The news that Victor Muller personally filed for bankruptcy at a Swedish court this morning comes as no surprise to me. Saabs have that effect on people – and I guess owning the company amplifies that feeling of well-being and nurturing. In short, Saab owners care. It’s a shame, then, that Saab’s former owner GM didn’t, and in doing so, caused this most iconic and charismatic of companies to die an undignified and protracted death.
We care deeply care about Saab at AROnline and I have written extensively about the company, as has Mike Humble, and I’ve owned a string of the buggers. And loved every one of them. And watching the company slowly die in a horrible manner reminiscent of MG Rover up to 2005, over the past couple of years has been unbearable. In fact, it’s been like watching a re-run of a car crash video – you know what’s coming, you know the pain, you can’t take your eyes off it, and you wish for a miracle to stop it happening. We’ve been there with MG Rover, and no doubt German car enthusiasts would say the same about Glas, Borgward and perhaps DKW and NSU.
During its 60 year-plus history, Saab was a pioneer. A free spirit. And the creator of some, frankly, amazing cars. The original 92-through-96 models were front wheel driven aerodynamic wonders that proved power wasn’t all you needed to win rallies. While the original 99 of 1967 was a modern car 20 years ahead of its time. Throughout the 1980s, Saab became a aspirational product thanks to its uber-cool 900 Turbo, and in doing so, we all thought the company could do no wrong. Hell, it even turned the Type 4 platform into something quite desirable.
But once GM got its grubby mitts on the company and started cheapening the product – by sharing componentry with some quite undesirable cars – it was effectively game over. The 1985 9000 might have been a joint venture with the Fiat Group and Lancia, but the oily bit that Saab used were just as solid and dependable as the legendary 900. But the arrival of the NG900 in 1994 saw the beginning of a slippery slide into oblivion. It actually looked okay, and the Calibra platform it was based upon was fundamentally okay… but gone was the old car’s USP solidity and wackiness.
By the time the 9-5 arrived in 1998, many of Saab’s engines had been cheapened, and parts sharing was becoming rife. And that had further ramifications for the brand’s hard-earned gilt-edged reputation. But despite that, the desirable products continued to flow out of Trollhättan: the 9-5 Aero Estate, the 9-3 Convertible, the Viggen – none of which were rounded in the way their German rivals were. But they were just cool, and had a certain je ne sais quoi.
And that sums up Saab for me, really. The cars were just different, and celebrated the fact. And I like individuality. And unless a miracle happens in the coming months, a rather quirky star has gone out in the automotive sky tonight. And it’s another blow for intelligent individuality. Such a shame.
But it’s helped me decide something – I’ll never sell my 900T16S Aero, pictured above and below. Just like my Rover 3500 and Alfa Romeo Alfasud, it will remain a constant reminder of a company at its brilliant best.
Saab 1937-2011: RIP