SAAB, born from jets and killed by General Motors

SAAB nacida de los jets y asesinada por General Motors

“It came from the skies in 1947 and was sent to hell in 2016”: that may well summarize the history of the SAAB automobile division, one that has not even lasted 70 years. This report is about the evolution from the original SAAB motto -”born from jets”, to the company´s death by GM, a chronicle of a death foretold, as it were, for Americans have historically boasted of not having friends, but interests.

American automotive companies have always behaved much like vampires: they arrive, suck their  prey´s blood and then leave it for dead. The exception is Ford, which, opportunistic though it is when it comes to buying other car manufacturers and profiting from them for a time, at least when they leave, the companies are alive and kicking, financially healthy, and in a position to go on with their ventures separately. This has been the case of Mazda, Jaguar-Land Rover, Volvo or Aston Martin, all of which we are luckily still able to enjoy.

El museo de Saab en Trollhattan es lo único que queda de la emblemática marca sueca.
The Saab Museum in Trollhattan is the only thing left of the iconic Swedish make.

The same cannot be said about Chrysler and General Motors, the other two Big Three American companies, who have in the past showed no mercy even to other American manufacturers such as DeSoto or Oldsmobile. We in Spain also know about the ways of Americans, from the time when they arrived with their dollars and turned the prosperous Barreiros into a wasteland in Villaverde.

Mercedes Benz accountants also know about the ways of the Michigan-based companies after their agreement with Chrysler, that left a financial hole they are still trying to climb out of by means of obtaining a wider profit margin in each car they sell, which consequently makes their quality standards  lower. If there is any doubt about this, you can take  a look at the reliability rankings of the least reliable models in the years right after the signing of the Daimler-Chrysler agreement.

In the case of SAAB, after years using it for their own purposes,GM decides to get rid of it in 2010 and so they sell it using the years of financial crisis in Europe as an excuse. The possible buyers included companies such as Koenigsegg or Spyker, which finally won the day, although by then it was a little too late for SAAB.

GM finally gets rid of SAAB in 2010, as the company is manufacturing the second generation 9-3 -that had been launched in 2002 and that was about to cease production- and the recently launched 9-5 NG, a car that had potential to bring the company back to prominence, but whose technology belonged to GM. That is, GM sold a half-starved cat and kept the rights to sell the buyer the appropriate cat food to keep it alive, which in the end they refused to do. Their excuse was, that they did not want their superb technology to fall in the hands of the enemy… who knows, maybe by using it the Chinese would be able to build cars with traffic sign recognition systems or adaptive headlights.

Imagen de la cadena de producción de Saab en los años cincuenta.
The Saab assembly line in the fifties.

Spyker went all in with a bluff when they bought SAAB, as it was unimaginable that an obscure Dutch car maker that manufactures hand-built cars would be able to acquire a company that paid thousands of salaries each month, spent millions of euros in supplies and had factories that used in a single day all the electric power that the tiny Spyker factory used in 10 years… it was a senseless piece of bravado.

Only a few weeks after the purchase, Spyker´s bluff is called when the new company -now named Spyker-SAAB- files for bankruptcy, unable to pay suppliers for the production of the new model. If you don´t produce you can´t sell, if you can´t sell you have no income, if you have no income you can pay people, so you are dead. Spyker certainly did bite more than they could chew.

After obtaining a voluntary arrangement with creditors, SAAB resumes production. The company is split into two -the parts supplying company and the factory itself-, and everybody crosses their fingers.

In 2012 SAAB throws in the towel in their attempt to continue production of the 9-5 model after GM´s refusal to allow the use of their technology. A new company is founded, called NEVS -National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, with Swedish capital and also with capital from the Chinese company National Modern Energy Holdings and from the Japanese Investment Fund Sun Investment.

In 2013, cars start coming out of SAAB´s assembly line once again. It is the 2002 SAAB 9-3, this time running on batteries and an electrical power plant in place of the original combustion engine and produced for the Chinese market. At this point the company has been agonizing for three years.

Saab fue visionaria en muchos conceptos, pero se le negó el poder desarrollarlos.
Saab was often denied the possibility to develop many of their groundbreaking concepts.

In June 2016 NEVS, owner of the SAAB automobile division, makes clear that they will not use the SAAB brand name any longer, and that they will market their products with their own NEVS brand name.

According to Mathias Bergman, NEVS CEO, the reason is that in their view, the company should be remembered for their new era as a company committed to the environment, alternative energies and sustainable mobility.

