Saab People Buying Cars That Aren’t Saabs

There was some chagrin recently when Tim mentioned in comments on Saabs United that he was thinking of buying a BMW. How could someone so dedicated ever consider another brand? Some people expressed surprise, others disappointment. My advice: build a bridge and get over it. People everywhere are capable of loving a brand, remaining fully invested in that brand while buying something else.

How do I know this? I’ve done it myself.

Let me tell you a few things about running a website like Saabs United that you probably already know. For starters, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It’s all-encompassing and it’s exhausting. I used to average around six-to-eight entries a day at the busiest times and three or four entries a day over the longer term. I used to monitor every comment in real time during waking hours and I had to manage any flare-ups in the community on the fly. I learned something new nearly every day and met some amazing people who were totally, absolutely dedicated to the brand.

There are a few things about running a site like SU that you may not realise, however. I won’t speak for Tim, or Till, or any of the other guys at SU, but this is definitely something that happened to me.

When I was running SU and Trollhattan Saab, the whole notion of chasing, writing and explaining the story became as important as the cars. I started the site(s) because I loved Saabs and I wanted to write about them. It was a 50/50 situation divided between the cars and the writing process. As you get deeper and deeper into it, the process does tend to take over. You’re still a car guy, but it changes the more you get into it. The more you learn, the more you want to learn – about ALL cars. About technology. About driving. About classics.

The other thing about doing a ‘job’ like SU is that when it’s over, when you’ve given it 110% and the stories stop (through no fault of your own), then if you’re a car guy there’s little choice but to take your car interest elsewhere. For a Saab person, there’ll most likely always be a Saab in the garage or a strong interest in Saab cars. For a car person – note the subtle difference – other interests will develop.

I loved Saabs. I love cars in general but I loved Saabs the most. That’s why I owned them and why I chose to write about them. But that doesn’t rule out any interest in other brands. That’s as true for me as it is for you, as it is for Tim and anyone else involved with SU. Remember that while I was right in the middle of my SU/TS experience, I bought three Saabs as well as two Alfa Romeos and a Mazda MX-5. Just because something is your primary interest doesn’t mean it’s your sole interest.

While I was associated with Saab I dealt with a designer who drove a Porsche 928, a PR guy with a 911, a USA staffer with a Ferrari, a Swede with a stunning Alfa Romeo SZ and of course, the former Saab USA public relations chief, Jan-Willem Vester, had an award-winning Porsche 911. All of these guys loved Saab and gave decades of their lives to work for, and support, the brand.

For me, my interest is in cars and back then, I had a focus on Saabs. My focus has shifted now, but there will always be a passion for Saabs and Trollhattan. We own a Saab 9000 Aero at the moment and I think that’ll be the second-last Saab we buy. The last Saab I plan on buying is the Sonett III I’ll import from the US one day in the future.

For Tim? Knowing him and his connection to Trollhattan just a little, I’m sure there will always be a connection and I’d be surprised if there’s not at least one Saab in his garage for a long time to come. Tim builds good cars and I’m sure he’ll want to preserve at least one Saab in his life, maybe more.

He’s given plenty to the cause, so don’t begrudge him (or anyone else) the expansion of their horizons. It’s a big wide automotive world out there and there’s room to invest yourself in more than one brand.

Some people will only own Saabs for the rest of their lives and more power to them. Some people will cherish what they see as being the Saab classics and will keep one or more of those. More power to them. Some people will lose interest all together. More power to them, too.

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32 Comments

  1. What got me interested in Saab was the attention to detail, the eccentricity of various parts of the design, the sleekness of the design (and from when I was a kid, I loved the little “fasten your seat belts” sign that glowed on the ceiling, just like being in an aircraft).

    Saab isn’t the only car manufacturer to have those traits although with some manufacturers it will be with just one model or with one line.

    I’ve been pondering for a while who or what is the heir to Saab’s traits, and for a while I’ve wondered if it was Volvo (lovely timeless design on the outside, needs improving on the inside. It doesn’t handle like a Saab though and the ones I’ve driven feel more like an appliance), for a while Subaru (which does have some Saab like traits on things like the WRX but not on the main autos like the legacy. Plus their seats are uncomfortable).

    The main contender for a short time was Kia (partly because they poached a Saab designer) but I think at the moment, the one company which is more Saab-like than any other is….. (drumroll please)

    Nissan.

    Nissan is doing some insane cars at the moment. No one in their right mind would approve something like the Juke, the GT-R, or their SUV convertible (apparently done simply for the hell of it) and yet produce family cars that are comfortable, nearly luxury, and fun to drive.

    I bet you thought I was going to say Mazda 🙂

    So the good news is that despite the consolidation in the car business, there are still some really interesting cars out there to play with, and that’s a good thing.

