The beautiful Saab 9-5 SportCombi never made it to dealerships, meaning that the few wagons built and auctioned off were non-road legal pre-production models. That didn't stop a Saab fan from 9-5sc2012 from figuring out how to get his dream car on the road.
I've been a Saab fan for as long as I can remember. The Saab virus hit me through my best friend in school whose father had his own Saab dealership. I still vividly remember the test drive we took with the brand new 99 Turbo he had just received from the factory that day. I sat behind him and saw the Turbo meter that was mounted on top of the dashboard spike as we were vastly accelerating. I was sold on Saab but had to wait until 1999 before I could afford to buy my first one.
Advancing many years and about some 10 Saabs later, I read about the fact that many unique Saabs would be auctioned out in December 2012, among which several 9-5NG SportCombi's.
I have always admired Saab's quirkiness, performance, reliability and above all its design. The new 9-5 launched in 2010 I just find stunning and when I realized I could get my hands on one of the extremely rare SportCombi's, I set my mind to it. It would take me almost a year before I actually was able to call one my own and drive it.
This epos (it got quite a bit longer than I initially envisioned) is a summary of the different events that happened from the date of the auction until the day I received my permanent Swedish license plates in the mail. A journey and a struggle of more than 10 months to get a truly unique car that was supposedly "never to be allowed back on the road again" road legal.
After many nerve-racking minutes and frantically hitting my browser's refresh button I finally understood that I had won the highest bid and that I had just bought a very coveted 9-5NG SportCombi!
The beautiful Arctic White was now mine!
My blood was still rushing as I received the confirmation mail from auction house KVD.
I understood that the car was located in Wallhamn (near Gothenburg) and as there was no obvious way to drive it to Stockholm myself I had KVD arrange for transport to their facilities in the Stockholm area.
However, many more things had to be figured out: how to get the car insured, but more importantly, how to get it registered?
This text was written on a metal plaque that was mounted in the engine department of all the MY12 cars that were sold in the auction, including mine. Even though the message itself (i.e. it would be impossible to get it on the road again) was repeated all over the media, it sounded strange to me. Why would it be impossible to get one of the world's technologically advanced and safest cars refused that privilege?
I decided to do whatever it would take to give it a try anyway and was immediately backed by the two other Saab fanatics in the family: my daughter M and her boyfriend F.
No CoC = IVA
Under normal circumstances, vehicles get approved using a so-called type approval process. The car manufacturer performs extensive tests on a new car and when it passes gets granted a "Certificate of Conformity" (CoC). Any new cars that are produced using the same specifications are then automatically approved as they conform to the specs from the earlier approved vehicle. Virtually all new cars in the European Union carry a CoC, which makes life much easier and cheaper for the manufacturer (they don't have to get each individual car approved) and for consumers (as it facilitates cross-border trade by not requiring new approvals in another member state). Unfortunately, Saab didn't manage to complete the type-approval process in time before they went bankrupt and hence my SC didn't have a CoC.
So now what? Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) came up as the most plausible option in the research M + F did. IVA is a process where vehicles without CoC are being assessed for compliance against all applicable technical, safety and environmental requirements. For that IVA to work, I would need "all" the paperwork available for my car.
The quest for the papers
Saab Automobile AB had my car registered earlier as "LSO 372". One would think that given this, there would be relevant documents available. Well, think again. We called KVD. We called Saab Parts. We called the Saab Museum. We called NEVS. We called the bankruptcy estate. We called Transportstyrelsen (the Swedish Road Administration). Twice. Three times. Four times. The people at Transportstyrelsen were contradicting each other; emails to the other organizations remained unanswered. Nobody knew or seemed to want to know.
As I wasn't the only new owner of a SportCombi (18 were offered in the December KVD auction), I really wanted to get in touch with other owners to exchange experiences. I quite quickly found H in Norway, owner of the Glacier Silver #10. He proved to be really passionate about his SC but also motivated to try and help through a private forum he immediately created for all owners to keep track of everyone's registration efforts.
H considered IVA but went for something different in the end: Norwegian law has a special rule for cars that have historical value. Unfortunately this didn't help me as Norway isn't member of the EU and the rules for "veteran" cars are different in Sweden. It would take until April 25th for H to get the decision and his car road legal in Norway.
However, the first SC to get permanently back on the road again was the beautiful Fjord Blue #13.
Located in southern Germany, its owner M was successfully worked with his local TÜV (German inspection authority) and got his car through the IVA process on January 14th already. Very encouraging news for all of us in the SC community!
On the back of the news from the completed auction, Car Magazine "Teknikens Värld" published a test of two SportCombis (featuring Laser Red #19 and my Arctic White #17!) in early January and I contacted the author of the article to see whether he could possibly help. He was quite supportive and encouraged me to continue with my quest and stressed that registration in his opinion should be possible as the SC was built using known technology and specs.
