Down to business – Part 2

A few days ago (it seems a long time now, there’s been some traffic through the gates, I can tell you!!), I posted a point of view held by another Saab enthusiast as to what makes “a Saab a real Saab”.

In summary, Seth’s opinion sums up that of many enthusiasts, being as follows:

1. It has to be designed by Saab.
2. “Built from the ground up by Saab”, which is later watered down to being ‘built on a platform of Saab’s choosing’.
3. Quality at a par with Saab’s image as a luxury brand.

I think many others would quite possibly go even further and get right into design cues, drivetrains, powerplants and maybe even ergonomics to the point where there may be no real Saabs in the future unless they start remaking 900s…..

…..but I digress.

The Saab community does seem to be somewhat polarised. I was going to write “at the moment” at the end of that last sentence but I think it’s probably been that way since the first NG900 rolled off the line back in 1993. The latest 9-5 is a classic case in point. There are those who like it and then, there are about twice as many again (at this early stage) that don’t like it.

First, you have your old-timers. They’re not necessarily old but they’re the ‘true believers’, who figure that anything not based on a Sixten Sason design is a watered down piece of tripe and unworthy of the man-hours expended by the noble men of Trollhattan.

You probably know some of these guys. Heck, statistically speaking, there’s a good chance you’re one of them!! I had lunch with a few of these guys last weekend. I showed them a printed photo of the new 9-5 and it raised barely a snarl. I mean these guys were so dispassionate about it that they couldn’t even tear it to shreds. One of them is convinced that Saab won’t exist in 5 years time. He thought the 9-5 looked like a Kia or something similar, but that was the end of it. Ask any homeless kid. If there’s anything worse than being abused, it’s being ignored.

The thing that really killed me was that this guy, he’s retired now, ran his own Saab workshop for years. He’s seen all the models come through. He’s seen the problems and the great workmanship and what’s more, he chose to own them. He’s invested a great portion of his life into these vehicles, into the Saab brand.

Now, I fully understand that having done so, he’s entitled to his opinion about these things. But if it were you, wouldn’t you retain more than just indifference due to the disappearance of the past? Wouldn’t you want to retain some hope for the future?

I dunno, maybe I’m just some stupid, starry eyed goofball. I love the old school Saabs. I own one of them and the next six to eight months of my life are going to be spent in teenage bliss as I get my old 99 turbo fixed up to some semblance of its former glory.

But I’m also a realist. And that’s the problem I have with Seth’s ‘real Saab’ manifesto. It’s the problem that I have with the ‘old timers’. It’s the problem that I have with every defeatist that doesn’t believe that the Saab brand can stand proud again under GM ownership.

The old-timers may think they’re the true believers, but I think they’re wrong. I think a true believer is someone who not only treasures the past, but is also someone that looks forward to the future with anticipation. I think the potential is there for Saab to truly fulfil it’s position as GM’s global premium brand. I think the people exist that can make this happen.

What has to be accepted by some is the fact that Saab operates in a commercial reality where only the viable survive. Sixten Sason’s designs stayed in production for around 46 years. That’s a heck of a lot of DNA to draw on in the future, but it wasn’t enough to keep Saab afloat in the past. What kept Saab afloat was GM’s cash. It’s a cold, cold reality, but reality it is. It’s a reality that continues now and will keep on keeping on until the doors shut for last time in a Saab design studio.

The thing that some of these true believers ignore, or at least politely shove under the carpet, is the fact that Saab are one of the greatest at applying their strengths to other people’s work. Right from day one, where the model to be adapted was a DKW, through to the adaptation of Triumph and Ford engines for the first four-stroke models, Saab has been a company that made much from a little with the help of its friends.

The animosity that has greeted the 9-2x is justified to a degree. Perhaps the execution was a little rushed, a little flawed (due to the small stake GM holds in Suuby and the limited modifications they could make). But is the concept so out of line with Saab’s heritage? A 2 litre, turbocharged wagon that happens to have what a lot of Saab drivers are crying out for – AWD?

Now, as I said, the execution may have been rushed and a bit underdone, but the undeniable fact is that the best ‘Impreza’ you can get, bar an STi, is sitting in Saab dealerships all around North America. It’s way more blatant than has happened in the past, but Saab have applied what they could to the model in a short period, and made it better. And speaking of a new release being underdone, the first 92s back in 1947 didn’t have a boot (trunk). Want to stow something in the back? Throw it behind the seat, from the inside.

If the rumour mills are accurate and Saab does participate further with Suuby to deliver a new 9-2x in the future – one that draws on more of the 900’s DNA – will the current model still be an outcast in 10 years? 20 years? Or will the now-smart people that got one first up and held on to it be lauded as visionary opportunists?