In my opinion, the right thing to do would have been, out of respect, for GM to have let go of the SAAB name since they launched the first model developed under their control in 1994, the SAAB 900 GM, built from a first generation Opel Vectra platform -despite the fact that Opel had by then already launched the second generation Vectra. Anyone who has driven a 1994 SAAB 900 GM and a SAAB 9000 -the last model developed by SAAB on their own- will surely notice that the former constitutes a leap back from the latter, which is still more remarkable when we consider that the original concept for the SAAB 9000 dates from 10 years earlier!

The origins of SAAB automobiles

El primer Saab sin alas era muy aerodinámico y fuera de lo corriente en la época.
The first wingless Saab was a very aerodynamic, out of the ordinary car.

After the end of World War II, the Swedish aeronautics company Svenska Aeroplan Aktienbolag must diversify its business model to stay alive and to make the most out of the industrial machinery that they had come to develop in order to manufacture airplanes during the war.

There was no need anymore for airplanes to raid cities, transport troops or escort bombing squadrons, but there was a need for terrestrial transport, so manufacturing cars was an excellent alternative.

Saab went the same road others had after the end of the war, but they did it in an original way. Instead of hiring engineers from the automotive industry, the Swedes thought that if their employees were capable of designing a machine that was able to fly – which they excelled at, as demonstrated by the fact that the company took off when they started doing their own airplane designs, after building for Junckers under license-, then they should be equally able to make a car.

The first Saab prototype, dubbed Saab 92001, was presented in 1947. In keeping with the aeronautical nomenclature, the name indicated that this was the first series of project number 92 -the earlier 91 had been planes.

El Ursaab era muy aerodinámico.
The Ursaab was a highly aerodynamic car.

The Ursaab, or number one Saab as it is also known, was an atypical car. If one looks at the car from one side one notices that the line going from the front end up to the rear end -if we removed the roof-, is exactly in the shape of an airplane wing. It was aerodynamically superb, having a 0.24 drag coefficient, excellent even by today´s standards.

The Ursaab prototype kept on being developed until in 1949 the first Saab automobile was launched for sale to the public, namely the Saab 92, of similar shape as the concept car, but with modifications that allowed  for a bigger interior and that made production costs cheaper. It was still a good car aerodynamically speaking and also had the two-stroke, two´cylinder, transversely mounted DKW-inspired engine.

A two-stroke engine was a good choice in Sweden. Apart form being a low-maintenance and light weight engine, starting it up in winter in such a cold country as Sweden was a simple matter, as it did not have to use any sort of thick oil moving around the engine. Moreover, the car´s layout being front engine, front-wheel drive, its handling on snow and the forest tracks that crisscrossed its native land was excellent.

El Saab 93 cambió el frontal para dejar espacio al nuevo motor de 3 cilindros.
The Saab 93´s front end changed in order to make room for the new 3-cylinder engine.

The Saab 92 soon gained a reputation for being a practical, dependable and efficient car, and it thus became a success, although people complained about its lack of performance, and so Saab soon replaced it in 1955 with the Saab 93. From the rear end up to the windshield, the 93 looked basically like the 92, but the front end was enlarged to accommodate a more powerful 3-cylinder engine. Unfortunately, the two-stroke three-cylinder engine was too long to be mounted transversely, and so it was longitudinally mounted.

This made the car´s dynamic behavior somewhat worse, as it had a heavier overhang weight in front of the axle. However, the car´s performance was convincingly better, and the car started being successful in sports competitions. There still was a problem that needed fixing, one that was highly criticized at the time: the trunk had no lid, it had to be filled from the inside after folding the seats. Enter Saab 93-B, which sported a trunk lid as well as a one piece windshield.

Saabs were loved for their handling and dynamism, and people wanted more and more performance, so Saab created the Saab 93 750 GT model, with and engine powered by three carburetors.

After the 93, Saab came up with the 95 model, the station wagon version with a rear hatch and a bigger cargo space. The car came with an 850cc engine and was the predecessor of the Saab 96. But let us dwell on the 95 for a bit, as it incorporated really ingenious features.

El Saab 95 es un coche muy ingenioso.
The Saab 95 is a very ingenious car.

I remember when the Opel Zafira was released in 1999, people marveled at the fact that it had seven seats that could however be hidden in order to achieve a huge cargo space. The Saab 95 was capable of the same in 1959. The trick was to locate the spare tire under the back seats and to install a third row of seats in the trunk space consisting of two rear-facing seats. Yes, a seven-seater, 4.2 meter car!

