Theme: Brochures – Just Right?

Already a decade old in 1977, the SAAB 99-series perhaps best embodied the Swedish ideal of ‘Lagom’ .

All images: Driven to Write
All images: Driven to Write

The 99 saw Saab come of age. A bigger, more commodious, more mainstream model than the somewhat home market-specific 96 series which not only preceded it, but was sold alongside. By 1977, the 99 was a very mature product, and what bugs may have arisen in earlier incarnations were fairly thoroughly expunged.

In the decade following its introduction, a number of mechanical and styling changes were made, the most notable being the introduction of a three-door Combi Coupé hatchback body style, whose revised frontal styling was subsequently adopted across the range. Two years later a five door version was added. For 1977, revised nose and tail-lamps were fitted. All 99s were fitted with Saab’s 1985 cc slant four with either carburetor (GL) or fuel injection (EMS). Manual or automatic transmissions were also available. So three body styles, two engine tunes, two trim levels and two transmission choices amounted to quite a decent model line-up.

What strikes me about this brochure is that for a ten-year old model, and against its putative opposition, the 99 still looks fresh. Certainly there was probably more modern opposition around, notably from more mass-market brands, but Lancia Beta apart, there was little at that price point that offered a similar combination of compactness, interior space, advanced mechanical specification combined with a non-mainstream, aspirational European nameplate. Additionally, given its age and the prevailing standards of 1977, it does not strike me as a particularly dated design. Yes, the 900 series arrived as the 99’s star faded; not only resurrecting its fortunes but going on to carve a reputation of its own for a further decade or so. But while lengthy production runs can often result in diminishing returns, the 99 illustrates the adage that the right product intelligently developed will stand the test of time.

Speaking of time, how does thirty-six years grab you? Because Saab were making cars to the same essential silhouette until 2003. In fact to this day ask anyone to picture a Saab and they’ll probably picture something akin to this. One final thought: Looking at the cavernous load bay of the 99 pictured, it strikes me that if IKEA hadn’t already existed, Saab would probably have had to invent it.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

8 thoughts on “Theme: Brochures – Just Right?”

  1. Notable is the fact that the models available are presented equally. ‘Here are four alternatives, any one of these might suit you’.

    So different from, say, Ford back then who would have chosen a studiously mundane shot of the base model, then various lavish images of the GLXLR. ‘Here is the alternative you should buy if you weren’t such a sad-sack tightwad’.

    Also, comparing it with the 2013 Ampera brochure we showed recently, what is notable is that, although both make a good effort to honestly present the virtues of each car, without resort to unsubstantiated boasts, the recent Vauxhall one had to lighten it with a batch of corny puns.

    But, sadly, I have to note that Saab claimed that the driver’s environment was designed by ‘experts’. You couldn’t get away with that in the UK these days.

    1. The all-new 2017 Wolseley 34/50 is a car for today’s Great England: designed by people driven by opinion. Everyone’s tired of experts so we planned – winged it, really – our car around the path of least resistance but it is quite affordable. The striking trim was engineered in England** and the sturdy body based on solid English underpinnings* Enjoy the smooth upholstery and responsive exhaust system, selected*** uniquely for this car.

      ** built in China.
      * old tooling from the Rover Metro.
      *** that is, this is the only exhaust the car uses.

  2. I saw one of these in Trollhattan last autumn. The quality of fit and finish is as per the BMW 2002. Our Saab specialist Melle or our Swedish commentators might be able to cast some light on the dynamic attributes.
    What a world- it’s 1971 and you can pick from a Lancia 2000 saloon (fwd, boxer), a Citroen GS (fwd, air-cooled, hydropneumatic), a Saab 99 and a BMW 2002 (front engine, rwd, saloo).
    BMW had the last laugh.

