Saab at 60

By Joe LaMuraglia and Dan Weil

We were recently invited to a unique birthday party. The event didn’t involve balloons, cake or even booze yet it was one of the best parties we’ve been to in a long time. It was in celebration of Saab’s 60th anniversary as a car company and fittingly it was held at an airstrip in Southern California.
If you haven’t heard yet, Saab was founded by 16 aircraft engineers. Despite the fact that several of them didn’t have driver’s licenses, they were charged to develop a rugged, save and affordable vehicle that would diversify the parent company’s scope from solely an aircraft manufacturer. The result of their work was the “distinctively streamlined” Saab 92 prototype unveiled in 1947 that begat some of the most unique and recognizable vehicles in automotive history.

Like most automotive press events, we were wined and dined by Saab’s PR and marketing executives, handed the keys to a fleet of spanking new special edition 60th Anniversary Saabs and set off to tackle the demanding roads of Southern California with little more than driving directions and faith that we’d stay true to the plan. The special edition Saabs we piloted were impressive sporting a new Ice Blue metallic exterior color but the real treat awaited us at the Warner Springs airstrip.

Upon our arrival we were presented with pristine examples of Saabs of old. They ranged from one of the original 1952 Saab 92s to a 1987 9000 Turbo that was chosen for the “Talladega – Long Run” – a 62,140 mile/100,000 km endurance test at an average of 132 mph. Not only were we able to admire these fine examples of auto history, we drove them on the airstrip.
The event was as unique as the vehicles being showcased. Clearly a 50-year old Saab isn’t up to par with vehicles on the road today but it was fascinating to experience the early Saabs and see just how quirky and advanced they were for their time. The DNA is strong and even after being purchased by GM; Saab has done their best to make sure that a Saab you buy today carries on the same principles of their ancestors. And that’s a good thing.

2007 Saab 9-5 Sport Combi

The youngest representatives of the Saab lineage were put through their paces to and from the birthday celebration. We got into the cockpit of the 9-5 wagon and the 9-3 Sport Combi.

2007 Saab 9-5 Sport Combi

If you read our review of the 9-5 Sport Combi from last year, you may think that we hate Saabs. We came away from this event convinced that the 9-5 Sport Combi that we drove had something seriously wrong with it. The example we slung through the mountain roads in SoCal was as different as night and day. The engine pulled strongly, the suspension was comfortable yet sporty and the seats are on par with some of the best in the world. It is an old platform and it shows in the interior. The dash materials and fit and finish aren’t quite up to standard with competitors in its price range but with so few large wagons available on the market, the 9-5 is certainly worth a look if you are considering this segment. It comes with GM’s excellent warranty, 3 years of scheduled maintenance included in the price and something its competitors can’t provide, GM’s OnStar service.

2007 Saab 9-3 Sport Combi

2007 Saab 9-3 Sport Combi
The 9-3 Sport Combi reminded us of the quiet kid at school. He wasn’t the most popular but he certainly blossomed once you gave him a chance. The Saab 9-3 Sport Combi isn’t the first Euro-wagon that comes to mind if you are considering this segment but it should be high on the list. It is compact, versatile, gets great gas mileage, is a blast to drive and is uniquely Saab in its design. We walked away impressed at the way the wagon handled the demanding roads (and drivers) and how solid and comfortable it felt – flat and poised in the curves and turbo-quick down the straight-aways. While it isn’t large enough for a family with more than one child (and all their accoutrements) it is a perfect, affordable option for anyone that wants to have the versatility of wagon without giving up the Euro-Lux image. It also comes with GM’s excellent warranty, available OnStar and no-cost scheduled maintenance.
We arrived back at the hip hotel in Pacific Beach and after our publisher almost had an accident because of the HOT surfer walking across the road (I mean REALLY- where were these boys when we were single?), we reflected on the day’s events. Verdict: Saab knows how to throw a party: Invite the whole family, celebrate your unique heritage and DRIVE. We hope we look as good as Saab does when we celebrate our 60th.
Grattis på Födelsedagen Saab. (The present is in the mail.)

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