Bengt Gadefeld and Per Gillbrand. What did they have in mind when they tamed the turbo? The engine developers in Södertälje have been working on turbocharging since the early 70s - more or less under the management's radar, as was often the case at Saab. Then in the middle of the 70s came the big crisis, the sales figures collapsed.
In 1976, Sten Wennlo became a new boss. Saab hardly has any innovations in the pipeline - except for the turbo. Wennlo needs a sensation to save Saab. He visits Gadefeld and Gillbrand in Södertälje, takes the turbo back to Trollhättan - and is enthusiastic. On the return trip, he decided on series production. “Anything but boring” is born, and then everything happens very quickly. In September 1976 the Swedish dealers see the turbo, in 1978 the Saab 99 Turbo rolls to customers.
The Saab 99 is a completely Swedish car. Objectively down to the last detail, nothing that would be random or thoughtless. The playfulness of French or Italian manufacturers is alien to Saab. That makes the Saab a bit boring - at first glance. The Saab 99 Turbo changes that. It doesn't always stay at 145 hp, there is more. For the first time, you can hunt with a Saab Porsche and plunge Porsche pilots into a deep crisis of meaning.
It gets nice when a turbo-inexperienced passenger is on board. The solid Saab rolls through traffic until the route is clear. If the driver steps on the gas - nothing happens for a second. Then the turbo sets in, brutal and hard. Saab eats asphalt, seeks traction, nothing can stop it. The 99 Turbo is a sports car that doesn't look like it. The driver is addicted, the passenger cannot believe it. Saab - “Anything but boring”. A concept is born.
Saab continues to make the turbo. With the 900 Turbo the power grows up to 160 HP, friendly tuners allow a surcharge. The turbo lag is getting smaller, the fascination remains. The turbocharger is cultivated in the 9000 CC Turbo and 9000 Aero. Up to 225 hp are possible. Again the “Anything but boring” concept comes into play. The interiors in the 9000 are factually hypothermic to posh. Nobody suspects enormous driving performance in a hatchback sedan. The greater the effect when a 9000 accelerates and leaves vehicles that are stronger in paper form. Saab always delivers more than you think, which also makes the drivers happy.
The turbos are more sophisticated over the years, Saab holds on, provides more and more turbo power. The 900 II, as hatchback evolution of 900 I, provides velvety 185 PS, the 9-3 Aero breaks through the 200 PS brand, the Viggen is pure power with brute 230 PS. The chassis hardly brings the power on the road, so there is a Viggen Rescue Kit, boring it is not Viggen pilots. A Saab is more than just a car. A Saab is a family van, a business travel sedan, a sports car for the left lane. The Saab 9000 perfects this concept, reason and medicine against boredom enter into a symbiosis. But not for long.
Saab is now part of GM, and “Anything but boring” is no longer in. The concept by Bengt Gadefeld, Per Gillbrand and Sten Wennlo is slowly disappearing. Engine developers have a hard time, they are squeezed between increasingly stringent environmental regulations and cost controls. Drives that are absolutely oversized and designed for high performance and a long life, as we find them in the 9000, are no longer possible.
Saab should be compatible for the mass taste. Opponents are now BMW and Audi. The old Saab wisdom that it will go wrong if you deny your roots no longer counts. The new 9-5 comes as a sedan, the Aero has a miserable 5 hp more than in the 9000. Likewise in the new 9-3, also the sedan, and in the first few years the cost control of the Americans cannot be denied, the materials are so poor . GM is holding back the station wagon, the coupe will never come. For the first time, the new models are more sedate than their predecessors. That only makes customers who are new to Saab happy. For others, the route leads to Sankt Gallen, where Renè Hirsch conjures up “Anything but boring” back into the Saabs.
The solution to become compatible for the masses fails. Vehicles are pushed into the market by price, fans buy Saabs more as a bond than out of enthusiasm. The situation is slowly improving, with the years 9-3 and 9-5, they get a few more horsepower, and now and then the old turbo spirit, the stupidity from Trollhättan, shimmers through.
It's not that you forgot it in the Stallbacka, the “anything but boring”. It's in the brand's genes, you just have to let it happen. When Saab launched the Turbo X in 2008, sound and performance were back. The fans are thrilled, but unfortunately only 2.000 copies are distributed. More will not be given to the world. And then?
Everyone builds turbos now, they are extremely cultivated and therefore bland. The service must be submitted on a linear basis; the customer would allegedly no longer accept anything else. In Trollhättan, after 40 years, a concept is coming to an end - and yet it is being reinvented.
2010 “Anything but boring” is back - for a short time. In another form, defined by design. The new Saab 9-5 enchants the viewer and is considered the most beautiful new release of the year. Designers and experts praise, Saab fascinates. Finally again! The history of the brand ends in spring 2011 when the last vehicles leave the assembly line. “Anything but boring” is in the end, even 9-4x, the 9-5 sport combination and the 9-3 successor no longer stand a chance.
The end? Or just a stopover? Is a brilliant Swedish engineer sitting somewhere and working on “Anything but boring” 3.0? Anyway, Saab gave us cars with a lot of goosebumps and fascination. Thought out to the smallest detail, factual as only Scandinavians can be. But with so much reasonable unreasonableness under the hood that the brand will be immortal. No matter what.