The 6. May 1998 was a dreary, rainy day. Trollhättan's local paper read an unusual death notice. The Saab 9000, loved and appreciated, was no longer produced. An obituary of all those who were allowed to build this extraordinary vehicle. Not a few believed that the last true Saab had come off the line that day.
After 503.087 copies it was finally over and the last Saab 9000 rolled into the museum. A unique success story for the small Swedish car brand came to an end. Opportunity to search for clues 20 years later.
Not a few consider the 9k to be the best Saab ever. And veterans still have bright eyes when they talk about these years. The big Saab was in their opinion the only vehicle where the brand could realize itself without restrictions.
The exception Saab between the times
There may be something in it. The history of the car brand Saab is characterized from a technical perspective of two long periods. There's the Gunnar Ljungström era. In his time, all models were created from 92 to 99. The 900 must also be attributed to him, even if he arose after the departure of Ljungström. Because it is based on the architecture of the Saab 99.
And then, from 1990 onwards, the GM era. All vehicles were bound by the platform dictation from Rüsselsheim and Detroit. Even if Saab made the best of it. The Saab 9000 was created between these two blocks of time. The unique opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper, without restrictions or specifications. The opportunity for the young talents in the Stallbacka who grasped their chance and took advantage of it.
An unusual car came out. A cheeky, unconventional attack by a small, high-end manufacturer. With hatchback, front-wheel drive and turbo engines. In Gothenburg, where you still built slow, angular rear-wheel drive vehicles, you were horrified to see the car of the future coming from Trollhättan. And in Stuttgart back then, the W123 was still being built ...
Saab was ahead of the times. At least this once, for the breath of a felt second. And the 9k turned into a success story. For his makers he became a recommendation. Not a few of the young, innovative designers left Trollhättan in the coming years and made their career in Gothenburg and Germany.
The 9000 was certainly not the last, true Saab. Even if some magazines saw it that way back then. But it was the end of an era, and no Saab before and after clarified the philosophy of the brand like him.
The shape follows the function
With wood and leather, the 9000 displayed the luxury insignia of its time. Otherwise it remains mercilessly factual and thought out down to the last detail. The control elements always have white letters on a black background. Signs of importance, like the speedometer, are in signal color. Pure aircraft construction, the cockpit of a Viggen jet follows the same logic.
This subordination is best seen in the design of the door handles. Just a white line on the black handle is enough to orientate yourself in the dark. That's just awesome. Handles with a glossy surface would have been unthinkable back then. You could have developed unwanted glare. A car like from another time. Ambient lighting and premium interiors would have been rejected by the designers of the 9k for what they are: pure vanity without any function.
The greatest strength of the 9000 is also its biggest weakness. While the Tipo4 colleagues of Alfa and Lancia beguile with Italian grandeur, the Saab is first and foremost an engineering car. Sober and thought through to the last detail.
On the 6. May 1998 was over with the Saab in the upper class. More than half a million vehicles were a success for the two 9000 generations. This was made possible by the 900 Turbo, which has become more and more demanding and expensive throughout its career, and has prepared its customers for the 9000.
It could have gone on with Saab in the upper class. From 1990 one worked on the Successor, But not for long, then GM had no more courage, and the Wallenbergs had long since renounced the car business. The 9000 has no successor, and anyone looking for reasons why in Trollhättan cars were no longer built, which finds one of the roots here.
The Saab 9000 remained without a successor
In Munich and Ingolstadt they invested in the 90er years in the upper class and built strong brands. Saab lost this unique historic opportunity. The 9-5 could and should never replace the 9k. He was the car for the middle class, below the 9000 successor and above the 900 II. He played this role with flying colors.
The last 9000 rolled on the 6. May 1998 in the museum. Not without a farewell round on the test track to turn the factory. An exceptional vehicle, for sure. From a time that was just different. Not digital, not electric, where innovation was tangible and cars were elegant and not SUVs. An era in which car companies and young talents had opportunities against large corporations in the car business. A time that's just over.