I got bit by the bug, and it wasn’t a beetle, it was Saab.
I remember as a kid I would occasionally see these weird cars that had windshields curved around the sides of the car and a long sloped tail end. They looked both sleek and boxy at the same time, and I kind of thought they were ugly – but I liked them.
I didn’t think too much about Saab until 2008 when the whole financial crisis happened and automotive companies were close to going belly up. When GM announced they were going to wind down Saab, my interest picked up. I realized I may never have the opportunity to own a Saab. I started reading about the history and culture of the company. Before long, I was hooked!
It became very clear that Saab was all about thinking differently. They found creative ways to build safe, comfortable, and practical cars that were still fun to drive. Perhaps the most famous example is brining turbocharging to mass production – along with a myriad of other performance and safety features (like those weird headrests).
I found the values of the people making Saabs were very much like my own. I wanted a car to be safe without sacrificing enjoyment. I wanted a car to be practical, both in fuel efficiency and the ability to move things and people, without being a big boring box. I wanted something sporty and fun while being able to drive safely year round. I wanted something just a little bit different. Saab hit the perfect balance between all of these things.
Plus, the more I looked at them, the more perfectly sculpted they seemed. While I used to find the old 900’s to be a bit weird, I now think they’re one of the most beautiful car designs ever. Even as newer models got farther away from that form, there is always something simple and elegant about a Saab. They look strong and sporty, but understated and never flashy. Their lines an meaningful, there are no fake bulges or curves. The design is clean, purposeful, and beautiful – very Scandinavian.
Now that I have owned my 2007 9-3ss for a few years, I have truly come to appreciate many of the features often described as ‘quirky’. The ignition between the front seats makes sense from a mechanical point of view, but also helps prevent troubles by not having keys hanging on the ignition switch (hello, GM) and the annoying noise of keys hitting the dash. In addition to that, it helps prevent knee injury in an accident.
Perhaps my favorite feature is the night panel. Most cars let you dim the lights on the dash for better visibility at night, but Saab went one step further. Taking a cue from their aeronautical past, pressing the night panel button will turn off all non-essential lights. The radio display, info display and all gauges except for the speedometer are turned off. The speedometer is even only lit up to 90mph (but the rest of it comes on if you happen to go over). This may not seem like a lot, but if you dim the lights and turn on the night panel, you really do get a clear focused look out the windshield. I really miss having this when I drive anything else at night. Don’t worry though, if I run low on gas or the car detects something is wrong, the warning lights still come on.
Saab has always been a bit of an underdog, and probably somewhat misunderstood (especially under GM’s ownership). Although they are the little engine that could, that engine has been running on fumes for the last few years. After being partially shut down by GM, then sold to a tiny ultra-luxury sports car maker, being denied funding, sold to the (mostly) Chineese, and now in bankruptcy – the near-term isn’t very bright. Even though it appears as though an Indian company wants to revive Saab, possibly much like Tata with Jaguar/Land Rover, for now I’m just going to enjoy my Saab as much as I can. I have developed a deep passion for the cars, the brand and it’s community of devoted fans. And as I said earlier, I’ve been bitten by the bug, even though I love my car, it has made me really want to experience other models. Viggen or TurboX anyone?