It could be argued that I’ve never grown up, well mentally anyway – I’m far from being Peter Pan (I’m not ginger to start with), however when I was literally ‘growing up’ I wanted to be a fighter pilot. The thought of cruising the earth at warp speed seemed a delightful idea until one fateful day, when some dream shatterer proclaimed: “You’ll have to go to war you know”. Suddenly this well crafted career choice from a six year old was shot down. Then developed the fear of flying, the poor eyesight and technophobia – not exactly Top Gun material (although I do feel the need, “The need for speed!”)
Now I’m older and mildly wiser than my six year old self, I can nip to my local Saab dealer and pick up a luxury 9-3 and have a fighter jet for the road – sort of. Speed is very nice indeed you see and Saab cars are a bi-product from the Swedish giant that started life building planes. With this in mind let’s take a wander down memory lane and talk all things 9-3.
The original Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Aeroplane Company – must’ve picked up Swedish from my hours spent lost in Ikea) was established in 1937 with the remit of building planes for the Swedish Air Force. However, with World War Two drawing to a close, the company decided on the production of passenger cars to prolong its business. Its very first car, the 92, so called as it was the 92nd design in Saab’s history was perhaps unsurprisingly the most aerodynamic car available – although it couldn’t take off.
By 1970, Saab had built and Saab dealers had sold their 500,000 car. In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, Saab became renowed for turbocharging their cars to give customers the formidable cocktail of power and aerodynamic efficiency. As a result sales throughout the 80s were strong, until the competition caught on and Saab suddenly found themselves with more cars than they could sell and a heap of debt. In 1990, General Motors snapped up the company, initially with a 50% share with Swedish company Investor AB, before acquiring the entire business. With this steady footing, Saab made a profit in 1995 – its first since 1988 and with its new-found confidence and finances, the 9-3 was born.
Replacing the outgoing and profit making 900 model, the 9-3 was launched in 1998 and can be found nestling either new or used at any Saab dealership. The car featured curvy lines and innovative features including the ‘Night Panel’ which only lit up crucial instruments on the dashboard at night to lessen distraction. Both the 9-3 and its big brother the 9-5 were the first cars in the world to achieve the maximum side impact safety score, based on NCAP testing.
The first generation also featured the fighter jet for the road – the Viggen. Named after its namesake that actually is a plane and meaning ‘thunderbolt’, the Viggen was a madcap limited edition return to Saab’s glory days of turbocharging. Less than 3,000 were produced worldwide and critics complained of torque steer in low gears due to its uncontrolled power. In an effort to keep things on the black stuff, a special spoiler was fitted to add 50% more downforce and a revised bodykit reduced drag incredibly by a further 8% over the already slippery design. Enough statistics though, put simply, if like me you’ve ever wanted to be a fighter pilot but have a host of reasons why you can’t, a 230bhp Viggen will sort that. Just think when you’re next asked by the pretty lady in the office what you drive, you can say “I drive a thunderbolt”. Just don’t put your foot down too rapidly or the critics will say “told you so” as you’re climbing out of the hedge with a rapid termination of relations with office lady.
If the above is too vulgar though, the 9-3 second generation and facelifted 2008 models may be to your liking. The best selling derivative is the convertible, under the bonnet of which is a turbo tuned in three stages depending on how quickly you want to get a speeding ticket. Unlike the Viggen however, the second generation goes about its business in a grown up way and is suitable in equal measure for speed freaks and businessmen. Once again the 9-3 features a host of gizmos – particularly ones that will save your life, such as head restraints that reduce whiplash. Unfortunately ejector seats are not listed as an option in the brochure.
So there we have it – ten years on the 9-3 continues to deliver the very Saab combination of opulent aerodynamic design and council estate ferocity under the bonnet. Saab is also the exclusive royal warrant holder as appointed by the King of Sweden, so you get a crown on the badge too – take that BMW man.