This was not the only ingenious idea we can find in the Saab 95. Because it had been designed by aeronautical engineers, the car was very aerodynamic: it had a spoiler crowning the back window that made the car´s rear axle “stick” to the ground – a car that could barely break 140 kph-, thus reducing drag while at the same time using the air flow to keep the back window clean from dust and  mud splatter. Real cunning!

La tercera fila de asientos es muy ingeniosa.
The third row of seat is very cleverly designed.

In 1960 the Saab 96 is introduced, substituting the Saab 93. It is basically the same car, but it used the 850cc engine of the Saab 95 and it has more legroom for the passengers sitting in the back seat -the additional space was at the expense of style and aerodynamics, its rear end being more stubby-looking.

The three-cylinder, three-carburetor, 850 cc engine was fit to a 4-speed gearbox with unidirectional clutch. The Saab engineers´magic touch made this little revvy engine reach close to 100 HP. That, combined with the use of front disc brakes was enough for this little Swedish sleeper to win the 1962 and 1963 editions of the Montecarlo Rally piloted by Erik Carlsson -who was married to Patt Moss, Stirling Moss´s sister.

In 1966 the Saab 96 and the Saab 95 undergo a restyling, whereby the front end loses some of its stylish features in order to make room for the new engine that substituted the old 3-cylinder, two-stroke one, though both engine versions were sold with the long-nose body type for a while. The restyling resulted in the earlier version Saab 96 becoming known as “bull-nose” 96s.

El motor Ford V4 era compacto y sin vibraciones.
The Ford V4 engine was compact and vibration-free.

The new engine introduced in 1966 was designed in partnership with Ford. In order for it to fit in the engine bay and not hang too much over the front axle -thereby spoiling the car´s superb dynamic qualities, Saab insisted on it being a very short engine. The solution was a V-shaped 4 cylinder engine. One of the goals was for the new engine to run as smoothly as the old, three-cylinder, two-stroke one (with a natural balance like a 6-cylinder, four-stroke one) and to get rid of any hint of engine vibration. For this reason, counter-rotating shafts were added so that the typical vibrations of  4-cylinder engines could be done away with. This is a mechanical solution that is still being used nowadays.

1968 signals the start of the best Saab years, thanks to the partnership with the truck manufacturer Scania-Vabis. From this partnership came the best models of the Swedish car make.

Up to that point, the truth is that what Saab had been doing was a re-designing and evolution of the 1947 Saab 92, but in 1968 everything will change with the arrival of the revolutionary Saab 99. The   99´s body was conceived to have a “survival passenger cell” that would keep its shape in case of accident, and at the same time it incorporated truly groundbreaking solutions to reduce the amount of kinetic energy on impact.

 

El Saab 99 turbo fue el primer coche sobrealimentado que ganó carreras en el mundial de Rallys.
The Saab 99 Turbo was the first supercharged car to win WRC races.

To begin with, the engine mounts broke in case of accident, and so the drive train got loose and the car lost almost 300kg of mass all at once, thus dramatically reducing its kinetic energy – it was easier for the car to dampen it and protect the passengers. The hood had a crumple area right in the middle, so in the case of a head on collision it crumpled into a V rather than going through the windshield.

The doors were also reinforced with the first anti intrusion bars in history, the car had bumpers that self-repaired after impacts below 7 kph, headlight wipers, heated seats, disc brakes all around, a collapsible steering column… Volvo had a reputation for making the safest cars but Saab had taken over and would remain ahead for the rest of its days, being the safest car manufacturer for decades according to the studies carried out by insurance companies and the NHTSA, thanks to cars such as the Saab 900, the Saab 9000 or the Saab 9-5.

While safety was one of Saab´s main concerns for the production of their 99 model, performance was also important. In 1972 the Saab 99 EMS is introduced, its electronic fuel injection system boosted the performance of the 4-cylinder, two liter engine which by now had little in common with the original 1.7 Triumph engine of the model´s early years. The Saab 99 started to compete in the World Rally Championship with the new engine, and although the car had potential, it proved to be too heavy, and consequently work was resumed to increase its power.

Varios ejemplares de Saab reunidos en la presentación del Saab 9-5 NG.
Different Saabs at the introduction of the Saab 9-5 NG.

