In 1968 when I was poorer and even more impoverished than I am now, my mother-in-law helped me to purchase a sixth-hand, white, Saab 96 two-stroke car. I still have the mug!

The Virgin Searcher

The following quote is from Andy Caley’s engaging and hilarious book, The Virgin Searcher available on Amazon. “Andrew Caley is a popular writer for one of the UK’s best-selling metal detecting magazines”. They were talking about The Searcher, of course. Here’s a short quote from the book – Andy is speaking.

Hot Diggity Dog introduces me to Jewel Hunter, Soil Boy, Holey Moly, Bog Lurker, Dirt Diver, Penetrator, Sweatstain, Fatboy and Mrs. Doubtfire.

You not got a nickname?” asks one. “Er, well, yes . . . um.” And then I hear myself blurt it out. “Captain Underpants.” What am I thinking? Why not say Treasure Hunter, Duke of Torc or even Goldenballs? Too late. Captain Underpants it is.”

Extract from The Virgin Searcher

I chose the above extract as my introduction because, when we start detecting and join a forum, a funny name or pseudonym is sometimes needed. I now know better. Andy’s examples are hilarious. I also liked‘ Bog Lurker’ and Bent Spoon, but my all-time favourite is ‘Bellend’.

Andy is a self-confessed ‘saddoe’ who braves all weathers and the mud to unearth ‘the lost, the buried and the forgotten’. He’s a metal detectorist who goes by the name of Captain Underpants. 🙂

So, when I started in the hobby MY nickname was SAABMAN. Can you guess what Mrs. John was called? For years many people didn’t know my real name. When I started writing for magazines the byline was usually ‘John Winter aka Saabman’. Even today many of my friends refer to me with my pseudonym. The history and reason I chose that name follows . . .

The Saab Enthusiast

In 1968 when I was poorer and even more impoverished than I am now, my mother-in-law helped me to purchase a sixth-hand, white, Saab 96 two-stroke car. I remember that the battery earth cable was rather worse for wear so, being resourceful, I filched some wire from the cooker and we used a gas ring instead. So began my long association with Saabs.

The white 96 two-stroke brought my son back from the maternity ward and was the car he knew so well during his formative years. There was a red 96 V4 followed by a green 99 and a yellow 99, a Saab 900 – then a brief foray into other marques. An aberration I know; put it down to some kind of midlife crisis. I took to driving vehicles of which my son didn’t approve. “Doesn’t suit you Dad!”

He was, at this time, the proud owner of a Saab 900 (classic) and a very dead 96 taking up a lot of space on the drive. I can only guess that must’ve been some seepage of two-stroke oil into his young veins on that journey back from the hospital. A kind of osmosis in which he never quite recovered. Or perhaps it was already in the genes and part of his DNA.

In about 2001 we were passing a local Saab garage. Out of the corner of his eye (my son was driving) he caught me looking wistfully at the regimented lines of shiny and seductive Swedish motors and casually remarked, “When are you going to get another Saab, Dad?”

The account you are reading first appeared The Magazine of the Saab Enthusiasts Club. Notice that the red Saab 96V4 is called ‘The Killer Tomato’. Don’t ask me why!

His mother picked up the refrain and enthusiastically chimed in, “Go on, spoil yourself, John. You deserve it.” I muttered something about Saabs being too expensive and continued on our journey home. But the seed had already germinated. I knew, deep down, that I didn’t stand a chance.

Next day, in a dreamlike state, I visited the aforementioned garage on my own – just for a look, you understand. The persuasive salesman gave me the keys to a gleaming Saab 900 for a few hours … and I ended up buying it. Just like that. My wife was ecstatic and my son was full of praise.

I thought that I was a legitimate ‘Sabber’ once again. My son paid for a subscription to the Saab Owners’ Club and introduced me to the Saab List, an Internet site devoted to models no longer in production. I didn’t get the T-shirt, but he did buy me a host of goodies.

