The Three Best Cars I’ve Ever Owned

This is the final chapter of a self-indulgent trilogy I started a few weeks ago. First, I recorded every car I’ve ever owned.

Then I listed the three worst cars I’ve ever owned.

Now, it’s time to name the three best cars I’ve ever owned (which is much easier than nominating the three worst, believe me).

So…. in no particular order:

Porsche 968 ClubSport

My time with the 968 was frustrated by driveway hassles. The car was simply too low to get in and out of our driveway without a set of heavy wooden ramps that I built to aid the process. It was a pain to get out of our driveway, which resulted in the following:

1) It tainted the day-to-day driving experience

2) It stopped me from driving the car as often as I would have liked.

Porsche 968 Driveway

Even though I had less seat time than I would have liked, I’m happy to draw the clear conclusion that the Porsche 968 CS is, without doubt, the most technically proficient car I’ve ever owned. It is genuinely fast, not so much in terms of straight line speed (though it’s no slouch in that department) but more in its ability to carry speed along a road or track. It handles like a dream – and that’s with standard suspension. I can only wish I had more time with the M030 suspension I fitted just before selling the car.

Porsche 968 ClubSport

I have limited experience with Porsches, but what’s apparent to me is this: Lots of car companies can do something really well. Porsche differentiate themselves by their commitment to doing many things really well. They build focused, technically advanced and quite complete cars.

The only downside with the 968 (and the 928 I own now) is that it lacks a bit of personality. It’s so good that it’s almost too good. It’s limits are way beyond mine, which might be the key to really enjoying a car. You have to be matched to it.

Alfa Romeo 33 16V

What the 968 didn’t have, the Alfa Romeo 33 16V has in spades – personality.

It’s as ugly as a bashed crab and has the build quality of a mid-70’s Chinese apartment building – but my goodness this is a fun car to drive.

My first Alfa 33 16V

The 16V saw Alfa’s boxer engine at the peak of its powers. It only made 130-odd horsepower but it’s a torquey little thing and it loves to rev. Fit it with the right exhaust (2.25 inches is just right) and it makes a noise so beautiful that even the most hardened, latte-sipping butterfly enthusiast will be moved to weeping as you pass them by.

Typically, there are things the Alfa does well and things it doesn’t. It does revs and noise. It doesn’t do handling quite as nicely. Surprisingly, my first 33 did reliability pretty well, but it wasn’t great on comfort or build quality.

Alfa33Engine-1

It’s this constant battle that gives it such a rich personality. You have to accept some give-and-take with the Alfa, but the things that it gives are given most generously.

Not only is the Alfa superb fun, it’s superb cheap fun. Mine cost me just $3,500 and I can’t recall if I had to spend a cent outside of regular service. I realise they’re not all like that (my second 33 was a basket case) but if you can get a 33 like my first one, it’ll give you the best smiles-per-dollar return you’ll ever see.

Saab 9-3 Viggen

I’ve owned a lot of Saabs over the years and it’s only right that I include one in this list. It’s not an act of charity, however – the Viggen makes this list 100% on merit.

I’m not sure what sort of fairy dust the engineers in Trollhattan sprinkled over the Viggen but it’s a magic machine. I had another Saab 9-3 from the same year that I tricked up to be more potent than the Viggen – on paper – but it never quite felt the same. It never delivered the same thrills and it never had the same presence.

SwadeSaab9-3Viggen

We all know that the 9-3 of 1998-2002 sits on a flawed, GM-sourced chassis. We all know that Saab could have done more to improve it prior to releasing the Viggen to market. Still, the mystical character of that B235R engine combined with the Viggen’s inclination to want to kill you makes an addictive mix.

The Lightning Blue paint sets the car off beautifully and the blue/black leather interior was a masterstroke. I still think it’s Saab’s best ever design/execution effort, period.

Saab9-3ViggenStu

I think the 9-3 Viggen is the best car Saab ever made. It’s definitely the craziest, which could well be why I like it so much. It’s not the easiest to drive nor the most practical, but for me, it’s the best combination of beauty, engineering and character that Saab ever screwed together.

