- 25th anniversary of launch of Saab Convertible
- Driving force behind growth of convertible segment
- Established open-top car as practical, all-year-round transportation
It all began in 1986, when the first car in a production run of just 400 Saab 900 Convertibles for the US market was delivered. Now, three generations later, almost 300,000 Saab Convertibles have been sold around the world and the drop-top from Scandinavia is established as a global icon for the brand.
Whilst Saab did not invent the segment, its Convertible has played a leading role in growing what was once a small, market niche in decline. It injected panache and real-world credibility by changing perceptions about the feasibility of four-seater, open top motoring. The fact that a car designed to exploit sunshine and warm weather should be built in a land of snow and ice added to the Convertible’s mystique and its growing cult status.
Key to the Saab Convertible’s abiding appeal has been its ‘four-season’ capability. Here was a car that worked all-year-round, and was as comfortable and enjoyable to use in sunshine or rain and hot or cold conditions.
In European markets that are not known for their clement weather, countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Holland, the Saab Convertible has accounted for as much as 50 per cent of total sales in the segment. Despite spending most of its time with the roof up and the heater on, this was a convertible that was not merely as a ‘second’ car, to be used sparingly when the sun came out.
Over 25 years, the Saab Convertible’s success has helped to mould the shape of the automotive landscape. Today, most manufacturers offer convertible models and it was the success of the soft-top from Saab that provided their inspiration. The launch of the Independence Edition Convertible, celebrating Saab’s rebirth as independent company, is now also a fitting tribute the Saab soft-top’s first 25 years.
Most of the few convertibles on the road at that time had awkward lines, reflecting the requirements of adapting a sedan bodyshape. But the Saab was different. This was a Convertible that looked good and appeared to be a unique ‘bespoke’ design without styling compromises. And, despite a stowed hood, there was still enough room in the back to accommodate two adults in comfort. The four season, four-seater car had been born.
Overwhelming reaction from press, public and dealers alike made a decision to take the car into production almost inevitable. But Saab was cautious about committing resources to making a car very different from its other production models.
The need to fulfill the Convertible’s all-weather promise placed an uncompromising requirement on good build quality and materials. The decision was taken to use the same expert coachbuilders who had assembled Saab’s show car, Valmet Automotive. Based in Uusikaupunki in Finland, Valmet is one of the world’s most northerly car plants.
The first 400 cars were built for the US market. Demand was so great that people placed orders without driving the car, just as well because dealers found it difficult to keep hold of demonstrators in the face of such great demand. By the time the Convertible went on sale in Europe later in 1986 (as model year 1987), demand exceeded production capacity and a 12-month waiting list built up.
The Saab 900 Convertible was always equipped with a powered roof as standard, as well as leather upholstery. Here was an open-air car designed to withstand the harshest of Scandinavian winters. Saab had raised the bar in automotive design, showing that four season soft-top driving really was a practical proposition.
The triple layer soft-top was extremely durable, snug-fitting and totally weatherproof. Unlike many of its competitors, the Convertible had a heated, glass rear screen, not a plastic substitute prone to cracking and fogging. The exceptional power of the car’s heater also encouraged the enjoyment of top down motoring in cold weather.
After its launch with a 175 hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, the Convertible range was quickly expanded to include full and light-pressure turbo engines, more model specifications and top-of-the-line Aero variants. The launch of a stunning, Monte Carlo Yellow color in 1992 turned even more heads.
Following the introduction of an all-new, 900 range in autumn 1993, a sleek, second generation Convertible arrived the following year under the banner: ‘We didn’t invent the Convertible, but we made a Saab of it’.
The new generation Convertible, and its Saab 9-3 evolution in 1998, now benefited from being part a new model program right from the outset, It was designed in parallel with its fixed-head stablemates, as its well-integrated lines demonstrated.
Saab designers now achieved a completely flat rear deck and the soft-top, soon to be hydraulically rather than electrically-powered, was accommodated under a flush-fitting ‘tonneau’ cover, which automatically operated as part of the soft-top mechanism. A flexible soft-top storage well in the trunk could be hitched up to provide more trunk space, and locking to the windshield header rail was made easier.
Launched in 2003, the current third generation Saab Convertible range brought a host of innovations: the fastest soft-top operation in its segment; a unique self-raising, soft-top storage well (CargoSET); color-keyed interior headlining; a unique ‘two phase’ automatic tonneau movement for quick roof deployment; unique Hydroblox water repellent textile seat upholstery, and automatic climate control adjustment for a ‘top-down’ heating mode.
With ‘DynaCage’ rollover protection, including pop-up rear roll bars and integrated front seatbelts, the current Saab Convertible was the first soft-top car to achieve a maximum, five-star EuroNCAP rating.
It now offers a choice of gasoline, diesel or Saab BioPower turbo engines and is built at Saab’s state-of-the-art Trollhättan plant, following the transfer of production from Magna Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik, near Graz, Austria.
More sophisticated, but just as surprisingly practical as its forebears, the Saab 9-3 Convertible carries forward a rich tradition. It has always been ….. more than a Convertible.