Thursday, September 09, 2010

Reflections on Swedish Car Day 2010

Swedish Car Day 2010 has come and gone. It is strange to look up at the wall calendar and realize that it is September and that I don’t have to do anything for Swedish Car Day, when for the past ten years, September was the month of anticipation and get-ready. Of course, that all changed after SCD 2009, when we were treated to horrific weather—rain, snow, gale—such that I lobbied the Larz Anderson Museum incessantly until they bequeathed us an earlier date. Thus, 2010, while the eleventh SCD, was the first one in August.

Besides the change in date, we knew long ago that this was going to be an extra special SCD. The Saab ownership change was finalized months ago, and this was the first SCD to take place with a future devoid of the uncertainty that cast a pall in past years. Then there was our special guest, Steven Wade, aka Swade of , a key player in the saving of Saab, not to mention the many-times-daily news updates he reported as the melodrama played out during 2009 and early 2010. His presence certainly added a lot of luster and excitement, and brought Saab fans to SCD who likely would not have attended otherwise.

I recall that in 2000, I was given the task of putting this event together by my predecessor, Tim Martino, whom I must credit with birthing this event. I had no idea of what I was doing, or even where the museum (then known as the Museum of Transportation) was. I was given a date. I went to the museum and a lawn events director and I sent about arranging it as best as I could. October 15 arrived. It was a cool, sunny day. The foliage had started to turn. The setting was perfect. The lawn events director had recently departed, and a newbie replacement, Elln Hagney, did her best, though there were certainly logistical issues. [This played out again this year, where the lawn events director left a few weeks before our event, and his replacement didn’t quite have all the protocols and procedures ironed out.] Best of all, people showed up! There were forty-two Saabs and twenty-two Volvos, and while that may seem paltry, the museum told us it was the best attended first-time event they had had. The only difference in my roll in 2000 was that I didn’t have to MC the event that year—Tim Martino did. In later years, I would not only produce behind the scenes, but be the guy at the microphone as well.

So what of Swedish Car Day XI? Certainly, it was a success. Some will say that it was too hot, but in the shade, and even in the museum, it was pleasant. While a small minority pines for a return to an autumn date (including me), it will not happen. There was a LOT of anxiety leading up to SCD XI, mostly for me. There were the logistical concerns regarding Steven Wade, his flights and his accommodations. Ray Ciccolo asked me to put on a rally, as I often had done in the past, and I knew that I just didn’t have it in me to organize one. They are easily as much work if not more than SCD itself, and to the benefit of a couple dozen people.

Instead, we linked a date of advanced driver training with In Control for Saab and Volvo drivers and held that instead. That wasn’t without its own anxiety. After an initial strong booking, we took a number of cancellations. Then, we never got ANY Volvo participants, so I cancelled out the Volvos and made this an all-Saab event, but was still short on participants. In the last days, we took a few more registrants, including a Volvo-driving couple whom we informed would be converted by the end of the class since we had no provision at that point to have a Volvo at the school. That said, the class was a smashing success. The weather was superb. Steven Wade mingled with class and had a great time learning and exploring the Saabs’ capabilities. All the participants left with big smiles. Good.

Next on the agenda, on the early evening of August 28, was the reception and cookout which I had advertised as a reunion point for those arriving early for SCD, and for anyone wanting to meet Mr. Wade in a more intimate environment. We had a good turnout—about forty people, I believe. Peter Vincent did yeoman’s duty at the grill to keep everyone fed, and other than spreading out a few chairs and having some soft-drinks and popsicles, those in attendance largely entertained themselves. Barbara, a Saab newbie from Ohio, arrived in her Viggen. A contingent from New Hampshire, including Carl Levine, were on hand. Blogger Gunnar Heinrich was there, along with “Eggs ‘n Grits” from saabsunited (aka Mike Hickman), vintage Saab aficionado Chip Lamb and a number of Charles River Saab employees. One highlight that evening was to watch Ralph Bockoven take Steve Wade for a ride and drive in Ralph’s 1968 Sonett II. Mr. Wade returned so impressed that he seemed rather intent on finding one for himself, even threatening to take a detour on his way back to Australia if an opportunity arose to do some scouting on one for sale in California. Though this event was scheduled only until 7pm, it ran well past 8:00, and I was tired. I hated to do it, but we had to gently nudge everyone to move along in one of those “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” situations. By the time I was done cleaning up and locking up the building, there were still some stragglers hanging around. Again, everyone who was at this reception was smiling. Two down, one to go.

