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Saab-Lancia 600: A Tale of Unfulfilled Promise

The Saab-Lancia 600: Engineering Marvel or Missed Opportunity?

An Unconventional Journey: Lancia's Nordic Odyssey with the Saab-Lancia 600.

In the world of automobiles, success is often determined not only by engineering excellence but also by effective advertising and marketing. The story of the Saab-Lancia 600, known as the “Swedish Delta,” is a prime example of how even the most well-promoted vehicles can face unexpected challenges. Let’s delve into the intriguing narrative of this car, which was introduced to the Swedish market as a joint venture between Saab and Lancia in the late 1970s.

Despite an extensive advertising campaign, history has not been kind to the Saab-Lancia 600. This Giugiaro-designed car was meant to replace the Saab 96 V4 when it debuted in 1980. The Saab-Lancia 600 made a grand entrance but quickly proved to be the wrong choice for the role it was intended to play. While over 6,400 units were sold, most of them disappeared as quickly as they came. If anyone has seen a 600 lately, feel free to reach out.

Saab Lancia 600

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A Unique Collaboration

The Saab-Lancia 600 emerged from a rather unconventional collaboration between Saab, a Swedish automaker with a rich history, and Lancia, an esteemed Italian marque. The two companies joined forces to create a vehicle that would fill a specific niche in the Swedish automotive market.

The Challenge: Replacing the Saab 96 V4

At the heart of this collaboration was the need to replace the Saab 96 V4, a model that had been in production for nearly two decades and was beginning to show its age. Saab sought to introduce a more modern car to occupy a lower market segment than its existing midsize offerings, the 99 and 900 models. However, financial constraints and the absence of funds for an entirely new project compelled the Wallenberg family, the owners of Saab, to explore a partnership with a technical and financial ally.

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Saab 600 with police markings
Saab 600 with police markings

The Birth of the Saab-Lancia 600

The collaboration between the Wallenberg family and the renowned Agnelli family, which controlled the Fiat Group, led to the birth of the Saab-Lancia 600. Produced alongside its Lancia counterpart in Chivasso, Italy, the car made its debut on the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish markets in 1980.

Distinctive Features and Design

The Saab-Lancia 600 closely resembled the Lancia Delta in design, with a few subtle differences. Notably, the aluminum-colored band at the base of the tailgate, present on the Lancia Delta GLS, was absent on the Saab version. Moreover, the Saab-Lancia 600 featured unique identification inscriptions, with “Saab Lancia” on the left side of the tailgate and “600 GLS” or “600 GLE” on the right, denoting the trim level.

Market Challenges and High Price

Despite its technical prowess and stylish design, the Saab-Lancia 600 faced several significant challenges in the market. One prominent issue was its relatively high price, attributed to the heavy tax burden on new cars in the Nordic countries where it was sold. The top-of-the-line GLE variant, equipped with alloy wheels, remained on sale for only a year due to low demand.

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Saab 600

The Power of Advertising

Advertising plays a pivotal role in the automotive industry, shaping consumer perceptions and driving sales. It has the potential to transform a vehicle into an icon or, conversely, contribute to its obscurity. The Saab-Lancia 600 serves as a fascinating case study in the world of automotive advertising.

We’ve actually discussed this car in this column before, in an advertisement where Saab’s Erik “On the Roof” Carlsson leaned his substantial frame over the small car and said, “We built this from the road up.”

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Saab Lanica 600 advertising: "We built this from the road up
Saab Lanica 600 advertising: “We built this from the road up

Here’s another leaning figure, a seemingly successful young man who appears to have just returned from his commute in the 600. The so-called copy, the ad text, is full of claims that one is supposed to believe come from our man: “What mirrors! Large and adjustable from the inside. Perfect driving position, nearly everything is adjustable. The seat, the backrest, the headrest, and the steering wheel. Zero-point steering like Mercedes. A rev-happy engine with the same type of carburetor and brand as Ferrari.” Is that right?

We must give credit to the ad maker, though, for avoiding the worst cliché of all—the one about the car “sticking to the road”. Saab-Lancia didn’t quite achieve that, even though its cousin, the Delta Integrale, was a star in the rally world. Not quite sticking, but perhaps they could say, “Saab-Lancia clings to the road like wallpaper.”

Saab Lancia 600 GLS
Saab Lancia 600 GLS

Experiences of buyers and car owners

But what do customers say? What were their experiences?

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On the positive side, the Saab-Lancia 600 boasted an advanced suspension system that drew praise from enthusiasts. Equipped with McPherson struts on all corners, an independent rear axle, long-travel suspension, and anti-roll bars, it showcased engineering ingenuity. These features contributed to excellent road handling and stability, making it an attractive proposition for drivers seeking dynamic performance.

However, as with many innovations, the excellence came at a cost. The car’s complexity and advanced technology translated into a higher price point. Subsequent models opted for a simpler Fiat chassis to address this issue, departing from the original’s sophisticated design.

Saab Lancia 600
Saab Lancia 600

Another drawback was the limited trunk space due to the rear struts, a compromise that hindered practicality for its size. Additionally, the Saab-Lancia 600 proved to be fuel-thirsty, consuming about 0.8 liters per kilometer on the highway. This inefficiency prompted criticism, as did the initial low fifth gear, which was later modified in updated versions.

Rust became a notorious issue, exacerbated by the lack of factory rustproofing. Saab advised customers to undergo aftermarket treatments, like underbody rustproofing. However, this recommendation did not always yield favorable results, making it a contentious aspect of the car’s maintenance.

Interestingly, despite its challenges, the Saab-Lancia 600 enjoyed success in Italy, suggesting that it found a more receptive audience in certain markets. However, the decision to market it as a Saab in Sweden raised eyebrows and generated debate among automotive enthusiasts.

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Furthermore, practical testing experiences added to the diverse range of opinions surrounding this car. Some praised its road-holding capabilities, while others questioned its performance, especially in specific test scenarios like the moose test.

In the realm of automotive testing, the moose test itself faced criticism, with some asserting that its demands far exceeded typical driving situations. This raised questions about the relevance of such tests in assessing everyday vehicle performance.

Saab Lancia  600
Saab Lancia 600

The Downfall and Legacy

Within just a year of its introduction, the Saab-Lancia 600 began to reveal its inadequacy for the demanding road conditions of northern Europe. The generous use of salt on the roads during winter months took a toll on the cars’ bodies, which lacked adequate corrosion protection.

Despite its initial promise, the Saab-Lancia 600 could not achieve commercial success and was removed from Saab’s product lineup within three years, by 1982. Today, finding a Saab-Lancia 600 in good condition is a challenging task due to its limited production and susceptibility to corrosion.

Saab Lancia 600 GLE
Saab Lancia 600 GLE

In conclusion, the story of the Saab-Lancia 600 underscores the crucial role of advertising in the automotive industry and highlights the complexities of market dynamics. While it may not have left a significant mark in the automotive world, the Saab-Lancia 600 undeniably left behind a unique and storied legacy, reminding us of the intricate interplay between marketing and automotive success.

Konstantin Jokić
an automotive journalist and dedicated Saab enthusiast hailing from Novi Sad, Serbia, is a valuable contributor to SaabPlanet.com. With a wealth of experience in the automotive industry and a strong affinity for Saab cars, Konstantin brings a unique perspective to the blog's content. His in-depth knowledge, engaging writing style, and passion for Saab automobiles enrich the platform, catering to both local and global Saab enthusiasts. Through his articles and insights, Konstantin strengthens the sense of community among Saab lovers and helps elevate SaabPlanet.com as a trusted source for Saab-related information.

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