In 1978 the 145 HP turbo-powered Saab 99 is introduced, the first mass produced car with a turbo that was also a reliable car (unlike its predecessors, the limited production Corvair Monza and the BMW 2002 turbo which were quite fragile cars). This car changed the world of competition in the World Rally Championship by winning several races. The turbo era was born in WRC. What Saab didn´t foresee though, was the fact that the turbo era also brought about an arms race of sorts among car manufacturers to boost engine performance to never-before-known levels that had as an unwanted consequence the fact that competition costs skyrocketed and were eventually left out of Saab´s reach -and so some of Saab´s drivers had to leave the company for their competition, such was the case of Stig Blomqvist becoming a driver for Audi with the Quattro.

Just a year later, the Saab 900 is introduced. An evolution of the Saab 99, the 900 had a longer wheelbase, more powerful engines and a superb dashboard, ergonomically speaking.

El Saab 900 SPG fue el primer coche con motor turbo y 16 válvulas.
The Saab 900 turbo NPG was the first car with a a turbo and a 16 valve head.

The formidable qualities of the Saab 900 made him Saab´s most successful car, selling just under a million units. The American market, the most demanding in the world, was charmed by the 900, and it became the car of connoisseurs and hip people.

In 1981 Saab patented the APC (automatic performance control) system that electronically controls the boost of the turbocharger. In addition, they added an inter-cooler to cool down the air compressed by the turbo, a cheaper solution than the water-injection system that had been developed for the Saab 99 – and that incidentally, BMW is nowadays trying to convince us is an absolute novelty!

In 1984, the first turbo charged engine with a 16 valve head is introduced, after Saab´s experience in the World Rally Championship. Saab is anticipating the concept of engine downsizing by 30 years. Their 2 liter, 4-cylinder engine achieves a better performance than their competitors´ 3 liter, 6-cylinder counterparts.

The success of the 900 model made Saab realize that they needed to make an even bigger car, but being a small manufacturer, they needed a partner for this enterprise. In collaboration with Fiat -with whom they were selling the Lancia Delta in Sweden under the name “Saab 600”-, the so-called Project 4 got the green light. The project spawned 4 luxury sedans: the Alfa Romeo 164, the Fiat Croma, the Lancia Thema, and finally the Saab 9000, launched in 1985.

The 9000 was the last true Saab, the last one manufactured before GM-imposed budget cuts. In 1989 more than half of Saab´s capital falls under the control of GM, who would in turn take over completely in 1998.

The Saab Sonnet, an out-of-the-ordinary automobile

El Saab Sonett I tiene una belleza extraordinaria.
The Saab Sonnet is a car of extraordinary beauty.

Some of you may have noticed: three numbers are missing between the 92 and 99 Saabs and the company named their models according to the order they were coming up. So what about the 94, 97 and 98 models?

The 94 model was actually an airplane, and the 98 was a prototype that was discarded because it was considered not enough of an evolution from the 96 (it resembled the 96 except for the rear end, which looked like that of a Citroën GS). However, the 97 model was indeed manufactured under the name of Saab Sonnet.

There were three generations of the Sonnet. The first generation Sonnet was an aluminum-body barchetta built in 1955 by some of Saab´s enthusiastic engineers almost in secret. It had the 850 cc Saab 96´s, three-carburetor engine, a 4 speed gearbox and fiberglass body mounted on an aluminum chassis. The car broke some speed records in its category -less than 1 liter engine displacement-, coming close to 200 kph. Only 7 cars were built of this formidable model. Unfortunately, the racing regulations changed and so Saab shelved the project, finally giving up on it in 1957, only two years after developing the first prototype.

Saab Sonett II V4 y Sonett III juntos.
Saab Sonnet II V4 and Sonnet III together.

The idea of manufacturing a carbon-fiber bodied-sports car was taken up again in 1966 with a mind on competing and winning again, like the Saab 96 had in Montecarlo. Instead of making an aluminum frame from scratch, Saab used the 96´s old frame and shortened the wheelbase in order to make the car more nimble when going around corners; a light and aerodynamic fiberglass body was mounted on this frame. Less than 300 cars were made with the two-stroke engine until in 1967 all Sonnets had the V4 Ford engine.

In 1970, the third generation Sonnet came out. It was designed by Sergio Coggiola and the car´s lines were truly seventies style. It was produced until 1974 and it came with 1.5 and 1.7 liter V4 engines.

Saab, a pioneering car make

Saab fue la pionera en apostar por mecánicas compactas sobrealimentadas, 30 años antes de que todas se sumasen al
Saab was a trailblazing make that bet on compact supercharged engines, anticipating the concept of         engine downsizing by thirty years.

