Saab 9000. The first tech Saab.

Our project car is an early Saab 9-5 sports suit. If you deal with the 9-5, you can hardly avoid comparing it with its predecessor. That happens again and again, often involuntarily, the 9000 is always present in the background.

The first tech Saab. Saab 9000 production.
The first tech Saab. Saab 9000 production.

At that time, when Saab 1997 presented the 9-5, many loyal customers refused to switch. We like to notice that in the missing hatchback, which is only a small part of the truth. The reasons are much deeper. Time for a search for clues and a journey through exciting Saab years.

Saab in the early 80 years

Individually the nice description would be bizarre the truth. Saab has been building cars since 1947 and had brought it up to the 80er years to a total of two complete new developments. The Saab 92, from which later 93, 96, 95 and Sonett should emerge. And 1967 the Saab 99, which provided the basis for the 900 and the 90. The 99 was a design of the 60 years, the 900 its evolution, the later turbo version a stroke of genius. If the Saab Auto Division wanted to survive, then the company had to grow and expand the product range.

Because behind the scenes it did not look good. The production rested due to low demand again and again for weeks and months, the production was considered outdated. Bodybuilding in the Stallbacka was done in group work, first robots first moved 1978 with the appearance of the Saab 900 in the factory. It was clear that Saab would no longer build a compact or compact car below the 900. The future of the brand saw the management in the higher vehicle classes.

Since 1974 started projects for a large Saab again and again. The lack of money, experience and human resources always led to the end. The Saab car division needed a partner to survive, which was hard to miss. The Wallenberg preferred merger with Volvo failed because of an irreconcilable contradiction that we will discuss later. Help for Trollhättan came from Italy, the old connection to Lancia was revived.

Saab 9000 production. The dashboard we preassembled.
Saab 9000 production. The dashboard is pre-assembled.
The time of the family companies

The 70s and 80s were the era of the large family companies. The mighty Agnellis in Italy, the influential Wallenbergs in Sweden. Unmanageable companies that made airplanes, computers, trucks, cars and countless other products. Corporate management was also politics. The Saab production in Finland, it was politically motivated. The nightmare decision for the plant in Malmö would later be just as political, as would the planned but never realized Saab factory in Norway.

1979 agreed on joint development work for a luxury-class vehicle for Lancia and Saab. Two years later, the cooperation was history again. The approaches were too different, too different the philosophy. Nevertheless, especially Saab benefited from the short cooperation. At that time, the Fiat Group had the highest degree of automation in the industry, its body shop was considered a leader. As a result, robots moved into the stable bakery, the bodies of 9000 were measured by computer from 1984.

What do the Lancia theme and the Saab 9000 have in common? Except for the design of the doors and the size of the windshield nothing. The Saab people benefited from Italian experiences, but then went through their own thing. Visible are the differences when looking at the Italian and the Swedes from below. Where the Saab scores with thick struts, nothing is present on the subject. A lot of air, an elegant, Italian body. For a dreamlike interior with rosewood, Alcantara or fine leather. Grandezza at the Lancia, pure reason at the Saab.

Tipo 4 is considered as a name for the co-development of Saab 9000, Lancia theme, Alfa 164 and Fiat Croma. A mistake. In fact, it is an internal Lancia name for the model or series.

The super car of Saab

Who had Saab on the agenda as a manufacturer of high-quality and exclusive automobiles when 1984 journalists came to the presentation in Norrköping in May 400? Nobody, and the surprise was all the greater when the 9000 Turbo was presented.

A powerful Turbo, a driver-oriented cockpit. Instruments like those from the aircraft industry, backlit for the first time. An on-board computer, perfect ergonomics, wide track, long wheelbase. And above all the feudal space, the ingenious hatchback. The press toppled with praise, the super car of Saab was on everyone's lips.

Saab 9000 CC 1986 in the showroom. Probably ANA Trollhattan.
Saab 9000 CC 1986 in the showroom. Probably ANA Trollhattan.

