All too easily dismissed as somewhat of a crude hash-job, the 90 nevertheless sold well by SAAB standards and stayed true to traditional brand values.
In the eighties SAAB was still an independent manufacturer enjoying a relatively small yet very loyal customer base, but the lack of available finances for the development of new products was starting to hurt. Flirtations with Lancia in an effort to continue serving the lower price field after the discontinuation of the 96 with the Lancia A112 and SAAB-Lancia 600 proved unsuccessful; the cooperation in the Tipo 4 platform project did allow the Swedes to introduce a brand new large sedan, the 9000, in 1984.
SAAB’s entry level car however -the 99- was by then sixteen years old and in dire need of replacement – but the plucky Swedish brand simply did not have the cash. What to do? The solution was to apply a bit of Swedish math (although technically it could also be Finnish math as the end result would be produced at Valmet in Finland) by face lifting the 99 with parts of the 900, a car that itself was heavily based on that same 99.
The result, 99 up to the B pillar and 900 behind it, was christened 90. Honesty is the best policy as they say, and the 26-page brochure does not attempt to hide the 90’s origins – in the opening sentence it is clearly stated that “the 90 descends directly from the 99“.
By grafting the hind section of the not often seen two-door 900 Sedan onto the virtually unchanged 99 front, the Swedes managed to create a car that was still very much in accordance with the SAAB styling idiom. Whether it really looked appreciably more modern than its predecessor is a matter of personal opinion, but with the ex-900 rear end the 90 did offer more luggage capacity than before as well as a larger fuel reservoir.
Inside there was virtually no changes apart from the nicer 900-sourced steering wheel, looking somewhat out of place with the old 99 dash behind it.
Mechanically the 90’s only available engine was the trusty 1985cc carburetted four delivering 100 Bhp. The only options according to the pricelist accompanying this Dutch market brochure were metallic paint, cruise control and a sliding sunroof – power steering was not offered.
The 90 was primarily aimed at the Scandinavian market but also sold in selected European countries among which Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom; over the course of four years Valmet produced 23,578 cars.
There is a refreshing aura of honesty sometimes lacking in present day cars that radiates from the SAAB 90 – it is a what you see is what you get kind of vehicle – nothing more, nothing less. It gained the same reputation for robustness and reliability its parents did and today makes for an inexpensive yet interesting and characterful youngtimer; the same goes for the printed material that accompanied its publicity effort.