Far from being an obscure manufacturer, Saab has a lot of followers. However, they have never been able to market themselves as creators of groundbreaking technology in the same way that for instance Audi has been able to market their copies. Everybody believes that Audi invented four-wheel drive, direct-injection diesel engines and so on. Saab, on the other hand, is hardly known for their pioneering technological feats.

Let´s review some of them.

  • First front-wheel drive, transversely mounted engine and rack and pinion steering in 1947.
  • The fastest car in its category in 1955, Saab Sonnet.
  • First car to mount counter-rotating shafts to reduce engine vibration -in the V4 Saab 95 and 96 engine.
  • First car to have headlight wipers – Saab 99.
  • First car to have anti-intrusion door bars – Saab 99.
  • First car to have self-repairing bumpers – Saab 99.
  • First mass production car with a turbo – Saab 99.
  • First car to have a water injection system to cool down the combustion chamber – Saab 99 Turbo.
  • First turbocharged car to win a race in the World Rally Championship – Saab 99 Turbo.
  • First car to have a particulate cabin air filter – Saab 900.
  • First car to have an electronic engine boost control system – Saab 900 APC.
  • First car to have a 16 valve turbocharged engine – Saab SPG.
  • First car to have a managing system for the ignition timing, the fuel injection and the boost controller in a single engine control unit, called Trionic. The system was introduced in the Saab 9000.
  • First prototype of a car with no steering wheel with electronically managed steering.

Why Saab partnered with GM

GM sólo permitió a Saab plasmar su creatividad en los concepts.
GM only allowed Saab to let their creativity fly in their concept cars.

Both the Saab 900 and the 9000 were a sales success, and put Saab in a conundrum, namely to continue growing as a company or to stay put. Unfortunately, Saab´s profits hadn´t been  as high so as to be able to consider growing on their own.

According to the rules of capitalism, if you are not able to grow, you are dead, and so Saab was forced to look for partners in its effort to continue growing. With this in mind, in 1989 GM becomes Saab´s partner, although their partnership would in time cost Saab dearly.

In principle, with this deal GM finally got a prestigious partner with whom to sell luxury cars in Europe – Opel was not able to sell their Senator and Monza luxury models and moreover continued to have the image of being an inferior make to Volkswagen. Saab, on the other hand, thought that in GM they had a partner that would finance their own ideas, but nothing was further from the truth.

Saab no pudo desarrollar sus proyectos con GM.
Saab was unable to develop their own projects under GM.

But GM did profit from their partnership with Saab, especially when it comes to the use of their technology, their knowledge of supercharged engine development and their safety systems. Saab, in turn, did not see a penny from GM for their own “flights of imagination”. The new generation of the Saab 900 would have the Opel Vectra platform, the electronically managed steering system without a wheel was abandoned (nowadays everybody is talking about “steer by wire”, 30 years after Saab) the active aerodynamics of the Saab EV-1 was discarded, the Saab 9-5 introduced in 1998 was a huge step back in terms of quality from that of its predecessor, the Saab 9000, the 2.5 and 3.0 liter V6 GM engines were awfully unreliable, as were the diesel power plants – the 2.2 liter and the Isuzu 3.0 V6… little by little the reputation Saab had forged for themselves as a company since 1947 started to vanish.

Saab´s customers also changed: they went form being the most loyal to the make to being the first ones to want to get rid of their problem-ridden cars and to speak badly about them. From 1998 on, with GM fully in charge, Saab´s products started being a nightmare for everybody.

In 2008 Saab should have introduced the successor of the Saab 9-5, which was already in the works, but GM decided instead to launch the Opel Insignia – that had the same platform as the Saab model and had been designed by Saab. Saab´s new model would have to wait. In Trollhattan, they had to rush a new version of the already 10 year old 9-5 –the third generation 9-5– and make do for another couple of years while crossing their fingers waiting for GM´s decision on a go-ahead date for the Saab 9-5 NG, which finally came in 2010, the worst possible time for a luxury sedan to be launched, amid a raging Europe-wide economic crisis.

The Saab 9-5 NG was born and with it Saab itself died, which made GM rejoice, as the Swedish make had become a major inconvenience for them. GM took a carrot and stick approach thereafter in order to shop Saab´s spoils around to potential buyers, and after 6 years of doing this, the final result has been the disappearance of Saab as a brand.