  3. I became aware of the 99 while in the ownership of a Peugeot 504 around 1970 and the brochure and auto mags pretty much convinced me this would be a future purchase. There were many features on the new SAAB unavailable on all the competition such as heated seats, FWD, double profile A pillars that extended down to the front wheel arches, a multi ducted powerful heating system, plus numerous safety items.
    Styling was also very interesting and the 72 year I finally acquired had if i remember correctly the first commercially available crash absorbing bumpers and brochure illustrations of a car being dropped on its roof without being crushed, They were pushing safety big time.
    As much as I liked the SAAB as a design and in specification it couldn’t compare with my previous 504 in ride comfort, quietness and handling. It was heavy at the front before power steering and the short wheelbase produced a fore and aft movement lacking in the long wheelbase Peugeot which had longer travel suspension that literally absorbed anything thrown at it.
    In hindsight the picture painted in the brochure regarding spec and design won me over but in reality it was disappointing and I was happier with the Peugeot which promoted their products as being built on quality and fully in-house even the shock absorbers!

    1. I cannot vouch for the 99, but I drove several 900’s when they were still contemporary – around 1988-90 and found them to be rather impressive. They steered well – the 900 had PAS – cornered flatly and accurately and rode firmly but well on Irish roads. For what was by then a very old design, I was rather charmed by them – certainly they were a far nicer proposition than a contemporary E30 BMW.

      I never experienced a Peugeot 504 but a motor engineer of some repute recently told me that in his view only two manufacturers ever took the concept of longitudinal compliance seriously – one of them being Peugeot – citing the 504 as an example of how a comparatively unsophisticated suspension system could achieve quite remarkable results. They really knew what they were doing then. I also recall LJKS once expounding at length about the virtues of long wheelbase – he also cited Peugeot for praise in that area.

  4. Well this brochure, or one very like it, won me over and in 1975 I traded my Fiat 128 coupé for a Saab 99 Combi Coupé. Mrs Mark was pregnant at the time and I loved the idea of Scandinavian design and Swedish safety and I wasn’t disappointed. The Saab struck me as very logical and aerodynamic; the wrap round windscreen, the fastback styling, heated front seats, ventilation ducted to the rear passengers and the rear window, no sills and acres of useful boot space. It was green with green upholstery set off by some orange knobs on the rear window levers and elsewhere. I think the brochure shows the Combi Coupé in this colour. The other idiosyncrasies were the famous ignition key between the seats and a handbrake working on the front wheels.

    What was it like to drive? Well really quite pleasant and could be hustled along briskly as long as you allowed for the understeer resulting from a considerable weight in front of the wheels and unassisted steering. As D Gatewood has said there was an issue with the ride; swift progress on Irish roads resulted in a pitching corkscrew motion which gave passengers a complexion to match the paintwork. Richard has pointed out the choices available in the 70s and it’s interesting that a car like the Saab could sell in reasonable numbers. Were buyers adventurous because they had the choice or vice versa? I changed it in 1979 for the slightly modernised 900 but somehow that car didn’t have quite the same charm.

  5. Such a pretty car, even when affixed with the black plastic bumpers from a Leyland Atlantean bus. Being relatively young (cough) I have only seen a few 99s, but even now I lust after a 900 Turbo complete with mat grey whale tail and full length cladding.

  6. I’ve owned three 99s, so some brief comments. Without power steering, you need strong arms for parking and tight corners, but once you’re up to speed it’s fine. The earlier D-Jetronic analogue electronic injection is easier to fix than the later K-Jetronic mechanical system. The same applies to the brakes, the earlier cars have a simpler system. Cars made from 1976-1980 tend to rust badly, even in Australia; earlier cars are made of exceptionally rust-resistant steel. In hot climates the engines will overheat and warp their heads unless the cooling system is carefully maintained. The Combi’s load space is enormous, and you really can be confident that anything bought at Ikea will fit in the back. Passenger seating is very comfortable, but you do feel bumps in the road. The Combi and the EMS have the nicest interiors. I don’t think anyone bought a 99 because they thought it was pretty, but it looks absolutely right for purpose. Great fun to drive on mountain roads!

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