  2. Good post. I have had three Saabs in quick succession, and the Saab time for me is over. I will not be buying another one. Lesson learned.

  3. I am brave enogh to say that I am now driving a BMW 520d M Sport Touring and enjoying it very much. I still love the SAAB ethos and the classics, but I do need to be in a modern and reliable vehicle for business. This doesn’t preclude me from having a SAAB for pleasure too!

  4. I am no longer a brand loyalist. I will pick cars that I like and want to drive rather than view them with brand in mind, perhaps with the exception about how the brand is related to quality and service.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I was a Saab fan from the time I bought a 2000 9-5 2.3T and was blown away by it’s performance and comfort. Moving forward a few years (and a few cars!) I bought a new 9-3 convertible in 2008. A lovely car, beautiful design, but not without it’s flaws. The interior was not a patch on the old 9-5 and the FIAT/GM diesel engine was awful – a total tractor, although powerful enough, just.

    Then the woeful GM sell-off came, Victor took over for a while and most of the UK dealers closed up and I was left with a pretty shadey outfit for service. The gloss had now worn off and I sold the Saab and moved on to other brands.

    I still own a Saab however! An ’87 900i auto that will be fully restored one day. To me, THAT car sums up Saab and hopefully will stay with me for a long time.

    I still look in on SU and keep my fingers firmly crossed for a happy ending (once again!) – although I’m very doubtful now.

  6. Saab fanatics or any other brand fanatic can get annoying after a while, especially when they loose touch with reality. SU is a good example when they were preaching to the world that NEVS was the best thing that ever happened to Saab.. With all the problems the Saab brand has been going through since GM sold it, there isn’t really that much pride left in it for me besides the history. I like pretty much anything with an engine and wheels and driving life is too short to be committed to just one brand. I wish I still had my near perfect ’90 MB 300TE from a few years ago,

    1. “SU is a good example when they were preaching to the world that NEVS was the best thing that ever happened to Saab..”

      That is an exaggeration according to me. Have not seen that even though have been reading the site all the time.

  7. I still have my two 9-3s, but I can’t buy a new Saab. The 2008 9-3 has 60,000 miles on it and the 2009 9-3 XWD has 30,000 miles. Recently the driver’s side door lock went out for the second time on the 2008. I was told the part was on back order and no part was available in the USA. Another US supplier received the part from Saab the following day and I had it expressed shipped to me. My Saab service scheduled me for the next available Saab service time in 2 1/2 weeks. I’ve got the part but I’m still waiting. Most US buyers would get another car. As it is I’ll need a backup vehicle myself. For me to buy a Saab it needs to be on the lot for me to see. Most of the time there are not any Saabs for sale within 250 miles of me even used ones. So, at sometime I’ll need another car and there may be no Saab to buy. I did however keep a new car once for 17 years and my father liked to keep his cars for 15 years.

  8. I will always have at least one Saab in my life. I have had 13 Saabs since the 1959 93b that I took my driving test with. That is it.

    I am done with the new car game and have been for years. Saab parts are very available. There is a huge knowledge base of fixing them all models all years. I do most of the work on 4 95 Aeros in our family. We have 2 each 2001 Aeros, wagon and sedan. My wife has a 2003 Aero, and son Jeff a 2004 Aero wagon. Both wagons belong to my adult sons and they of course call on Dad for help and service.

    The Saab 95 original edition is an awesome 4 door sports sedan. In spite of the age of the design and product they are great cars.

    I am sorry the brand and dealers are gone, but the cars are still here and they are great.

    I know I am on the far end of the spectrum. I plan to maintain my Saab 95 the rest of my driving life. That may sound dull, but I like relying on my knowledge, skill and resources to maintain these Saabs that I love……I find it fun.

    My focus is that the company is gone and there are no new Saabs, I can’t change that but I revel in the fact that they are great cars and great value. And you don’t see yourself on every street corner. In southern California everyone has a BMW, MB, Audi……a Saab is so different and so much better.

    I do have some other vehicles that I use and for different needs.

    A 1990 Chevrolet pickup with 11 inches of wheel travel is my off-roader and my go to the lumber yard and hardware store vehicle. Pure utility and reliability.

    For enjoying our canyon roads I have a 1973 Porsche 911. This one I will have the rest of my driving life as well. It is just an honest, wonderful driving car. Lightweight, 220 honest HP. Weighs 2170 pounds, good suspension, huge brakes, lots of rubber on the road. No power steering, no power brakes, no computers [except for a state of the art ignition system] just an honest car that drives like a go Kart. A very stiff ride and makes wonderful noises. I drive it a lot, but the Saab Aero is still better for that hot day on the freeway or the 1000 mile trip.

