The Saab Difference

I may be biased (as a matter of fact, I know I am), but my 1999 model Saab 9-3 Viggen is the best Saab I’ve ever driven.  I’m also honest enough to say that a recent 9-5 Aero might challenge for that title if I got a chance to drive one for a little while.  By all accounts, they’re an excellent car with performance and comfort a-plenty.

On the weekend, a few of us had a chance meeting with a UK Saab enthusiast who laid claim to over 2,000,000 miles driven in Saabs over the years.  He’d owned older Saabs back to the 99, several 900’s and currently owns a 9-5.  He was lamenting the ‘demise’ of Saab under GM ownership but loves his 9-5, saying it’s possibly the last of the ‘real’ Saabs.  Like my 1999 Viggen, his 9-5 (year unknown) will quite likely have some GM-stamped parts under the hood. 

Let me briefly lay claim again – these cars, the 9-5 and Viggen, are possibly two of the best Saabs ever built in terms of performance, quality and comfort – and they’ve got GM parts in them.

Now, I’m not questioning his love for Saab one little bit.  The man was genuine.  I’m just questioning how you write off a future era based on one of the players in that era when the player has made a positive contribution to the continued existence and improvement of the brand.  I know that cost cutting in recent years has made the cars more generic, but I’m trying to see that as a growing pain that was necessary to bring some stability in the present and thereby facilitate some growth and a return to character for the future.  I’m as disappointed as anyone that a 9x-based vehicle hasn’t come to pass, but I’m also a trained finance professional.  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Despite what you read here on occasions, I’m trying to stay pretty upbeat about the future of Saab.  Like many of you, I reckon the potential’s there for some great things over the next few years and am drooling at the possibility of Saab’s first genuine SUV entrant and maybe even a Sonett renaissance at Geneva in just over a month from now.

As buzzed as I get from the possibility of great Saabs in the future (and I do think the best is yet to come), it’s always good to have a look back and see where they’ve come from.  I hope they guys at GM and Saab watch stuff like the following video occasionally, to remember Saab’s heritage and philosophy in it’s proper context, not in a way that suits their current marketing strategy.  I have a feeling that a lot of the people that really matter when it comes to design and engineering need no reminder whatsoever.  It’s most likely to be the suits that cut the cheques that need to see some old school Saab to get their minds straight.

The following video is a Google Video presentation called "The Saab Difference".  It’s from 1990 and it heralds some of Saab’s unique car design and building philosophies.  If they were different from other manufacturers, it was because of a conscious decision that a car had to be made the right way, which can differ from the common way.  It’s the philosophy that underpinned Saab successfully for many years and whilst the technologies have changed and Saab needs to change with them, the philosophy remains the same.

Here’s hoping that powers that be think so too.

My thanks to TuuSaR for dropping the link in comments.

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  1. To lament change is human, and happens throughout many areas of life. We are hyper-sensitive to Saab and therefore are more inclined to notice the comments regarding silly pub talk like, “the last TRUE Saab was the 9…” But since every Saab ever made borrowed something from somewhere, even the strokers, where one chooses to draw the line between real Saab and fake Saab is completely subjective, and pointless.

    This lament for change usefully manifests itself in contempt for whatever the current version is, without any thought to the actually value the current version may offer.

    For example, when I attended Ohio State in the early 90’s the place for action was south campus, an exceedingly seedy area with a string of filthy bars, dirty restaurants and odd ball mom and pop shops. On a Friday or Saturday night the police would have to close down High Street and bring in mounted officers to keep the hordes of drunken students in line as people filed home after closing time – and at the time OSU’s undergraduate enrollment was about 52,000 so when I say hordes, I mean hordes. The place was nasty, an eye sore during the day, crime ridden and so on. The place was also an institution with some of the bars having been in operation for over 60 years. Gramps drank at Papa Joe’s, dad drank and Pap Joe’s and by God I drank at Pap Joe’s. The area was a right of passage that alumni could find common ground over and when visiting years later see that Mustard’s was still out of toilet paper.

    Then in 1997, Papa Joe’s burnt to the ground. They had no insurance to rebuild to the lot stayed vacant. In 1999 the university administration got together with the city to clean up the area. They shut down the filthiest places, bought out everyone else and leveled the entire site. The more viable businesses, like Magnolia Thunderpussy’s, where able to move north or south on High Street and stay in business, the rest just vanished.

    The site stayed vacant for a few years but this fall construction was completed and new businesses are opening their doors. There are still bars, but you don’t have to throw your shoes away after visiting the toilets. In addition there are clean places to eat, nice new housing, a parking garage, a movie theater and so on.

    If an outsider where to see before and after pictures they would probably be so impressed they’d want OSU to come clean up the seedy parts of their town. The improvement is in fact, stunning. Yet, almost to a man, every pre-1997 graduate I have ever spoken to about what is known as, “Campus Partners” feels that they, “ruined” the south campus area.

