The famous Volvo 1800 actually came about thanks to another unusual partnership in the earlier, and lesser known, P1900. In 1953, Volvo commissioned California-based fiberglass body producer Glasspar to help make a sports car based on the 544. A few were made, but changes in leadership ultimately killed the project.
The idea was reborn in the 1800 and design moved from California to Italy, where prototypes for the new sport concept were produced by Frua. Frua couldn’t handle large-scale production, though, so Volvo took the prototypes to Karmann in Germany. Though it initially agreed to produce the car, Volkswagen’s contract with Karmann to produce the competitor Ghia ruled it out. Stymied, Volvo turned to Jensen in England after exploring some other dead-end options. Jensen’s production possibilities looked promising to Volvo, but ultimately Jensen didn’t have the capacity to produce the bodies. An agreement was struck with Scottish Pressed Steel, which then produced the P1800 bodies so poorly that a very frustrated Volvo ended up moving production back to Sweden in 1962. The renamed 1800S (no longer with a “P”) signified the changeover.
But regardless of how many masications they went through or who was producing it on any given day, one thing remained certain – the 1800 is one of the best looking cars to come out of Sweden and was an unusually round peg from a notoriously square manufacturer:
So the GM-takeover of SAAB is to be completely lamented? Not so fast. A few really cool vehicles came about as a result of SAAB’s combined efforts with other automakers; the 9000 is probably the best example, but the Viggen, the ‘SAABaru’ 9-2X, and 9-5 Aero are also popular alternatives to the normal German performance rides out there. Today, though, I want to take a look at what many consider the low point of SAAB’s GM connection and try to unearth a diamond in the rough – because there was one.
The ‘Trollblazer’ was just that; a SAABafied version of GM’s GMT360 Trailblazer. It was really just a light reskin of the vehicle and was even assembled in Ohio. That doesn’t sound too exciting, as indeed the Trailblazer was not the shining star of GM’s catalog nor its best example of vehicle dynamics. But late in the run, GM upped the game with the ‘SS’ version of the ‘Blazer, which added a 400 horsepower Corvette-sourced LS2, giant wheels, and suspension and body tweeks that somehow made the mundane grocery-getter instantly cool. And for good measure, just over 600 were changed into SAAB 9-7X ‘Aero’ models:
If the Volvo V70 from yesterday moved the company into a new performance level and group of buyers with a modern performance platform, this SAAB 900 represents the last throes of Swedish independence. The 900 was introduced in 1978 and production ran all the way until 1994 and it was replaced by the Vetra-based 900NG, but the reality is that it was a development of the earlier 99 that was introduced in 1968. Yet somehow the 900 still looked as futuristic and different in 1992 as it did in 1982, or even 1972 for that matter. And though the chassis was rather dated by the Grunge-era, you wouldn’t know it stepping into one. These were solidly-built, well-engineered cars that dared to think differently, yet worked well. SAAB did an excellent job incorporating (and going above and beyond) safety regulations of the day, and the 900s integrated these features arguably much better than most despite their rather small production numbers. And, they were steadily upgraded over their production to breathe new life into the aging DNA.
Such is the case here, with this later 900S Hatchback. The ‘S’ introduced the 16V head on the backwards-mounted B201 2.0-liter inline-four to create the B202. Power jumped from a modest 116 horsepower to a slightly-less modest 128 horsepower. But in 1991, SAAB upped the ante again with a new 2.1-liter version called the B212. With another 10 horsepower, performance was at least on par with most of its contemporaries, and the 900’s low center of gravity belied its looks; these were good handling cars and offered great all-weather performance despite their front-drive only platform.
Of course, it was inside where the 900 really shined, offering copious interior space with a massive amount of storage available in the rear. I had a friend with one of these at the same time that I owned a Mk.II Golf, and the fit, finish, ride quality, and cabin space was so far above that of the Volkswagen, it felt as though I was in a luxury car. Today, clean examples of the 900 are harder to find, but this one looks nice:
There’s a running joke here at GCFSB regarding Volvos and SAABs. Without exception, every time we post one someone comments either here or on our Facebook page that those two manufacturers aren’t German. It doesn’t really matter that we explain nearly every time that though we know this, we still enjoy to look at a super Swede from time to time since – let’s face it – a majority of people on Facebook don’t actually read the articles that are posted, but rather just react to the headlines. Now, we could actually get into a discussion about how the Swedes are actually a Germanic based tribe if you go back far enough, or how many of their engineering principles fall in line with those of their Southern neighbors. We could mention that many of the newer Volvos and SAABs actually utilized German derived chassis from either Ford Europe or GM’s Opel division.
In the case of today’s ride, I’m not sure that matters much. We love colorful cars, we love wagons, we love performance wagons, and we love colorful Volvo performance wagons. So what do we have, but a Flash Green Volvo V70R to consider: