Back in time – Bob Sinclair and the launch of the 20th Anniversary Saab 9-3 Convertible

A few weeks ago, I published a story about the birth of the Saab Convertible. The man at the center of that story was Bob Sinclair, the former chief of Saab Automobile in the United States.

A friend in the US has since sent through some pictures of a launch event that was held when Saab released the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Saab Convertible in April, 2006. The launch started at El Encanto Hotel in Santa Barbara, moving into a drive prior to lunch at the Latetia winery, following some of the scenery used for the movie Sideways (which featured a Saab 900 Convertible).

Bob Sinclair was invited along to share his Convertible story at the event.

Dick Lague from Ignition3 – a Saab owner living in Malibu, California – was present at the event and took these photos, which make for a wonderful compliment to Bob’s Convertible story from a few days ago.

Dick’s also emailed me his recollections from the event and for Saab historians, it makes for some great reading. I’ve added his notes after the photos.

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Bob speaking to the press corps gathered for the event in ……. you can see the first Saab convertible prototype (in white) built by the American Sunroof Company on the screen. This is the car now housed at the Saab Museum in Trollhattan, Sweden.

This red Saab 900 Convertible was on show at the launch. It was one of the first Saab convertibles to come off the production line as a 1986 model.

A group of five Saab convertibles ready for their test drive….

“Uncle Bob” with one of the later iterations of Saab’s iconic convertible.

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Recollections from the launch of the 20th Anniversary Saab 9-3 Convertible

by Dick Lague.

I remember how excited Bob Sinclair was about being invited to be part of the Saab convertible 20th anniversary edition introduction in Santa Barbara. We spoke on the phone sometime in March 2006 and told me of how pleased he was to be able to reflect on 20 years of production of “his baby” – the Saab Convertible.

The succession of Saab USA presidents after Bob retired did not seem to understand or appreciate Bob’s contribution to Saab, but this took an about face when Jay Spenchian took the position. It was Jay who thought that Bob could make this 20th Anniversary Convertible introduction in early April 2006, a very special event.

Bob was a great communicator and a tremendous raconteur and the Saab convertible story was one of his favorites. I was so honored to be there to watch his performance. The introduction was in a beautiful early California setting at the storied El Encanto Hotel. After breakfast the press conference started with the normal introductions and technical and marketing positioning presentations. The rest of the program was Bob’s and the journalists in the room ate it up. Most were old friends of Bob so a reunion atmosphere hung in the air.

He told how he took $10,000 USD out of his marketing budget and convinced his friend Hans Prector, CEO of ASC to build him a running prototype for that money. Prector knew it was not even close to the cost of this project, but he took the challenge on the promise of supplying parts for future convertible production. ASC was actually building 10,000 convertibles a year for Chrysler based on their K platform at that time, so they certainly had the expertise and capacity to build quantities of parts.

Of course the gamble paid off and the Saab convertible was a huge success. When you think about it Saab was a pretty gutsy company back then. Can you imagine building one car and taking it to a major European show for an introduction, and then having such a huge hit that you had figure out how to build it and fast? Initial production was pegged at 1000 a year, but soon it was in the area of 2000 then 5000 a year.

In the early 90s I spoke to a Saab executive in the USA and his opinion was that the convertible had saved Saab. When they still had the very old 900 and no new 9000 yet, the still hot convertible and the very high profit margins on the model kept the company going.

I remember what a great time Bob had on that introduction that day. We retraced some of the route that Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church traveled on their week long wine tasting adventure in the Santa Ynez Valley in the 2004 movie SIDEWAYS in their red Saab convertible. Several of the stops on the tour were locations in the movie.

Lunch was at the Laetitia winery and we got an extensive tour of the wine making process and the facilities. The photo of Bob and the blue anniversary edition was taken at the end of the tour. The weather was rainy with occasional sun, and that did give the convertibles versatility a bit of a workout as the tops got a good workout.

All in all it was a very un-GM introduction, but very successful and the press clippings and exposure were extensive. The wacky story of how Bob Sinclair turned those 2 door coupe econo-versions of the 900 into one of the most popular, classic, successful and profitable cars that Saab every built was told over and over again in the automotive press.

Thanks Bob for all those great stories and all those great times and everything you did for Saab……we miss you….terribly.

Dick Lague

Dick Lague is a managing partner of IGNITION3 LLC which is a film production company specializing in Motorsports production projects. He spent 25 years running the motorcycle magazine division of Petersen Publishing, the largest special interest publisher in the US. He has been a Saab enthusiast for 54 years and learned to drive on a Saab 932b in his youth.

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3 Comments

  1. I love reading any story that involves Bob Sinclair. He was one of the most remarkable men I ever met during my career. With his honesty and enthusiasm, he brought out the best in his colleagues and suppliers (people like me). All in all, as so many people know, he was a real joy to be around. 

  2. Back in 2006, I was pretty close to buying an Anniversary convertible.
    Very nice, outstanding color.
    But I am happy I didn’t…
    because I love both the 2008 facelift and the lynx yellow body paint of my 2008 vert 🙂

    Looking forward to the 30th Anniversary convertible…

  3. Great story! I’ll always look back, fondly, on my days working with Bob! As to the red 900 CV, if that’s the one in the US heritage collection, I believe it was somewhat of a pre-production car. I remember checking that one in when it was sent back to Orange HQ around ’89 and recall it being in fairly rough shape and having, at the time, some obviously hand made, non-production parts such as a rear spoiler made of painted wood! This may have been changed during the restoration carried out during GM’s tenure. I also think that all the production ’86 CV’s were silver. Can’t help, whenever I see that car, but remember the very large woodchuck that made it’s home under the hood while it was stored @ the Scania facility in Orange!

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