by Iain Hodcroft May 2014
Andrei Iliev began, like many of us, as a collector of Saab paraphernalia. He specialised in 1:43 scale models, and again like so many of us he became frustrated at the paucity of good quality, or even any quality, models of so many of Trollhättan’s finest vehicles in his display cabinet. It cannot have been easy collecting mainly Western European produced models from his home in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria; but his patience over a 20 year plus collecting career eventually blossomed into the passion necessary to compensate for the gaps in the cabinet by launching a new range of artisan built, extremely high quality 1:43 replicas of some of the rarest and strangest Saabs ever made.
Not a single example from the Griffin Models range is based on that of any other manufacturer. Every component is produced by Andrei from scratch, and he appears to have mastered the production of both white metal and resin models in his own idiosyncratic manner. I am taken back to the early and mid 1980s, when Doug McHard of Somerville fame was ploughing his own individualistic furrow with exquisite Saabs, never before modelled. 30 years later we have another pioneer, creating unique, distinctive and characterful masterpieces. If only I could afford them.
The simple listing in MAR 278 and selection of accompanying photos did not do anywhere near adequate justice to this fast-developing model range, so I decided to submit a little more information to the Editor; initially on the six subjects that were illustrated, but if this is received well, I will cover the others in the range as well. This is totally unsolicited and unknown to Andrei in Bulgaria; just one Saab nut enthusing about another!
This beast first saw official light of day at the June 2013 Saab Festival in Trollhättan, followed by an appearance at the International Saab Clubs meeting held at Wicksteed Park, Kettering at the beginning of August last year. The Neo Brothers, Andy and Mario, are well-known within the UK Saab fraternity for their operation in Waltham Cross supplying pre-owned vehicles, breaking older Saabs for parts and providing repair and servicing facilities.
They have a history of preparing cars for track events and the ‘SS’ is their latest offering. The chassis and drive train is that of a ten year old Saab 9.3 Aero married to an old Saab 96 body shell. The vehicle is finished in a bright yellow colour scheme, the visual appeal of which is … ‘personal’. Shoehorned under the bonnet are various tweaks that have increased the original 210hp to around 500hp with alleged ‘Saabenstein’ capabilities of 0-62 mph times in under six seconds and speed above 150 mph. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s all a matter of taste; the real car does nothing for me, but the model will be a gem, when released later this year.
‘The Dream Trip’: Saab 900 Hatchback with Toppola camper combo
Andrei has a unique way of constructing his Saab 900s. He has mastered the various two, three, four and five-door variants and introduced a ‘configurator’ that allows customers to choose the required wheels, dashboards, grilles, headlight types, seats, steering wheels, additional equipment like louvres, spoilers, etc, allowing for a custom-made scale model kit. Resin is currently used, although some of the original kits were in white metal. The ‘Toppola’ was originally produced for the Saab 99 combi coupe (hatchback). It is bolted to one roof bar attached to the guttering at the front end of the car, and at the rear the hatch is removed and the device is bolted to the tow bar. A huge bed space is created with a tiny amount of standing room, and just enough space for a sink unit, stove and a storage locker. The idea originated in the early 1980s with a Swedish-based Finn, but was popularised by a guy called Peter Malmburg, a boat salesman and his partner a boat-builder who built various editions for mounting on the classic 900. Chris Derbyshire and I once made a detour to Landskrona after spending too much money at a Gothenburg toy fair, where we met Peter and almost bought an empty shell that had been used for transporting fresh flowers from Holland to Sweden. I have regretted the failure to agree a deal ever since, but I was too afraid of my wife’s likely fury and bank manager’s certain ire to take the plunge! Later versions of the Toppola were fitted to the Saab 9000 and the new generation Saab 900 from 1994, and later still the first generation 9.3 hatches. Despite the modest number of campers produced, Toppolas have a devoted following and their own website www.toppola.com. The illustration depicts a small run of ready-built models that have been made available. I have a slightly different version produced for the 2012 International Saab Clubs Meeting in Spa, Belgium. Another miniature masterpiece or more accurately pair of masterpieces.
