Friday, 20 January 2012

Saab - 1989

Vultures, apparently, are hovering round Trollhättan. Saab liquidators are selling cars from the Saab museum, 131 of them plus one caravan. The museum has lots of archives where I spent happy hours researching for Dove Publishing’s Saab Half a Century of achievement 1947-1997. They haven’t found somebody to buy the lot so Peter Bäckström is allowing serious vultures to bid for individual cars. They range from 1946 prototypes to the last ones built and include a 1981 Turbo 900 got up as the James Bond car featured in three post-Fleming novels.

Sad end. Yet Saab had been in trouble for years. Regular bloggists know I am researching 1989 Sunday Times columns. This one of 22 October pre-dates the GM takeover of Saab.

A MANUFACTURER strapped for cash has to find cheap ways to bring out a new model, and Saab, with a car division balance sheet that tells its own story, has done so with characteristic vigour. The Carlsson 9000CD has a spectacular appearance, vivid performance, and might have been regarded as a good special edition of a successful model. But given Saab’s embattled stance, it has the sound and the feel of a swansong.
New cars are the lifeblood of the industry. Henry Ford’s only mistake was to carry on making the Model T too long. By the time Ford introduced the Model A, General Motors was overtaking it and never looked back.
Saab is under siege, which means a completely new car is forbidden new body pressings or major mechanical changes that are costly, but may have new cosmetics and small mechanical changes that are not. Raise the quality, raise the price, and the Carlsson CD is not cheap at £25,995 (without the estimable Scottish Bridge of Weir leather upholstery at £945, or the curiously titled “comfort pack” that includes the leather, air conditioning, and electric seats for an all-in £2,195).
Proscribing new body metalwork, however, does not mean it has to look plain, and the Carlsson CD has appliqué panels in plastic that make it every inch a high-quality high-performance car. It is named after one of Sweden’s best-ever rally drivers, the gentlemanly Saab promoter, Eric Carlsson.

Young Carlsson in happier times
He is not the sort of individual likely to give it his name for a consideration; happily he has not only the integrity, but also the clout to apply his standards, as well as his autograph, to a car.
Firm springing, a great deal of power and robust strength are traditional Saab ingredients, and the CD has them in generous measure. This is a roomy car, long-legged and high-geared, with rather a sombre interior, the customary well laid-out fascia enhanced with burr walnut.
Unfortunately, its rivals have come a long way since l984, when Saab announced the 9000 as a co-production with Lancia, with front-wheel drive without the option of four-wheel drive. A 16-valve, two-litre turbocharged engine putting the best part of 200 horsepower through the front wheels alone, demands some circumspection in the wet to avoid wheelspin.

The Saab Carlsson was based on the great 9000 - a booted version to make it stiffer.
Nor is it altogether quiet It has a lusty four-cylinder engine with a steady surge of speed, and a good gearbox, but although splendidly engineered, it is less smooth than, say, a BMW, and there is not enough cash-flow now at Saab to make it better. Nobody can write a requiem for Saab yet, but time and money are clearly running short.

Well, they can write a requiem now. Above: Last Saab, the 9-5.

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