Viggen Thoughts

Several interesting things came up as a result of our Saab Car Club day yesterday. Forgive me if I get a little introspective here, but that’s the blogger’s prerogative. I’ve been meaning to do a Viggen ownership piece for some time, but haven’t got around to it. This still isn’t it, but it’s a start.

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Last weekend was the first chance that I’d had to sit down and chat with another Viggen owner, face-to-face, with our cars sitting right there with us. Richard’s Viggen is essentially the same as mine, though he’s made a few minor mods (grille badge, smoked side repeaters, bluetooth and window tinting) and inherited one other minor mod (repainted silver wheels). As far as I know, mine’s stock standard. At their core, they’re both Lightning Blue 1999 Saab 9-3 Viggens, so we had plenty to talk about.

Doing so gave me plenty to think about, too.

Shorly after we first met, I asked Richard how he felt about the whole Viggen ownership experience. He was quite enthusiastic and positive about the whole deal. Something akin to “best thing I could have bought”. He has a Saab background and the Viggen is the latest in a group of progressively newer Saabs over the years.

I was interested in his thoughts as I’ve been feeling strangely non-committal towards a similar level of enthusiasm. Allow me a brief explanation.

I’m pretty old fashioned in a lot of ways, sentimental, a bit of a romantic. I place a high value on a good heritage and the ability to retain a level of integrity with regard to that heritage. I have an incredibly high regard for the innovation represented by the Saab 99 Turbo and fond memories of drives shared with my old 99T. For some reason, my experiences with the Viggen just haven’t added up to a whole that could surpass my affection for my old 99, despite it’s ripped seats, faded paint, smoky turbo and dodgy third gear.

If I could use an analogy, which one was your favourite teddy bear when you were a kid? The shiny fluffy thing your Aunt replaced every Christmas, or the patchy old thing with one eye that you had a gazillion childhood adventures with?

Exactly.

One of the great things that came out of the Club day on the weekend was the decision for a few of us to swap cars for a portion of the drive. I jumped into Bill’s 99 Turbo – a Marble White model with a green interior, exactly the same as my old one. It was instantly familiar, right down to the smell. And it brought a huge smile to my face.

An hour or two prior to this I was whipping the Viggen around a serious bunch of bends and straights, having the time of my life. Whilst the 99 doesn’t provide anywhere near the same instant gratification when you depress your right foot, I found myself like a kid in a candy store as I wrestled the old beast around the bends, sans power steering.

Whilst I was doing all this, I was able to look in my mirrors and see Bill behind me, driving my Viggen. As we had two Viggens there that day, I was also able to look in front and see John having a ball in Richard’s Viggen. A new wave of appreciation washed over me.

The Viggen is one heck of a fine looking automobile. It’s got that hint of Viking horn about the headlights and with the Viggen skirts and suspension, a slightly mean stance about it. It oozes presence to the trained eye, yet it’ll fade nicely into the background whilst a menagerie of Holdens, Toyotas and Fords dominate the market in a place like Tassie.

The interior’s something that I have managed to appreciate from day 1. It’s simply the best interior environment that I’ve experienced. I know I’m biased in saying that, but it’s true. In its blue-black form, with carbon fibre and leather in abundance, the Viggen cockpit is one of the most pleasurable places you could ever choose to linger. The seats are second only to the 9000 Aero for comfort, but look much better IMHO (again, very subjective, so PG Aero, Mr Burn and Drew, please don’t hate me for that).

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Yes, the carbon fibre dash is an acquired taste, but it’s not as bright as the flash makes it appear in these photos and it grows on you very quickly. Simply put, the Viggen interior is one of the most user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing environments I’ve ever been in.

As I finished up my drive in Bill’s 99 Turbo, I was all smiles. It really was a blast to be sitting up high in the seat and feeling the car point somewhat lazily, but always accurately in the direction I’d steered for. But as I got back into my Viggen again, I was reminded of just how good this car is to drive.

It’s amazing how we get complacent about things that we’re used to. The Viggen isn’t perfect. The rescue kit I’ll order next month from Abbott will help it get closer to that, but it’s still one heck of a good ride.

To drive this car really is to create and follow your own road. It’ll cruise in total comfort like a GT car and then in the blink of an eye it will scare the daylights out of you (in a good way). It’s complete versatility and custom driving – you dictate your driving situation according to your mood. It’s incredibly responsive under either of the motion-altering pedals. The feedback is fantastic, allowing you to feel the power and the presence that it commands on the road.

Combine performance with the aforementioned interior and the Viggen truly is right up there with the best Saab have ever made.