    I might be unique, but I have very few automotive dreams left and my bucket list contains buying a classic 900 SPG or convertible. I am very content that I feel like I have come to the end of my automotive journey and Saab 95 Aeros and Saabs in general are a big part of my contentedness.

    1. You’re very lucky Dickl, to have reached such a contented place in your life. 🙂 I hope one day to find the ideal car(s) for me and settle down to own, maintain and enjoy it! (the old 900 is a project, but not a runner yet!)

      1. Thanks…..I want to make it clear that I have not buried my head in the sand. I keep up with all the new stuff and I am constantly studying the automotive landscape. I often compare the new stuff to what I own……..and I really don’t have an itch to get into something else. Maintenance and improvements on the Saabs and 911 never end so I have plenty to do all the time……and I really enjoy it.

        I am also very involved with my friend Sam Wheeler’s passion to set the motorcycle land speed record in his streamliner at over 400 MPH. We will be in Bonneville in 15 days for testing, and plan for a record run in mid-September this year. See http://www.streamliner.com if you are interested.

        1. I wish you all well with the attempt in september!!

          I too keep up with the latest auto tech and must confess to currently running a new car with a lot of advanced tech. But, it’s the classics that give me most joy and actually I’m toying with the idea of getting hold of a JDM Skyline to play with 🙂

    2. Great story. If I had the gear and any idea I’d love to put together a series of Petrolicious-style videos letting people like you talk about their custodianships of slightly more everyday cars. 911 not withstanding..!

    3. Excellent comment Dickl. Like you, I find more to like in my 2001 95 Aero than any new car i have seen. Perhaps that’s a function of my age, but I think its also an appreciation for traditional SAAB values: safety, performance, economy, comfort and practicality. I don’t need a lot of high tech gadgetry (interestingly it seems to have been the gadgetry that really caught Tim’s eye about the 428). There may be “better” cars out there, but none that suits my needs as well.

  9. In the same way I don’t get fanaticism for sporting teams, I’m also not one to limit myself to a single car brand. I do have a special connection with Saab cars and it’s a little hard to put a finger on exactly why that is. I think I’m just in tune with the philosophy, as a lover and practitioner of design. I really believe in form following function.

    But there’s a wide world out there and I haven’t sampled nearly enough cars to be so blinkered and choose Saab every time without fail. On paper Saab cars stack up to me – they tend to do more with less, at a great price. It’s the same old story when you talk to Saab owners. It does confuse me that nobody in the wider world seems to see that, but that makes me think it might be me that’s got it wrong… nah!

    New Octavia RS or very similar 9-3SC for less than half the price?

  10. Great post Swade. As a man who owns 4 Saabs, I agree 100%. I am primarily a car lover. Full stop. Saab stole my affection when I was 10 years old, and one of the reasons I love Saabs so much is that they take me back to that feeling when I was 10. Happier times I suppose.

    As a car lover I am enjoying my four Saabs (97 9000 Aero, 1978 99 Turbo, 1985 900 T15S (SPG) and 9-3 SC) immensely, and I find focusing on one brand helps me focus my car love. I would hate to think what a hard time I would have chosing a classic car to purchase if I went beyond Saabs at some point. But as a car lover, I could never imagine criticizing anyone for their car choice. That’s just stupid.

    In the last two years, there has been an odd environment at SU – not a pleasant place to hang anymore unfortunately (I know Tim tries hard).

    Thanks for all the posts this last week – I have had fun reading!

  11. Always remember the good ol’ days at SU! Don’t know how you did it all back then, Steve!

  12. Interesting mindset change for me in recent days. I think I have finally come to terms with Saab’s final demise. My attention this weekend turned to the 323i in the carport that awaits its rebirth. I washed it today, polishing up the brightwork and inspected the problem areas for rot. Yes, there is a lot to do! It is 33 years old! But for the first time in almost two years I now feel that there is forward motion for me on this one. A return to my roots you could say. Love the 9-5 wagon and ‘The Hirsch’. But my resto-mojo is Back!
    Thank goodness!
    Bridge built and crossed!!

  13. This controversy reminds me of stories of Detroit auto execs who were only allowed to drive their employers’ cars, and who socialized with other Detroit execs who also didn’t know anything outside of the Big Three.

    The entire world passed them by as they competed over the plushness of their vinyl landau roofs.

    1. The problem with those guys were that they not only did not drive the competitors cars, but they knew NOTHING about cars. They called them UNITS not cars. I was in the publishing business and although we were west coast based I spent a lot of time in Detroit doing ad sales for our magazines. I would a conversation about cars and get blank stares and silence.

      They suffered isolation through ignorance, not making a well thought out choice based on brand knowledge.

