Saabs from around the World

How the Oscar Winner Met the Saab Car Again

Gene Deitch reunites with his Saab 96 (Photo by Svět motorů/Jiří Pekárek)Gene Deitch reunites with his Saab 96 (Photo by Svět motorů/Jiří Pekárek)

Oscar-winning animator, illustrator, comic artist and film director Gene Deitch passed away two years ago, at the age of 96, at his home in Prague. He will be remembered as the man who created some of the most beautiful memories of our childhood, considering that he worked on numerous cartoons, among which “Sailor Popeye” and “Tom and Jerry” stand out.

Gene Deitch and His Work

He made his first film at the age of thirteen. He established himself professionally at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s as an animator and director in the UPA studio (eg the “Mr. Magoo” series), when he twice won the New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal for the best television commercial (including Bert beer). & Harry Piels). His animated commercials from that time were the first to be screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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American director Gene Deitch, who modestly never boasted about an Oscar for his film, came to Czechoslovakia back in 1959 and stayed there forever. The most interesting thing for all of us Saab enthusiasts is that he was the first Saab car buyer in what was then Czechoslovakia. That was the very first car of the Swedish brand imported to what was then Czechoslovakia in 1960. It belonged to the American Gene Deitch, who lived in Prague, where he passed away in April 2020.

The First Saab Car in Czechoslovakia

At that time, During the Czechoslovak Republic and the Cold War, thanks to the owner’s foreign passport, He and his car were able to move freely on European roads. And he had bad luck on those trips, so he “managed” to have a car accident in Germany, and it happened to him that his Saab engine ran out of oil and lubrication in Switzerland.

Back then in Czechoslovakia, Gene met amazing people, such as car racer and photographer Zdeněk Treybal (whose Saab story is just related to this). When Zdeněk learned that as a foreigner Gene could buy any foreign car, he convinced him to cancel the order for the Fiat 600 and buy a Saab 96.

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Treybal was absolutely thrilled with Saab cars, which brought a lot of innovations to motoring at the time, which he could not see in practice. Treybal had reportedly only read about the spring chassis instead of the then usual leaf springs and the revolutionary two-stroke freewheel engine. He promised the director all the service if he bought the Saab. And it happened.

Thanks to the persistence and enthusiasm of Zdeněk Treybal, they quickly managed to officially import a progressive Western car to Czechoslovakia, at first only four test Saab 96 cars. It really worked, although only one car really served testing. The second was given to “testing” by the Communist Minister of Commerce, the third was bought by Theodor Pištěk and the fourth by Treybal.

A Reunion of Gene and His Favorite Saab 96

Because of this director’s connection with Saab cars and the pioneering era of Western cars in the then Czechoslovakia, editors and journalists of the Czech magazine (Svět motorů) organized a reunion of the famous American director and his favorite Saab 96 three years ago, just before the death of this Oscar winner.

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It goes without saying that Gene was delighted, and that this meeting revived his memories. “The Trunk was incredibly spacious after the seats were folded down, we usually slept in it when traveling around Europe. We were never afraid, then it was safer than today,” he pointed to the interior of the Saab on that occasion.

He also recalls the trouble they experienced with customs officers – although he could travel arbitrarily, he was not allowed to carry the Czechoslovak currency when traveling abroad. “I was always defending what I would do if my car broke down somewhere on the way back,” Deitch shrugs.

And on that occasion, next to them was Zdenek’s wife with a confession to pet the former family car: “It’s still a nice car, isn’t it? Not like today, when all cars are the same.”

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The Man Who Revived Saab 96

Gene Deitch’s Saab was found and returned to factory condition by another Saab enthusiast David Syrový. David was only eight years old when he met this Saab 96 and had no idea what kind of car it was. It was dismantled, in very poor condition and was to serve only as a source of parts.

He still remembers flipping through car documentation and finding the name of the first owner. It was clear to him that this car would not be used for spare parts. In addition to being the first Saab in their country, it was a piece exhibited in 1961 at the Brno Exhibition Center.

Goran Aničić
the authorGoran Aničić
For over 10 years, Goran Aničić has been passionately focused on Saab automobiles and everything related to them. His initial encounter with Saab cars took place back in 2003 when the first Saab 9-3 and sedan version were introduced. At that moment, he was captivated by the car's Scandinavian design logic and top-notch engineering, and everything that followed stemmed from that first encounter. Later on, through his work at the editorial team of the Serbian automotive magazines "Autostart" and later "AutoBild," he had the opportunity to engage more closely with Saab vehicles. In 2008, he tested the latest Saab cars of that time, such as the Saab 9-3 TTiD Aero and Saab 9-3 Turbo X. In 2010, as the sole blogger from the region, he participated in the Saab 9-5ng presentation in Trollhättan, Sweden. Alongside journalists from around the world, he got a firsthand experience of the pinnacle of technological offerings from Saab at that time. Currently, Goran owns two Saabs: a 2008 Saab 9-3 Vector Sportcombi with a manual transmission, and a Saab 9-3 Aero Griffin Sport Sedan from the last generation, which rolled off the production line in Trollhättan in December 2011.

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