The Speedy Saab

Jul 16, 2016

RAY: This was sent in by a fellow named Hugh Rawlins.

Back in the ‘60s, I lived across the street from the world's biggest and most insufferable motor head. He loved American muscle cars, and hardly a week went by without my having to listen to this guy's latest automotive exploit.

Just outside of town there was an abandoned stretch of highway. It was straight and flat for miles and the perfect place for my neighbor and his kind to race their sports cars. I was never invited to race my car which had a four-speed manual transmission and a three-cylinder engine. It was a Saab. 

One day I challenged my neighbor to a race: my Saab versus his muscle car. I just had one condition: we race in reverse. He thought about it for a second and then said, 'Sure! What do I care? I'll go backwards, forwards. I'll race you any way you want.' 

I didn't possess any particular prowess so far as driving in reverse. Nor was I aware of any particular handicap on his part.

The starting gun went off, and within a minute he was far ahead. But little by little I closed the gap until finally I caught up to him and passed him. His engine was straining, with the tachometer at the red line, as he watched me cross the finish line first. How did I do it?

RAY: As I drove up to that abandoned stretch of highway, I turned the engine off and let the car coast. I put the transmission in neutral and with the car coasting I stepped on the clutch, put the transmission in reverse, turned the key on and popped the clutch. The engine started and the car was going forward, but the engine was running backward. And you say, how could that be? Well, that Saab three-cylinder had a two-cycle engine and it could run either forward or backward, it didn't care. Whichever way you turned it, it started.

TOM: Wow!

RAY: You can't do that with a four-cycle engine. But you could do that with your chainsaw or your weed whacker or whatever, if you could turn the crankshaft the other way. So now I had one forward gear and four reverse gears.

So even though he beat me out of the gate I shifted from first, to second, to third, all the time going faster and faster backwards until I caught up to him. Meanwhile he's in reverse and the governor in his transmission probably wouldn't let him go over 60 miles an hour, and that tachometer was right at the red line, Do we have a winner?

TOM: Our winner this week is Arch Currie from Norwalk, Connecticut. Congratulations!

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