My 0.02c about design

If you’re an enthusiast you’d have to have been living in a cave for the last month or so to have not seen the latest 9-5 spyshots (try here, here and here). There are several aspects to these shots that have caused some concern in Saab circles. The lack of daring in the design (although it’s only a ‘facelift’). The Camry-ness of the rear lights (although they’re unfinished, in red only in the clearest shot).

I have to temper this post right now, and say that these ‘spyshots’ could end up being way off the mark – it wouldn’t be the first time. But supposing they are reasonably accurate, I’ve got to say that the one thing that’s really bugging me is the loss of the 3-port grille.

To my knowledge, the 3-port started in the early 1970’s with the Sonett III and the 99. The grilles were black with the “superman” shaped centre section being the smallish centre ‘port’ and the outside sections forming the outer ‘ports’.

green99.jpg Nice 99, dude!

This theme was developed over the years as the 99 evolved into the 900, which had many subtle evolutions itself. The grill developed an enlarged centre port and thinner side ports, got chrome edging, got adopted into the 9000 range and then got taller. Along came the NG900 and the newer shape 9000 and the 3-port was still there, albeit a lot flatter, but the DNA was still the same and traceable right back to Sixten Sason’s earliest 99 drawings (heck, even Caterina’s got a noted central intake and flanks).

SAAB_900turbo.jpg SAAB_900_89.jpg


The 3-port grille has been refined over and over to fit the character of the car and the design cues of the generation. In 2005 the 3 port is punched out of a color-coded front and looks every bit as smart as it always has. It’s now as much a part of classic Saab DNA as the swept windscreen, the CombiCoupe and the central ignition.


Now, I know that things change and that evolution has a way of forging ahead regardless of sentiment. I know that in the fullness of time design philosphies are prone to change and that one day I might look back and say “remember that old 3-port grille? Those were the days, huh?” as I climb into my combi-cabrio 9-15q.

The problem is that I’m not ready for that change, and i’m not sure that the Saab-buying public is ready for it either. Especially when the change is a half-baked facelift that, in all honesty, does look a bit like every other brand as per the limited and flawed spyshots seen so far. (Can I emphasise that bit enough?)

Consider this:

Note the big, fat centre section, possibly flanked by subtle outer ports housed with the headlights. The main impression is of a one-holed front. Now, how many other makers have a similar setup? A very quick and short survey (it’s 12.30 a.m. here):

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One of the great things about owning a Saab is that you don’t see your own car everywhere you go. This is partly due to low volumes, but mostly due to uniqueness of design. The Saab bodyshape and those quintissential design cues are easily recognised by those of us with the antenna tuned into the Sason frequency.

I guess that what I’m really hoping for is a maintenance of faith in the elements of Saab design that make them the unique cars that they are. Part of that is functionality and another part is aesthetics. I’d hate for either of these to be sacrificed at the alter of evolution just because someone felt that fundamental change was necessary merely for the sake of it.

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  1. Hi Swade,

    This may be too much of a reach but doesn’t the genesis “three-port” design concept actually go all the way back to the 1965 facelift of the 95/96?


  2. Alan, I was thinking the same thing. Even the bullnose had 3 ports, but not arranged side-by-side. But the 65 and later look like the genesis of the 99 3-port design.

  3. Gents, I had thought of the same thing. I started with the mid-70’s 99 as it was distinctly black and the kidney shape of the outer ports was traceable.

    But you’re right and the genesis does trace back further. Before writing about that 99 I looked at the earlier 99’s (with the steel grill) and then the 96’s and 95’s. I guess when I looked at them, it sort of stuck out to me that they were more about a protruding centre portion than 3 ports. But the traces are certainly there.

  4. I’d agree except for one thing — the new 9-5 grill actually looks like a compelling extension of the 3-port design. It is, at a glance, clearly Saab-like. None of the other center-hole pictures have the element in the new 9-5 — putting 2 outside ports next to the headlights. That’s what’s makes them different.

    I think it’ll look better from the full front view — the headlight ports will show up better, making the family resemblance clearer.

  5. I’m confused. Everyone’s excited about the 9-X and the 9-3x, both of which have that very grill extended across the whole front of the car. Now that they’re putting it on the 9-5, it’s a problem?

  6. Greg, that’s one of the problems with spyshots-, the lack of clarity and the fact that you really don’t know what the final product is going to look like. The one that scared me the most and inspired this post was the white frontal shot that really made the car look like a Hyundai. The lights certainly looked to extend inward right through where those two outer ports would be. The later shots look like they may adopt the light/port setup (for want of a better term), but until we see a clear shot, maybe in September at frankfurt, we’l have to just keep on speculating.

    Eric, The excitement, for me, about the 9x and 9-3x is the whole concept. Aesthetically, i’s the whole shape of the car, including the front. I’m just not so sure it’s fitting on the flagship sedan.

    Give me a month of staring at the new pictures when they come and i’m sure I’ll love it. But I’m a sentimentalist at heart and hate to think of the distinct 3-port bowing out without a final hurrah (esp when it looks so good on the current models – it’s at its zenith).

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