Somewhere in the mountains in the east of France. Twenty years ago. To be accurate, Saturday, the 31st of October 1998. The day when my passion for Saab cars started. The day my parents custom-ordered their brand-new Saab 9-3 from our local Saab dealership. As a 11 year-old kid who loves cars, what a great moment!
A few months before, Saab didn’t meant a lot to me: I remember a neighbor who drove a black Saab 900, but I wasn’t particularly attracted. No. I was more a french cars enthusiast: my favorite game was to play behind the wheel on all the cars I had access, and because my family had not yet exotic tastes, I was mostly familiar with Renaults from the nineties.
But one day, Dad decided it was time to change and went to the Saab dealer. The whole purchase experience was perfect: I got all the brochures, posters and goodies available from the salesman, and my parents were treated like real premium customers despite the poor old Renault they had at the time. The dealer gave them access to a lot of test cars, not only the entry-level 9-3 they wanted, but also the most powerful versions as well as the 9-5 flagship sedan. The day they ordered the car, they even test drove the personal car of the salesman, for the whole day!
In Europe, the Saab 9-3 was launched in the beginning of 1998 and was a major redesign of the 1994 GM-based 900. Saab claimed that 1100 changes were made but the underpinnings were still derived from the Opel Vectra and that somewhat tarnished the reputation of the car for the core Saab enthusiasts. Anyway, the result was a nice car, with distinctive lines and rather powerful engines. The range was wide, from the 130hp naturally-aspirated 2.0 to the 200hp turbocharged Sport version. Aero was not yet in the game. The 9-3 was also the very first Saab to be powered by a Diesel engine.
My parents chose a mid-level 2.0t engine (note the minus « t » which stands for low pressure turbo) with a few optional extras: a rather bland silver metallic paint, fog lights, alarm and CD player. Despite my insistence, they didn’t made the step up to the more luxury SE package, with leather, alloy wheel and burl walnut fascia. I must admit that the Saab was expensive, even the base model.
In 1998, the 9-3 was already a rather old car, and somewhat poorly equipped in standard. There was no futuristic technology available, like automatic windshield wipers or satellite navigation that started to spread among less exotic brands. Fit and finish was barely adequate as well. But as a young boy, I loved all the quirks the car had: headlight wipers, the console-mounted ignition key, the horn-sound when we closed the car with the remote, the Night Panel button, the « Fasten your seat belt » warning light, the power antenna… Still today, I’m fond of those things
After a very long wait, my parents took delivery of their Saab on March 1999. The ownership of the car was rather flawless: despite a climate control screen changed under warranty, the three-year experience was great. My parents appreciated the comfort of the beautiful seats, the nice stereo, huge trunk and the power of the engine. They added original Saab alloy wheels (yes, the car was delivered with steelies and wheel covers). The car was pretty expensive to maintain: the parts cost a lot of money, and the labor was…premium, too.
One thing that was incredible was the attention Saab paid to their customers. Not only we received the quarterly Saab magazine for five years, but we were invited at least twice a year to prestigious events, like testing the Aero models on a track. The dealer even wrote us greetings cards.
But every nice moment comes to an end, and by the end of the year 2001, Mom and Dad were attracted by a much more modern compact car, the Peugeot 307. The Saab could not compete with those new rigs, loaded with electronic features. So my lovely car was traded at the Peugeot dealership and was sold to auction. I guess somebody bought it for a fraction of its original price on a buy-here pay-here lot…
Fast forward to 2019, I am now 32-year old, and I still have the brochures, posters and goodies the kind salesman gave me, plus a lot of others, collected up to 2011 when the brand disappeared. And of course my very clear souvenirs of those moments.
A few examples of the extensive commercial material from Saab circa 1999-2000.
Oh, by the way, I personally owned two Saabs, but that’s a different story….