      I have owned BMWs, Nissans, Hondas, Fords, Dodges, Pontiacs, Chevys, in addition to SAABs. I based my choice on knowledge and experience with many brands……

  14. Right now – in my humble opinion – the most Saab-like brand new car you can get is the Skoda Octavia sedan. ‘Sedan’ is a misnomer; it’s actually a really big hatch (just like the NG900/OG9-3). It’s also a bit of a left field choice, looks quite handsome and feels solid. They also come with a turbo engine as standard. 🙂

    1. I’ve been thinking good thoughts of a few of the Skodas for some time now. I reckon a Yeti might be a good market car for us. Left field, yes.

      1. A bonus of buying a Skoda is that its dealers are very friendly and customer oriented. In my experience you don’t get the arrogant “take it or leave it” attitude which you all too often find in the dealerships of the big brands. Very like SAAB, in fact.

    2. Yeah, Skoda is a familiar option for Saab fans. They’re lucky to have access to all the VAG platforms, so they can bring the small cars etc to market that Saab needed. The new Octavia is being lauded for it’s driving characteristics too, something Saab never really seemed to be praised on (I often wonder if the expectations were just higher?).

      The only problem is they lack the design sense of Saab’s cars. In fact I find a lot of the newer turbo4 offerings are uglier versions of cars Saab has been making for decades! Suppose I really am a Saab fanboy..

      If Skoda do bring the AWD version of the Octavia RS Wagon, they will open a new market for themselves I think. A lot of people still won’t touch larger FWD cars, especially performance orientated FWD cars.

    3. Why not the Superb? That is the car closest to the old 9000 spirit I can think of. Big interiour room at a decent outside length, huge trunk, a hatchback, and can be had with fine appoinments, at least in the Laurel & Hardy version. Or was that Laurent and Klement 😉 And there are Versions that can tow 2 tons.

      1. I agree with the Saab-Skoda comparisons to an extent. You get a smart, well-built, safe, comfortable, practical and swift European car for sensible money.

        As regards specific models, although the name of the Superb is amazingly naff (only slightly less silly than Subaru Legacy) the car does seem to live up to it.

        Since it launched the Octavia has always been smart, solid but a tad dull – just like a Volkswagen, really – but lately I think the current model has a bit of pzz-azz. So for me it would be an Octavia full combi (estate).

        I also like the Yeti.

        Note of caution: my dad has had two 2000s Skodas, and both have had unacceptable electrical problems that mar their otherwise perfect record. I wonder if those problems have been ironed out in current models?

  15. Many seem to be switching interest from Saab to BMW. That makes sense to me. After all, BMW do their own thing, their own way. They are Saab on a much bigger and more economically successful scale.

    I have a close friend who has a new BMW 5-series company car, and in my opinion this current generation of BMWs is the best-looking since the classic 70s/80s era that defined the modern BMW.

    The economics of company car ownership make this sort of car affordable for him of course, but for a self-employed person such as I only the 3-year-old cast-off from someone like my friend would make any kind of financial sense. It was the same with the Saab before last that I had.

    Brand new ‘premium’ cars are, rationally speaking, a massive waste of money for the private buyer. But to borrow Swade’s phrase: more power to anyone who wants to ‘waste’ money on a car that gives them a lot of pleasure.

    So if I were in the market for a new or nearly new car then, apart from Skoda, I am keen on Peugeot (now making stylish cars IMO), as well as Renault and Citroen.

    I’m highly likely to keep it Swedish, though. Volvos are more in BMW price territory, obviously, and so they would probably have to be a bit older for me to get my favourite, which would be a V70 or an XC70.

  16. About six months ago I had opted to put about $2000 in repairs into my 2000 9-3 (new clutch, water pump, and a few other items) in order to try and get another couple of years out of it as my daily driver while I figured out what would be my next daily driver. I had started looking at other brands, but to get another multi-purpose, safe, fun to drive car was looking to be difficult or expensive. Many contenders, but none that really captured my attention. I was starting to consider the new Volvo wagon, but also keeping my eyes open in case I ran across a smoking deal on the right late model Saab for a great price that could tide me over for 3-5 years while I see where technology in the car industry goes.

    As luck would have it, that smoking deal dropped right into my lap. Shortly before the U.S. Independence Day holiday weekend, an ad for a 2008 9-5 wagon showed up on the Saabnet classified board. It was not the Aero model, but it was the 2.3 turbo 4 with most of the upgrade options (ventilated seats, xenon headlamps, upgrade sound system, etc.). This southern car (no rust) had 72,000 miles and was only 3 hours drive away, right near my path out to visit my parents for the holiday. I stopped by on the way back to see and test drive the car. The owner was a real car guy and the car was in pristine shape. It was mainly his wife’s car and not been thrashed around. To top it off, he was asking just under $10,000 US…less than Kelly Blue Book value for that car in that condition. Needless to say, I snapped it up and it will easily suffice as my daily driver until I decide what I really want next.