When I was child growing up in the 80s, there were two cars I loved above all else: the Porsche 911 and the Saab 900. My love affair with Porsche has never faltered but the same could not be said for Saab.
Why did I fall in love with Saabs?
Saabs were different and so were their owners. If they were born a few decades later you would call them Hipsters today.
Saab owners had Ikea furniture before Ikea was a thing.
They were using Apple Macs when no one used Macs.
Saab owners listened to their Fleetwood Mac vinyl on a Harman Kardon hi-fi turntable when everyone had switched to CDs because “it just sounds better”.
The strange thing is maybe the 900 shouldn’t have worked at all.
Its engine was a Triumph-designed slanted 4-pot and was put in the car backwards, longitudinally mounted driving the front wheels. The handbrake locked the front wheels, interesting for hill starts, not so much for handbrake turns.
In an aviation design cue the windscreen and dash were curved towards the driver, because as every Saab owner will tell you, “They also make fighter planes”.
All the driver would need to view on the dash was kept just below eye level; thought was put into where every switch, gauge, even the radio was placed.
The 84 900 Turbo 16-valve model would whisk impeccably dressed architects round the construction sites of London as Fleet Street stock brokers battled to keep their 911 from hugging a tree.
When the original 900’s successor arrived in ’94 under GM’s management, it had sadly been reduced to a reskinned Vauxhall Vectra. The engine was conventionally mounted and it had the soggy handling of a wet jam donut. Over the following years, Saab’s quirkiness would slowly evaporate perhaps driving away some of their original customer base.
And after years of mismanagement, Saab would eventually file for bankruptcy in 2011. This isn’t the end of the Saab story, but I’m unsure how much future there is in trying to sell a 13 year-old model on even older GM parts to a customer base with eye for good design.