And really, Saab had delivered an ingenious and well-designed construction and the best space economy in the company's history. In contrast to the 900, the engine was turned sideways and the transmission docked as an extension - unusual and never before realized in this class. The advantages are apparent. An extremely compact design enables a wide track and a huge interior. The frictional connection between the engine and transmission takes place immediately and without loss, assembly on its own carrier saves time. In addition: Saab started the philosophy of intelligent lightweight construction with the 9000, from which a German brand would later benefit.

The press reports were full of euphoria, the delivery times in Sweden exploded, copies with a few kilometers could be sold more expensive than new cars. Saab was back on stage, and Saab was on everyone's lips.

Horror in Gothenburg

Years earlier, talks on a merger between Volvo and Saab had been broken off without result. The differences were considered to be irreconcilable, because Volvo defined the future in rear-wheel drive and Saab was a front-wheel drive brand. Now Volvo with the angular rear-wheel drive looked old overnight, the car of the future was built on Göta Älv. It was quick, elegant, flexible. It had a turbo, and it was much faster than the new 740 Turbo, which ran out of breath at 200 kilometers per hour, while the Saab switched on the afterburner at 230.

Worse, Saab poached successfully in the area of ​​the Volvo luxury class. And if one had been able to deliver quantities in Trollhättan right from the beginning, then the big Volvo would have had a serious problem.

Volvo now desperately needed its own 9000 - and Volvo should get it. Shortly after the presentation of the 9000, project manager Gunnar Larsson moved to Gothenburg and with him parts of his team. It would take him from the Volvo plant in Hisingen to Ingolstadt in a few years, where, as Head of Audi Development, he would chisel the philosophy of intelligent lightweight construction in aluminum that started with the Saab 9000. But before that, he realized the 850, the Volvo rescue and at the same time the answer to the Saab 9000.

Preview: What's next? Saab continues to upgrade, invest and is more innovative than ever. The 9000 is a car made by a high tech blacksmith. Nevertheless, the 80ers end with a fateful decision. Sequel follows.


We thank you Saab archive by Wolfgang Schmel for the press photos provided.

35 thoughts on "Saab 9000. The first tech Saab."

  • saab_owl - I can only agree with that and say from my own experience that I still miss my 2001 9-5SC a lot! After many years on various Fiat and Opel, this was my first car with well over 100 hp, plus turbo, automatic, almost full equipment and black - still awesome the part! We are still talking about our Saabine here at home daher That’s why I’m eagerly following Paul's return to the streets and I was happy to be involved in the project with the company ...

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    Whereby I already think that the Swedes did not do everything wrong with the 9-5, but did a lot of things right and did not just put the ignition lock in the right place. Both models have their charm and their justification. I can get excited about both.

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    Original is just better hahahah
    Drive NEN 9000 Aero with now 374000km and even if we have more modern Saabs at home (9-5 2005, 9-5 NG 300PS; ..) the 9000er is still just a great car !!! Something like that actually creates no modern car more, after 20 years still such a quality every day !!

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    Also interesting in the technology of EV cars is the backward sweep of hub Bekant first time in world war 2 tanks and traction Avant. VW kafer, Porsche, and ALKO chassis at travel mobile. Also ideal with air suspension assistant.

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    Interesting to read the Volvo lovers in comparison to Saab. Both China capital.

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    It starts in tht and Nevs. Check SaabsUnited with Google translation. Money does not matter. Stallbacka stays and intact.

  • Now I also realize why I always liked the 850 a lot ... 😉

    • Right! I feel the same way.

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    Thank you for the great article! I'm really looking forward to the second part! I have one question:
    "... the bodies of the 9000 were measured by computer from 1984 onwards."
    Was it possibly about the 3D measurement of the body shells by means of computer-controlled 3D measuring machines? If so, can you still understand which systems were used?
    If SAAB has orientated itself at Fiat / Lancia, I suspect the supplier DEA from Turin. But Zeiss would also be plausible ...
    Sorry for this very special question!

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      That's exactly what it was about. The question is really very specific and can not be answered on the spot. We are in Trollhättan next week, with many appointments. Eventually, one of our conversation partners can provide information.

      • That would be great. Many Thanks!

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    Super exciting !!

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    Nice report ... 🙂

    … It all started with us with a lively silver Saab 9000 as a replacement for a 528i BMW sedan…. (or at that time with my father; even a refrigerator or washing machine fit easily in there!)