Saab, a make for fanatics

Saab es una marca que se salió de lo corriente y enamoró a mucha gente con personalidad propia.
Saab was a make that veered off the trodden path when it comes to car design and made people   with a personality fall in love with their cars

All things that have a personality of their own usually conjure up extreme feelings: either you love them or hate them. This is exactly the case with Saab´s cars and their out of the ordinary design. The fact that the ignition key locked the gear shifter instead of the steering column was a nightmare for many (although certainly not for those who have been in an accident due to the steering wheel lock mechanism breaking), the huge bumpers of the Saab 99 looked horrendous to most people, the Saab 900 rear end looked ridiculously similar to a duck´s rear end… but for many, Saabs are a thing of beauty.

Those who have been lucky to sit on the seats of a Saab Aero surely can´t understand why modern cars do not use seats like those, those who have driven a Saab 900 and have noticed that the rear windshield doesn´t get wet or mud-splattered while driving because of the car´s aerodynamics, will surely miss this on any other car, or the visibility allowed by its panoramic windshield, not to mention the ease with which one can access the interior thanks to the door sill being incorporated to the door itself.

Las llantas de este concept de Saab imitan a los álabes de una turbina.
This concept car´s rims imitate the blades of a turbine. 

Saab owners are generally enthusiastic about their cars, one could say they are in love with them. Even naysayers  may be charmed by a Saab, as was the case of Jeremy Clarkson in the Top Gear show when he tried the Saab 9-5 Aero. Clarkson wonders why people drive this car with a smile on their faces considering the car is a lemon, the manufacturing quality being very low for its price in terms of materials and trim, its weird looks and its handling is a nightmare thanks to its front axle. However, when he steps on the accelerator pedal and sees how the car is able to recover and continue pushing with brutal thrust in top gear, he discovers the reason for the Saab drivers´smile.

It´s been only in the last five years that car manufactures have realized that torque, not power, is key in a production car, following the trail that Saab had blazed in 1978. It is torque that determines the car ´s thrust capability and the ability to cruise at generous speeds without the need to have to constantly change gears, all of which is achieved with a turbocharger.

A commonly held view in car forums is that diesel cars are generally easier to handle than gasoline cars and that overtaking is made easier by a TDI engine. For years I have tried to argue my point against this view, namely, that it is the turbocharger and not the type of fuel that is the key. The TDI engines under discussion were all turbocharged, whereas the gasoline engines these were being compared to were all naturally aspirated. My advice for these people was that they should try a turbocharged gasoline engine Saab if they wanted to find out what easy overtaking was all about.

The problem with the turbocharger was that it was an expensive, no-so-easy-to-manage piece of equipment. Saab was able to build engines capable of withstanding the mechanical demands of turbocharging, and their APC and Trionic systems were the perfect management tool for the turbo.

Nowadays diesel engines are unpopular,as the cat has got out of the emissions´ bag so to speak. Saab had always opposed the use of diesel engines, but they were forced to use diesels made by others in some of their late models. It was precisely those models that gave Saab a bad rep for unreliability. In the meantime, BMW boasts about using the Trionic system to manage their turbocharged engines in their M versions, and manufacturers likewise boast about the steady torque of their turbocharged engines… it turns out Saab was right after all.

The Saab Club Spain. From being threatened to being the last one standing

El Club Saab España ha mantenido fiel su pasión por la marca y su historia.
The Saab Club Spain has been loyal to their passion for the make and its history.

I gleefully remember how, in the late nineties, I started to look for information about the Saab 900 SPG, how pictures of the Saab 900 and of the Saab 900 that my family owned started circulating on the net, and how 3 other Saab enthusiasts contacted me around the year 2000. In those days in Spain, there were not that many people who were interested in the internet and  there were even less car clubs. However, the 4 people that coincided in our love for Saabs also coincided in our interest for the world wide web, and so in 2001 we founded the Saab Club Spain.

From the beginning, we opened up a forum where to share our experiences driving a Saab, where to give recommendations, explain the cars´problems and the best ways to maintain them, and to organize car gatherings to meet other Saab owners (incidentally, in these meetings, many members that had purchased a diesel and tried a turbocharged gasoline Saab were convinced of their mistake in buying the diesel!) . We contributed to create a fan base for Saabs.

Todos los Saab de la historia reunidos en La Coruña en 2010.
All the Saabs ever produced gathered in Corunna in 2010

Thanks to the creation of this fan base, a lot of Saabs were sold, and many would-be customers were finally convinced that a Saab was the car for them. However, as a  club, we did also call Saab´s bluff when we had too, as was the case of the disastrous 3.0 TiD engine or the weaknesses and faults of the 2.2 TiD or the SID2. In other words, we became a pain in the ass of sorts for the importer.

