A Postcard From Wales (via Trollhättan)

Our man in Sheffield innocently goes on holiday, gets Saabed for his trouble. 

All images: The author.

Holidays: Billed as the great getaway from it all, but even with the nine to five out the window, nerves can still get frazzled, just in different ways. Extra traffic and roadworks, snaking ice cream and café queues, soaring blood pressure under a relentlessly torrid sun, along with phrases I have no wish to hear – staycation being the current one to infuriate. Add to this, the plethora of grey utilities which, no matter how remotely one wanders, seem to permeate every car park, blocking the high streets.

Enamoured more with the mountainous and coastal beauty of Northern Wales’ Llyn Peninsula than perambulating amidst the more populated areas, it was difficult to find any form of automobile interest; a sky blue Lamborghini Urus and a bright orange Jaguar I-Pace being two distinct and distinctive wildcards. Everything else really did appear to be a crossover or sports utility until three chance sightings gave light to that glimmer of hope. And they all once hailed from a town called Trollhättan.

First to transfix my gaze was this 9-5 saloon. At twelve years old, this two litre, 220bhp petrol engined model passed every MOT and covered but 64,000 miles, still looking the business at a soupçon over five metres in length. Overall, there’s an elegance along with a fuss-free charm to the car. Details which delighted were the translucent blue area on the side view mirror along with the rear lighting area which, amid today’s overwrought nonsense appears calm, almost tranquil.

Built when Spyker had just bought SAAB, this model derivation started at a not insubstantial £27,000 and garnered favourable press plaudits. Sadly my attention was diverted by another modern Defender barrelling through the local streets towing the coastal water weapon of choice, the jet ski[1]. Adding to my frustration, a large group of people then spilled out of a café and surrounded the 9-5, seemingly intent on lingering, thus preventing further inspection. With the intention of returning, I hastened on, only to find another Swedish vision close by.

Owing to the author “being an awful eejit” (his words), stock photography has been used. saabworld.net

Looking somewhat more careworn, the striking Lime Yellow livery on the 9-3 convertible was truly a wake up call from the ocean of greys, even on a glorious summer’s morn. With its no longer truly black closed lid, this 2004 model would have cost the original purchaser in the ball park of £25,000, no cheap carriage when new. Akin to its saloon brethren, there is no aggression here.

Yes, the rubber strips might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, nor that particular hue, but tucked most neatly into its parking space, the 9-3 cut more of a dash than the  (naturally grey) T-Roc convertible that chose to disturb my viewing pleasure this time – the mature male driver’s balding pate certainly proved more distracting than his expensive steed. One likes to hope that this Swedish beauty continues to offer reliable service though the niggling doubt of spares availability must weigh on the present owner’s mind from time to time.

Maybe not, for the next model seen is this tale’s oldest in timeline and by far the furthest travelled – this being a 1994, 2.3 litre 9000 CSE. The overall look of this car belies its 316,000 miles, something not lost on brand aficionados. Yes, we know the 9000 also shared with Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia a Type Four platform beneath, but my word, look at it. The beige paintwork may be somewhat unprepossessing, but this Giugario/ Björn Envall penned sculpture knocks the very socks off the ranks of bland moderns parked nearby.

Full marks to this now deceased manufacturer in building such a long legged machine in as much the owner keeping this practically thirty year old example in decent fettle, especially in a coastal and therefore rust inducing environment. Those beefy bumpers, a perennial SAAB feature (gloriously smoothed away in the aforementioned 9-5) and my memories of seeing those quite magical looking headlamp wipers in operation make for an exotic, esoteric choice of car.

Even the name, a SAAB Nine Thousand creates an enduringly granite feel to proceedings. The slim grille and headlamps, enlivened by a correct amount of chrome trim – a treat for the eyes. The wheels, whilst in need of a minor scrub are a delightfully clean design, again a far cry from anything emanating from most modern day manufacturers.

To the rear, there is no mistaking the Swedish levels of safety – that bright red rear strip could derive from a fire engine. The smoked indicator glass lends the archetypal architectural look. Does anyone know what form of rubber SAAB used for the rear spoiler? For this and seemingly all other rubber surfaces on this example suffer not from pitting, greying or weather induced ageing. Reawaken that formula, apply it today, somebody please?

One particular detail that engaged me most was the rear window surround on this liftback. A judicious third brake light encumbers not upon rearward vision while the ventilation extractor is almost a thing of beauty. Such small but perfectly formed areas are so sadly lacking on today’s machinery. And whilst sure the readership of this parish will undoubtedly know more than my fleeting glance at such a rare bird, what other vehicles wore such unappreciated jewellery? 

In the days before PCPs and internet searches, this CSE came equipped with airbags, ABS, cruise control, heated front seats, front and rear compartment ash trays along with that effortlessly Swedish style that few others could get close to. The engine in particular garnered high praise from road testers and owners, alike. That SAAB made around 175,000 from 1992 to the range being ousted by the 9-5 in 1998 is testament to how niche they were, even then.