    It is the lament for change that causes otherwise rational people to declare that a demonstrably better item is bad compared to the old version that they knew and liked. It’s not a thing unique to Saab and I doubt very much if you could convince many people in the throws of passionate lament to see it different.

  2. I have driven, fixed or owned virtually every swedesaab made/imported to the US since….66? and the quantum leaps that most models made over the previous models (and their competitors)is the subject for some great pub-talk. Since 94, though not a huge fan of 9000s, the best thing I’ve seen is the transverse transmissions as they continue and improve to this day. It’s a shame the proportion of automatics that get sold here now…even though I must admit they are much improved from the ZF days. But one must drive the newer 9.3 in basic form and compare it to the T and the V6 and the 9.5 to truly appreciate the current state of the engineer’s art and discount the autopress you may have heard/read.

  3. Ya, it has to be one of the best names for a record store in all the world.

    And looking at all the typos in my post I need to stop typing and talking on the phone at the same time 🙂

  4. Swade et al,
    While all your comments are rather accurate, let me take a brief moment on behalf of those of us who say our 9-5’s are, indeed, the “last true SAABs.” First of all, the full force of SAAB’s worldclass engineering team was still in place when the 9-5 was designed. It was cut severely as the new 9-3 was nearling the end of its development. Also, many of us who make such, admittedly, rather overly dramatic statements will never accept a GM engine in our SAABs. Yes, yes, SAAB once used other manufacturers’ engines, but not since the late 1960s as it began developing what was to become the finest 4-cylinder engines on the planet. I have made no secret in several posts of my intense desire for GM to sell SAAB, the sooner the better. Yet the damage cannot be undone. Not only have we lost the fine Alfa-SAAB premium car platform due to GM’s stupidity, but I honestly don’t know how we can ever fully recapture what was once SAAB with the severe cuts GM made to the engineering talent. On top of that, we lost the unbeatable value of the inputs from SCANIA and SAAB aviation and space divisions.
    As to the Viggen and 9-5, I once dreamed of having a Viggen as my last SAAB until my mechanic convinced me to go with the 9-5 Aero. The reason was, he said, that the Viggen’s harsh suspension was unnecessary. I’ve not regretted the decision for a moment. All I can say is, you must drive a 9-5 Aero — and do it for at least a few weeks. You need to get used to the softer suspension. I think it’s the most uncanny performance vehicle on the road — the pleasant ride of a Peugeot or Jaguar mated to the handling dynamics of what a Lamborghini would be like with front-wheel-drive. To paraphrase a 13-year-old SAAB test drive article, “You must drive this car!” If only, IF ONLY, the talent that designed this incredible car could be brought back together!

  5. We need to get that videoclip to be circulated around inside GM….”you need to know where you’ve been to know where you are going….”

  6. Yepp.
    Nice clip. I’ve only owned one 9000 (wich my father in law didn’t want me to sell, he bought it of me) and this video explains a sound in the car that I was never able to locate the sorce of. It was i tiny click sound when a turned hard right.
    Take a good look at the back right door in the clip at the time 02:12.
    Isn’t this section of the move showing the body flexing in a 9000 hatchback…?
    Is it me or is the door actually moving a bit in the turns comared to the body?
    Dont get me wrong here. This was a great car, and still is. And now I can even sleep at night since this issue is solved!

  7. I own a 1999 Saab 95, in silver of course.
    I’ve had an interest in Saab since the John Gardner books, and worked for a GM sub-contractor for approximately one year after the 9-11 recession while I searched for a real job.
    I was amazed that at a time when GM was losing large amounts of money, the management team was flying around in private jets. I also remember a visit by the GM head of North America. He actually had a lackey in a cheap suite following him around taking photos. You’d think Eisenhower had arrived at Normandy. I didn’t get a warm fuzzy about these GM guys.
    Presently I get loaner cars from my Saab dealer when they’re performing service on my 9-5, and the new Saabs don’t feel as solid as my seven year old car. I’ve also noticed quality deficiencies like buttons not being aligned properly, or the steering wheel adjustment lever feeling like incredibly cheap plastic. One time, the turn signal was particularly loud and obnoxious. I inquired with the service manager, and he confirmed that the turn signal was indeed a GM part on that loaner car.
    Sadly, when the time comes to replace the Saab, I’m doubtful another Saab will be purchased. The two strong contenders to take its place are BMW and Audi.
    My hope for Saab is that GM will sell it, and that the new owners bring back the magic. I particularly miss the distinct long bonnet nose of the old 900s. You can still see a hint of that in my 95. It’s gone in the short stubby nose of the new 93s. I also think all Saabs should have the ignition key in the center, not on the console.

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