James Bond, Agent 007 is forever paired with Aston Martin. Every mission MI6 issues him a new model from the British marque, which he promptly destroys. These cars seem to be standard issue to British spies. But, I have to ask: What type of car would James Bond buy for himself? The answer, if you have read the novels, is a Saab 900 called the Silver Beast. James bought the car himself, and had it customized with all the standard spy options, like machine guns, grenades, and night vision. In one way, that makes the Saab 900 a lot cooler than any old Aston Martin.
Saabs have always been special cars. Early models were quirky, to say the least. I remember a friend of the family had a very old Saab that needed a special mixture of oil and another ingredient to get the car running. It was very strange at the time. Saab 99, and later the 900 were distinct due to the way they looked with their tall, rounded windshields. They gave the impression of being more than just a car, that they were a little smarter, a little more important, more mechanical, more expensive. They were the “Most Intelligent Car Ever Built.”
Saab Automobile was a small manufacturer offering aerodynamic small cars with a reputation for safety. Established in 1937 as an aircraft manufacturer, they built a line of cars that were quirky, underpowered, and aimed at a small market inSweden. That all changed on Good Friday in 1965, when the “Gudmund” project was created with the task to build a large, world class automobile that would bring Saab to new markets in Britain and the US. The car was penned by Swedish industrial designer Sixten Sason, a man who created most of the Saab models during the early years of the company, as well as aircraft, motorcycles and even Electrolux vacuum cleaners.
Unveiled in 1967, the new model was a complete break from the past, and featured a very tall, upright rounded windshield screen reminiscent of a jet fighter. The prototype was initially called the “Toad”, and included some very unique features. The engine was mounted backwards with power delivered from the crank at the front of the car, and the transaxle was mounted directly to the bottom. Other features included doors that had an undercutting sweep where the door met the undercarriage. This eliminated the stoop, or ledge in the cabin at the footing of the door. Another feature was the fact that the dashboard was laid out so the most frequently used items were close at hand. This layout placed the radio on the very top of the Saab dashboard.
It was these touches that endeared the cars to their owners. A university study concluded that Saab owners were up to 10 times more psychologically involved with their cars when compared to other brands. Kurt Vonnegut wrote extensively about his time as the first Saab dealership inMassachusetts, and many celebrities were devoted Saab owners. Saabs were reliable too, and one owner logged over one million miles on his 900.
The Saab 99 and its replacement the 900 became icons in the automotive world. People who drove Saabs were thought to be nicer, more considerate because of the car they drove, the opposite of BMW and Audi owners. As a company, Saab offered more firsts per model than almost any other brand. Some of these included the first time seatbelts offered as standard equipment, the first car with a headlight washer and wiper, the first with standard heated front seats, and at least 30 more.
With a financial future that looks very bleak, Saab may not be around forever. As one of my favorite cars, and the true choice of James Bond, I think the 900 deserves a special place in automotive history. Less sporty then a BMW, and with less cache than a Mercedes Benz, the Saab was the intelligent choice for the intelligent driver and a true automotive classic.
Photos courtesy of NetCarShow.com
Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond