What does Saab mean to you? Their looks have always divided opinion; the ‘classic’ 900 is, for some, a beautiful aviation-inspired car. For others, it is plain ugly. Some will always remember Erik Carlsson hurtling around forests in his 96. And, although perhaps never quite enjoying the same territory as their Swedish counterpart Volvo, they will epitomise a safety-first approach to car design.
But as a car enthusiast, whatever your opinion, the news of Saab’s demise in 2009 would have been greeted with sadness. Sure, the General Motors takeover had undoubtedly removed a huge chunk of uniqueness that the brand had always enjoyed. But Saab remains one of the true greats of the car world – never afraid to challenge convention and synonymous with some of the world’s greatest ever cars. The 96 rally car, the Sonnet, the 99 Turbo and 900 Turbo, to name but a few.
So, reading news of the Spyker deal early this year has brought with it renewed hope for the brand. Fittingly, the Spyker deal feels much like an eccentric Dutch Uncle taking a charge. That just seems right! When the Dutch website AutoInternationaal announced a potential 5-door fastback and 3-door coupe this month, the news just got better.
Perhaps at this point I should admit to a little bias. As a child, I grew up with Saabs, my parents owning a string of cars, ranging from a 99 to various 900s and a collection of the wonderfully unique 96s. Myself, I had a 95 estate before I even past my test and was fortunate enough to own a 900 Turbo with 340k miles on the clock. It still had the original engine, gearbox and clutch. Enough said.
Other friends parents drove Fords, Vauxhalls, BMWs and Audis. Worthy, newer and definitely more contemporary. But somehow lacking in character and charm. Even as a pre-teen, I understood this! Take Saab dealers: they didn’t seem like normal dealers. Instead, when servicing the car, it felt like visiting friends. Indeed, when attending a Saab event, the dealers would turn up to the show. Not to sell a car, but to share the passion.
Then there were the cars. Distinctive from the outset with their daytime running lights. Ignition key next to the gear stick. The forward opening bonnet. The Saab 900 is also the only car in the world to look good with 3-spoke alloys (see below). The glovebox never actually fitted and the rear lights never quite lined up between the rear wing and tailgate, but hey – none of this mattered. Saab owners were uniquely loyal and greeted these idiosyncrasies as being part of the appeal. Choosing a Saab was going against the grain and I applaud this.
Since the GM takeover, the brand has definitely lost direction. Perhaps it had to. Today’s cars have a greater wider appeal and the quality is apparently very good. Maybe the company wouldn’t be here today if GM hadn’t stepped in when it did. But today, owning a Saab no longer gives you access to a unique club. Many of the new Saabs on the road today are probably driven by lease buyers and those simply looking for transport from A to B. I’d hazard a guess that many of the loyal fans are still driving around, content in their ‘classic’ 900s and 9000s. Good on them.
Whatever direction the company takes, I just hope it stays true to the brand’s heritage. OK, so they’ve always overplayed the aviation roots, but when the ads are this good – who cares? Tom Cruise and Top Gun eat your heart out.
Today, Saabs still feature on our screens, but these days they are used to build a character in a TV series. Maybe a slightly off-the-wall detective or a crazy cousin in a sit-com or drama. If nothing else, at least the brand’s essence is being kept alive – charming, quirky and full of character. I just hope the new cars do the same. Perhaps more importantly, I hope today’s marketplace allows Spyker to do this.
So a plea from me, Spyker: make Saab eccentric again. You’ll be guaranteed of at least one new customer.