Saab Future Feature Thoughts

I got this in via email on Monday morning and I think it presents some pretty good ideas wth regard to future design. I mentioned my own Ovlov C30 sighting on Sunday and expressed a hope that Saab’s designers would do their compact car better in the future.

Picking up on that, Mark S wrote to me and he’s in a pretty good position to make some points. Whilst I’ve been out of a 900 for some time, Mark drove 900s for 18 years before updating recently.

So here’s his thoughts:


Your recent comment that Saab should build the kind of cars which made it famous really made sense to me. I was thinking about this and wanted to make a few comments.

Until I bought my current 9-3 (a 2001 3 door) I had been driving classic 900’s for 18 years. I never tired of driving my 900’s, and if Saab still produced the classic 900 I’d be driving another one today! The 900 was everything I ever wanted in a car. It was a blast to drive (the first time I heard the jet-engine whine from that silky smooth engine, I was in love!), remarkably comfortable, safe, utilitarian, and superb in winter. The climate control was simple to use and had features that my current 9-3 does not have (remember the setting which allowed you to keep the heat on high but directed cool, fresh air through the center vent toward your face? Simple, smart, and practical).

Much has been made of Saabs design future moving in the direction of the Aero X, and that’s an interesting prospect. There are however, a few innovations which were unique to the 99 and classic 900 which should be, in my humble opinion, re-examined and perhaps re-introduced on future Saab models. And in all honesty, while the Aero X is dead sexy (I’d still vote for the SPG in a beauty contest between the two!), it doesn’t showcase many “real world” virtues that any practical New Englander would give a rip about (other than all-wheel-drive I suppose). Having driven classic 900’s for the past 20 years, I may have taken a few of these things for granted until the purchase of my 9-3 last year.

For your consideration:

1.) The protected door sill – This feature made entry/exit of the vehicle very easy, and kept the sill clean! The first time I smeared road salt across the back of my pant legs exiting the 9-3, I realized my last Saab had a design feature that my new one lacked!

2.) Integrated car jack “brackets” – I’m sure Saab had a term for these, but I’m referring to the jack “holders” found in all four jack locations on the 99/900. This was a safety feature I completely took for granted until the first time out with my GM supplied suicide jack. Unless you’re on perfectly level ground, watch out! And even then! On the 900, the jack actually slides into a brace in the proper jack position, eliminating the chance of the jack rolling over once the car has been hoisted up.

3.) “Exposed” wipers – Okay, this might sound crazy, but hear me out. Here in New England, we spend alot of time brushing snow and scraping ice off our cars. As you will recall, the hood of the classic 900 consisted of one unbroken plane running all the way to the base of the windshield. Unlike most other cars, the wipers were not buried in a channel at the base of the hood. With the 9-3, ice and snow tend to pack into this space around the wipers, and it’s a pain to clear out. This was never an issue with the 900.

4.) Flat cargo area – Remember folding the back seat of your classic 900 in order to transport stuff that only station wagons or pickup trucks would normally be able to carry? I can recall how easy it was to load a full size clothes dryer into my 900, by myself. Since the floor was completely flat from the rear bumper all the way to the seats, it was quite easy to load and unload such cargo. My 9-3 also has a large cargo area, but the floor is not flat and a bit more difficult to load and unload.

5.) Lower “waistline” – The trend seems to be toward a higher and higher posterior, which makes visibility a bit more of a challenge. The 900/99 had much better rear visibility.

6.) The curved windshield – Okay, this might be more of an aesthetic point but the curved windshield contributed to the cars character and exciting appearance, and also brought the glass far away from the passenger’s face. This was safer, and created a greater sense of space in the cabin.

I could go on, but these are just a few which come to mind (and believe me, I know I’m preaching to the choir here). I hope Saab’s current design team(s) keep these things in mind, and never forget what made their designs so great in the first place!

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  1. i like the “brackets” idea the best. i’ve only had to use the “suicide” jack once, and that was more than enough.

  2. Regarding that door sill thing: I’d never really driven in snow before until a few years ago when I rented a Subaru Outback Wagon to drive up in the Canadian Rockies. I had that problem too where it was impossible to get in and out of the car without getting road grime all over the back of my pants legs! Very irritating.

