Against all odds
By Lou Ann Hammond, Tue, 4 Apr 2006 08:00:00 PDT
We see all the commercials today about Saab being started by jet fighters, but cars are born one at a time and the Saab convertible was born by Robert Sinclair 20 years ago. Robert "Bob" Sinclair was Saab's USA President from 1979-1991. According to Sinclair, the convertible had all but disappeared from the US market in the late '70s. Sinclair was looking for ways to differentiate Saab in the marketplace. Convertibles were not seriously a part of his thinking, since there was no way to make the Saab 3-door into a convertible, because the basic architecture did not lend itself to a rag top.
In 1982 Sinclair was flown over to Trolhattan and whisked away to Vanersborg where a 2 door notchback sedan was unveiled. The Saab was designed for the lower discretionary income markets; there was "no nothing", no leather upholstery, no air conditioning, no power, no automatic transmissions, no sound system; stamped steel wheels only. Sinclair told the top brass in Sweden that it wouldn't work in the United States. "I told them, Look, if you're ordering me to take the cars obviously I'll take them. I'm a good soldier. But I'm telling you it's wrong for our market"
Later in the year Sweden called Sinclair and told him that they were having problems with his orders for the next three years. Sinclair got the message and negotiated a deal that would include everything he wanted on the two-door including leather, air conditioning, metallic paint and, yes, a cloth convertible.
A what, the Sweds said? At that point, Sinclair knew his dream was coming true. Oh, and one more thing; Heinz Prechter, American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) in Southgate Michigan, would create the convertible. Heinz Prechter, according to Sinclair, had been wanting to do a convertible for a European company, "a proper European car" as we were told.
Prechter's pearl white 1983 Saab 900 convertible concept was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The car was such a huge success that photographers were standing on top of the Volvo car in the next stand. Sinclair was asked to sit in the car with Georg Karnsund, CEO, Saab Scania. They got in the car and Karnsund looked at Sinclair and said, "I guess we have to build it, don't we?" Production of the convertible started in 1986 at the Saab-Valmet factory in Finland (now known as Valmet Automotive Oy). The factory currently produces both the Porsche Boxter and Porsche Cayman automobiles.
Today, Saab is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible. There are many competitors for the new Saab 9-3 Aero convertible and the competition is stiff; BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Volvo C70 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. I drove both Saab models, the 2.0 turbo at $37,220 and the 2.8 Aero 20 Year Edition at $44,615.
The "20 Years Edition" made its world debut at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show in January 2006. It is distinguished by the electric blue metallic paint finish that matches the tonneau cover, door trim and door handles in electric blue metallic. The Aero is further upgraded with "double five-spoke" 17-inch alloy wheels.
A new 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 with 250 horsepower with either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions has been added for 2006 at an MSRP of $44,615 (including destination charge). Impressive about the 2.8 was the 258 l.b-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm. The same engine is used in the 9-3 Aero Sport sedan and the 9-3 Aero Sport Combi, station wagon. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 210 horsepower and 221 lb.-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. The 2.8 6-cylinder gets 28 mpg on the highway (presumably about 20 in the city) while the 2.0 4-cylinder gets 23 city/28 highway with a 28 combined mpg.
There are notable difference between the 2.0 4-cylinder and the 2.8 6-cylinder engine. The 4-cylinder has direct ignition for its fuel delivery versus distributerless ignition on the 6-cylinder. One of the holy grails of an internal combustion engine is to burn all of the fuel in the combustion chamber (cylinder). This results in an increase of fuel economy and power. The ignition system is also different; the 2.0 has a Saab Trionic-8 while the new 2.8 has a Bosch Motronic ME 9.6. The valvetrain on the 2.0 is a dual double overhead chain-driven camshafts, 4 valves per cylinder, dual counter-rotating balance shafts while the 2.8 6-cylinder is a dual overhead cam, 4 valves per cylinder, continuously variable valve timing.
The steering was a matter of debate between my buddy Warren and myself. I thought the steering could have been a little tighter, Warren thought it was just right. I wanted more of a sports car feel going through the curves, and instead I got a small feeling of understeer.
Just like its predecessor two decades ago, the "20 Years Edition" convertible is limited to 400 units and individually numbered for the United States market.
In January, 2006 Jerry York, now a board member of General Motors, said that he thought General Motors should sell Hummer and Saab. Saab just posted their US Sales for the first quarter of 2006; up 12 percent, the best climb ever. Hummer had quite a good quarter as well, up 187 percent. How does that old saying go, all press is good press, just remember to spell my name correctly. Saab's new products with the old Saab style haven't hurt either.