A Car Collection for the People

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. Don’t forget to read part one and part two.

With the priceless Heritage Collection in hand and a new-found mission to not just preserve but promote the spirit of Saab, Tom Donney and his wife, Patty, set to work on what would eventually be known at the Saab Heritage Car Museum USA.

“Saabs beg you to drive them. It’s like a thoroughbred that just wants to go faster,” said Donney. “That’s why I knew we needed to do something really different. We needed to make this the people’s collection.”

The Donney’s set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and gifted all of their personal Saab assets to the foundation. Then they started envisioning what the perfect Saab Museum would look like. First, the location. Donney knew from his picking days that the Black Hills had just the right climate for car preservation.

“We’d leave a car in Iowa for three months and you’d have mold and mildew and mice. We had to run 10 dehumidifiers constantly. But in the Black Hills that same car would hardly age at all,” said Donney.

Add to that the gentle mountains that offer beautiful riding without stressing the cars, mild summers, and an already well established and massive motorcycle rally and Sturgis, South Dakota started looking like the right place. More than 40,000 people a year were already visiting the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Donney knew if they could attract just a fraction, that would be a marked success.

The Donney’s settled on seven acres of property right off the interstate and, in June 2017, began moving their collection to the site from Iowa – a 10-hour round-trip. Today, the site boasts:

  • A 24,000-square-foot building that houses the car collection
  • A 14,000-square-foot building that will eventually house an on-site OSC repair and restoration shop
  • Easy access right off the “Canyon Ride” – a favorite ride for motorcycle and car enthusiasts alike

It’s still a work in progress but they hope to be fully functional by the summer of 2019 and ready to showcase more than 150 cars with makes ranging from your everyday, affordable driver to that extremely rare 1956 Sonett 1 “Super Sport” and a drivable 1956 Sonett 1 Replica.

By then, the collection will likely have grown even larger. Donney recently purchased a 1993 commemorative edition 900, a 1980 model 96 Jubilee edition with only 98 miles, a 1967 Sonett with 500 miles and four 93s, including a 1960 93F 750GT.

The best part, though, is something Donney speaks very passionately about.

“The only way you can feel the spirit of Saab is to drive or ride in the car,” he said. “That’s why we’re not going to be a regular museum. We want visitors to get up close and really personal. There will definitely be a ride/drive component.”

Although the real gems won’t be in the mix, Donney envisions offering escorted tours around the winding Black Hills in a few of the Saabs and possibly an option to rent a Saab from the facility.

What Donney really wants everyone to know about the museum is that it belongs to the people. His ultimate goal is to create a place where the public can come in and not only learn about Saabs but experience the brand for themselves. By providing visitors with personal touches like interactive kiosks, smartphone apps and the opportunity to get in and ride or drive, he hopes to encourage people to get more involved in keeping the spirit of Saab alive.

“Saab is an orphan brand that will diminish if we don’t cultivate new enthusiasts and the only way to make that happen is to get people in the cars.”