Ghosts of Saabs Unborn

Bouquet of lilies in hand, we ponder what might have been.

The Future Of Saab (that was not to be), Image:

Editor’s note: Following the retrospective pieces earlier this week on ‘lost’ design concepts from both Saab and Lancia, we revisit this fine piece by our erstwhile Hamburg design correspondent, first published on DTW in February 2016.

The demise and desecration of that most idiosyncratic Swedish brand may well be the source of an endless stream of stories. Yet more interesting however is a less well-publicised aspect of the period when Saab was already taking its last breath: the cars that were not to be.

The very fact that Saab was a deeply mismanaged business would appear to be indisputable. And yet, at the very end of its existence, that other Swedish brand seemed to have developed a hitherto dormant will to survive. After having suffered the indignity of being bestowed with badge-engineered Subarus and Chevrolets, Saab appeared to be coming to its senses in terms of product development. The resultant 9-5 saloon and estate, as well as – to a lesser degree – the 9-4X SUV were the result of this push.

2010 Saab 9-5. Image:

That was too little, far too late, as we all know. But also a bit of a shame, as the 9-5 was not an unattractive machine at all. Despite this, Victor Muller, after having taken charge of Saab in the wake of Spyker’s takeover, chose to replace his styling department, handing reigns over Saab’s aesthetics over to renowned former Pininfarina designer, Jason Castriota, instead. The fruit of the American designer’s labour on behalf of Saab has since entered the public domain, in the shape of his Saab PhoeniX concept car, which was actually unveiled to the public, as well as leaked renderings of his proposal for a 9-3 replacement.

The Saab PhoeniX concept. Image:

Neither design could be described as being particularly sleek, due to both suffering from a strangely puffed-up appearance that is perplexingly highlighted by the surfacing, which seems to have been intended to give off the impression of a layer of liquid covering solid innards.

The Castriota proposal. Image:
The Castriota proposal in profile. Image:

However, his second-generation 9-3 was not the only vision of a future Saab that has been visualised. There are actually some sketches floating around the internet depicting an alternative-alternative 9-3 Mk2. These concepts are supposed to be courtesy of Simon Padian, Anthony Lo et al – or, to put it another way: the designers who were in charge before Jason Castriota was ushered in.

The pre-Spyker proposal. Image:

This pre-Spyker 9-3, visualised in fairly production-feasible form, is more in keeping with the last 9-5, albeit (obviously) more compact and actually rather daring in its basic proportions. Despite the rather showy creases above the wheel arches, it appears to be significantly more restrained than the Castriota version, which suits the image of Saabs as cars defined by extraordinary proportions, coupled with sober detailing. It would certainly have made for one of the most convincing Saabs in decades.

Pondering all those what ifs in relation to Saab remains an entertaining pastime. And these proposals, no matter what one’s personal preference may be, give some rather excellent food for thought in this regard.

Regrettably, the quality of each concept does not reflect the career paths of the talents involved, what with Jason Castriota having just been poached by Ford to re-establish an advanced design studio for the Dearborn giant. Meanwhile, Simon Padian is a member of staff at Einar Hareide Design, the design consultancy business established by one of his less gifted predecessors at Saab, and hence tasked with the unenviable job of trying to justify the comeback of Borgward.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

8 thoughts on “Ghosts of Saabs Unborn”

  1. Am seing heavy dose of Saab PhoeniX’s frontal element in present day Honda Civic, and equal dose of Castriota’s surface treatment in the general side profile of earlier generation Toyota Camry……

  2. Good morning Christopher. Perhaps it’s just as well Castriota’s proposal for the 9-3 never saw the light of day. It looks very heavy-handed and, as Faisal says above, rather reminiscent of a Toyota Camry:

    “Puffed up” is certainly a good descriptor.

    The in-house proposal is certainly more Saab-ish, although there’s rather too much going on around the saloon’s tail end. In any event, it’s all academic now. I wonder where ownership (or automotive usage rights) of the marque name now resides? Has it been taken back by the Swedish corporation?

    1. The Saab name is the exclusive property of the “security” company Saab AB, who licensed it out to GM from 1995. It would seem that Spyker were able to continue this arrangement for their brief tenure, but Saab AB would not countenance licensing the trademark to Evergrande subsidiary NEVS who bought the factory.

      If Sven-backwards had been allowed to use the trademark, it’s possible we might still be able to buy Saab cars somewhere in the world, but to what avail?

      Instead some rather old GM-era Saab DNA lived on in some BAIC Senovas. All seems to have gone quiet on NEVS, and their multi-partite Turkish EV joint venture based on the 9-3 with some Saabillac bits thrown in.

  3. What bothers me about the Castriota 9-3 is that hidden under the bulges and creases seems to be the exact form of the NG 900. I don’t see progress in that.

    His Sonett proposal works a bit better for me.

  4. Hi Daniel. It looks like the name continues to be used by the original aerospace/defence company Saab AB (which is too sensible to call their submersible a Saabmarine). The griffin logo can be used by that company, as well as former Wallenberg stablemate Scania, now a part of VW. Scania did not allow NEVS to use the griffin, while Saab AB withdrew the rights for NEVS to use the name when it appeared to be in financial trouble. (it remains in business, and makes reference to Saab on its website, though not to the 9-3)

  5. For my eyes these post-GM-era Saabs look absolutely awful.
    The front is like a pig with sunglasses (only the Dame Edna version of the 9-5 is worse) and as usual the intended wraparound effect of the glass doesn’t work.
    I particularly dislike the mushroom cap wrap over roof.
    I know that it’s all intended to look like the visor of a crash helmet – but do I really need to impress five year olds by pretending to drive around in Luke Skywalker’s headwear?

  6. May someone explain to me the Saab AB name?

    I thought SAAB was an acronym meaning Svenska Aeroplane AktieBolaget (AktieBolaget meaning something like Corporation in USA, Spa in Italy, etc).

    But it’s became at some point (I’m stretching my point here 😉) something like Svenska Aeroplane AktieBolaget AktieBolaget, or Svenska Aeroplane Corporation Corporation?

    Thank you 🙂

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