I like Saab. And I have no damned idea why.
I like Saab because I love the way it's spelled: with two As, right next to each other. Who does that? No other car company, that's for sure. But certainly the Swedes are used to this thing, what with their national anthem by ABBA, and all that. SAAB stands for Svenska Aeroplan AB, and they could have just kept it at Swedish Aeroplane Corporation (or SAC, unfortunately), but they threw in the AB. Because they're honest.
I admire that level of honesty.
I like the way it's pronounced: Saaah-buh, strong and forceful, like a Scandinavian curse word, only that word is perkele, which is not entirely Scandinavian, anyway, because the Finns once went to war over being called Scandinavians. And if they haven't, they certainly should.
I like the font. It's Helvetica. From stark Europeans I would expect nothing else.
I like how weird the first Saab looked—like a flattened tadpole wearing a bowler hat. Every Saab takes its lineage from a flattened tadpole wearing a bowler hat. Even through lashups with turbocharging, truck companies, Fiat, the evil General, Subaru, actual jets, the ground floor of evolution never truly faded for these people. Every Saab is purpose-engineered with extra weirdness, as if there was a Committee for Keeping It Weird that convened prior to every design presentation: "ok, let's see, how can we make this hatchback shape last another 40 years? Let's do a half-trunk on our sedan. Can we carry skis in it? Cross-country skis, the ones that are as long as telephone poles. Why can't we stick the radiator behind the engine that is, how you say, longitudinal? Ok, now do the secret handshake, and remember our mantra: FRONT WHEEL DRIVE FOREVER. Good meeting. Let's convene again in 40 years when we get bought out by some heartless corporation that fires us."
I like the interior, always shaped like a Seven. I like the Night Panel button. I like the big-assed oval air vent. I like the goofy single cupholder that unfurls from the dashboard like a swan's graceful wing. I like the center ignition key, which "reduces knee injuries," according to the brochure of the 9-7X, the only Swedish part of that abomination, a gussied-up Trailblazer that was the automotive equivalent of sending an 80s high school quarterback to Math Camp.
Saab is like a semi-reliable Citroen from a country that's even weirder. Credit for that comparison goes to Antti Kautonen, a Real Genuine Person From Finland (and also occasional Saab and Citroen owner), leading me to assume that all this Saab love is really just Northern European propaganda to steel myself against the Russians.
"The Saab feels like a big car until a real big car shows up."
I like the torque steer. I like how first gear lasts about 3 milliseconds before you're already in redline. I drove a friend's 9000 Aero, above—chipped, Stage III, "savage"—pumping out 280 horsepower through frightened and flustered front tires. And let me tell you, friend, it was magical. Feeling the front wheels squirm and squeak in a straight line like a dog pawing its way across a hardwood floor is an experience that never ceases to entertain. Floor the throttle from a standstill and it's like a carnival ride that never quite takes off. It is hilarious. The Swedes may have short dicks, but they certainly have a sense of humor.
Later, I drove his 1973 Saab 96, with "VIGGEN" plates. "The approximate speed of molasses," I believe I said, "but less deadly."
"It's like commuting to work on a quagga," he said. "You know, that extinct horse zebra looking thing."
That should tell you about your average Saab aficionado.
Maybe I over-romanticize Saab like it's Belushi-era SNL or something. But I like Saab—that is, to say, I like what Saab was, what Saab represented—because it is an automotive vestige: the quintessential underdog, designed for underdogs. Not meathead jocks or aggro banker types, not rednecks or traveling salesmen, not Fast-n-Furious imbeciles or stats-citing motorsports nerds, but nerds in general.
(And occasionally Eighties rappers. And despite the convertible becoming a sorority-girl status symbol. But I digress.)
I liked Victor Muller, who heroically felt the same way, and it nearly destroyed him. (He went back home to Spain, amidst the bougainvillea, and now feels better.) Even under hapless corporate ownership, when the goons ran the pencilnecks out of town, when they had no idea how to friggin' sell the thing against a BMW 3-Series, when Saab made the transition from weird-cool to weird-irrelevant, Saab still Kept It Weird. (Reportedly they're electrifying the thirteen-year old 9-3 in China, and how much weirder does that get?) Kurt Vonnegut is the Patron Saint of Saab, and his spirit still haunts his temple in West Baahnstable, and us, the pretenders, are all his wannabe-literary-leftist disciples. I wanted my father, the professor, to buy one and start wearing tweed coats to all of his classes—the New England prep school dream, on four wheels. Please, heh heh, call me Blake. Dr. Rong is my father.
Saab: always a fighter. Saab: always outnumbered, never outgunned.