Saab owners gather in wintery Detroit, urge GM to sell brand

Sell Saab Rally in Detroit – Click above for high-res gallery

Popular wisdom would hold that about the only people willing to show up in sub-zero, slate-gray Detroit for a last-minute rally to advocate for Saab's sale would be stereotypical brand diehards – grizzled old-timers with air-cooled two-strokes and elderly three-doors, not folks piloting General Motors-era models. Interestingly, those in attendance at today's "Sell Saab/Save Saab" demonstration ranged broadly in age from their early twenties on through retirement age, and with the exception of a couple of 1980s 900 models, most of the Saabs were remarkably contemporary (although a good portion of those who showed up professed to owning numerous classic examples at home).

To be fair, we turned up to the meeting point in the shadow of GM's Renaissance Center headquarters this afternoon not expecting a big turnout of either cars or press, as the event was organized just a couple of days earlier by Ryan Enge of – and the weather wasn't exactly hospitable, either. As it turns out, we were pleasantly surprised to see a rather small but vibrant group of both. Over a couple of hours, we counted around 50 demonstrators in about 30 Saabs (full disclosure: one of which was AB's own 2001 9-3 Viggen convertible), with devotees venturing in from as far away as Maine, Iowa and Wisconsin, along with plenty of print, radio and television media – both local and international – in attendance. As a demonstration for a brand, the atmosphere was more one of conviviality than consternation and bitterness, a gathering of first-time friends more than an acrimonious protest.

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Photos by Chris Paukert/ Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

Owners and dealer representatives we talked with spoke of preserving Saab's traditional touchstones – fun-to-drive, unique looks and character, foul-weather performance and history of innovation as all things worth saving. As one might expect, most didn't have the kindest things to say about GM's stewardship of the brand over the last 20 years, but most expressed optimism in its fortunes (should it be saved) thanks to new models like the 2010 9-5, 9-4X and the 9-3X. Many spoke of a desire to see their tax dollars (that were used to keep bankrupt GM afloat) go toward building new cars rather than shutting down brands. Regardless of how they felt about GM's involvement in 'their Saab,' to a person, everyone we spoke with simply expressed a desire to move on, hoping that this show of solidarity will somehow aid in the push to sell Saab to Spyker Cars or Merbanco.

It is perhaps a bittersweet irony that the very first person we met this afternoon was Peter Gilbert in his 9-5 Sportcombi – a car that General Motors gifted to him for his loyalty. Marque aficionados may remember that Gilbert was the owner who surpassed one million miles in his 1989 Saab 900 SPG back in 2006. That car is now in a museum in Hartford, but he's got his 9-5 and a 9-3 Viggen back home. Like seemingly everyone else in attendance, Gilbert would at least like the chance to put a new Griffin in his garage at some point.

GM's board of directors is slated to convene on Thursday to determine whether it will sell the Swedish brand or continue its 'wind-down' process. In the meantime, it's clear that dedicated Saab owners both in the States and abroad are doing everything they can to be heard, from protesting with "Save Saab" signs to writing letters to their government representatives and pledging never to buy a GM product if Saab is killed off. Will it be enough? We should know more soon.

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