SAABS AND AUSSIE SNOWFIELDS

by COLIN JOHANSON

(Used in SAAB Scene Magazine in 1991)

My first SAAB was a 900 TU3 with an automatic transplant in 1985. Its access to someone like myself using a wheelchair and hand controls was better than any other car on the market I also liked the marque with its sleek design, road manners and strength. Joining the SAAB club I enjoyed learning to handle the car on dirt and mud in car club motorkhanas and fun runs.

Á new 900 EMS auto in 1987, continued my affinity with SAABs and still serves me well. All that practice on muddy roads was of great value when I started snow skiing as a sit-skier in 1988. Most skiers know of the notorious Hotham front road from Bright and I have only travelled that road once in winter without requiring chains.

In 1991, as Vice President of the Victorian disabled Skiers Association, my 900 was one of the official cars for the Australia Disabled Federation Skiers Championships. During the five days my car travelled the easy trip from Crystal Creek, Dinner Plains to Hotham Resort. The hardest part was digging the car out from under 20 to 30 cm overnight dumps. While even a 4WD Japanese vehicle (without chains fitted) could not get traction beside me, the 900 put its weight over the front wheels, chains bit ice, and away we went.

All that snow certainly showed the overseas competitors that Australian Alpine areas do have snow, but unluckily there was too much continually falling for the packed race course down the Snake Gully run at Hotham. Too much snow for racing, that's a change, but certainly better than not enough!

The Wednesday night trip back was uneventful until I had to wait to park at Crystal Creek. A small amount of accelerator gave no forward movement but heaps of revs. Fearing severe mechanical failure, one of my three adult passengers got out to report "there's no chain on your right front wheel!"

Reversing back to a car park down the hill, the 900 was parked until a replacement chain was obtained. A competitor, who skated the whole distance of 10 km from Hotham on the road using downhill skis, reported seeing a chain lying in the centre of the road in the Hotham Village. Although the situation could have been disastrous, I was amazed that I had not noticed strange handling or lack of control on a very slippery road for 10 km. It certainly points to the SAAB decision in the 1960s, that front wheel drive cars would suit the Swedish winter roads better than rear drive.

Many people were surprised that we got to Dinner Plains with only one chain, especially after a 4WD wearing chains lost it on that same road the next evening. Not only were there four adults in the car, but my wheelchair travels on a special roof carrier. At least I didn't have my Australian designed "Sit-bow” sit-ski on its tow bar carrier, where it normally travels, as I had left that at the Village for a display scheduled for the next morning.

I will be heading up to the ski fields this year with a new set of chains and a new sit-ski frame design to test. I have been involved in the evolution of the main sit-ski designs, since 1989, with the developer and manufacturer George Mcpherson, of Myrtleford. My 1991 frame was refurbished and sold to the Vail Ski Club in the U.S.A. as the Australian equipment allowing quadriplegics to ski is far superior to current American designs. As my bumper sticker states; "I'm NOT a Ski Bum, just a BUM SKIER!"

I feel safer driving in Alpine areas in winter in a SAAB as not only does it stop and steer more reliably but, should a road accident happen, there is a very protective and strong car around my friends and me. Skiing is risky enough without the risk of the drive up the mountains. From the number of 900 SAABs in the Alpine Resort car parks, I am not the only skier who appreciates the feel of car safety and reliability bred into a marque built for snow and ice conditions.

NOTE: Colin's spine was injured in a hang gliding accident in 1977 leaving him a quadriplegic, unable to stand at all, he uses a manual wheelchair and, Despite lack of any grip in his hands, returned to driving again in 1978. He drives with his left hand clamped to a steering spinner and his right hand actuating the brake and accelerator with a single handle mounted under the steering wheel. The only modification to the 900 required is the indicator/cruise control arm swapped with the wiper lever.

As a qualified ergonomist, Colin drives what he preaches; an ergonomically designed car.

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