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The Unique Alliance of Saab Cars and Mountain Police: A Tale of Innovation and Advertising

Saab and Snow: How Mountain Police Found Their Perfect Match

During the late 1970s or early 1980s, Vail Police Officer Pat McCullough examines one of the department's newly acquired Saab patrol cars, as the department marks its 50th anniversary this week.

In the picturesque mountain towns of Vail and Aspen, Colorado, a unique story unfolded over decades, highlighting an innovative approach to law enforcement vehicle needs and advertising brilliance. This narrative begins in the early 1970s and extends into the 1980s, featuring Saab automobiles—a brand renowned for its engineering prowess, especially in challenging driving conditions.

The Genesis of a Unique Partnership

The story took off on March 15, 1974, when the local media outlet “Vail Daily” reported an unconventional initiative. Vail welcomed its first SAAB police vehicle as part of an experimental program, where police departments would test SAAB vehicles in exchange for advertising rights. This ingenious idea was the brainchild of Vail Police Officer Joel Meriwether, a visionary with prior experience in similar endeavors in Florida. As a former Mazda dealer, Meriwether had previously facilitated a program for the Orlando Police Department, supplying vehicles for testing in exchange for advertising opportunities.

The March 15, 1974, edition of the Vail Trail featured a SAAB vehicle in use by the Vail Police Department.
The March 15, 1974, edition of the Vail Trail featured a SAAB vehicle in use by the Vail Police Department.

Vail’s police department was in dire need of new vehicles at the time. Recognizing this, Meriwether spearheaded the exploration of a local police vehicle program akin to his Florida project. SAAB Denver, Inc. quickly showed interest in this innovative partnership, marking the beginning of a long-standing relationship between the ski towns of Vail and Aspen and Saab automobiles.

A Tradition of Reliability in Snowy Climes

The selection of Saab vehicles by the police departments of Vail and Aspen was no coincidence. Saab’s reputation for outstanding performance in snowy conditions made them an ideal choice for these ski resort towns, where driving conditions can be particularly challenging due to heavy snowfall. This practical choice underscored the towns’ commitment to ensuring that their law enforcement could reliably perform their duties, regardless of the weather.

Marketing Genius: Beyond the Snowy Roads

By November 5, 1982, Saab’s unique partnership with the Vail and Aspen police departments had evolved into a clever marketing campaign. Advertisements featuring Saab vehicles, slated to appear in major newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Seattle Times, and the Washington Post, highlighted the police departments’ exclusive use of Saab cars.


The ad cleverly noted, “In Aspen and Vail, ski conditions are usually terrific. Which means driving conditions aren’t.”

This marketing strategy ingeniously leveraged the practical aspects of the partnership to showcase Saab’s reliability in adverse conditions.

This Saab advertisement, which appeared in newspapers nationwide, was also highlighted in the Vail Trail in November 1982, accompanied by an article that unveiled several intriguing details.
This Saab advertisement, which appeared in newspapers nationwide, was also highlighted in the Vail Trail in November 1982, accompanied by an article that unveiled several intriguing details.

However, the creation of these ads revealed a creative and somewhat humorous behind-the-scenes effort. The Saabs pictured were, in fact, the same car with temporary Vail and Aspen logos. The snow depicted was not real but rather about 50 pounds of shredded Styrofoam, and the photoshoot took place not in Colorado but in a diner parking lot in New Jersey. Moreover, the supposed Aspen officer featured was not a real officer but an illustrator, highlighting the lengths to which the advertising agency went to create a compelling narrative.

Saab 900 and Aspen Police ski team
Saab 900 and Aspen Police ski team

Legacy of Innovation and Partnership

The Saab and Vail/Aspen partnership stands as a testament to the power of innovative thinking and strategic collaboration. It wasn’t just about providing the police with capable vehicles; it was a synergistic relationship that also served as a powerful marketing tool. This story illustrates how thinking outside the box—whether in solving practical problems like vehicle needs or in crafting compelling advertising campaigns—can lead to memorable and impactful outcomes.

Once Saab was the choice of the Aspen police, now they are turning to Tesla
Once Saab was the choice of the Aspen police, now they are turning to Tesla

As we look back on this unique chapter in automotive and law enforcement history, it’s clear that the legacy of Saab cars in these mountain communities was about more than just driving through snow. It was about pioneering partnerships, creative marketing, and the enduring bond between these towns and a car brand that helped keep their streets safe and their identities distinct.

4 Comments

    • “However, the creation of these ads revealed a creative and somewhat humorous behind-the-scenes effort. The Saabs pictured were, in fact, the same car with temporary Vail and Aspen logos. The snow depicted was not real but rather about 50 pounds of shredded Styrofoam, and the photoshoot took place not in Colorado but in a diner parking lot in New Jersey. Moreover, the supposed Aspen officer featured was not a real officer but an illustrator, highlighting the lengths to which the advertising agency went to create a compelling narrative.” Having worked with that ad agency on a number of shoots, while employed by Saab, i learned early on that MUCH of what you see, in advertising, ISN’T what it appears to be! Here’s the driveway of Saab USA’s headquarters, on a perfectly nice afternoon!

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