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Sheer determination kept the most Moreauvian Saab on the road for years past its expiration date

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos by John Ahlberg.

The story of John Ahlberg’s SnabelGalf begins, like so many stories of beloved yet admittedly ugly cars, with a rear-ending from a taxi. It takes some unexpected twists and turns and ends, again like so many others, with an act of love.

The Internet these days is awash in blogs and joke social media accounts exploring the depths of man’s tyranny with a torch to the vehicles he relies on for basic transportation, each new day’s post an attempt to find the ugliest and most tasteless car modifications.

These sites earn their fair share of backlash. Taste, after all, is subjective. And besides, most people modify a vehicle out of their own personal needs or desire to express themselves; criticizing the end result is the domain of mere bullies, not galaxy-brain cultural critics. (Excepting, of course, modifications that put the safety of others in jeopardy.)

But rather than wait around for the keyboard commandos to snicker and point at his ugly cars, Ahlberg pre-emptively struck on the I Love Terrible Ugly Cars Facebook group with his wholehearted embrace of the ugly car genre and may very well have won the Internet for the day.

His SnabelGalf, according to Ahlberg, started out as a 1973 Saab 96 V4 “in quite good condition” that he dailied more than a quarter century ago. “I was happy with my old Saab but one day a taxi driver behind me didn’t brake when I had to brake, so the rear of my Saab turned into something that reminded me of an accordion,” he wrote.

He tried to straighten out the sheetmetal, but the damage proved severe, so he just slapped on a taillamp to keep it on the road. A few months later, a friend of his bought a Volkswagen Golf to part out, and Ahlberg had an idea. Not only would the Volkswagen provide some reasonably straight sheetmetal and a place to slap a license place, it would also add a hatchback to the Saab.

“I welded the parts together well and took my Saab to the car approval / MOT and got it approved as a ‘modified vehicle,'” Ahlberg wrote, noting that he spent some time studying the oftentimes strict Swedish rulebook and pinpointing what loopholes he could take advantage of. “I drove it everyday to and from work (an hour each way) for a few years, then the rust ate through my welds and the rotten VW-rear and I had to do something more serious to save my Saab.”

(The SnabelGalf name, according to Ahlberg, derives from the Swedish term for the trunk of an elephant. It’s a “play on words that works a little less bad in Swedish,” he said. It’s unfortunate Volkswagen didn’t market the Golf as the Rabbit in Europe, otherwise he could have called it the Saabbit. But we digress.)

For the Saab’s next iteration, Ahlberg drove down to a scrapyard, found a Fiat 127 Fiorino, and cut the box off the back of it.

I put it like a motorcycle helmet on top of my Saab and drove home sloooowly. Then I cut of the VW rear, and a chunk of the Saab, replaced the C-pillar with some struts, welded on the Fiat box loosely and drove one hour to my work where I had better tools to finish the job. I had to take the car through another MOT approval, and it passed again with no problems at all.

He then dailied the Saabiat (Saabiorino?) for another five years and gave it up only when he got married and his new wife expressed her disdain for the mongrel. It spent another year or two parked in his yard until he gave it away to a student, who promised to sell the car back to Ahlberg when he was done with it. Instead, it wound up in a junkyard and by the time Ahlberg learned of its fate, he was too late to save it from the crusher.

Along the way, the Saab in its SnabelGalf guise did make it to the cover of Bakrutan, the Swedish Saab Club’s magazine, under the headline World’s Ugliest Saab, in 1993. And though he conceded the original Saab to marital harmony (and subsequently dailied a Volvo Laplander for 11 years), he’s since regressed to hacking up old Saabs, including a Saab 96 V4 (dubbed “Spökplumpen”) and a Saab 95 (“Frankenfrog”) to which he’s applied the rat rod treatment.