Saab has always been sort of the Henry Thoreau of the automotive world. When most cars were rear-wheel drive, Saabs were front-wheel drive. When Saab first arrived in the United States, it was the only automaker producing cars with two-cycle engines. If those unique features weren't enough, the cars looked … well, funny.
When you’re a small company, you naturally want to be noticed. While Saab’s looks and front-wheel-drive cars are more mainstreamed these days, the company still is not beyond doing things on the adventuresome side in order to get attention. A couple of recent promotional efforts serve to illustrate my point.
Two years ago I participated in Saab’s attempt to set an endurance high-speed record for its cars at NASCAR’s Talladega Speedway. During that event, the Saab 900s tested averaged speeds of more than 150 mph for long periods, with test drivers maintaining these speeds for 25,000 miles, virtually nonstop. To further underscore the ruggedness of the new Saab 9-3s this past winter, eight drivers drove two cars from the northern tip of Alaska straight through to Key West, averaging 60 mph - despite blizzards, miles of axle-deep Canadian mud, and Miami spring-break traffic.
The new 1999 Saab 9-3 (pronounced "nine three") has a freshened grille with a wing-shaped center profile. While strengthening the family tie with the uplevel Saab 9-5, the new grille also emphasizes Saab's origins as an aircraft manufacturer. Long before the "aero" look was in, Saab engineers looked across the plant at the company’s aircraft division and began introducing streamlined car bodies. This not only helped improve the fuel mileage; it also resulted in a styling statement that was nearly as distinctive as the Volkswagen Beetle’s.
Saabs find home in New England
Saab owners - though a considerably smaller group than VW Bug owners - tended to be just as devout and loyal to the brand. The first solid pocket of Saab advocates cropped up in the New England states during the ‘50s. This was partially due to the noticeable benefits of front-wheel drive when navigating cars on snow and ice, plus the ease with which the early two-cycle engines started in the extreme cold. So the durability and value of the Saabs resulted in repeat sales in that region.