Saab History

Saab Calibra: an Opel Coupe with Griffon Logo for the USA market?

Saab Calibra

The Saab 9000 Cabrio was considered for production in 1989, one prototype was made by the Finnish company Valmet Automotive, but Saab eventually decided not to make the car a production model after all. Also, Valmet made the Opel Calibra Cabrio concept in 1992, but that car did not enter production either.

Interestingly, at the time, both Opel and Saab were under GM’s management, and both manufacturers were producing some models in Valmet, Finland, on the same production line. That is why the ideas arose then that these two brands could be crossed (for certain world markets, specifically – the USA).

Good condition in the General Motors conglomerate

At the very end of the 1980s, the situation of the General Motors Group was in good shape: the American brands of the group offered relatively coherent ranges, where new products (Buick Regal, Chevrolet Lumina, Pontiac Trans Sport) rub shoulders with “American-style” sure values ​​like the Cadillac Brougham. There are certainly some shadows on the board, such as the Cadillac Allanté, but the Group is defending itself well. In Europe, GM has bought the small English craftsman Lotus, and its Opel subsidiary is finally emerging from its lethargy thanks to the successful launch of the Vectra. It was in this context that GM decided to buy 50% in 1989 from the Swedish manufacturer Saab, just to afford a new offbeat label as present in Europe as in the USA.

Proposal for a Calibra Cabriolet signed Valmet, in 1992
Proposal for a Calibra Cabriolet signed Valmet, in 1992

Opel Calibra

At the same time, to consolidate the success of the Vectra, Opel launched, at the end of 1989, the astonishing Calibra coupe, with a clean, tapered line, with a CX record (0,26) despite 4 real seats. The agreement signed with Saab and the successful launch of the Calibra then gave General Motors executives some ideas: “what if we took the opportunity to expand the potential market for the large German coupe in the USA to cempete the 1st generation Ford Probe“?

Saab Calibra idea

Problem, the Calibra is very European in its genes, and would fit poorly into the showrooms of the group’s brands. It was then that the idea of ​​using the Saab network in the USA to distribute this new coupe was born! For more consistency, a Saab logo and probably some cosmetic touch-ups will be necessary, of course, but in the staffs, in Detroit as in Tröllhättan, the idea does not seem crazy.

Especially since, given the success of the Calibra coupe in Europe, it was soon considered to have recourse to the Finnish manufacturer Valmet (see also: Valmet), historic partner of Saab, to assemble some of the Calibra alongside the 900 Convertible intended largely to America. On June 30, 1990, things seemed to be well advanced, as an article appeared in “The News” by Richard Johnson, describing the operations in detail.

Things are going in the right direction…

We learn that at the end of 1990, the decision will be taken whether or not to market the Calibra under the Saab brand in the USA. The president of Opel, Louis Hugues, confirms that he is considering importing the Calibra into the United States, certainly with the help of Saab, and this thanks to the increase in production capacities provided by the agreement with Valmet. We learn, again, that the reflection is well advanced, even if some, at Saab, fear losing their soul while we are already preparing the future 900 called NG on a base of Vectra, certainly very modified.

In addition, from the start of the studies of the Calibra, a “convertible” option was considered. This idea will last a long time since in 1992, a prototype will be presented by Valmet precisely. Still, the option of an American Griffin-badged Calibra will go down the drain.

At the time, Saab was not part of the GM group entirely (which only had 50% of it and would only take full control in 2000), and there was still great reluctance to the idea of ​​a Saab not developed in-house and just badged.

Abandoning the Idea

Saab feared for the brand image, but also internal competition with the future 3-door Saab 900 NG, which plays 4/5-coupe and its convertible derivatives. There is also another problem, paradoxical: the success of the Calibra, produced in 1991 with more than 67,000 copies against 29,000 the previous year: they then reach the limits of the production capacity of the model. Finally, they realize that with a Saab logo, the Calibra would automatically be compared not to the Japanese, but to the new BMW E36 Coupé for example.

The idea will remain in the cupboards, and we will no longer hear about a car disguised as a Saab before the 2000s and the Saab 9-2X and 9-7X – two resounding market failures.

However, the qualities of the Calibra and the skill of designer Bjorn Envall leave some regrets: It would have been nice if we had a Swedish-style version of the Caliber like the earlier Sonett model with all-wheel drive and a powerful Turbo engine with over 200 horsepower. However, it was only much later that the Swedish answer Saab 9-3 Convertible arrived.