Prior to owning mine, I read one of the moderators at SaabCentral with a little scepticism once, as he considered the Viggen to be perhaps the purest form of Saab expression. It certainly made full use of the turbo power available in the day, combining it with a magnificent driving environment.

The purest form of Saab expression? I don’t know about that. I’m still too sentimental to focus on one model above others to that degree and I have way too much respect for all the other Saab models that have been developed before and after the Viggen. How could I place anything above a 99T, a 900 Turbo S or a 96 Monte Carlo?

I’m not into pointless rankings, but as time passes and I have more chances like last weekend to truly appreciate the Viggen, it’s fair to say I’m forming a much more definite opinion about the quality of this car and the place it holds in Saab’s history.

One day I’ll own another 99 Turbo but it’ll be as a second car, for fun and historic value. For now, the Viggen and I are just making a start on our adventures as car and driver…..

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ADDENDUM:

As I sit here and re-read this, I’m making myself comfortable with the fact that I could well be accused of subjective puffery from owners of other Saab vehicles. I’d be pleased if you’d forgive me though, as I think I made sufficient mention of my own bias during the article. Regulars here should also be familiar with my extremely high regard for other Saab models made both before and after the Viggen.

We all choose and purchase the vehicles we drive for own reasons. If you’d like to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and set out why you love your Saab then email me a suitably sized piece of work with some photos attached and I’ll be glad to give it some space here.

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7 Comments

  1. I have the same feelings going back and forth between my 9-5 Aero and my c900 T convertible. The center of gravity is higher in the c900, and you feel the turns more, but it comes across as better feedback not as lack of control.

    And because the 9-5 is more civilized, feedback from cornering or handling isn’t as pronounced except at higher speeds. So on a day-to-day basis, the 9-5 Aero can feel less interesting than the c900 T. But once you get her wound up on a twisty highway, Wow !

  2. Greg, I remember that pretty clearly from my drive in the 9-5. Incredibly capable and comfortable car. I’m sure I could write almost the same article about that model if I’d got one.

    A very nice ride.

    Dave, I’d love to know exactly which markets DID get the CF dash as standard. I’m glad Australia did as I love it!

  3. Before Sunday I had never driven a Viggen. In fact, I had never driven a 9-3 before, a 9-5 Aero being the limit of my post 1993 Saab driving experience. And you may think that jumping out of a 1979 car into one 20 years younger will inevitably impress a driver.

    Apologies Swade but my first thoughts while at the tail of the procession were (1) how very fine does my 99T look on the road, (2) must fix up the rear mudflaps and badges and (3) it is fairly safe having an ex-99T owner driving the car, isn’t it?

    After I’d got over those fond musings I realised I’d been been pretty much cruising in 5th gear and using various amounts of right foot to keep up. You have a right to expect that level of flexibility in a modern car but use both the foot and the gearstick and things happen. Which I did and it did. Back in the 99 and despite 20 years there are enough similarities to make a connection, and that surprised me. Although a good-fun classic, I wouldn’t use a 99 as an everyday driver. If I had a need for a weekday car a Viggen would edge out a 9-5 Aero, as the styling is more distinctive, I prefer the interior (LOVE the carbon fibre) and most importantly it is a hatch. I bought my first Saab because it is a hatch and I can’t see myself in a wagon even (says nervously) a SportCombi.

    Will the Viggen go down in saabisti history as a classic? I think so, but I wouldn’t kick out my last 99T to make room for one. Fortunately I have a few acres so wouldn’t need to.

  4. Great read. I think that some later years have carbon fiber trim standard here in the US, but there are ‘plain’ ones to be found.

  5. As Saabill said, great read!
    I’ve had my Viggen (Lightning Blue coupe like yours) since new in January 2000. I can certainly recommend the Abbott Viggen Rescue Kit as a big step in the right direction towards exploiting the performance and handling that this car is really capable of delivering.
    The other “upgrade” that I’d recommend, and one that I’ve just made myself (only 36,000km on the clock), is to replace the original Dunlop SP2000 Sport tyres with something much, much better. Many Viggen owners did this early on, so it has taken me quite a while. The favourite replacements seem to have been the Goodyear Eagle F1 and Bridgestone Potenza S-03 Pole Position. However, when I checked out the state of the market and current user feedback on performance tyres in this category (on tirerack.com) I found that Dunlop have made quite a comeback recently with their SP Sport Maxx, and so that is what I have just put on the Viggen. All I can say is WOW!!! They certainly have helped put the biggest smile on my face while driving the Viggen since buying it six years ago.
    BTW, I take the Viggen off the road for the winter over here in Ottawa and fall back on my all-season 1999 9-5 Wagon (with Aero ECM) fitted with Michelin Pilot Alpins for winter duties (new Pilot Exaltos for the other 3 seasons).

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