The Viggen I bought in 2005 was my first ‘serious’ car purchase. It’s a choice that I’m eternally grateful for.

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12 Comments

  1. Having driven a Viggen now for a year and 25,000 miles, even though it is not mine, I have to agree with your assessment. The Viggen does hold true to all the Saab brand pillars and takes them all to an extreme. This is a car that can be thrilling, but is docile enough to be driven comfortably on a daily basis. I don’t know what my favorite car has been. I’ve loved lots of them. Among my favorites have to be Sue’s 1985 CRX which I drove daily once the family came along and was much more fun than any 75 hp car has a right to be, the 1988 9000T which was most comfortable and very fast, and the 1992 900T which took a merciless beating (and still does) and always came back for more.

    1. The CRX is one of the few cars I haven’t owned yet that I regret having not bought. It feels like it’s getting more and more difficult to find an unmolested one.

  2. I think for top cars (in descending order) mine would be Saab 2006 93 Sportcombi, 2011 VW Tiguan (spoiled as its very german but also saved my family’s life, which tends to bias things a bit) and Saab 9-2X Aero (which I only started to like once I put decent tires on it one month before we sold it).

    For the last week I’ve been driving the car of the future: BMW i3. Its for a review I’m doing for Physics Today. As I don’t own it, I didn’t put it on the list, but its a very interesting car to drive on a day to day basis (and probably the best electric car so far I’ve tried).

  3. The B235R is a fantastic engine and the last real Saab engine before the GM engines took over. Very reliable after they fixed the sludge problem for 2004 and up. I have never driven a Viggen but sure love it in my 2005 9-5 Aero wagon. I just wish the 9-5 had the same kind of awesome training video like the Viggen…! 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jzA5zc4wT4

    1. We need to talk 9-5s sometime. I’ve been looking at 2006-2009 9-5s, but since I own 2 9-3s and have had some delays in service parts I have been reluctant to make the jump to a 9-5. I want OnStar and would prefer ventilated seats which are available primarily in the 2008-2009 9-5s. I’m happy with both my 2008 9-3SS and 2009 9-3XWD. I’m in the USA.

      1. Hey 100% Saab – i’m still driving the ’07 9-5 Aero Combi I picked up at Scoggin-Dickey back in ’10. Insofar as parts, the only one i’ve had an issue tracking down was the oil trap/separator – I wound up sourcing that one out of Canada. I’ve also heard that the 06-09 fuel pumps have been hard to find, but a quick look at eeuroparts shows a few options there. Just last week, my hatch lock broke – I had a new one in my hands in 3 days for $120, probably about the same time and dollar amount for most other cars out there. Hope that helps!

    2. I haven’t experienced any issues with availability of service parts for the 9-5 (1998-2009). Most regular parts should be easily available. Haven’t seen any major problems from others on our Saab forum either. Ventilated seats were avaiable for most model years. I had them in my 2001 9-5 and they were wonderful in hot weather. I used to have two 2006 9-3 and the 9-5 has been a better car for me. Different, more like a long distance cruiser with sporty intentions compared to the smaller 9-3.

      I have OnStar in my 9-5 but I think GM discontinued the use of this older system so it doesn’t work anymore. Not sure if the later model years were different.

  4. Wow. What a great clip! Verging on comical in parts, but delivered with such serious intent.

  5. I doubt there are any Saabs with working Onstar anymore. My 2014 Volt (the EV hatch I hoped to buy from Saab) already needs a hardware cell radio upgrade to keep functioning on the Canadian network.

  6. I agree , the Viggen is better compared to all other Saab’s . All Saab’s ? Not all, there was one Best Saab: The 1979 99-Turbo. That is the ultimate Saab.

  7. Purchased my Viggen, July 10 1999. After numerous upgrades to the engine and suspension over the years, it now is one of the best Saab’ s ever made. It is going on 16 years of very satisfying driving experiences, just turned 159k miles. Still receive numerous thumbs up almost every time that it is driven.