Just a few days later on 23 January, Jet Black #04 was featured in daily newspaper "Aftonbladet". An article about the owner M triggered me to also contact him. As it turned out, he was located in Kiel, Germany and ran a Saab dealership. His "road to registration" wasn't obvious at all either. Although #13 had been approved a few weeks earlier.
I contacted him via email and mailed him the last printed copy of Aftonbladet (the one containing the article with his car featured) I could find. BTW Interesting that journalists can be all over you yet don't seem to have a process to send you the final result…
In any case, I asked M whether he could consider helping us to get my car approved in Germany as it looked like he would get his own through now. He immediately confirmed back that he would be happy to and that he had received a similar request from A, the owner of Jet Black #20 from Latvia.
When M got confirmed on the 30th that his #04 had passed all tests and had been approved by TÜV, I decided that approval through Kiel was going to be the route to take.
With this principal decision taken, lots of logistics had to be taken care of still. While the appointment at TÜV was confirmed quickly for March 1st, the question of how to get the car there (and back to Stockholm) wasn't too easily answered. Many, many phone calls and web searches later I found out that with the TÜV appointment confirmed, I could use German temporary plates that are actually designed for this purpose and valid for 5 days, so I could drive the car myself (vs. transporting it on a trailer). With the help of DHL I received the plates and special insurance papers just in time for my trip to Germany. In fact, I should say "our trip" as my great and faithful aids M + F tagged along- they didn't want to miss the opportunity! First stop was going to be Autohaus Lafrentz in Kiel, where I would get the car first inspected and prepared before heading over to TÜV to get the actual inspection done.
The trip itself was amazing. I could experience the car for the first time for real, driving it for nearly 1,000 kilometers. What a great car and what great improvements Saab had made in the MY12 series! I love the subtle additions (e.g. the classic airplane symbol on the odometer) and the impressive performance of the 1.6T engine. Not only is it unbelievably silent, it provides a stunning 180hp combined with great mileage. OK, it isn't as performant as the 260HP I am used to from my Hirsched 9-5NG Sedan, but more than sufficient power and in fact great fun to drive!
The other unexpected element of the trip was the enormous interest along the way. When the first car just kept on driving besides us for several minutes on the E4 motorway, I first thought that there possibly was something wrong with my car. Then I realized that its driver was actually getting his camera phone out and taking pictures while giving me the "thumbs up". That ritual repeated itself numerous times and at some point I lost count of the number of people filming, photographing or just complementing us on the road, at the petrol stations and on the ferries. What a great feeling that so many people found the SC so beautiful and special and even more incredible to see the multiple posts on different Swedish, Danish and German Internet forums from people that had spotted us!
Upon arrival in Kiel, I was amazed to see four SC's in one location! #20 and #04 that had already been approved, my #17 and we were also joined by J from Switzerland and his Carbon Grey #46. Early in the morning on the 1st of March we drove headed over to TÜV for the inspection. Although M from Autohaus Lafrentz accompanied us and seemed very confident that everything would work out, I was quite nervous- would my car pass the test?
We didn't have to wait long after we arrived and we were welcomed into the inspection hall by M, the engineer who had previously also had been involved in the approvals of #04 and #20. It took M some two hours to very thoroughly inspect the car and perform applicable tests. When he was done with the practical part, he confirmed to us that the car had passed this inspection, but that he would need some days to ensure that all the required certifications and paperwork were in place before he could officially approve the car.
Very satisfied and happy we then returned home as we passed had the first – critical – phase!
7 March: Road Legal!
On the 7th I received a phone call that all the paperwork was ready and that my car had been officially approved and that I would receive the permanent German plates later that week. WOW! I got my SC road legal in Germany and getting it approved in Sweden should be a straightforward exercise.
Just days later I filed an application for verification of origin at Transportstyrelsen, which I got granted on March 27th.
5 April: "Så är det bara"… the agony starts…
With the verification of origin done, the next step was to simply book a registration inspection. Now it would just be a matter of days or weeks to get the last phase done and my car road legal in Sweden. At least, so I thought…
In the early morning of Friday 5 April, my daughter M and I arrived at inspection agency "Carspect" in Vårby/Stockholm. We were met by a very brisk technician that without asking us anything virtually immediately said "it's not going to happen". He flat out refused to take a closer a look at the car and chose to ignore all the technical papers and certifications I had with me. Instead, he kept on repeating himself by saying "it's just the way it is" without providing any further explanation. Having done a fair bit of research myself, it was crystal clear to me that he didn't know what rules and exceptions to apply in this case and that it was going to be an uphill battle. This feeling was further strengthened when he finally started showing a few paragraphs of the Swedish vehicle regulation on the screen of his computer and when I pushed him on the fact that I felt he was missing the point entirely and was applying the wrong procedure, he flashed a note from Transportstyrelsen that stated that they felt that the German authorities had incorrectly approved my car and that therefore he wouldn't do anything more. "Så är det bara" ("it's just the way it is") were his famous last words before we were summoned to leave again. No approved car, not even a formal rejection. We were just flabbergasted. Both by this incredibly rude and unprofessional behavior from Carspect (they surely won't see me as their customer anymore!) and the existence of this mysterious note from Transportstyrelsen.