I still remember when Saab Spain threatened to report our activities to the police -I think it was in 2003- at a restaurant near Torre Picasso in Madrid, for using the name Saab in our club. I´ve always thought they wanted to create a similar club but we simply did it first, and using the same name they would have wanted. That threat never materialized.

In the end, the club still exists while Saab doesn´t, and although this makes me sad, I´m also glad somehow. We have done more for Saab than they themselves have. There was a change in 2010, with the appearance of the new model and Saab´s independence from GM.

It was precisely when the Saab 9-5 NG was launched that the club did something of epic proportions that however had much more recognition abroad than in Spain. Thanks to the passion for Saabs of some of the club members, the Dársena Motor Saab dealership in Corunna, and yours truly, we were able to gather an example of every model that Saab ever launched commercially to be exhibited in the city of Corunna. We only did not get an example of either the Ursaab nor the Sonnet I, but neither of those was a production car. Despite the fact that we contacted the Spanish media, none showed up, perhaps because the event was organized in Corunna, a provincial town in the northwest corner of Spain. The event´s uniqueness, though, obtained international recognition as it was highly praised by Saab Central.

El Saab 92 es un coche con mucho encanto.
The Saab 92 is a car that brims with charm.

So in 2010 all the Saabs that had been produced in the history of the make could be seen parked in front of the Playa Club in Riazor and in the Méndez Núñez Gardens in Corunna, by anyone who so wished, from the 1950 Saab 92 to the Saab 9-5 NG that was being officially launched.

A few months later, in February 2011 we did an encore of the event, this time in the Santiago de Compostela Classic Motor Show, this time together with Eventos del Motor, a company that specializes in organizing car-related events. Once again all the Saabs ever made together in one place.

The club goes on organizing car shows yearly, we advise Saab owners, and we try to encourage people to keep and maintain the classic models in an effort to not let these very special cars disappear without a trace.

The Saab 9-5 NG. The swan song

La presentación del Saab 9-5 NG fue retrasada a propósito por GM para garantizar que no sobreviviese.
The introduction of the Saab 9-5 NG was delayed on purpose to make sure it wouldn´t survive.

The story of the Saab 9-5 NG is one of the saddest in the automotive world of late. Just when Saab is introducing a car that could help them regain their own personality and prestige, they are denied the conditions for their success.

The Saab 9-5 NG had plenty of styling details that paid homage to the most iconic Saab models, such as the panoramic windshield of the Saab 900, or its highly peculiar rear end drop. The trim around the headlight housings imitates an ice sculpture, it has a brisk dynamic behavior much like the pre-GM Saabs 96 and 900, it  also has really original interior details, such as an instrument panel in imitation of an airplane´s artificial horizon… It is a truly interesting car.

El Saab 9-5 NG es un coche excepcional pero con un mantenimiento difícil por la falta de recambios.
The Saab 9-5 NG is a formidable car whose maintenance is made difficult by the shortage of spare          parts.

Unfortunately, Saab´s bankruptcy meant that Saab parts suppliers drastically reduced their production. Despite being the most recently released Saab, it is the model for which finding parts is the hardest. There is really no problem in finding any mechanical part, as they are shared by other GM models, such as the Opel Insignia. The problem lies in finding parts that are specific to the model, such as the windshield -specially if you unit is equipped with the Head Up Display-, headlights, headlight housings, bumpers… a piece of gravel hitting your windshield can turn into a real nightmare.

It is a beautiful car, and every time I bump into one I cannot help staring at it.

I was lucky enough to try several units ranging from the most basic versions to the amazing V-6 turbo aero four wheel drive and it is a superb car. I would undoubtedly recommend that you buy one but unfortunately, owning such a unique car comes with its disadvantages, the most important one being to be capable of maintaining it in perfect nick and roadworthy when the parts supplying network only manufactures certain items on demand, and this only when the demand is high enough for the production process to be profitable.

 

Translated by Miguel Fernandez Garrido

19 thoughts on “SAAB, born from jets and killed by General Motors

  1. Increíble reportaje. En mi familia hemos tenido saab de siempre, y yo tuve la tremenda suerte de, aún siendo muy joven, poder heredar un 900turbo S de los viejos que tenía mi padre…….Sin palabras. Tuve que venderlo por falta de recursos para restaurarlo como el se merecía, pero la persona que lo compró lo ha dejado como salido del concesionario, lo cual me agrada enormemente. Un gran post para lo que fue y siempre será una gran marca. Aquello si que era “Think different” , y no lo de Apple, jejeje.

