’s over half as old as I am. Maybe it’s just waiting to devour its own transmission or something. But I’m hopeful, because it drives like a dream and looks even better. We’ll see.

Biggest downside: no stereo. Not even any *speakers*. I checked the rear speaker grilles and there’s nothing under them. I need to take a flashlight to them and see if the wiring is there or if the poor thing came from the factory without any sound system at all, which seems really unlikely. Assuming the car checks out with the shop in the spring, I’ll look at investing some money into that. Because jeez, I need a radio in that car if nothing else. I suspect that someone put a good sound system in there and then took it out when they sold it, because the radio slot in the dashboard has what looks very much to be an aftermarket cover. If I’m right, it means someone put good speakers and a stereo in there and yanked them before trading it in, in which case it shouldn’t be too big of a deal to get them replaced.

Anyway, that’s for later. I’m just pleased to have a swell car.