As yet more jet skis ambled by, this time pulled by several of Stuttgart’s Cayenne and Macan offerings, the realisation that the family hatchback and saloon are an endangered species withered me as though I were a melting ice cream. Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. Fortunately, not all adhere to this utility malarkey.

PS. still yet to see a new Astra too. 

[1] www.sea-doo.com. Seen almost everywhere, either being towed behind a 4WD or flat chat out on the briny.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

19 thoughts on “A Postcard From Wales (via Trollhättan)”

  1. Good morning Andrew. Ah yes, poor Saab, much missed. I really liked the second-generation 9-5, but it appeared to be underdeveloped at launch, as I recall, with poor ride quality. I was never quite convinced by the 9000 either, although the revisision to produce the CS you picture above (supposedly to improve torsional rigidity) made it into more of a ‘proper’ Saab.

    I’ll let the “mature male driver’s balding pate” jibe pass on this occasion, but watch yourself…😬

    1. I never knew you had a Saab, Daniel 😉 Sorry couldn’t resist, I’m bald too, but never owned a Saab. I’ve driven plenty of them and I enjoyed most of them.

      I like the look of the last 9-5, but it did fell a bit short when compared to the German competition, if I recall correctly.

  2. It must’ve been in 2011, when the 9-5ng Estate was presented at AutoRai in Amsterdam. We were convinced this was the definitive station wagon and therefore an absolute must-have. Sublime styling and realising the shoe-string budgets, the immense time pressure during development, the organisational change and the basis (a rather lardy Insignia platform) it was a job well done, relatively. If only…
    A very good friend of mine has a 9-5ng saloon. I would say it is a perfectly reasonable and pleasurable drive, while it lacks the supposed drama Audi’s, BMW’s and Mercedes’ bring about, thankfully. To me, the restraint makes it attractive. It does have some trolls on board, as electronics seem to have their own ways sometimes, but this is hardly unique to Saab, compared to contemporary cars.

    1. Oh, and many thanks for the great article, Andrew. Reminds me that i still have to answer a holiday-related question from Richard. Sorry, will pick that up from there…

  3. I know it’s a cliché, but real Saabs ceased very soon after GM gained full control of the company and unstoppable decline set in. There were brief signs of hope towards the end and I concur with your assessment of the 9-5 you spotted. I also have a friend who runs a 9-3 convertible which he purchased new and has yet to find anything to replace it. Mind you, at less than 200,000 miles it’s barely run-in.

    As for the 9000 CSE, I was lent one once by the dealer who was servicing our 900. Said dealer was in Peterborough, home was in Derbyshire (a long story of no interest) and our 900 required a part which would take 48 hours to be delivered; it was a Saturday and we had to get home for work on Monday. Despite knowing that it would be a week before we could return the 9000, Mr Creighton was happy to lend it to us. Such service was far from unknown amongst Saab dealerships at the time. As I recall, the 9000 was a competent machine and the normal Saab pleasure to drive, spoilt only by the ignition key steering lock, in place of the previously normal ignition key position by the gear lever, requiring the lever to be in reverse before the key could be inserted or removed.

    Thanks for the memories Andrew!

  4. Thanks for that. In a few short years Saab´s living memory will sink below the waves. I suppose anyone under 20 has little idea what Saabs might be. I recall some dead brands that lurked when I was about that age: Simca, Triumph, Talbot would be a few dead brands whose cars could still be seen occasionally in Ireland in 1992. The 9000 is a very pleasing car which blended its shared parts better than the last 9-5 which always seemed to me to all too clearly a Vectra in Saab hat and shoes. It looks good from the ends. Seen sideways I get the impression of two different cars. The Cadillac BLS would be another weak bit of brand engineering. It still looks like a Saab 9-3 even if it has a veneer of Art & Science all over it.

  5. Some lovely car spotting there, Andrew – thank you. The new Astra is selling at the rate of 2,800 per month across Europe, so it looks as though it’s yet to get going, in terms of sales.

    North Wales is lovely – I hope you have a good time. Please give my regards to Mrs Trellis, if you see her.

    1. I haven´t seen one yet. Normally the Danish market goes for the latest thing in any market. Right now the Focus, Mazda3, Peugeot 300whatever and Golf Mk 34 are selling well enough to be almost common. The Corsa is also doing well. The last Astra proved popular. But this one? It´s like a duck underwater.

    2. I have seen a new Astra. Not as nice as I had hoped from the photos. It has a lot of the Golf 8 about it, albeit with the more distinctive and interesting Vizor fascia on it.

    3. I have seen one or two knocking about here in Ireland. I’d be inclined to be in accordance with SVR on its aesthetics. Unsatisfying is how I’d probably characterise it.

