Saab For Sale: Swedish car company, lots of potential, best offer.
Here’s the deal: I’ve got to get rid of a project, and the wife says Saab must go. I’m severely bummed about this, but the time has come to turn over this hobby to someone with the time and money to finish it. You know how it goes sometimes with project car companies – you’re all excited at first, but once you realize how deep you’re into it, you get discouraged and spend Sunday on the couch watching football instead of out in the garage designing an all-wheel-drive system or a new 9-5.
My Saab is in fair condition overall. I guess the main problem is neglect. I got busy with work and replacing the whole Saturn lineup, and the next thing I knew, every car in Saab’s price segment was either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. When I first got involved with my Swedish hobby, back in 1990, Saab was rolling out the 1991 9000 Turbo. That car had a new 2.3-liter engine with 200 hp and 244 lb-ft of torque, and it could smoke a BMW 535i in a 0-to-60-mph sprint. Saabs, back then, made a case for themselves on performance. Incredibly, though, the 9-5 is still using that same engine. It’s more powerful, sure, but eighteen years with the same motor? I guess time just got away from me.
Friends have also pointed out that, since Saabs are built in Sweden and are popular in the Northeast, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that the company should have had an all-wheel-drive system before last year. I’ve always been of the mind that all-wheel drive is a crutch for incompetents and fools. That’s why I only put it on cars that weren’t really Saabs, like the 9-2X and the 9-7X. I got embarrassed when people said that the Subaru Impreza-based 9-2X was a better Saab than the real ones, but luckily the 9-7X reminded everyone that the 9-3 and the 9-5 were the only true Swedes. Because nothing screams “Scandinavia” like a body-on-frame, live-axle truck available with a Corvette engine and a four-speed automatic. Why, in retrospect, did I not base the 9-7X on the thoroughly superior Chevy Traverse/Buick Enclave/et cetera? Because I was drunk.
Other questions surrounding Saab are harder to answer. Why does the Chevy Cobalt SS, a hopped-up economy car, have a 260-hp direct-injection engine while Saab’s standard propulsion is a 210-horse snoozer? Why does a Cadillac CTS with all-wheel drive and a 306-hp direct-injection V-6 cost less than the ancient 9-5 Aero? Why is the entry-level car, the 9-3, also the basis of the Saab flagship, the 9-3 Aero (which costs more and is more powerful than the 9-5 Aero)? All I can say is that when you run as many car companies as I do, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of which ones have what. Then you’re halfway through putting all-wheel drive and a turbocharged V-6 in the 9-3, and you realize that your model hierarchy is all screwed up. But it’s too late now. I just trust my dealers to convince 9-5 owners to step up to something smaller and more expensive.
Anyway, let’s talk about what you’ll get if you buy Saab. First of all, that 9-3 Aero is a very sweet car. The torque-vectoring rear differential actually uses that 280 hp to help steer the car out of corners. If you drove it back-to-back with an old 9-3 Viggen, you wouldn’t believe the difference. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, since all Viggens ever built have been crashed into trees, accompanied by the sound of whistling turbos and extreme power understeer. But trust me: the 9-3 with all-wheel drive is the car that Saab wishes it had all along.
You’ll also get the 9-3 convertible, the spiritual successor to one of the defining yuppie cars of the ’80s, the 900 convertible. The 9-3 droptop is no ball of fire, but it still looks good and is a strong value for a sharp European convertible. That car, I think, has a sort of timeless appeal. It’s like a Jeep Wrangler for WASPs.
I’m also including the new 9-5, which I’m almost done with. Granted, it doesn’t really make much sense to put all this time and money into the 9-5 now, but try telling that to my wife. She’s all, “We borrowed billions of dollars from my parents, and you need to build electric cars. And don’t even think about supercharging the Camaro, mister.” So, my loss, your gain. Well, your gain, assuming that the new 9-5 is any good. But if you give me a deposit or something to prove that you’re not a dreamer or a tire-kicker, maybe I’ll let you take a mule around the Nürburgring.
I’ll be sad to see Saab go, but it’s time to turn this company over to someone who can do it justice. When I bought it, people were worried that I’d dilute the rich character that defined cars like the 99 Turbo, the SPG, and the 9000 Turbo. Little did anyone guess that I’d actually leave Saab’s character so intact that its showrooms became like time capsules from the early ’90s, when it was common for luxury cars to use front-wheel drive and 300 hp was the stuff of science fiction.
It makes me feel better that the neighbors are selling their Swedish car company, too. No more pressure to keep up with the Fords. Their experience vindicates me, somewhat. While they were rolling out a modern SUV and all-wheel-drive, turbocharged R models, I was busy killing Oldsmobile and wondering if a Saab grille would fit on a Chevy TrailBlazer. (You don’t even want to know about the badge-engineered Saabs that I didn’t build. Let’s just say that Pontiac Aztek tooling was available.) Anyway, look where we are now – both of us getting rid of our Swedish car companies. Of course, Ford might get a little more money for theirs.
If you’re interested in coming down to take a look, shoot me an e-mail. Price is negotiable, but if you don’t lowball me, I’ll throw in some nice extras, like a mint set of snow tires and Erik Carlsson. I’ll also consider trades. Specifically, I’m looking for a Harley (not Sportster), a late-model Winnebago, or a production-ready plug-in hybrid program. Ask for Fritz.
Written by: Ezra Dyer
Illustrated by: Tim Marrs