Saab 99: A Nordic Legend that Defied the Odds in Norway

Saab 99 Combi Coupe: Where Versatility Meets Scandinavian Innovation

The Saab 99 Combi Coupe was a product of Saab's continuous quest for innovation.In 1974, Saab introduced the world to a groundbreaking concept - the Saab 99 Combi Coupe, initially referred to as the "Wagonback" in the U.S.

In the automotive history, Saab stands as a unique and iconic brand with a rich legacy. One of its remarkable chapters unfolds in Norway, where the Saab 99 made an indelible mark. Frank Williksen, a seasoned automotive journalist with over 55 years of experience, takes us on a nostalgic journey through the annals of Saab’s presence in Norway in his article for magaine “Broom”, with a particular focus on the 1978 Saab 99 GL Combi Coupé. Despite facing challenging times, this Saab model managed to be one of Norway’s most sold cars long before its eventual demise.

The Saab 99’s Popularity in Norway

In 1978, the Saab 99 was far from just another car on the Norwegian market. It held its own as the sixth most popular car model in the country, with 2,678 new units sold. This ranking placed it in the company of heavyweights like the Volvo 240 family, Ford Granada, Opel Rekord, and Opel Ascona, only falling behind these established names.

Saab had carved out a niche for itself as a winter car, celebrated for its exceptional performance on snow and ice-covered roads. Its popularity in Norway was not a coincidence, given the country’s harsh winter conditions.

The Saab 99 Combi Coupe or Wagonback : A Unique Blend of Innovation and Practicality
The Saab 99 Combi Coupe or Wagonback : A Unique Blend of Innovation and Practicality

Venturing into the Wilderness

To truly understand the Saab 99’s prowess, Frank Williksen and his team decided to take it to the woods. Elverum, a picturesque location with a network of challenging forest roads, awaited their exploration. With rally ace Per Engseth at the helm, the Saab 99 GL Combi Coupé was put to the test in an environment that showcased its abilities. It was a testament to Saab’s reputation as a reliable companion in challenging conditions.

A Complete Package

The headline in Alle Menns Blad, a Norwegian magazine, succinctly captured the essence of the Saab 99: “Du merker at dette er en nordbo,” which translates to “You can tell this is a Nordic creation.” Per Engseth, a renowned rally driver, commended the Saab 99 for being a well-equipped car that excelled in various aspects. While new taxes had raised its price, it still offered excellent value for money. The test car’s impressive qualities made it a highly attractive choice, despite its aging design.

Saab 99 Combi Coupe Turbo: the Saab Combi Coupé stood as a testament to Saab's unwavering commitment to creating cars that were both beautiful and practical.
Saab 99 Combi Coupe Turbo: the Saab Combi Coupé stood as a testament to Saab’s unwavering commitment to creating cars that were both beautiful and practical.

Exceptional Handling

One of the Saab 99’s standout features was its exceptional handling and road grip, especially on winter terrain. Its superior traction and stability were particularly appreciated. Frank Williksen noted that while the car’s handling was excellent, it was relatively stiff. This stiffness could occasionally result in shocks through the suspension when driving fast on uneven roads.

Nordic Features

The “Nordbo” concept was diligently embodied in the Saab 99, with features designed for Nordic conditions. The car boasted a robust heating and defrosting system, ensuring clear windows even on the coldest winter days. A notable addition was the heated seats, a relatively new innovation at the time. Frank Williksen and Per Engseth agreed that such features should be standard in a winter-centric country like Norway.

Ergonomics and Visibility

While the Saab 99 had a unique flat steering wheel, Frank Williksen found it somewhat obstructive. However, he appreciated that it minimized distractions, allowing the driver to focus on the road. The car’s ergonomics, large and easily readable instruments, and good visibility from the driver’s seat received commendation. Despite its older body design, the Saab 99 provided a sense of enclosure that was not unpleasant.

Spacious and Versatile

Positioned slightly above mid-sized cars, the Saab 99 offered ample space both in the front and rear seats. Its innovative Combi Coupé design, introduced in 1974, made it akin to a “spaceship” in terms of versatility. With a few simple adjustments, the car’s cargo space could rival that of station wagons with folded-down rear seats.

Turbocharged Saab 99 GL Combi Coupé: Elevating the Nordic Legend


Under the hood, the Saab 99 GL Combi Coupé housed a 2.0-liter inline-four engine producing 108 horsepower. While it was not a rocket off the line, the engine exhibited strength and willingness to perform. Its 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 13 seconds was respectable for its era, although fuel consumption was relatively high by today’s standards.

Frank Williksen noted that the manual choke had a convenient warning light, ensuring that drivers did not forget to push it in after the engine warmed up, preventing unnecessary fuel consumption.

SAAB 99 WagonBack
SAAB 99 WagonBack Advertising

Advanced Features

The Saab 99 GL Combi Coupé boasted several advanced features for its time. It included seatbelt and fuel level warning lights, as well as bumpers designed to absorb minor impacts without visible damage. All four wheels were equipped with disc brakes, which was a notable safety feature. However, the front-wheel-drive technology, though innovative, made the car somewhat heavy to steer during low-speed maneuvers.

Saab’s Innovative Legacy

In conclusion, Frank Williksen likened Saab to a Swedish counterpart of Citroën, praising the brand’s continuous pursuit of innovative ideas and new technologies. He highlighted Saab’s unique placement of the ignition key on the center console, a feature that enhanced security. The article closed by affirming that the Saab 99 was indeed a great car, offering ample space, comfort, and exceptional driving characteristics. Its comprehensive set of features made it a complete package, even in a highly competitive market.

However, The Saab 99 GL Combi Coupé left an enduring mark on the Norwegian automotive landscape, symbolizing Saab’s commitment to creating vehicles tailored to the Nordic environment. It’s a testament to the brand’s ability to excel in challenging conditions and innovate with each new model. While Saab may no longer be in production, its legacy lives on in the hearts of enthusiasts worldwide, who fondly remember the Saab 99 and its unique place in automotive history.


  • I’ve owned Saabs since 1971..the 99 was one of the best ,fun , sporty Saabs I’ve owned ,put 300,000 on two of them….still drive saabs .The 9 -3 is my favorite now ….the turbo is powerful.

  • 9.3 2.0T, 150 HP, made in 2001
    Exceptional comfort, very stiff but not heavy, powerful engine, best audio I’ve heard in a car, exceptional interior ambiance, beautiful outside look, big trunk, spacious interior, good safety, very well made, best car I could imagine. Thanks, SAAB

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