The Carchive: The '84 Saab 90


Time once more to score all four corners in the Bingo game of Automotive History that is The Carchive, the second and last time this week.

From Auburn Hills on Monday we catapult ourselves overseas to touch down in Nykoping, Sweden, to the headquarters of Saab Car Division, to investigate the Saab 90; a car which until a few years ago I genuinely believed was just a 900 where somebody had tried to steal the badge and snapped part of it off in the process. But no.


Over the decades that The Carchive has been appearing on this here corner of the internet, we have seen brochures representing a rich variance of marketing techniques. Some use colourful language, some use lists of bewildering facts; an awful lot use creative storytelling to create some crazy, emotive lifestyle-shaped world that the customer would love to be a part of.

Here though, with the Saab 90 I present to you a brochure which seems to be, well, honourable.

“The Saab 90 is a direct descendent of the Saab 99. We have taken all the characteristics that made the Saab 99 so popular and refined them. The result is the Saab 90: an extremely safe and well-built car that won’t disappoint you even under the most demanding driving conditions”

The simple name, 90, fitted well with the 900 and the 9000, indicating some kind of progressive route through the hierarchy, and one wonders what the Saab 90000 would have been like. The 90 was, in essence, a hybrid of the 99 and the 900, with the rear section of the bigger car being mated with the front end of the 99. You can see this quite clearly when the car is viewed side-on; the nose section looks a bit like it was designed to a different scale than the rest of the car.

One thing that didn’t survive translation from 99 to 90 was any sign of a Turbocharged model, but I guess that with the 900 and the then-new 9000 there were plenty of forced-induction choices in the range already.

“A good driver will become an even better driver if there’s perfect harmony between himself and the car.”

The dashboard is undoubtedly my favourite feature of this car, everything you see being very clearly fit for purpose. Stand-out features include the prominent “Fasten seat belts” sign which remained lit until all buckles were buckled, big, clear, illuminated labels for the ventilation controls, which were big enough and simple enough to be operated by the most ham-fisted of men wearing the most warming of mittens.

If we’re honest, it all looked a bit old-fashioned by 1984 standards; the optional Phillips stereo cassette and console were clearly additionally bolted into place. But to call the dashboard dated is a bit like calling a B52 dated. Those things have been in service since the ’50s through the simple expedient of being good at what they do.

All that sensible layout was partnered by good, useful features, too. There was an automatically heated driver’s seat with a thermostatic cut-off, and the heating and ventilation system was designed to cope with “Scandinavian winters and hot summer days”.

The value of sensible designed wasn’t lost on anybody on the Saab design board, and the brochure takes pains to ensure this is recognised. In fact, the cleverness went well beyond the notions of most people. For example:

“The door sills are retracted towards the centre of the car which protects them from dirt and corrosion, and prevents trouser legs from becoming soiled”

Having clean trousers as a collateral effect of Saab ownership? Sounds good to me. Thoughtful design had long been a staple of the Scandinavians, with the renowned bounce-back bumpers making an appearance here just as with certain Nordic flying bricks. And, of course, the 90 was good at carrying stuff around, too, with 617 litres of load space out back, expanding to 1500 with the seats folded, which would admittedly have been even more practical had the 90 been a hatchback rather than a sedan coupé.

It was Finnish, anyway. Built in Uusikaupunki in a plant joint owned between Saab and Valmet, the latter concern being just as interested in Aeronautics as the our Swedish heroes, so what better alliance?

“But don’t take our word for it, we’d like you to compare it with other cars.”

Sadly, it seems that too many people did just that, and possibly decided to buy something else. Just over 20,000 of the rehashed 99 were sold in its three year career, and only officially in Europe.

Of course, if they had made a Saab 90 Turbo 16 Carlsson it would have been the greatest selling car of all time and would remain eternally sought after.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of…. who knows? National Electric Vehicle Sweden. I looked it up)

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