I became the proud owner of a Saab sticker, mug, cufflinks, key ring and I even plucked up the courage to make the occasional contribution to the List. After all, I had all the right credentials, including the full beard and balding head. Or, so I thought …

The Saab logo was at one of the most popular and instantly recognisable car logos in the world. It comprises of the head of a griffin – a winged monster with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion – which originates from the official coat of arms of Count von Skane, the company’s founder.

What I didn’t have was a proper Saab. Oh yes, the ignition was in the right place and the heated seats looked after my nether regions, an important factor at my age. But this was a Vauxhall 900 and frowned upon by the true aficionado.

Being the sensitive soul that I was and feeling a fraud, I allowed the subscription to expire and subsequently bowed out of the List.

In the meantime, my son was dragging me all over the country in his quest for a Saab 96, the car made famous by the Swedish rally driver Erik Carlsson. It was akin to searching for the Holy Grail. We saw some bummers, I can tell you! Eventually he found what he was looking for; tomato-soup coloured 96 with the original fittings and a full service history. He also agreed to let me share the car – perhaps my offer of going halves with the money was the determining factor!


I garaged the car and was given a full list of instructions. “We must look after this Dad,” I was told. “It will appreciate in value.” Little did he know that it had just come back from a Tesco run! After that telephone conversation I polished it a little more, encased it in bubble wrap, and put it back to bed. I went out to look at it every now and again.

But the great advantage was that my son and I had embarked on a project in which we were both deeply interested. We tinkered; we discussed and worked out problems together. Call it male bonding if you like. Young John rekindled my interest in Saabs.

A few days later I received a letter from the secretary of the Saab List. “Please find enclosed your membership card, windscreen sticker and the last issue of the magazine … your subscription has been paid by John Winter Junior.”

Thanks son. For the second time around, that’s how I became a true Saab enthusiast!

‘Tecking Wagon

© JW The Saab 99 was produced by Saab from 1968 to 1984 – Rough terrain was not usually a problem
  1. The yellow Saab was the one I used in most of my detecting forays. One day it conked out in a Sussex field, miles from home. Directing the RAC repair man to the area was a challenge. When he eventually found us, he clapped his hands. “It’s ages since I worked on a proper car,” he exclaimed. The temporary repair, using a piece of electric-type tape, was soon fixed and we successfully made the long journey home.
  2. A metal detecting friend of mine whose real job was in art and design, was involved in designing the Saab logo.
  3. The 99 was ‘front-wheel-drive’ still a relatively uncommon configuration at the time of the 99’s introduction.
  4. A police version of the 99 was also built. More information on the 99 can be found HERE.
  5. Congratulations if you have made it this far.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

10 thoughts on “THE SAABMAN STORY”

  1. I made it all the way through for the second time round.
    The Saab cars were from the era when we could do our own fault diagnoses and running repairs, those were the days.
    Another great blog post John, keep at it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We do indeed get involved with a brand and model. Mine was the VW Beetle. The problem of course was that all I could do was change a tire and check the oil. Fun post Saabman!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This story really took me back John.. Like you, and a great many I suspect, I have gone through my share of vehicles.. Some have proven themselves to be nothing less than lemons; others have been solid performers for me. I had, for a while, a love affair with the Ford Bronco,, I have rebuilt and repaired several over the years,

    But for me, the ‘holy grail’, has always been a Morris minor woody.. a traveler as it is sometimes called. It was my first car and the one that I have regretted selling.. At the moment I am looking around for one.. with any luck, that will be my next, and last, automobile purchase


    Liked by 1 person

  4. This article explains a great deal, about John jnr! yet again so pleased to see you are keeping up the excellent writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Attachment to our cars – especially the first (1964 ) is pretty universal. Like a ship, my HILLMAN IMP had a female nickname and I gently washed her every week. This was pre-Mrs John, of course!


  6. What a great SAAB story John, but if you want a real sob story I can tell you about my Ford Pinot! Hahahaha……

    Tough choice though……White, Yellow or Killer Tomato?!?

    The white one looks like you should sitting in the back of it being chauffeured around, the yellow one definitely looks like a Tesco run vehicle, so I’ll have to go with the Killer Tomato…….plus I’m partial to that condiment. LOL….

    Liked by 1 person

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