No giving up.
What was this note from Transportstyrelsen all about? Did Carspect make this up just to not have to deal with this case? Were they afraid to end up in the spotlights given all the negative publicity around the "KVD Saabs"? It all sounded so unreal. How can the Swedish authorities question the validity of the official registration papers from another EU member state and, why?
I had to revisit my strategy. Was the current strategy of going through for registration inspection still the right one? Should I apply for dispensation instead (first)? Or give up altogether as it appeared to be "impossible" in any case? Having come this far in the process and being convinced that I was ultimately going to find a solution, giving up was not an option.
With Carspect having moved completely out of the picture, I went to look for alternatives and found "Ystad Bilbesiktning", a specialized company in the South of Sweden. YBB pride themselves in working with "enthusiast cars" and seemed the perfect fit for my challenge. While the initial discussions were encouraging and they did spend some time in further researching the issue, they also seemed to get hung up on this mysterious note from Transportstyrelsen. They pulled out of the process hinting that they felt it was too risky as "the whole world was watching", but came with the suggestion to book an appointment at an inspection agency in the Stockholm area. Assuming this inspection would lead to a negative result, I would then have the opportunity to appeal the decision and refer back to the earlier German registration.
12 April: TransportStyrelsen: "just an opinion"
After many attempts to reach the right person, Transportstyrelsen finally confirmed to us that they had indeed issued a notice. The person that had written it said that she wrote it because of the fact that "she felt "test cars should not be registered as they don't have CoC and EU type approval".
Interestingly enough, she did say that the notice was "just an opinion" and that it couldn't be the showstopper as the final decision about the registration was up to the individual inspection agent and that Transportstyrelsen would not be able to block/reverse a potential positive decision.
EU Directive 1999/37
It felt a bit that I was back at square one when YBB withdrew from the process yet it encouraged me even more to research further in order to strengthen my case. After all, I got my car approved and permanently registered in one EU member state and hence it should be perfectly possible to get it on Swedish plates. The EU was founded many years ago on the premise that its citizens would benefit from the free flow of goods, services, capital, and labor across borders within the EU. For motor vehicles, this base principle is made concrete through "EU Council Directive 1999/37". One of the areas this document regulates is the fact that member states should mutually recognize registration documents in order to facilitate and simplify the process for vehicles that were previously registered in one member state to be able to get on the road again in another without further hassle. So with that in mind, I continued my quest and got the principle and the details confirmed through several official sources including the EU help service provided by the Swedish parliament, the European Consumer Forum and EU's own helpdesk. So if it all was that obvious, why was I unable to get the car registered in Sweden?
31 May: Bilprovningen doesn't bow either
Equipped with the confirmations about the validity and applicability of the EU rules in my specific case plus pretty much all the technical documentation I had, F and I had an early morning appointment at inspection agency Bilprovningen in Moraberg/Södertälje for a second registration inspection attempt. It started much better than the previous one at Carspect as the car was actually let into the building and was made subject of a technical inspection. While the welcome had been nice and friendly, when the technician came back after some 40 minutes, apparently his mood had changed. Holding a few papers, he asked us in an icy voice to follow him to the cash register to pay the inspection fee of 1,380 SEK (approx. 150 EUR). After I had settled the bill he then informed us that the car had failed the test. While it had passed on all the technical aspects, he said that he couldn't accept the German registration papers as the basis to determine that the car was compliant with all the applicable directives and referred to the fact that Transportstyrelsen had said so. Like the previous person at Carspect, he wasn't open to look into any of the papers I had in fact with me, to listen to my side of the story and to reconsider his decision.
The "no" from Bilprovningen felt extra sour this time. Not only because I just knew I was right combined with the "just an opinion" comment from Transportstyrelsen, but because I had been hoping to be able to take my SC to the Saabfestival that same day and to join the other eight(!) SC's that had already succeeded in getting road legal. The "positive" though, was that I now had a decision on paper that I could in fact appeal.
The rejection of my car created a buzz amongst the Saabfestival attendees and not before long I was speaking with different people all wanting to help get me to the finish line. One person in particular, J from Germany, proved to be of additional value. J brought me in contact with two members of the EU parliament who after studying the facts immediately confirmed back to want to help with an appeal as they strongly felt I was being denied my rights as an EU citizen.
