Comedians in a Saab Getting Coffee
As some of you already know, Jerry Seinfeld used my 1966 Saab Monte Carlo 850 for his online show called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” back in October. The show aired the first of December and can be viewed HERE. Also, Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live and Portlandia was his guest comedian.
It all started with a phone call on Monday, September 22, 2014 about 10am from a guy named Farshad who said he worked with the show and they needed a Saab real fast delivered to Portland, Oregen. The Saab needed to be there no later than Thursday the 25th in the afternoon. When the calI came in I was actually sitting in Spearfish, South Dakota with my 1967 Saab Sonett – Bonneville Salt racer and trailer prepping to return to Iowa. The Bonneville races had been cancelled again due to rain about 12 hours earlier. Farshad asked me if I owned a particular Saab. Seems Jerry really wanted to use a Monte Carlo 850, 3 cylinder two stroke for the shoot. The Saab they were going to use, was a Sonett V4. It had been cancelled by the car’s owner for the shoot 12 hours earlier. It was as if fate was setting this whole deal up. I informed Farshad I did have such a car and it indeed could be used by the show. I also said I could get the car there in time even with the 27 hours of driving it would take to go from Iowa to Portland. As it turned out I and my shop had spent several days prior to Bonneville working on this Monte Carlo to ready it to come out to the Black Hills after Bonneville for me to use as a driver during my fall at the college there as a Football coach. We had just installed the correct Monte Carlo engine, rebuilt the transmission, and installed all new front and rear bumpers. I had installed the correct carburetors for the Monte Carlo also but they were not working properly yet. In fact there were a couple times I caught myself working on the Monte and then stopping and scudded myself to get back to work on the race car for the salt as the Monte had no time schedule…but Bonneville sure DID!
On Tuesday afternoon, after what seemed like one hundred emails and phone calls the deal was struck to use my Monte for the shoot. The show had many other people in the Saab Community offering their cars for the shoot also. But Jerry really wanted a 850 Monte Carlo. Now all I needed was some last minute work done on the car, a fuel pump kill switch and a real Monte Carlo rear muffler. I knew I could most likely fix the carburetor issues at Portland since I would have to re-jet and re-time the engine for that specific area anyway. The real issue was getting the car to me in the Black Hills from Iowa, a mere 9 hours away. As it turned out my son, Nate, was home unexpectedly from Army duty and he agreed to bring the car to me from Iowa. He agreed to help me drive the rest of the way to Portland, another short 18 hour drive from Spearfish!!
Nate made it safely to Spearfish Wednesday in the wee hours. At the break of Dawn I unloaded the car from the tow dolly for a quick road test before we would load the car into the enclosed trailer and take off with my 1 ton Chevy Truck. I knew I was in trouble the minute I left the driveway. The car had NO power at all. Unfortunately the road I was on was all DOWN hill for about ¼ of a mile. I knew I could never make it back up the hill to my house so I called Nate to come down the road with some tools. The engine wouldn’t rev over 4,000RPM’s in neutral! Not good. I could tell from the sound, or lack of it, the new NOS rear muffler the shop had just put on in Fort Dodge was plugged. I quickly removed the rear muffler on the cold wet highway cement on the side of the road. The engine roared to life and I flew back up the hill to the house like an angry swamp of yellow jackets would! The car ran perfect now…it had great power again. There appeared to be some starting issues and idling concerns I would have to correct later. It turned out the NOS sealed muffler I had used had a mouse nest it before the ends were sealed shut! Not the first time mice have used one of my Saab mufflers for a nest. Some quick cleaning and knocking around and the muffler was once again, PERFECT!
