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