    4. I just saw an Astra today, wearing a dealer livery. That’s probably the first one as well. I have to echo the assessments of its design from earlier comments: strong whiffs of Golf 8 – a very unhappy looking thing – and something off about the proportions, just as with the 308. Probably the nose being too heavy, but it might also just be detailing because it reminded me of the Golf as well, which has similar proportions to its excellent predecessor, but bumpers and detailing which ruin things.

  6. I´m glad to see that 9000 in good shape. I owned a 9000 for seven years and despite my car was the full turbo 225 bhp Aero I can´t say it was a sporting saloon, although very fast.
    I would say that Saab values were: funcionality (very roomy and versatile inside), relaxing to drive (some of the best long-distance cars) and durability (if you were able to pay the bills). I wonder if such virtues are well regarded in these PCP times.
    About the NG9-5 and the 9-3 convertible, well, not bad, but not too good for me.

  7. I really like the last 9-5, it was even trail-blazing in terms of the use of the light-bar at the rear (a trope now so over-used that I am sick of seeing them). It clearly lack for the last nth of development spend to get the chassis set-up right and iron out a few quality glitches. I do feel a bit for anyone who bought one, though, as specific spares must be a nightmare to get hold of.

    I thought the 9-3 was a decent stab at at SAAB. Famously, the Swedish engineers did not keep to the ‘just re-clothe the Vectra’ brief and went about reinforcing A-pillars and floorpans, etc. The estate was really nice and I even liked the ice-blue tint to the upright rear lamps. They never managed to tame the torque steer on the higher-pitched turbo models though, did they?

    The pre-GM 900 Turbos were the ones though. A friend of the family had a 2-door in a gorgeous metallic purple-cum-burgundy colour, with sumptuous velour, high backed seats. The turbo-lag was terrible to the point of being enormous fun … press the pedal, count 1, 2, then all hell breaks loose!

    1. The turbo-lag was virtually non-existent on the low-pressure turbo models but yes, earlier ones did encourage stamping on the pedal sooner than might be wise….. and all 900s had high back seats (Saab superior ergonomics) with velour as standard, leather extra. Velour always seemed to suit the heated seats. I’m now very tempted to start looking for a good one to play with – it’d compliment the Javelin nicely….

  8. I’m not convinced I’ve warmed up to the final 9-5 with the passage of time. I will admit to being distinctly put off when they were current, as I did not like the “face” Saab was doing at the time, with the various chrome outlines and enlarged grill. I’ve mellowed to that, but not what is going on around the area of the A-pillars. For starters, I do not care for the blackout floating effect despite the probable necessity due to the sheer width of the pillars themselves. Then there is the issue of the windshield being ever so slightly lower than the tops of these pillars; relatively hidden in darker colors, very much not so in something like white. Visually disrupts the smoothness of integration to the wraparound effect and seems off, while also brining to attention to the sharp cutline to the tops of the front passenger side windows. This is at odds with the smoothly tapered set of rears, and the chrome accent line that travels up only into the rear c-pillar makes this more pronounced. Then there is the issue of the mirrors. The blackout/body color separation is effective in blending into the greenhouse only when viewed from the front quarter view from about standing height or higher; lower than that or from the side past the mirror itself it is very noticeable that the body color/black transition is not aligned with the height of the greenhouse and has a “stepped” effect that betrays the frontal appearance of the windshield base and the side glass being aligned… Messy. Directly from the front you can see the body coloring bows upward, which isn’t as off putting, but still isn’t great. I find all this disappointing in contrast to the very well executed rear of the car. It’s a distinctive design, I’ll give it that…

    1. That´s a thorough analysis and articulates most of the reasons the whole doesn´t hang together. I suppose this is due to a lot of constraints such as a) the donor body architecture b) a lack of time and a lack of money and d) a lack of experienced designers with the authority to ensure a tidily resolved design.
      Of all the features I have a problem with the truncated chrome trim and the wing mirrors stand out along with the plain fact that the middle is not properly homogenised with the ends.
      I presume from your analysis you have some industry expertise? You don´t see that writing btl at Autocropley.

  9. An interesting article Andrew. I admit that I have never driven or even considered purchasing a SAAB although they actually look quite attractive in retrospect. Hopefully you got back home without too much stress!

  10. I came across a second generation 9-5 in Cork today, the first time I have seen one in the metal, as far as I can recall. It was in metallic silver and looked very handsome and substantial, with beautifully restrained but unmistakably Saab-ish styling. Here’s a similar example:

    I got chatting to the owner who told me he had owned it for three years, having previously driven a couple of 9-3 models. Apparently, there are a couple more 9-5s in the area, both black in colour. Credit is due to the owner for keeping such an interesting and unusual car on the road, but what a tragedy that Saab lost the fight to survive just when they had produced their most convincing GM-era model.

  11. Well spotted, Mr O’Callaghan. Near to the office is a SAAB specialist who doesn’t just dismantle but keeps the Trollhättan flag flying high.. The garage looks established and always has plenty of cars coming and going.

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