We quickly loaded the Monte into the enclosed trailer and set out for Portland. Not long after we left I really wanted some “Little Debbie” donuts. At our 1st stop for pop’s and Ice just outside Spearfish no Little Debbie’s where found. So we continued on into Montana where I spotted a convenience store and figured a quick bathroom break and Little Debbie’s was just the ticket to keep me rolling all day. As I got out of the truck I did my usual inspection of everything and notice a “hot brake pad” smell coming from the rear tires on my Chevy Dooley. At last the numerous trips to the Salt flats had caught up to me. The truck was going to need a rear brake overhaul soon. We had too many Rocky Mountains to go over to attempt it with a car trailer and truck with HOT brakes. So back to Spearfish we went and then a tough decision had to be made. Could we still make the trip given lost time now and knowing the car still had running issues I would have to resolve once in Portland. I was ready to call it a day. After all, for all we know this whole “Seinfeld thing” could be a sham. Not unlike the 750GT scam that hit the Saab community a year before. It was my son Nate who talked me into continuing the journey. As he said, we are already 9 hours closer and only 18 hour to go! I agreed and we reloaded the car onto the tow dolly and used my son’s Tundra to do the work of getting us to Portland.
Finally all went well and we arrived in Portland about 6am Thursday. That gave us a few hour to nap till noon when I knew I needed a couple hours to ready the Saab for Portland traffic and hills. About noon I staged out to the Saab and took it for a road test. Afterwards I realized the hard starting issue was still there (had to turn the fuel pump off to keep the engine from flooding) and the performance was not up to par with what it should be. Fortunately I had brought along another set of standard triple carburetors as a “just in case”. After installing the spare set carbs, the #2 carb starting gushing fuel into the throat of the Venturi! Sometimes, things are never easy. So I had to steal a top off one of the Monte carbs. I also told my son Nate (who was doing the work) I was going to try a new “fix” that I had never done before, but hoped would really help the hot start issue. He raised an eyebrow and said, “You sure you want to try something NEW…just minutes before we deliver the car to Seinfeld???” I smiled and said yes…I think the fix will be just the ticket…and it was. The car started and ran perfect. About as good as stroker can run. One more jetting change and I felt the car was “stranger safe” and would not be an issue for the driver…whoever that would be. We called our contact Farshad and then drove the car to downtown Portland for a meet and delivery. After driving the car further I decided to jet down 1 size to aid performance. It was plenty rich for engine safety but a little too rich for optimal top end. The Seinfeld people looked at me in horror and said “don’t touch it. They said everyone tweaks their car one last time and it is usually a disaster!” I assured them this was a “good” tweak and proceeded. Now it really ran perfect!
We had been told by Farshad since agreeing to bring the car out, we would show up Thursday afternoon and instruct the shows driver how to drive and handle the car. We would then leave the car there and he would then drive it all day Friday for all B role film. Then he would instruct Seinfeld on Saturday how to drive the car and we would be called Saturday night or Sunday when they were through filming. They said the closest they needed one of us was about 15 minutes from the shooting location in case they had car trouble, but we were not to be anywhere near the actual shooting. They told us at this point no car owner had ever had a chance to meet Jerry yet and we needed to have realistic expectations of our chances of meeting Jerry.
However the guy who was suppose to drive the car all day Friday for all the B roll film (same streets as Seinfeld drove Saturday but no head shots) did not do so well on our Thursday instructional and test drive. He struggled mightily with the Monte and the freewheeling caused the car to roll very fast downhills and coupled with the Saab’s poor 60’s brakes, he started making smoke on the first hill! I tried to explain in an under powered and under braked car you have to “plan” all hills…up and down. After the scarey road test they asked me what I thought the odds were their driver could drive the car all day Friday and not damage it. I said less than 50/50. I told them I did have a spare clutch and brake pads so I could fix any damage but that would cost us time. I advised them that they should consider letting me drive it on Friday given Jerry wasn’t. (I was pretty sure he was enough of a car guy to not have an issue with it, just as Jay Leno handled the 1958 Saab 93b he bought from me) They inform me that never happens. I’m not part of the crew or the parent company staff. Therefore I could not drive it either. (We had leased the car to them from Thursday night through Sunday and had no control over how it was driven or who drove it). But through the night calmer heads prevailed and early Friday morning I received a text message to arrive at the garage and I would be allowed to drive the car all day for all the B roll filming. Needless to say my son Nate and I were very pleased with that news. So Friday we got to do something people like us really never get to do which is be involved in a filming process. Four vehicles were involved & over a dozen staff and too many cameras to count. It was amazing to see all the behind-the-scenes works and how much effort goes into what ultimately will be only a few minutes of film on TV. Literally we drove the car from noon till 7 PM with only minor breaks in between. The massive amount of footage they shot was mind-boggling to me and Nate. Everything went without a hitch and they were very pleased with the outcome and said they had some incredible footage as I did things like remove the air cleaner so they could video down into the carburetor as it was accelerating.
