A Saab-y Visit to Caffeine & Carburetors

NEW CANAAN, CONNECTICUT—Lawrence Allen is the retired head of the in-house publishing department at the Museum of Modern Art. He’s also a dedicated Saab guy, who bought his first one (an ’84 three-door, new) when he was 29 but likes to have only one at a time. The current car is a 1993 900 Commemorative Edition coupe, number 48 of 325, with a plaque to prove it.

Lawrence Allen’s 1993 Saab 900CE with Allen on the right and Tim O’Sullivan on the left. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The latest adventure started when a neighbor said to him, “If you love them so much, why don’t you get another one?” The car was tracked down online. Allen’s 900 CE is the nicest I’ve seen, with an uncracked dash top that he drove all the way to Delaware to obtain. The walnut-grain dash that was standard on the CE had to be remade—carefully.

The Saab started out as a California car, sold new by the dealership in Santa Monica for $33,085 (including $24 for the cassette holder still in place). The west coast setting preserved the body and remarkably didn’t dry out the tan leather seats, which are as original. “I’ve spent the last two years trying to simultaneously put it back together and to educate myself.” He cites the kindness of the Connecticut/Massachusetts/Rhode Island Saab community in getting the car to show condition.

Lewis Eig with his “99 Aero” (actually a 1984 99 GL with a 16-valve conversion). (Jim Motavalli photo)

Allen was encountered May 21 on the ground at Caffeine and Carburetors, the truly wonderful and informal old car gathering in New Canaan, Connecticut. These cars and coffee events have caught on across the country—take a look, there’s probably one near you. In a parking lot around the corner I met Lewis Eig, who drove up from northern New Jersey in his 1984 eight-valve 99 GL, an import from the Netherlands, now converted to 16-valve turbo and wearing a fanciful “99 Aero” plate. Eig, whose father started him on Saabs, is a very hands-on guy who also restores Porsches—and plans vintage rallies.

“I’ve had 30 or more Saabs over the years,” Eig said. “I had a little side hustle through high school and college fixing them for cheap. Paid my way through school. Professors with Saabs would give me an easy A. And on my first job, my boss in Ridgefield, Connecticut had a 900 SPG that he couldn’t keep running. I’d bring it home every weekend to make it right. No doubt the Saab connection got me that job and kept me employed during the slow economy of the early 90s.” He regrets selling his silver two-stroke Sonett.

Tim O’Sullivan, a friendly Irishman met on the street, talked about his eight Saabs—and extensive history of working on them in and around Connecticut.

The RV8, rare in the U.S. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Walking around Caffeine & Carburetors is always a rush. The first car I ran into after Eig’s Saab 99 was a right-hand-drive MG RV8. You don’t see those every day. These cars were first conceived in 1998, after British Motor Heritage started building MGB bodies. The RV8 has a 3.9-liter Rover (a/k/a Buick) V-8 with 185 horsepower—about the same as the Saab 900 CE! Only 1,983 were built.

Yes, that is a Maxton! (Jim Motavalli photo)

A row of restored Schwinn bikes, made new again by Jim Cooper in Norwalk, Connecticut, was nice to see. How many 1992 Maxton Rollerblades have you seen? These cars, inspired by the Lotus 7, are fairly basic—and this one was #16 of 51. British cars abounded, including several original Minis and Mini Coopers, plus Austin-Healeys (a ragged but right 100), Triumphs and Jaguars (exquisite XK120s).

Minis abounded at Caffeine & Carburetors. (Jim Motavalli photo)

A beautiful red 1963 Mercury Comet S-22 convertible with bucket seats and a console reminded me of the 1964 Comet Caliente ragtop I used to own. I’ve had a lot of cars!

The 1963 Mercury Comet S-22 convertible was a “compact” in its day. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The graceful BMW 1600 GT was the direct precursor of the 1967 BMW 1600 that was my first foreign car—thanks, Aunt Katie!

The rare BMW 1600 GT led directly to the 1600 and 2002 models. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The 1600 GT was parked, appropriately, next to a Glas 1300 GT convertible—a truly rare car. This one was from before BMW acquired the Glas business and rebadged the cars. Glas produced 5,376 GTs, of which only 363 were the cabriolet. BMW then built a further 1,259.

The Jolly is minus its distinctive fringed top. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Three Fiat 500/600s in a row included the scarce surrey-top “Jolly” version for yacht-tender beach town use that have been doing quite well at auction. The bikini top is fringed, and the seats are rattan. Somebody recently paid $156,800 for one of these.

One of three Lucid Airs on the premises. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Lucid had a whole team, with jacketed staff and three Air cars, Grand Touring and Pure models. It was smart marketing—the New Canaan attendees, many of them with kids and dogs, could afford a Lucid Air electric car. “We wanted to get the car out there, to let people know what Lucid is,” said a genial fellow who wanted to be known only as Tim. Those Grand Touring cars will wow owners of Teslas—they have 516-mile range and 2.5-second zero to 60 times.

His and hers DeLoreans. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Other cool cars: a 1914 Cadillac, a stately Buick Electra 225 from maybe 1965, an Austin-Healey 3000 (for sale) definitely from 1965, a lowered and customized bright green Mazda Miata, a his-and-her pair of DeLoreans, fleets of Porsches—really, a lot of Porsches!

Would I do this to my own Miata? No, but it’s cool anyway. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The next Caffeine & Carburetors is September 17. Listen for the sharp commentary from former radio DJ Peter Bush. He’s very well informed!

One thought on “A Saab-y Visit to Caffeine & Carburetors

  1. thank you for this Jim! I live so close and yet have never been. I do a church choir gig on Sunday morning and haven’t made it to this event. maybe I will go this summer. great pics!!! John

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