The Saab Story Chapter 2: 1965-1989
The story of my favorite car brand
A facelifted Saab 96, 95, and GT850/Sport/Monte Carlo arrived for the 1965 model year, with the Sonett sports car returning for 1966. The second generation Sonnet, also referred to as the Saab 97, used a box frame and a fiberglass body, achieving a low weight of 710 kilograms (1,565 pounds). It was powered by an 841-cc two-stroke three-cylinder engine producing just 59 horsepower, but could hit 100 KPH (62 MPH) in 12.5 seconds. Those are modest figures today, but it was a hugely successful racecar at the time. The Sonett II was low-volume, with just 258 produced by mid-1967.
Saab Sonett V4
In 1967, Saab began to use the 1.5-liter 65-horsepower Ford Taunus V4 in all four models. The 0-60 time of the 96 fell by 9.6 seconds to 16; the 0-60 time of the Sonett did not change, but the Sonett V4 could hit 99 MPH (159 KPH) compared to the Sonett II's 93 (150). To meet the SCCA's requirements, Saab made 70 Sonett V4s in 1967, 900 in 1968, and 640 in 1969 for a total of 1,610 units. Most Sonett V4s were exported to the US, where it had an MSRP of $3,500 (£2,500, €2,746), which is $27,337 (£21,373, €23,456) today. The Sonett V4 sported safety features such as three-point seatbelts, a roll bar, and whiplash-preventing high-back bucket seats. The GT850 was dropped after 1968, with the Sonett V4 following suit the next year. Saab merged with Scania to form Saab-Scania in 1969.
On November 22, 1967 in Stockholm, Saab unveiled the 99, a compact executive vehicle intended not as a replacement for the 96, but rather as the uplevel model in the range. It introduced the design language that would be used on the iconic 900 later on, which could look stubby or sleek depending on the angle at which it was viewed. Unlike the 96, the 99 was available in multiple body styles: a 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan, a 3-door hatchback (Combi Coupe), or a 5-door Combi Coupe. Most versions were equipped with the 85-horsepower 1.7-liter engine from the Triumph Dolomite, albeit with a Saab-exclusive Zenith-Stromberg carburetor. A 95-horsepower 1.9-liter engine replaced it in 1971. A 118-horsepower 2.0-liter engine arrived for the 1972 model year in the 99 EMS (Electronic Manual Special), which was capable of 0-62 MPH in 11.6 seconds. 99s produced from 1971 onward received the world's first headlight washers and wipers, with heated seats arriving in 1972.
Saab Sonett III
The Sonett returned as the Sonett III in 1970 with several cosmetic updates; the rear window now opened by itself rather than being a full hatchback and the mandate of a bulge-less hood with a small opening preventing full engine access except for a major service were among them. In order to adapt to US tastes, the gear level was moved from the steering column to the floor and dealer-installed air conditioning became an option. Unfortunately, increasingly stringent regulations in the US meant that a power decrease ruined the performance and gaudy 5-MPH impact bumpers ruined the looks. Disappointing sales, accelerated by the 1973 fuel crisis, led Saab to discontinue the Sonett for good in 1974 after a total of 8,368 Sonett IIIs were sold. US export of the 96 and 95 ended in 1973.
Saab 99 Turbo
The one-millionth Saab was produced in 1976. 1977 saw the arrival of the 99 Turbo, which featured a 143-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with an advanced lag-reducing turbocharger that helped it achieve a 0-62 MPH time below ten seconds, a first for Saab. By the time production of it ended in 1981, 10,607 had been sold worldwide. 1978 was the final year for the 95, with 110,527 sold; 1980 was the final year for the 96, with 547,221 made.
On May 12, 1978, Saab revealed the 1979 900, which was larger than the 99, but had the same body styles. To help with weight distribution, the engine was mounted at the front of the car, with the transmission (technically a transaxle) directly beneath it. Double-wishbone front suspension helped to deliver excellent handling and a comfortable ride. A curved, almost-vertical windshield and thin A-pillars delivered spectacular visibility and the also-curved dashboard was designed to keep everything that the driver used the most closest to the driver to prevent excessive diversion of eyes off the road. Saab's unique door design not only improved ingress and egress, but also prevented water and debris from collecting and possibly entering the cabin. Orthopedic seats and a pollen/air filter were optional. A convertible was introduced in 1986 and would soon account for roughly 20% of annual sales.
A partnership between Saab and Lancia saw the arrival of the Saab-Lancia 600 in 1981, a rebadged Lancia Delta sold exclusively in Sweden until 1987. Of the mere 6,419 sold, just 159 are left, with 12 still being daily driven.
Much more successful was the 9000, introduced in 1984 and created in a partnership with Fiat and Saab that also brought the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and Alfa Romeo 164. That year, the 99 was replaced the by the 90, which was a 900 from the A-pillar backward and a 99 from the A-pillar forward; it was discontinued in 1987 after just 25,360 had been sold; 588,643 99s were sold. A facelifted 900 replaced the 600 and 90.
The 9000 was designed with a greater emphasis on safety, with improved front and side impact protection compared to the Croma. It was available as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. From 1988, all 9000 trim levels were equipped with Saab Information Display, which showed fuel consumption, range, alternator output voltage, outside temperature, and lowest battery voltage during ignition. If the outside temperature fell between −3 and 3 °C (27 to 37 °F), the temperature display automatically issued a "black ice" warning. The system could also detect if a door was open or if an exterior light needed servicing. Pyrotechnic seat belt tensioners for the front seats were introduced in 1988.
Saab 900 convertible
End of chapter 2