How Lamborghini made Saab the biggest automotive insurance risk in Australia

It’s the 1980s.

There’s no internet so teenage petrolheads in Australia all read Wheels magazine to get their automotive kicks. There are all manner of car stories, interesting or otherwise, but as interesting as the stories might be, they are matched or sometimes outdone by the advertisements slotted in between them.

There were few ads more exotic than those for Alpine car audio. The reason is easy to see:

AlpineLambo

Anything featuring a red Lamborghini was instant automotive porn for a teenage revhead. It wasn’t just the teenagers that were captured by this, though. Alpine built a legacy that lasts to this day by virtue of their partnership with Lamborghini.

Saab also had audio provided by Alpine in the 1980’s. The same little clear/green buttons that looked so fantastic in Ferrucio’s finest were also available in the Saab 900 (in Australia – SW). The inclusion of Alpine audio was a wonderful bonus for Saab fans but once it became known amongst a certain group of undesirables in society, it also became a problem.

Steve Emanuel was working for a Saab dealership at the time. He now runs Saab Salvage, a recycled AlpineAdparts business in Sydney and I caught up with him last week when I picked up our 9000 Aero. I was eyeing off some Alpine units in his office when he told me about the problems they had with these stereos at the time.

The Alpine was a very desirable unit thanks to its great performance, sleek looks and, of course, its tie-in with Lamborghini. Saab cars both on the street and in dealerships became a target because of this. Alpine stereos became targets and seeing as there were a lot more 900s than there were Countaches on the road, you can guess which model became the focal point for break-in and theft.

The worst single instance was one guy caught with 6 stereos he’d pinched from dealer cars that he broke into. But there were many, many individual thefts. Replacing stolen radios and damaged dashboards was Steve’s most commonly completed task for a certain period of time in the 80’s.

Alpine audio made Saabs a target and Steve mentioned that at one point during those years, Saabs were considered the biggest automotive insurance risk in Australia.

The unintended consequences of an excellent advertising campaign.

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14 Comments

  1. Alpine the OEM head unit in the 900? NOT!

    Most were Sony early in the ’80’s and later the Clarion “plate” button units in the mid-80’s.

    So Alpine was Ozzie installed?

    1. I had two of those Clarion ‘plate button’ units. Loved the sound, hated the buttons. Try to reduce volume quickly to hear anything else? Not happening. Try to power down immediately? Not happening, either. EVERYTHING was on a delay! Push the button, hold it, wait two beats, then the volume goes up one notch, etc. You could “tap, tap, tap” to try and make it go faster, but only two taps registered of every four or five. Bad ergonomics!!

  2. My ’88 900 Aero came standard with a then-impressive Alpine digital tuning radio cassette head unit and the surround sound processor – complete Aero-emblazoned infill panel below it. It was over 18 years old by the time I got hold of it and it was missing the magic centre speaker, it still sounded rather impressive.

    The theft problem of these units can come back to bite you too. In order to make them a bit harder to knick, Saab Australia started installing them with the (captive) surround processor cables wrapped firmly around a cross member within the dash. As such, removing the head unit without damage required removing and disconnecting the processor (installed in the lower dash area in from of the gear shift) first. Unfortunately this simple but important bit of info has been lost over time, so be wary of anyone – especially Motors Hobart – mucking around with the dash. If the cables get pulled hard, you’ll have to take the entire head unit apart to resolder them. Just ask Mr Bedelph!

  3. I asked around a little…..

    The Alpine units were fitted in the cars after they arrived in Australia. They used a lower-level Alpine unit in 1985 and then fitted the top of the range Alpine units in 900s and 9000s from 1986 to 1989. The one in the 9000, especially, was a very fancy combination.

    They switched to Eurovox stereos after that, which solved the theft problem but delivered a crappier product. Sony came along after that.

  4. my 91 built 9000 has an alpine unit, must be a few saabs still on the road in australia as all the saab breakers are still in business…

  5. It was Xmas eve, back in 1987. The owners of the two tone silver on blue 5 door Combi took me in to sing at the carols, with a promise of a drive up High Street Rd hill on the way back. Automotive excitement to say the least. 3 hours later we exit the Cathedral and look to get in to the car. Smashed left side window. Chain saw through the dash. Chain saw. Alpine gone.
    Needles to say, the trip home was tainted with a series of possibly non-christian thoughts regarding what to do if the perpetrator was caught. Which he never was.

    1. As does my 1991 T16 Auto. It has a (Saab branded) Alpine 7618E head unit. It’s a Radio-Cassette with capability to control a CD stacker, though none was ever fitted. I’m currently investigating which stacker models will work with this head unit – it uses the M-Bus protocol.

  6. Wow. Memories. My 1986 Saab 900 was broken into FIVE TIMES in the four years that I owned it. The first one, the thieves hit virtually every newish car in the lot and they were good, leaving only a broken window and a hole where the Clarion head unit had been. The second, there was no head unit to take (I’d removed it for the night), and so a bloodied (presumably by virtue of the broken glass) intruder made mincemeat of my dash and headliner with what looked to be a claw hammer to show his displeasure. The third time, I’d left a MUCH CHEAPER aftermarket stereo in the mount and once again the car was a mess, dash destroyed, etc. By this time, I was very paranoid about where I parked the thing, and I was certain NOT to leave the stereo in it overnight. Naturally, numbers four and five were during daylight hours in some of the most remote locations — both at trail heads in the Rocky Mountains above Denver, where I was living at the time.

    I was paying through the nose for insurance, and the Saab saved me from serious injury in a five-car accident, and so it was time to part ways. It was simply too expensive to keep. I bought a Chrysler product to take its place which is another story of automotive displeasure…..

  7. Yup. We had that stuff going on in the New York area also. One solution that a lot of us used was the combination Benzi Box removable radios and a sign on the dash saying “No Radio.” Also, at one time, we had a rubber blank cover plate for the radio.

  8. Crazy how much we remember with such clarity the details of a break-in to a car over 20 years ago. Does this say something about the passion we feel for our ‘cars’?

  9. Saab’s US importer began installing Sony radios at port of entry around 1981 after tiring of the Swedes refusal to factory-fit audio equipment and dealers not always using the prescribed accessory systems. Unfortunately this was at a time when a lot of used cars with crappy OE audio systems were finding new owners who relished better sound. Thieves thus found a ready market for DIN-standard radios stolen from new cars. The Sony brand and the ease of breaking into a Saab put Saab at the top of the list of makes to hit. Later on Clarion replaced Sony in the US port program (eventually Trollhattan would get with the program), however, the theft rate remained high until better anti-theft systems were installed. The market for previously enjoyed stereos gradually diminished, too, as a new generation of used cars with better OE sound became available. In the 80’s and early 90’s you wouldn’t park a Saab in an urban area or at an airport without removing the radio head and putting up your “No Radio” sign.

    Your story brought back many memories, or should I say, nightmares?

  10. Way back, when, no one broke into Saabs. They weren’t popular and you could steal 3 Lincolns in the time it would take to steal one Saab. But, when the 900 Turbos received premium stereos in the early ’80’s, thieves would cruise around looking for the “Turbo” badge and break the window. I had a customer with a plain ’78 99, who’s wife worked for one of Saab’s USA regional offices in the ’80’s. After owning the car for a few years with no trouble, he used his wife’s employee parts discount to outfit his 99 with Turbo spoilers, front and rear, and all the exterior badging…….only to have it broken into the following evening!

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