News arrived recently that all chance of a car carrying a Saab badge any time soon appears to have disappeared. It turns out that the aerospace company that owns the name has withdrawn the licence from the company that had looked like it might one day produce an electric Saab road car. Is it a heresy to say I won’t miss it?
JUL 29th 2016
Thank Frankel it's Friday – The car firms I really miss, and some I don't
Although showing signs of improvement towards the time production stopped five years ago and despite the fact the stillborn brand new 9-3 showed considerable potential, the truth is I never drove a Saab that came close to leading its class. And I don’t just mean the disappointing Saab badged General Motors cars, but also the Saabs I was meant to love, like the original 99s and 900s. To me being curious and quirky was never any substitute for being good, not for a family car at least. What I remember most about these early cars was how easily they broke during testing, sufficiently so that at Autocar we never took one to the test track on our own, such was the likelihood otherwise having to try to get from Millbrook to Teddington on the train.
By contrast, I miss Rover. Yes, they made some awful cars in the 1990s but some great ones too. I remember being stunned by how much better than its Honda Concerto sibling was the Rover 214, thanks mainly to its world-beating K-series engine. And the 75 was a class-leading car, so much better than the Jaguar X-type and stymied only by BMW’s dismissive attitude towards it. Even the much maligned Metro was hard to beat in face-lifted, K-series powered form. And I liked also most of the MGs it made in this period, particularly the ZR, ZS and ZTs that came towards the end. And the rear drive ZT V8 with its Mustang engine ranks today among the most entertaining saloon cars I’ve ever driven.
I’d like Triumph to return, and think that when applied to a properly engineered rival to the Mazda MX-5 it could succeed. I know that many of its later cars – the Spitfire, TR6, TR7 and so on – weren’t exactly world leaders, but it’s one of those brands like Alfa Romeo that has a curious ability to survive a long line of substandard products and still be inherently appealing.
So many other car companies have died during my time in this job: Austin, Daimler, Jensen, Marcos, Panther, Reliant, Talbot and TVR, and those were just the British ones, so it’s good to see that the last of these appears set for a reboot and that some have started, including Ariel, BAC, Elemental, Zenos and, effectively, McLaren as well. Over in America, there’s been carnage: Plymouth, Mercury, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Hummer – all have been consigned to the history books in the last few years.
But I guess the marque I miss most is one that still technically exists. I find it lowering that, today, the only Lancia anyone can buy is a Fiat Panda-based supermini called the Ypsilon that’s only available in left-hand drive markets. For a company responsible for cars that won World Championships in Formula 1, sports cars and, of course, rallying, that’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. This is the company that provided a road car with a monocoque chassis almost 40 years before Colin Chapman did the same in F1, and independent front suspension when everyone else was still using horse and cart technology – and that was just the Lambda.
For myself I’d rather Fiat Chrysler just put it out of its misery and let us move on to a time when we’ve forgotten about all the unworthy Lancias of the recent past and can focus once more on those that made it great. It would be sad to see such a great name go out with such a whimper, but better perhaps than to see it continue as such a poor shadow of its once great former self.
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