| AMSTERDAM/STOCKHOLM, April 29
AMSTERDAM/STOCKHOLM, April 29 For an enthusiast
like Karl Ask, you can never have enough Saabs.
The 23-year-old Swede has 11 already -- including a Saab 93
and Saab 95, featuring the two-stroke engines -- and has his eye
on the Saab 92, an earlier and rarer model.
But with Saab's financial woes once again threatening its
future, fans of the brand wonder whether even the newer models
could become collectors' pieces sooner rather than later.
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Saab's production plant in Trollhattan, southwest Sweden,
ground to a standstill earlier this month when suppliers stopped
delivering parts because they said they had not been paid.
For years, Saab was one of the crown jewels in the business
empire of Sweden's Wallenberg family.
But it has struggled financially, failing to make money for
the past two decades, and faltered under General Motors (GM.N)
which sold out last year to Dutch firm Spyker Cars SPYKR.AS.
Annual sales peaked at 131,000 in 2006, slumping to a meagre
31,700 cars last year -- less than a tenth of long-time rival
Volvo's annual sales of 380,000.
Spyker, with a market cap of $110 million and shareholders
including Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Co., now wants to
bring back a Russian businessman, Vladimir Antonov, as an
investor. It is also talking to potential partners and funding
sources in China, which rescued long-time rival Volvo.
Saab is still one of Sweden's best-known brands. It has a
devoted following among fans who enthuse at length about the
cars' eccentricities and early innovations, from pioneering
turbocharging to ignition placement and heated seats.
"Some people think they are a bit boring, but I think Saabs
are special. When you drive a 95, people stare at you and give
you the thumbs up," said Ask, head of Sweden's Saab fan club
which has a membership of about 2,500.
"It's a quirky little car, an acquired taste," said Nic
Schellekens, of the Netherlands Saab fan club.
"It used to be your local solicitor, doctor, or notary
public who drove a Saab, but that has changed and now the people
in the club are from all walks of life."
Like the Mini, the Beetle, and the Citroen DS, the early
Saab models have a distinctive silhouette, with aerodynamic
contours thanks to Saab's origins in the aerospace industry.
Then there's the ignition system. Saab put it near the
gearstick, rather than the steering wheel, as a safety feature,
so that the key doesn't plunge into the driver's kneecap in a
Others go for the turbocharger -- a compressor powered by a
turbine which is driven by the engine's exhaust gases -- which
gives a significant boost to the engine's horsepower.
"It's the performance and its powerful engine," said Mikael
Ryking, 40, a manager at a mobile operator in Sweden who has
owned four Saabs over the years.
"You don't really see it on the outside. It's easy to tune
it up and turn it into a monster. My car that I have now is
equal to a BMW M5 so it's like you can take an ordinary Saab,
modify it and you get something like a real top of the line BMW
at half the price," he added.
Or, as Top Gear presenter and motoring journalist Jeremy
Clarkson put it when he wrote about the Saab 9-3 estate a few
years ago, "It's a special forces sniper. Quiet. Unassuming. And
invisible. Until you pull the trigger."
That rectified earlier mistakes in the Saab design, in
"In the eighties, for instance, your Saab would get from 40
to 70 faster than a Ferrari Testarossa, but so bad was the
torque steer when that mountain of torque hit the front wheels,
you had no real say where you'd be when 70 was achieved," he
"Now you can put your foot down wherever and whenever the
mood takes you, and whoomph, everyone within range will be left
wondering why the car they never noticed in the first place has
(Editing by Erica Billingham)