The Heritage Collection Finds a Home

Editor’s NOTE: Tom Donney is a part-time mechanic, businessman, collector, and ex-football coach who is putting the finishing touches on the Saab Heritage Museum in Sturgis, South Dakota. We spoke with Donney to learn more about the museum, how his passion for Saabs started and why he’s dedicated so much to help keep the brand alive. Missed part one? Read it here. 

Tom Donney has been acquiring Saabs since he was 16 (a love story you can read about it here) and likens it to the old adage about eating an elephant. Despite having one of the largest collections in the world, he says he never really set out to amass so many intentionally. It just happened.

“It wasn’t a concentrated effort on my part,” said Donney. “I just found cars (or collections) I liked and brought them home,” said Donney.

His nearly 50-year habit consisted primarily of picking—buying from widows and widowers or owners who had fallen on hard times—but in 2012 the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself.

Donney was coaching football at Black Hills State University, Saab had recently closed its doors as a manufacturer and the future of the brand was looking bleak. That’s when he heard about an auction he couldn’t pass up.

In an article, Donney wrote:

“…when Saab Cars North America (SCNA) went bankrupt in February 2012 they had 13 of the former General Motors Heritage Collection cars in their own collection. Ten of these cars were put up for bid as a group which Bill Jacobson and I were able to acquire and split, five cars each. Our goal has been to keep these cars together and try to avoid a split up of the collection into individual cars, since together they still represent a piece of Saab and even General Motors heritage.”

The collection consisted of some extremely rare and well-restored cars including one of only two original (and up to this point, unattainable) Saab Sonett 1s in the U.S.

“The only way to get that car was to buy the collection,” said Donney.

Luck and preparedness worked in Donney’s favor. He had a profitable transmission business and some farmland that was producing well, so he was cash flush at the time and had a willing partner to go in on the deal with him.

It wasn’t long, however, before the responsibility settled on Donney.

“A Saab is the kind of car that says, ‘Drive me!’ and I just knew having them sitting in a garage somewhere was a disservice to the brand,” said Donney. “This wasn’t Patty and Tom’s little car collection anymore. This was a legitimate piece of history that needed to be preserved and promoted.”