    ... and the "loyalty" to Saab fortunately still doesn't stop! 😉

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    Great report Tom, very nice summary.
    I'm looking forward to the sequel.

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    Nice text. If you don't have a 9000, you should start looking now at the latest….

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    Friends come and go But Saab stays as long as they could drive. The schedule is getting shorter and shorter. Also many Saab international and the forums like saabs united are almost dead.

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    Tom. Your reports are just awesome. Keep it up! I'm looking forward to part 2.

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    Great and thoughtful at the same time. Why is the brand no longer available? And why are we all becoming Youngtimer drivers (almost all). Is GM to blame? The Sweden?

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      GM was to blame. The Swedes were only slaves to GM

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        This is all over point other lines. Nevs has nothing to do with Saab.

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          And what I read today. Is 2020 drove Europe. No dog believes that anymore.

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            It is increasingly missing an alternative to Volvo from Swedish home.

            If the completely new developments from Trollhättan actually convey the spirit of the former SAAB, nothing stands in the way of a glorious future - it is not so important whether SAAB is on the car or NEVS. Products that are contemporary and have Scandinavian roots will continue to sell without problems in the future, even if important things such as good marketing in particular also take place. As is well known, the latter was under the aegis of GM for SAAB at hardly any time - quite apart from the other grievances under GM. Things can only get better at NEVS.

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    And if I have the choice between a Volvo 760 Turbo and a 9000….
    then I take the Volvo!

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      This joke is ...

      ... really really, really good! ! !

      And although I had (and liked) different Volvo's, I almost immediately understood him.

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        Then you have passed the Swedish car test

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          The article has also made it easy.

          Well written and very informative. The personal circumstances of the 850 were unknown to me and explain a lot ...

          It was also the first Volvo in which the turbo finally really ignited. On his debut in the UK he immediately dominated some British touring car race and took the first 3 places in front of all the German makes, if I remember correctly ...

          At the time, Volvo had largely owed all this to the know-how of newly-changed SAAB employees. Very exciting. With so much SAAB in the first front-wheel drive Volvo, the 850 would almost have earned its own article, right?

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            The 850 is an exciting car, definitely. I liked it long before I knew about the Saab-Volvo connection. A direct comparison would be exciting in any case, and in the subject of engine sound, the Volvo would then be my favorite. Does one of the readers have a nice 850 in his garage?

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            The first Volvo with front-wheel drive was the 480 from 1985 ...

            Volvo was already very successful in motorsport with the Volvo 240, in 1985 Volvo was the overall winner of the touring car championship….

            Both the 200er as well as 700er and 900er with loader had, for this time, considerable performance!

            Maybe you shouldn't look at everything with the pink branded glasses ...
            and yes I like the brand SAAB very much, that's why I have two 900ers

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            Don't worry, I don't look through the branded glasses that much, but I don't know everything there is to know about Volvo or Saab ...

            Thanks for pointing out the 480. Very justified. Front-wheel drive and turbos were already available at Volvo before the 850 in personal union, that's correct ...

            And yet the turbo ignited at Volvo only in 850 really. He was also Volvo's first front-wheel drive above the Golf class. That this was accompanied by new staff from Saab, I still find interesting.

            The designers of the Amazon or the Snow White's coffin didn't cut the 480 out of their ribs either, but had to use Renault's ...

            As far as success in close-to-production motorsport is concerned, they clearly go far beyond the 850, or far ahead of them. Everyone knows that. With a used hump two Indian brothers (Sikhs) once won a then prestigious race through half of Africa, in which also factory teams were involved, among others Porsche.

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    The 9000 was already a great car (and still is). Exciting to read the old times again.

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      The Saab 9000 except the tailgate are known to lovers as the four-edge Saab.

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    Tom, great! Thanks for the exciting and enlightening report!
    (and that on the day on which a "foreign vehicle" takes the place in the carport ... 🙁)
    I stay with the blog!

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      No more Saab? What are you doing for things?

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        Drive a lot on the kilometer.
        There are no more SAABs with max. (!) To buy 60 thousand km on the speedometer… 🙁
        It is like it is…

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          Completely understandable. Our common problem.

Comments are closed.