Saab 9-X Convertible Concept

With its unique Canopy Top roof and ‘surround glass’ cabin, the Saab 9-X Air promises to become a landmark in open-top car design, just like the first Saab Convertible, which surprised the automotive world when it was revealed exactly 25 years ago at the 1983 International Frankfurt Motor Show.

A quarter of a century ago, four seater convertibles were a rare sight on the road and largely considered to be ‘second’ cars, best kept in the garage for fair weather conditions. The soft-top car from Scandinavia was to change that perception. It was designed as a practical, four season, four seater car for use all the year round.

Like the 9-X Air, the first Convertible was unveiled as a concept. Saab had earned a reputation for building hatchback cars that were strong and durable, but few observers at Frankfurt in 1983 imagined they were about to see an open-top car presented by a manufacturer from Scandinavia. The element of surprise was maintained right up to its unveiling because a plastic block had been inserted under the wraps of the car, giving it the silhouette of a wagon.

First produced in 1985, the Saab 900 Convertible was designed to withstand the harshest of Scandinavian winters. Customers quickly came to appreciated its robust build quality and its impressive, all-weather capabilities. Four season soft-top driving, with enough room to accommodate four adults in comfort, really was a practical proposition.

The powered, triple layer soft-top was extremely durable, snug-fitting and totally weatherproof. Instead of the conventional perspex rear window, which is prone to cracking and fogging, Saab’s convertible featured a heated, glass rear screen. Today, the 9-X Air’s Canopy Top takes this a step further by completely separating the screen from the roof so that it remains in position when the roof is down to provide greater wind-cheating comfort for passengers.

Most of the few convertibles on the market 25 years ago also had somewhat awkward lines, due to the requirements of adapting a sedan body shape and accommodating a folding top. 

But the Saab convertible was different. It appeared to be a unique model, rather than a sedan derivative, and looked just as good, roof up or roof down. Again, a design priority reflected in the distinctive shape of today’s 9-X Air.

That first Saab 900 Convertible was an instant success. Its all-year-round appeal was underlined by strong sales in markets such as the UK, where a convertible spends most of its time with the roof up and the heater on.

Spanning three incarnations, Saab convertible sales volumes have continued to increase. Almost 49,000 Saab 900 Convertibles were sold between 1987 and 1993, an average of 7,000 units a year, or 14% of all Saab 900 production. The next generation was an even greater success, with global sales from 1994 to 2002 totalling 140,500 units, an average of more than 15,500 units a year accounting for 24% of all 900/9-3 production.

Today, the current model continues to be a popular choice, with sales between 2003 and 2007 totaling more than 64,500 units, an annual average of over 16,000 cars.

While Saab does not claim to have created the convertible concept, it has played a pivotal role in popularising the format, just as it has in bringing the benefits of engine turbocharging to a wider audience.

Over the years, the Saab Convertible’s success and its iconic, brand-carrying status have tempted other manufacturers enter the segment and, today, there are few who do not have a convertible model in their product line-ups. But it was Saab who led the way. Now, 25 years on, the innovative 9-X Air shows how Saab will continue to play a lead role in the evolution of four season, four seater motoring.

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