The Origin of an Obsession

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. Read part one of the three-part series below.

When Tom Donney’s brother needed a car back in the late 60s, his dad decided a 63 850GT would be a safe, practical, economical and semi-reliable option. First, they got one Saab and then they got two Saabs, but, recalled Donney, neither ran very well.

“My dad said if I could make one run, I could have it. Luckily, I was always really mechanical,” said Donney.

Created by a team of aircraft engineers, the Swedish brand was made with technology and parts that were used to create jet engines. Mix that power with solid safety ratings and a good track record, and you’re guaranteed a strong, reliable vehicle that is fun to drive. Saab was even a Fulsomo award winner almost every year in Sweden, beating out its main competitor, Volvo.

What was the draw for Donney? While the vehicle has amazing handling and control in the cold, snowy Midwest winters—something Donney appreciated—it was the fact that Saabs are so easy to work on that he was drawn to.

“I just bought one after another because I loved working on them and I loved driving them — and I had the space to store them,” said Donney.

By that point, Donney was running a thriving repair and transmission business that he had started with a dream and $25, and Saabs had officially become an obsession. Even when he switched careers in 1991 and started coaching football, he continued collecting.

“My kids didn’t get to go on vacations, they’d go on what I liked to call Saab Safaris,” laughs Donney. “I’d get a lead on someone who had Saabs to offload, we’d camp out for three or four days and I’d go pick old parts.”

It was on one of these vacations, while picking parts in the Blackhills forests around Mt Rushmore, that Tom discovered something that would play an increasingly large part in his life as his Saab collection continued to grow (and grow, and grow). A climate that was virtually perfect for car preservation…