6 June: the appeal
Kind of symbolic, I sent my appeal to TransportStyrelsen on Sweden's National Day. While I had the main arguments pretty clear in my mind, getting them phrased in the best way on paper while adding relevant examples and other details wasn't too easy. My appeal really focused on the EU Council Directive 1999/37 and the fact that I felt Sweden was violating this in my case. To back up my statement even further, I added a reference to EU Court case where in a similar situation; the Kingdom of Belgium had been found guilty and fined for their earlier refusal to accept the registration documents from another EU member state.
I felt relieved when I finally could mail the appeal and while I was confident that I stood my right, based on the previous experiences with them I wasn't too confident that Transportstyrelsen would see matters my way. It had become a matter of principle for me and I decided that should I receive a rejection on my appeal, I would fight it in court. I could take it to "förvaltningsrätten", an administrative court in Sweden designated for disputes between citizens and governmental organizations, but given the content and scope of the issue, I felt that taking it to the EU Court would be more applicable.
12 June: the waiting starts
On 12 June, I received an email from Transportstyrelsen confirming that they had received my appeal and that I should count on approximately 5-6 weeks for them to process it and come back with a decision. When I checked in with them on the progress on the 10th of July, I instantly received an out of office message to contact them again upon return from vacation on the 22nd. That day I then received an update that as part of the process they were contacting TÜV for more information, that they apparently hadn't received it yet and therefore couldn't complete my appeal.
I responded that I didn't understand why additional information from TÜV was required as it in my opinion wasn't required in my case. I didn't receive a reply on my question and requested them to send me all the relevant documents pertaining to my appeal (as Transportstyrelsen is a governmental organization, I have the right to get these). The next day I received an email with PDF copies of the documents to date. Besides a copy the request for information they had emailed to Germany on 27 June, I finally got access to the mysterious notice that had caused all the issues with Carspect, YBB and Bilprovningen. I became speechless when I read the headline:"This is a test vehicle that has been incorrectly registered in Germany". Speechless because this wording doesn't really provide room for inspection agencies to deviate and to see this as "just an opinion" but for two more fundamental reasons: 1) there are no stipulations in Swedish or EU legislation/directives that prevent test vehicles from getting permanently registered and 2) Sweden was in indeed rejecting the registration papers from another EU member state.
On August 15th I sent another request for a status update. The response was that they still hadn't received the information from TÜV in Germany and were going to send them a reminder. I then requested a copy of all my documents again to find out that they in fact only sent this reminder on the 28th of August: two months (!) after having sent the original request. With my patience really being tested here, I contemplated whether it would make sense to start getting angry with them as this total lack of progress felt unacceptable, but I decided not to. Instead, I contacted M in Kiel, who in turn contacted TÜV to kindly request them to respond to Transportstyrelsen. I was pleased to hear through M that on 5 September TÜV had indeed sent their response.
Then on 10 October, two days after I had sent yet another request for a status update, I finally received good news: "We had a final meeting today about your case. Our assessment is that the German registration shall be accepted as grounds for certification compliance". The formal written decision in which my appeal was granted finally arrived in the mail two weeks later on the 25th. Incredible.
4 November: FINALLY!
I booked a new appointment for registration inspection the same day as I had received the letter from Transportsyrelsen and on November 4th, I drove to Bilprovningen in Moraberg again. The technician was the same as the previous time in May and greeted me by my name. He then continued stating that he was of the opinion that I had booked the wrong type of inspection. Before the thought "here we go again…" really had the chance to strike me, he said "well, I'm going to just approve the car today. I obviously have already inspected it before and there was nothing wrong with it and now we have the appeal decision from Transportstyrelsen we are good to go". I went in, had a cup of coffee and some 10 minutes later he reappeared holding some papers. Yet again I had to tag along to pay another 1,380 SEK but this time I received a document confirming that my car had passed the inspection. I could hardly believe that I finally succeeded and when I called my wife to tell her the news, it finally started to sink in.
Later that day I posted the news on Facebook and the speed and breadth at which my message went viral greatly exceeded my wildest imagination in the days following I just got overwhelmed with the number of phone calls, FB messages and friend requests, emails and SMSes. What a contrast to all the skepticism and negativism from the previous period! Journalist from "Bilsport" and "AutoMotorSport" magazine did write-ups and I was interviewed on Swedish radio P4 Väst virtually a state of euphoria only to be topped when i received the licence plates in the mail and made the maiden trip together with my wife.
I could never have done this without the support of many passionate people around me and I want to call out my daughter M and her boyfriend F for their endless dedication and great research work and M and M in Germany for their professionalism, positivism and passion. Without them and the many others that were involved in the process I believe we would still not have reached the finish line. Thank you.
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Photos: Michel Annik with permission from 9-5sc2012.com