Swedish Car Day on Sunday got off to a rocky start. I was thrilled to see my helpers, including a number of volunteers, here bright and early. Same for Boston Volvo and Volvo Village of Norwell. I was a bit anxious when the museum coordinator did not show at 7am as promised, nor did the Volvo club members who had promised to stake out their portion of the upper and lower lawns. Alas, we were largely unprepared when the first cars arrived. We then set to doing what we do best—improvise! We directed everyone to park first, then come back to register. This, as it turned out, was much more efficient than the plan I had, which was to have a number of registration volunteers with clipboards going up to the cars as they entered the approach to the lawn. In fact, this may have been the smoothest registration process we’ve pulled off.

I had been frightened that we would be overrun with cars. We had over 120 preregistrations, and I was estimating 250-300 cars which would have been unmanageable. In the end, we registered 202 cars (133 Saabs, 69 Volvos), and there were 225 cars on the lawns. This may have been the most cars (memory tells me that we did have slightly more registrations on one previous occasion). The mix of cars was excellent, and what the Volvo group lacked in numbers it made up for with brilliant quality and condition.

Our guest speakers were David Burnham and Steven Wade. Mr. Burnham was apparently not apprised of that fact, thinking he was only displaying his car in the museum. This is not his fault—this had been arranged through the Volvo club and somewhere along the way this was not communicated to him. He did his best, and his 1971 140 GT was indeed wonderful. Steven Wade delivered a terrific speech. While not divulging too much new information, he summarized his involvement with efforts to sell and save Saab in a cohesive way that tied the entire drawn out affair together quite nicely. He did reveal that Victor Muller was one of his secret sources, which is why he knew that things were not quite as dire as the rest of us thought in those late December days. He should have trusted him more and panicked less!
After completing the rituals of counting ballots on the People’s Choice balloting, handing out awards, and distributing raffle prizes, I finally had a chance to run around and look for friends, old and new. It was wonderful to see former Saab employees Paul Hartman, Jorgen Weikert and Bill Wolf. I was buttressed all day long by so many terrific volunteers and employees who worked so hard, including Linnea, Stephanie, Scott, Seth, Marcel, Kyle, Alfredo, Ben and Rudy. Thanks to John delRosario for his picture taking. My apologies to anyone I left out! Everywhere I looked, people were smiling! By 3:00 the lawn had emptied and it was time to leave, but not quite for home. Attendee Curvin O’Reilly, who was involved with Saab advertising with McCann-Erickson back in Saab’s heyday, wanted to review some advertising history and concepts with Mr. Wade, and since it was so hot, I suggested we all go back to Charles River Saab to take advantage of the air-conditioning.

Until nearly 6:00, Mr. O’Reilly made his presentation to me, Chip Lamb, Mr. Wade and Mike Hickman. At that point, Mike headed for the airport, Chip aimed his SPG toward Virginia, Mr. O’Reilly headed to New York, and Mr. Wade and I jumped in a car and headed north where my wife had assembled a feast for us, a few employees and Saab friends. Finally, I could relax!

I must say that this was the most exhausting Swedish Car Day. The preparation, general level of anxiety, the effort required at the events themselves, all conspired to really drain me, and I am still not quite recovered. But I am happy. All the smiles I saw during that weekend even got me to smile, and I am not prone to such things! In near proximity retrospect, this Swedish Car Day was as close to perfect as I could have hoped for. Great, right? Here’s the problem: how do I follow this up next year? I will confess that if I had my druthers, I’d never do this event again and go out on top. However, we all know that won’t happen. There will be a SCD XII, I contacted the museum the next morning to reserve next year’s date, and we’ll have to work really hard to make the day compelling. For now, I will relax, and put this great day behind me!

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