Saab 9-5 Aero 2010
Before Saab’s ‘almost demise’, after the slow suffocation by GM and the not quite death throes prior to NEVS, there was a brief hiatus when salvation came from the Netherlands! Victor Muller was the archetypical messianic figurehead in the oh-so-too short-lived, brave new world of Saab, post-General Motors. Christian Koenigsegg flirted and deserted, and it was left to Victor and his rumoured Russian associates, to take the spoils, or any that were left! During the brief marriage of Saab and Spyker, the new generation Saab 9.5 was rushed into production in 2010. It probably contributed to the cessation of production a few months later, when bills were left unpaid and bankruptcy prevailed. All previous model launches from Saab had been accompanied by a 1:43 scale equivalent, but not this time! So again, Andrei has stepped into the breach and created another work of art. Both kits and a very limited number of ready built resin models should soon be available.
Saab 900 Enduro
The first Saab 99 turbo transformed a fairly staid family car into a WRC-winning beast (Sweden 1980); it was tamed somewhat and far more controllable in the replacement car, the classic Saab 900 introduced for the 1980 model year. So what did our mad Antipodean cousins do? Produce this feral beast! Another cult Saab with its own dedicated website www.saab900enduro.com with none of the 11 completed examples (or the 12th body shell) being allowed to escape Australia! Four or five are reputed still to exist some 30-odd years later, and a couple of owners seem to have collaborated with Andrei in the production of the model. His initial run of 12 pieces has sold out. Perhaps he will manage to fit additional examples into his busy production schedule.
It was at one of the biennial Saab Festivals in Trollhättan 3 or 4 years ago that this beastie turned up and wowed the crowds. Originally in a green and cream paint scheme, in 2013 it was back in these colours, partnered with www.klassiker.nu a Scandinavian classic car magazine. We’ll focus on this vehicle, but readers need to know this is the second project of the same crazy Swede who wanted to create his own camper van. The first venture (around 1962) was built around a 1955 Saab 92 with its hugely powerful two stroke, two cylinder 28hp engine. It was just slightly slower than the previously featured motor. This one was much more powerful, being fabricated on the more powerful Saab V4. Neither car went into production and the venture was quietly forgotten until around 2007, when a Swedish club member spied the 95HK on an auction site. Contact was made with the vendor, and that also led to the original 92H being discovered in the depths of a Swedish forest. A group was formed, and they raised sufficient spondulicks to buy them both. For more info see www.92h.se. Both the model and the real thing are pretty awesome! Thanks Andrei!
Saab 900 Hatchback Aspen Police
So, to the last of the bunch pictured in the last MAR, the Aspen Police Saab 900. More mundane than previous models in some senses; this is still a pretty significant model.
Until a new Police Chief appointment in 1973, Aspen was a traditional all-American police department, latterly using Ford Torino four-door sedans for transport. The town is at around 8000 feet high in the Rockies and at the base of a ski mountain, so the rear-wheel drive vehicles were not in their best working environment. Then the department began a 30-year mutually beneficial relationship with Saab in America.
“It was either Saabs, or we were also looking at Ford Bronco SUVs, but Saab cut us a better deal, because they wanted to use us in their advertising,” an Aspen Police historian explained. As part of the image change that the Saabs brought about, the department also dropped the state patrol uniforms, and went to blue jeans, work shirts, and cowboy hats. “There was a big mindset shift, from being paramilitary honkies; back then you were pigs, coming out of the 1960s” . (See the enlightenment that Saab brings…!!)
The new Saabs were four-door 99s, leased from Saab USA on three-year plans. After the 99s came 900s, 9000s and latterly 9.5s. They all regularly featured in Saab advertising in that part of America throughout the years until 2005, when Saab’s corporate owners decided that this local cooperative effort was not worth their participation, and priced the city out of the Saab business. There is probably a salutary lesson here, because in the days of Saab police cars in Aspen, Saabs were literally everywhere around, owned by lots of local townsfolk; probably, because they thought if the cars were good enough for the police to use 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, they would probably work well for the regular Joe. Today you’ll be lucky to see a Saab in Aspen, and in fact, the local Saab dealership that cared for the police vehicles went out of business soon thereafter.
The Griffin Models version of the Aspen Police five-door Saab 900 is a good and accurate representation, I just can’t make myself fork out 89 Euros for a resin kit. My head tells me it is not an unreasonable amount in this day and age, particularly given the immense care gone into its preparation and presentation, it’s just that my heart won’t let me. Yet.
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