    I sometimes wonder why SAAB would go away from a great idea, like you mention. You’d think they’d add and improve on design features, not take them out! If it was a good idea when they were designing the 99 or C900, why wouldn’t it be now?

    A good example is the standard seat heaters. If SAAB figured they were important enough to driver safety to integrate them as standard before they were owned by GM, why would they not think them important afterward? Same with the cool air in the face vent you mention above.

    Another one was the fact that on the C900 (and possibly the 99 before it) the climate controls were designed as big knobs one could manipulate with mittoned hands.

    Yet another one: I don’t know if they fixed it in the 9-3SS, but in my wife’s ’01 NG9-3 the visor is really short. So if the sun is in your side window it’s very easy to have the sun in a position where even if the visor is there you can’t cover it. I saw when I drove the ’07 9-5 it has one of those great “double” visors. I really like that and think that SAAB should integrate that at least as an option across all their models. Also, they should offer ventilated seats in all models as an option.

    You make very good points, Mark.

  3. Vive le C900!

    Yes to all! And, I am NOT making this up: my FIRST use of the ‘suicide jack’ on my 1998 Pontiac Bonneville resulted in a complete collapse of the scissor jack! It bent about 40 degrees to the left and the car, of course, crashed down. Fortunately, I hadn’t removed the flat yet. I used a friend’s jack from her Oldsmobile Alero (same jack) and successfully changed the tire. The Pontiac dealer quoted US$98 for a replacement jack! I said no thanks and bought a safer, better bottle jack at Wal-Mart for $15.

    For the record, Saab dealers gouge pricing for that kind of stuff, too. At least the Saab stuff works most of the time.

  4. What I miss:

    Push-out side opening windows on the 3-door. My 2000 9-3 needs them desperately.

    Front hinged hood (bonnet) made working the car much easier, and looked cool when open.

    Agreed on the flat floor, but particularly miss the curved windshield. Saab don’t deserve to say they are “born from jets” without it.

    My base-model 9-3 S still has rotary HVAC controls. I can operate them without taking my eyes off the road.

    I hope to purchase a late-model c900 when I’m through with my car.

  5. I wonder if you get better side-impact protection with the modern doors as opposed to the old, protected door sill design.

  6. Mark S (or Gripen),
    I really am new at this Saab thing – what are you guys talking about when referring to the protected door sills? I understand the benefit as you have described it, but how are they constructed uniquely? I’m not getting it, and, since my ’99 9-3 is my first exposure to Saab as an owner, ….??

  7. DN: AFAIK they are referring primarily to the depth of the sill on the C900. The sill is 4-6″ higher than the floor. The outer portion of the sill is covered by the door to that depth when the door is closed. Thus, if you drag your pants on the edge of the sill getting into the car, that edge is relatively clean and dry.

    Contrast that with most other cars — the opening is almost flush with the gasket that seals the door and is most definitely exposed to the elements.

    To put it into text:

    Saab 99/900: In_____floor
    Others: I________floor

  8. denvernewbie: that’s the 64-thousand dollar question!

    I’ve got two theories:
    1. These features were more expensive to produce than the ones they employ nowadays
    2. The engineers don’t have continuity. The old-timers aren’t around anymore to tell the young’ns why they did things and how. Maybe the old SAAB engineers don’t interface with the new GM Europe ones? I would greatly suggest to any current SAAB engineer they get their hands on an old C900 or 9000 “Engineering Features” booklet. I have one for the pre-’85 8-valve 900 and it points out all kinds of great design features of the cars I wouldn’t have known of otherwise.

  9. Gripen,

    As next month will be the month of c900 love, I think some info from that publication would be quite relevant. Any chance of acquiring a scan at my gmail address prior to August, you august gentleman, you?

  10. Something I would like:
    A programmable beeper for the tach that provides a warning beep before the shift point and another at the shift point. Everything’s there except the software = easy to do.

  11. Swade, Swade, Swade,

    I waited and waited for Classic 900 month hoping to pass along some of my experience and pictures. But it never came. Now, a month after I’ve sold the car, you decide to make it 900 month.

    What’s going on?


  12. Oh, and another thing: I reckon that the omission of the sill has as much to do with the fact that the Saabs now share a platform with other cars as it does with anything else. There is less differentiation overall vs. other cars.

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