Saab Convertible celebrates its 25th anniversary

Article by Christian Andrei, on May 11, 2011

It has been 25 years since Saab delivered the first batch of Saab 900 Convertibles to the United States. That year, 1986, marked the entry of the Saab Convertible in the US. Since then, three generations and nearly 300,000 units of Saab Convertible have been transferred to the hands of satisfied customers around the world, establishing itself as a global icon for the Saab brand. Indeed, Saab did not start the convertible segment, but its offering played a key role in leading a small and declining market niche.

The Saab Convertible changed how people see four-seater open top motoring by infusing flair and real-world credibility. Likewise, the Convertible's mystique was further boosted by the fact that this car was designed to let occupants embrace the warm weather but it is being assembled in a land covered with snow and ice.

The charm of the Saab Convertible has been its all-season adaptability – which allows it to be driven no matter what the conditions are, whether during rain or shine, any day and any time. In fact, this capability has been a hit in markets in Europe where the weather is not that conducive for top down driving like United Kingdom, Sweden and Holland. In these markets, the Saab Convertible has accounted for up to 50 percent of overall segment sales.

The astounding success of the Saab Convertible for more than 25 years is one of the factors that helped shaped the automotive industry. It provided an inspiration for many carmakers to produce and offer more convertible models. To pay tribute to this two-and-a-half decades of success, Saab is introducing the new Independence Edition Convertible, which is also celebrating the carmaker’s rebirth as independent company. Saab first unveiled the Saab Convertible at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1983 as a 900 concept car featuring a powered soft-top. At the time, most convertibles on the road featured awkward lines, no thanks to the requirements of having to adapt a sedan body shape. On the other hand, the Saab Convertible was beautifully different.

Saab did not have to sacrifice styling just to provide the Convertible with a distinct bespoke design. Its stowed hood didn’t prevent the Convertible from having enough room in the back to comfortably accommodate two adults. The concept was so well-received by the public, press and dealers that taking it into production was the next logical thing to do. However, Saab was thinking twice about committing resources to producing a car that is quite distinct from its other production models.

There was also the need to make sure that a production version has a good build and is made from quality materials. Saab eventually decided to green-light the project, commissioning Finland-based Valmet Automotive, the same coachbuilder that assembled the concept car. The assembly lines went rolling and the first 400 Saab Convertibles were already earmarked for the US. Demand for the Saab Convertible was so overwhelming that orders were placed even without doing a test drive, and dealers had a difficulty in securing demonstrator cars.

Later in 1986, Saab commenced sales of the Saab Convertible in Europe, and at the time, demand was exceeding production capacity. In fact, Saab had a 12-month waiting list. As standard, the Saab 900 Convertible featured a powered roof and leather upholstery. Its four-season soft-top -- featuring three layers – proved to be very durable and weatherproof.

Unlike its segment rivals that have a plastic substitute that is susceptible to cracking and fogging, the Saab Convertible featured a heated, glass rear screen. Moreover, the heater for the Saab Convertible is powerful enough to allow top down motoring even in cold weather.

At launch, the Saab Convertible was powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that develops up to 175 hp. Saab then expanded the Convertible range to include full and light-pressure turbo engines as well as more model specifications. Likewise, the range included top-of-the-line Aero variants. In 1992, Saab introduced a new finish for the Convertible – the Monte Carlo Yellow color. In 1993, Saab launched an all-new, 900 range. A year after, Saab introduced the second generation of the Convertible under the banner: “We didn't invent the Convertible, but we made a Saab of it.” The second-generation Convertible as well as its Saab 9-3 evolution (1998) was designed in parallel with its hard-top siblings.

For this generation, the Convertible featured a completely flat rear deck and the soft-top, which was soon to be hydraulically powered instead of electrically powered.