Let’s have a look at Seth’s criteria for ‘a real Saab’ again:

A Real Saab:

1. It has to be designed by Saab.

2. “Built from the ground up by Saab”, which is later watered down to being ‘built on a platform of Saab’s choosing’.

3. Quality at a par with Saab’s image as a luxury brand.

If I may, I’d like to add a fourth criterion: It has to be viable.

Now, some of you may be thinking that I’m corrupting the purity of the design by requiring something as crass as commercial viability. To you, I say a hearty “Bullocks!”

What are the Swedes if not practical?

The fact is that Saab’s future is totally dependant on the viability of its present. This doesn’t mean that functional, practical design has to be thrown out the window. It means that functional, practical design has to be achieved in a manner that can get the product into the end-user’s hands in an affordable, read as viable, manner.

I want to make a plea to all you old-timers. All those with cars made in Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Austria. All those with Triumph 4’s, Ford 4’s and Saab 4’s, whether they have a Garret turbo or a Mitsubishi one.

All of you – each and every one – drive a Saab. If you want to keep driving a Saab 30 years from now, then do something practical. Join a car club. Publish a website. Participate. Get active and even write to GM and tell them what you think. You think they’ll never listen? You think that someone at GM hasn’t read this blog today? Or Saab Central? Or Saabnet?

One of the great things about the Saab community is that it’s educated. It’s also active, tech-savvy and self-aware. I have a great deal of faith in the ability of such a community to have some input into the future of the brand it cares about. And I believe that there’s enough true true-believers out there to keep the flame burning.

The facelifted 9-5 will come out of the closet for real in Frankfurt. From September 15 we’ll finally get to see it as it’s meant to be presented. The spyshots I posted the other day were for real, but they were small shots taken with a cameraphone. You can bet your bottom dollar that what we see in September will look 10 times more polished.

Like this new 9-5, the 9-7x had its detractors right up until it was seen for real and whilst there’ll always be some ‘true believers’ that decry the move, the commercial reality demanded an SUV and Saab pulled it off to almost universal acclaim by those that have driven the vehicle.

What makes a Saab ‘a real Saab’ will always be a subjective topic. But I wouldn’t decry any of the models that have worn the badge as yet, and it’d have to be a real disaster for me to do so in the future.

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8 Comments

  1. Some people have a hard time dealing with change.

    I’m pleased with the new direction Saab has chosen. I’m especially excited for the 9-3 sport combi.

  2. After some introspection, I stopped hammering away at the un-Saabness of the 9-2x because of some of the reasons you mentioned. It’s a step in the right direction, albeit a flawed one, but it’s definitely opening the eyes of car buyers who wouldn’t ordinarily think of Saab as an option. I think my position now is similar to yours: I’m fine with almost anything that saves the brand from becoming another Packard, Nash, Cord, Borgward, etc.

  3. Hi Mike. It’s funny. For all the crowing you here about the 900 and how it’s the most Saaby Saab out there, at our recent track day we had a decent Saab representation and not one 900 amongst them. Most of the cars present were less than 5 years old.

  4. Thanks Ben, and thanks for drawing my attention to the fact that it’s here. I might have to re-publish it again in the light of the 9-5 being released.

  5. This is a good article on Saab cars and what they are; I do believe, as a Saab owner and general observer, that a car must be designed by the company, built from the ground up by the company, and have the image and scent of luxury, smoldering from the car on first appearance; living in Alaska, which is similar to Sweden, I know what it is like to wake up and find that I forgot to plug the Saab in and have it not start at -40F. I also know the feeling of being in a place where almost nobody knows anything about, or is willing to work on Saabs, like mine, which has some annoying and small, but terminating on the road electrical problems, with the starter solenoid; last summer, the problem was with the small little plug-in things in the fusebox; those took about a month for shipping. That’s the main burden Saab owners have to deal with out of Europe-almost nobody knows much about them, and the engine in mine is what my hardcore GM fan friend called “backwards”. They are a little bit different, and the hood opens up backwards also, which might make it safer if it opened in transit, but I like my 1987 900s silver Saab, because it gets 30 miles to the gallon and looks stylish. The one con I thought of for cars made from the mid eighties to the late eighties is that that was the time when computerization just started so primitively in cars, and mechanical and electrical were not only the two main problems to start having to be dealt with; luckily, my Saab isn’t very computerized as far as I can tell, which is good, but I definitely prefer cars to be mechanical and electrical only, instead of the addition of computerization hassles, which is why my Saab is much harder to work with and diagnose, than my 1981 Volkswagen pickup or my 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle which have no computers baby, just the basics! As far as the new Saabs go, I would have to say, they go which is the first important thing, but, all other cars that are new do that; so, what are we looking for here? We are looking for a unique design , that is classy, sporty, luxurious, and has good mileage and ease of use. Simple. It has to look, feel, handle and be Saab. The late 1980’s Saabs were are perfect example.

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