GM’s deal to sell Saab to tiny supercar maker Koenigsegg fell through yesterday, and the chances don’t look good that they’ll find a new buyer, which means Saab will be shuttered. I, for one, am sad. I have fond memories of our ’76 Saab 99; though it needed fairly constant upkeep—like most European cars of the day—it stoked my budding automotive enthusiasm. My dad would explain to me why the ‘cockpit’ style dash layout was superior to that of the Oldsmobile it had replaced, and both its traction in New England winters (courtesy of front-wheel drive) and staggering safety were ahead of their time.
We were hit by a Chevy Suburban coming home one day; the 2000-pound heavier SUV was totaled, and most of its occupants injured. But we were all unmarked, and the faithful 99 still ran! Dad fixed it and sold it about a year later for a Volvo. I lusted after a Saab Turbo, the first successful, mass-produced car with forced induction, and when I finally got to drive one at 16, I was thrilled.
A year later I went to work for the (Skip) Barber-Saab Pro Series, and though the Swedish company had already begun its decent into mediocrity, I was still a true believer. But GM’s astonishing mismanagement of the once-successful company (they used to sell more cars here than BMW!) had its way; various low-end Opels, Subarus, and finally a Blazer became the basis for the once engineering-led machines, and sales plummeted.
What’s really galling is that Saab appears on the verge of a renaissance; the 9-4 crossover is a perfect shot strait to the heart of the market, the 9-5 (finally replaced after a decade) looked great, and Saab’s legendary turbo-tech was about to see new fruit in a radical new engine family. I hope there’s still some firm out there with the vision to see the Swedes through.