When folded, the soft-top was housed under a flush-fitting 'tonneau' cover. Users could hitch up a soft-top storage well in the trunk to secure more trunk room. Likewise, Saab has made is easier to lock the soft top to the windshield header rail. Almost a decade since the launch of the second-generation Convertible, Saab introduced the current generation soft-top in 2003. This generation features the fastest soft-top operation in the segment and has a self-raising, soft-top storage well – CargoSET. It also features a distinct 'two phase' automatic tonneau movement for faster roof deployment as well as automatic climate control adjustment for a 'top-down' heating mode.

In addition, the third-generation Saab Convertible is endowed with color-keyed interior headlining, distinct Hydroblox water repellent textile seat upholstery. In terms of safety, the present-generation Saab Convertible was the first soft-top car to earn a maximum, five-star EuroNCAP rating, thanks to its 'DynaCage' rollover protection that includes pop-up rear roll bars and integrated front seatbelts. For this generation, power is provided by gasoline, diesel or Saab BioPower turbo engines. Production of the third-generation Saab Convertible is done at the carmaker’s Trollhättan facility.

Press Release

25th anniversary of launch of Saab Convertible

- Driving force behind growth of convertible segment
- Established open-top car as practical, all-year-round transportation

It all began in 1986, when the first car in a production run of just 400 Saab 900 Convertibles for the US market was delivered. Now, three generations later, almost 300,000 Saab Convertibles have been sold around the world and the drop-top from Scandinavia is established as a global icon for the brand.

Whilst Saab did not invent the segment, its Convertible has played a leading role in growing what was once a small, market niche in decline. It injected panache and real-world credibility by changing perceptions about the feasibility of four-seater, open top motoring. The fact that a car designed to exploit sunshine and warm weather should be built in a land of snow and ice added to the Convertible's mystique and its growing cult status.

Key to the Saab Convertible's abiding appeal has been its 'four-season' capability. Here was a car that worked all-year-round, and was as comfortable and enjoyable to use in sunshine or rain and hot or cold conditions.

In European markets are not known for their clement weather, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Holland , the Saab Convertible has accounted for as much as 50 per cent of total sales in the segment. Despite spending most of its time with the roof up and the heater on, this was a convertible that was not merely as a 'second' car, to be used sparingly when the sun came out.

Over 25 years, the Saab Convertible's success has helped to mould the shape of the automotive landscape. Today, most manufacturers offer convertible models and it was the success of the soft-top from Saab that provided their inspiration. The launch of the Independence Edition Convertible, celebrating Saab's rebirth as independent company, is now also a fitting tribute the Saab soft-top's first 25 years.

Show sensation
The Saab Convertible was born at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1983 when Saab surprised the automotive world by unveiling a 900 concept car with a powered soft-top.

Most of the few convertibles on the road at that time had awkward lines, reflecting the requirements of adapting a sedan bodyshape. But the Saab was different. This was a Convertible that looked good and appeared to be a unique 'bespoke' design without styling compromises. And, despite a stowed hood, there was still enough room in the back to accommodate two adults in comfort. The four season, four-seater car had been born.

Overwhelming reaction from press, public and dealers alike made a decision to take the car into production almost inevitable. But Saab was cautious about committing resources to making a car very different from its other production models.

The need to fulfill the Convertible's all-weather promise placed an uncompromising requirement on good build quality and materials. The decision was taken to use the same expert coachbuilders who had assembled Saab's show car, Valmet Automotive. Based in Uusikaupunki in Finland, Valmet is one of the world's most northerly car plants.

The first 400 cars were built for the US market. Demand was so great that people placed orders without driving the car, just as well because dealers found it difficult to keep hold of demonstrators in the face of such great demand. By the time the Convertible went on sale in Europe later in 1986 (as model year 1987), demand exceeded production capacity and a 12-month waiting list built up.

The Saab 900 Convertible was always equipped with a powered roof as standard, as well as leather upholstery. Here was an open-air car designed to withstand the harshest of Scandinavian winters. Saab had raised the bar in automotive design, showing that four season soft-top driving really was a practical proposition.