We were told Friday night we could be there Saturday for the beginning of the show but to stay completely out of sight and out of the way and we may or may not get a chance to meet Jerry. Once again I received a text message early Saturday morning and I was to meet Jerry and instruct him how to drive the car. When Jerry walked in and saw the car he was all smiles, loved it instantly and asked to meet me and Nate right away. We had a lot of fun talking about cars and Saabs and just seem to have a good time in general. The entire day went without a hitch driving all through Portland picking up Fred and doing all kinds of fun stuff. They decided to have Nate and I be in the crews’ vehicles and with tools and be ready just in case (as opposed to being 15 minutes away in our own vehicle as we’ve been told all along). Again this whole experience was amazing to be involved in the behind the scene shoot as even more vehicles and crew members showed up for the actual shoot with Jerry on Saturday.
Once they dropped Fred off the mood changed and everything became very light as a bulk of the work was done. Now all they needed to finish was all the B roll film with Jerry driving the car. I had multiple chances to talk with Jerry about cars and the Saabs throughout the rest of the afternoon he was very pleasant and eager to learn more about Saab cars. He reminded me he had early 80’s 900 back in the day. As the afternoon progresses you could tell the crew became very comfortable with myself and Nate being around and we actually begin giving advice on which direction to go and what to do with the car to help make the show look better. They had a producer out of New York City who had been opposed to us being involved at all and have been very resistant to anything involving me. To her I was just one more person she had to manage. But having my son Nate around seem to help calm her and slowly as they discovered we were not “crazy people” as some people can be around celebrities…. the mood lightened and again we were allowed unlimited access to anything we wanted to do.
The car made it safely with no damage to it or the running gear from its experience. As I suspected, on Saturday, Seinfeld took to the car like a duck on water. We had zero issues driving it through hilly downtown Portland. He is a real “car guy.” All in all it was a great experience and we had a really good time and were blessed that the car ran perfect. Our decision to swap carburetors on Thursday turned out to be an excellent one, as all of our hot starting issues went away and the car literally performed flawless. This is not a car I restored. I bought it about 14 months ago so a lot of the credit goes to those who restored the car and those at my shop who keep it running right. And my son Nate for taking time out of his schedule to allow me to drive straight through otherwise we would not have made the arrival deadline. And he was the one that had to change the rear muffler when it became plugged with a mouse nest and the carburetors.
And a special thanks to all those who contacted the show and told him how hard these cars were to drive in hilly city traffic. I think those emails to the producers help to convince them to let me drive on Friday.
They also said the energy level for the shoot with this car was off the charts and the highest level of enthusiasm and fun that the crew had experienced so far in the 31 prior shoots. Which says a lot for the little Saab! To me many of the old Saabs are like that little puppy you see on the street. Everybody wants to stop and say hi and pet them. Everyone loved the car and loved the sound. Nate and I were both amazed how many times the crewmembers had their own camera or phone out taking pictures and video of just the car. Every single one of them came up to us at some point and expressed that Jerry loved the car and they themselves thought it was one of the best cars they ever filmed
It was funny because when we were parked with the car at different times people would walk or drive by, half would recognize Jerry and say something the other half would only say, “Oh –it’s a Saab” as they went by and did not even notice Seinfeld and all the film crew..too funny!
Thanks to all who helped make this possible.
Tom & Nate Donney