Saab 9-2X

Gunnar Conrad
Passenger Side Door Decal

Before the Teton Hillclimb, course marshal John Atchison warned us rookies, "Don't be crazy in the morning. We hate to clean cars out of the trees. We hate to see things happen. This is real racing. We'd like to see everybody drive their cars home and no one go to the hospital."

In early September, aspens yellowing and maple shrubs reddening by the hour, forty-two of us, ages eighteen to seventy, entering everything from a rodded-out Model T to a Ferrari 360, gathered in Wyoming on the Tetons' thrusted western slope to attack the fastest, riskiest course the Northwest Hillclimb Association sanctions.

The approximately 2.0-mile paved blast leading to the Grand Targhee ski resort started at 7500 feet, featured eight turns, and gained 500 feet. Turn 1, a left-hander requiring gentle braking, fed into turn 2, a hairpin. (Here, a cow moose ambled in front of Sean Haling's Porsche 944 as we sized up the course together.) There followed sweepers and kinks, and with the discipline I eventually acquired, it was possible to blow through them without lifting. The forest of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir became a deep green emulsion, with the clustered pomes of the mountain ash supplying occasional scarlet streaks. Turn 6, a severe left with a mere G-string of a guardrail and a 600-foot plunge beyond, was approached at 100 mph or better. Making things worse, the corner worker reported a ripe smell emanating from the woods, suggesting the presence of a bear. Then came turn 7, another, meaner left, off camber with a decreasing radius. Turn 8 veered hard right, completing the ess before the finish.

I entered a Saab 9-2X in the Street Touring X class. The 9-2X is a Subaru Impreza WRX wagon that has received Saab's Queer Eye treatment, so the redecorated sand-and-black interior is rather nice, and insulation under the hood makes the engine less grungy-sounding. My car was fitted with optional seventeen-inch wheels and tires-a twitchy highway setup but superbly accurate on the hill. That the 9-2X could meet the task was proved by my fastest run of 1:43.919, or about 70 mph. This result, 0.371 second off the class record set by a WRX, beat half the F Stock Chevy Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds, the B Stock Porsche 944 Turbo, the Porsche 911 in GT2, the BMW 635CSi in E Street Prepared, and even the Lola Formula Ford. My only competition in STX was the Audi S6 maniacally wheeled by Rich Berges, who lives at the bottom of the hill; he posted a record-shattering 1:39.767.

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