Unless you’re a die-hard Saab fanatic, you probably haven’t heard of Tom Donney. But if you have even a passing interest in Saabs, you should definitely get to know him.
A Saab Fan From the Beginning
The very first Saab
Donney’s love affair with Saabs started when he was just thirteen years old. His older brother, Tim, had 1963 GT850. Eventually, when the engine had died on the GT and joined a dead 9-6, 13 year-old Tom took on the task of bringing at least one of them back into running condition. He did, and was cruising around the neighborhood in the GT before he even got his learner’s permit. By the age of 16, Donney had a job at a job at a dealership in Omaha. He met his mentor, Ray Pharchner, the service manager and another Saab fan. Donney continued to learn his trade and eventually received an automotive degree and opened his own shop, Tom Donney Motors, in 1980.
Building a Saab Empire
Studying under Pharchner, Donney learned the ins and outs of imported vehicles. His mentor eventually became a Saab service rep, most likely helping to inspire Donney’s continuing passion for Saabs. After Donney opened his shop, he began to build his showroom. He started buying up Saabs in a range of conditions, fixing up some and displaying others. An avid collector, Donney owns over 100 Saabs. Recently, he has begun the Saab Heritage Museum with fellow Saab enthusiast Bill Jacobson. Donney says that he wishes to preserve these vehicles for future generations to enjoy.
Bonneville Salt Flats
In addition to being a shop owner and Saab collector, Donney is also a bit of a speedster. He has been taking Saabs to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats since 2011 when he and his team turned a 1968 Saab Sonnett II into a record breaker. Since then the two stroke has been breaking its own records and outperforming larger engines. In 2014, Donney took that same record breaking Saab to Wilmington, Ohio to run the Ohio Mile. The Sonnett continued to impress, reaching a new record speed of 110.8921mph.
Donney meeting Leno in 2006
As if setting land speed records wasn’t enough, Donney has also been linked to some very famous names. In 2005, he sold avid car collector and occasional comedian Jay Leno his 1958 Saab 93b. Eventually he was able to drive out (in a 1961 Saab 96 no less) to meet Leno at his Big Dog Garage in Burbank, CA.
Donney, Seinfeld, and Donney’s son Nate
But Leno wasn’t the only car-loving comedian that Donney has rubbed elbows with. In 2014 he received a call from a man looking for a Saab Monte Carlo 850, and he needed it in Portland in three days. This man worked for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s rather self-explanatory web show. Though the task wasn’t easy, Donney and his son Nate were eventually able to get the Monte Carlo to Portland in time. They got to meet Jerry and drive the car on camera, an unheard of feat for most of the vehicle owners associated with the show.
One could say that Tom Donney has had quite the Saab story so far. We look forward to seeing what other Saab shenanigans he’ll get into next.