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.
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 The production rested due to low demand again and again for weeks and months, the production was considered outdated.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.
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.
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.