The triple layer soft-top was extremely durable, snug-fitting and totally weatherproof. Unlike many of its competitors, the Convertible had a heated, glass rear screen, not a plastic substitute prone to cracking and fogging. The exceptional power of the car's heater also encouraged the enjoyment of top down motoring in cold weather.

After its launch with a 175 hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, the Convertible range was quickly expanded to include full and light-pressure turbo engines, more model specifications and top-of-the-line Aero variants. The launch of a stunning, Monte Carlo Yellow color in 1992 turned even more heads.

Second incarnation
Following the introduction of an all-new, 900 range in autumn 1993, a sleek, second generation Convertible arrived the following year under the banner: 'We didn't invent the Convertible, but we made a Saab of it'.

The new generation Convertible, and its Saab 9-3 evolution in 1998, now benefited from being part a new model program right from the outset, It was designed in parallel with its fixed-head stablemates, as its well-integrated lines demonstrated.

Saab designers now achieved a completely flat rear deck and the soft-top, soon to be hydraulically rather than electrically-powered, was accommodated under a flush-fitting 'tonneau' cover, which automatically operated as part of the soft-top mechanism. A flexible soft-top storage well in the trunk could be hitched up to provide more trunk space, and locking to the windshield header rail was made easier.

Third incarnation
Launched in 2003, the current third generation Saab Convertible range brought a host of innovations: the fastest soft-top operation in its segment; a unique self-raising, soft-top storage well (CargoSET); color-keyed interior headlining; a unique 'two phase' automatic tonneau movement for quick roof deployment; unique Hydroblox water repellent textile seat upholstery, and automatic climate control adjustment for a 'top-down' heating mode.

With 'DynaCage' rollover protection, including pop-up rear roll bars and integrated front seatbelts, the current Saab Convertible was the first soft-top car to achieve a maximum, five-star EuroNCAP rating.

It now offers a choice of gasoline, diesel or Saab BioPower turbo engines and is built at Saab's state-of-the-art Trollhättan plant, following the transfer of production from Magna Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik, near Graz, Austria.

More sophisticated, but just as surprisingly practical as its forebears, the Saab 9-3 Convertible carries forward a rich tradition. It has always been ..... more than a Convertible.

25 years of Saab Convertible production:
First generation (1986 – 1993): 48,894 units
Second generation (1994 –2002): 149,145 units
Third generation (2003 – ): 99,535 units *
*until April 2011

Saab 9-3 Convertible by Numbers
The latest Saab 9-3 Convertible is the result of 25 years' experience in designing and engineering soft-top automobiles. To celebrate the Saab Convertible's its first quarter century, here are a few fast facts:

3 most popular colors are: Black, Steel Grey and Silver

6 swiveling cross-braces are used in the soft-top to ensure it is tightly stretched in the raised position with a minimum of sagging

7 hydraulic cylinders are used to execute four different movements in the operation of the soft-top.

11 manual heat settings replace the automatic climate control when the soft-top is down. When it is back up, the climate control function is automatically reinstated, complete with any previously saved settings.

20 seconds is the time required to fully deploy the powered soft-top with the engine is running, making it among the fastest-acting in the premium convertible segment.

21 degrees is the ideal back-rest inclination for rear passenger comfort and this was a requirement for the 9-3 Convertible, despite the packaging constraints of soft-top stowage in the trunk.

26 meters is the total length of the hydraulic hoses used in the roof system
30 km/h is the maximum vehicle speed at which the soft-top can be raised. There's no need to come to a stop to raise the roof if it starts to rain.

140 bar is the hydraulic pressure required to operate the soft-top - 56 times greater than normal tire pressure.

181 is the number of moving parts in the soft-top mechanism. The main roof structure, including the front header rail, is made from magnesium to save weight.

366 is the number of Saab 9-3 Convertible Independence Editions being built
1,500 liters of water is sprayed over the Convertible's soft-top in a special chamber to check weatherproofing.

3,500 kilo, or more than twice the weight of the car, is the impressive load that the windshield header rail and its supporting A-pillars can carry. Necessary strength for rollover protection and good torsional rigidity.

Topics: saab, convertible

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