    1. Hola Javier, muchas gracias por tu comentario, me alegro de que lo hayas disfrutado. Un saludo.

  2. Por lo que dices, nunca ha sido fácil la vida para Saab. Me siento más identificado aún con la marca.
    Yo seguiré con mi 900 hasta que mi bolsillo no pueda asumirlo más o mi mujer me amenace con el divorcio.

    1. No, las cosas no fueron fáciles para Saab, era muy pequeña e hizo cosas grandes… un abrazo 🙂

  3. Es realmente lamentable la historia de Saab. Han creado grandes máquinas y de buena calidad. Es una verdadera pena que tenga un final tan triste. Considero que merece algo mejor. La podría haber comprado un grupo grande y resurgirla de sus cenizas. Lo merece !!

  4. Impresionante reportaje Rubén. En Mallorca no se ven muchos Saabs, pero ese coche raro que hacía arrugar la nariz a más de uno a mi gustaba, era un 96 con matrícula extrangera y ese otro con el culo raro me volvía loco. Al final, y gracias al Club, logré tener uno, el Saab 900 es el mejor coche que he tenido, el que más hecho de menos. Es una pena que una gran marca como Saab tenga un desenlace tan triste

    1. Hola Pep, muchas gracias por leerme. La verdad es que la historia de Saab ha sido muy triste e injusta en los últimos años. Quién sabe si en un futuro volverá a despegar, espero que sí. Un saludo.

    1. Y yo… hicimos algo muy grande. Habría tenido mucha repercusión si lo hubiesemos hecho en un pais con más cultura. Pero apenas trascendió. Nadie logró algo semejante, reunir un ejemplar de todos los modelos comercializados por Saab.

  5. Enhorabuena por el excelente reportaje. Aunque nunca he tenido un Saab, siempre ha sido una marca que he seguido con mucho interés, curiosamente desde que vi una referencia a ella en una novela de Le Carré, en la que el autor alababa escuetamente su calidad. El 900 sigue gustándome, así como los cabrios. También me pasó con el último, casi nonato, Saab 9-5 familiar de 2011, que participaba de esa indefinible “rareza”, marca de la casa.

    Por desgracia, creo que nunca podré permitirme tener un Saab de los clásicos, pre-GM, tanto por mi escasez de conocimientos sobre mecánica como por la probable censura de mi cónyuge.

    El tono elegíaco del artículo está más que justificado. Una maravilla. Muchas gracias.

    1. Hola M, muchas gracias por tus palabras. EL problema para hacerse con un Saab preGM es que son coches que ya tienen años y que se disfrutan tanto que suelen tener muchos miles de kilómetros… en temas familiares no me meto, pero a lo mejor si prueba un 900 preGM cabrio tienes una aliada en la compra 😉

      Un saabludo.

  6. Muy buen artículo, lástima que hayas olvidado hablar de los cabríos y del 93 que es el que todavía circula. Tendrás que redactar una segunda parte.

  7. Hola Rubén.
    No conocía tu blog, pero acabo de leer este pedazo de artículo y me ha sorprendido enormemente, además de que acabo de aprender ciertas curiosidades que desconocía, más que tristeza se siente rabia de ver como los gigantes sienten envidia de los pequeños por ser mejores y abusan de ellos. Se nota que has escrito con completo conocimiento y sobretodo con pasión hacia esta marca.
    Quisiera hacerte una consulta sobre un 9-5 NG de segunda mano, pero lo haré en su apartado correspondiente.
    Gracias por tu atención.

  8. excelente nota, una lastima perder a SAAB y seguir teniendo a GM lista y preparada para seguir vampirizando al siguiente de la lista. He tenido un SAAB 93 y todavía lo extraño.

  9. Me ha encantado el reportaje. Lo leere unas cuantas veces mas. Tengo un Saab 9-3X y dos ejemplares de Saab Magazine 2010. Si vierais como elogiaban empleados de la fabrica de Saab, concesionarios, aficionados, propietarios, gente de todo el Mundo alabando el acuerdo al que llego Spyker con GM el 23.02.2010 toda la fabrica de Trollhatan salio aquelo viernes a celebrarlo, bares llenos, ninguno habria imaginado lo que pasaria meses despues. Que sabemos a cerca de la demanda puesta a GM por Spyker? Tendre mi Saab hasta que la falta de recambios me lo permitan. Mario

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