What do you do when you desperately want a Saab 9-5NG SportCombi, but there aren’t any around to buy? You build one yourself! It took two Saab enthusiasts and a small support team nearly two years to get from a crazy idea to the presentation of their “Griffin”.
Expectations were sky-high when the wagon version of the newest generation Saab 9-5 was launched at the Geneva Auto Show in March 2011. Not only was Saab’s model portfolio now greater and more modern than ever before, the SportCombi body style traditionally was a huge seller for Saab, in particular on the European market. In fact, Saab dealers around the world were reporting significant interest from their client base. Automotive press reviews had been really positive as well and the new SportCombi was a set to be a big hit with the pre-order books filling up fast.
A true collector’s item
Sadly, Saab Automobile AB didn’t live long enough to ever see the SportCombi become that anticipated success and the car with internal code name “651” never reached the big quantities. In the months preceding the launch, only a handful of pre-series cars had been built and ultimately just some 35 units were ever fully assembled. With the demise of the company in December 2011, most Saab fans had given up hope that they would ever see the new 9-5 SportCombi in real life, let alone own one. That situation changed when exactly a year after the company had ceased to exist, the bankruptcy estate auctioned out 68 very rare Saabs. Among them were an “independence edition” 9-3 Convertible, model year 2012 9-5 Sedans and several 9-4X’s. But the most of the attention from the fans and the media went to the 18 SportCombis that were put up for sale. Despite the “Not to be used in traffic” warning put up by the auction house, all SportCombis were sold, with the top model grossing SEK 475,000 (approx. €50K /$60K / £45K). Two more auctions followed in 2013, leaving a total of 27 remaining SportCombis out in the world (note: the others were destructed and/or were lost as part of crash testing).
Real Saab fans
As dedicated Saab fans, Jonas Åberg and Ola Persson have both driven and owned many different models over the years. Today they each are proud owners of a small Saab collection, with Jonas mostly focusing on the earlier generations, while the majority of Ola’s Saabs is of a more recent date. Besides the passion for the brand, the thing that unites them is their love for the latest generation 9-5. As active members of the Swedish Saab 9-5NG community, Jonas drives a Diamond Silver MY11 2.0t BioPower Aero, while Ola is the proud owner of a Granite Grey Metallic MY11 Ttid4 Aero. They have consistently been upgrading their 9-5NGs, from Hirsch body kits to Ola’s unique project to transform his car to a “9-5X”.
What? A 9-5NG CombiCoupé?
On a rainy September evening in 2015, Ola and Jonas were chatting on Messenger. ‘Can you build this?’ was Ola’s question, while pointing at a Photoshopped picture of a 2-door 9-5NG CombiCoupé (Hatchback). ‘Well, I don’t know, probably yes…’ was Jonas’ response. The debate was a continuation of a “what if” discussion the two had been having for a while, looking at different 9-5NG based options. Ideas around a convertible and a wagon had also been on the table, but were later dismissed as the CombiCoupé was deemed easier to build.
A SportCombi instead…
Building a car isn’t a trivial task. It’s probably most challenging when you do it from scratch, but it’s also quite an undertaking when you try and rebuild an existing car into something new. Having worked on several similar projects in the past, Jonas and Ola felt however confident that they were up for the task. SFRO, Sweden’s organisation for amateur vehicle builders, was contacted to get the initial construction plans approved. After some deliberations SFRO responded positively on September 29th, but on the condition that any steel plate weldings that were to be made had to be inspected by an authorized Saab Service Centre to ensure they were done correctly. And so the project was kicked off and Ola started looking for a “donor car” that same day.
The project took somewhat of an unexpected turn in December. “We need a car with more space than a Coupé. Can we not build a SportCombi instead?” had Jonas’ wife Lotta asked. A number of discussions followed about feasibility and consequences of this new option, but Ola and Jonas were quickly convinced and so the project was now officially targeting a wagon! The construction plans had to be significantly revised. Different parts had to be found and constructed. A new SFRO approval had to be obtained. This was going to be tricky, especially given the sensitivities at the SFRO around the original 9-5NG SportCombi.
Same but (very) different
In late December 2015, Jonas and Lotta bought an Opel Insignia Tourer. When Jonas walked up their driveway one day and saw this car parked parallel to his Saab 9-5NG, he noticed the design lines being different -yet similar- and the thought struck him to start including Insignia Tourer body parts to custom-build a Saab 9-5NG SportCombi instead of the 9-5OG they had been considering earlier. Many hours of planning followed. Michèl Annink –owner of an original Saab 9-5NG SportCombi– was contacted in April to get the exact measurements from his car. It turned out that the Insignia rear window was much rounder than expected and that a custom solution had to be found for the side windows, as neither of the originals would fit this unique Saab.
Several body parts were acquired from scrap yards so that in May the building of the prototype could start in Jonas’ workshop in Trelleborg. Many long evenings of moulding, cutting, welding and fitting followed and when in late September the project team came together to review the progress, a resounding ‘Yes!’ was heard. The result to date impressed so much that any doubt disappeared that had previously haunted the project team members. This car just had to be built!
The project group was expanded with additional members to ensure that the mission could be carried out successfully. After all, besides the bodywork many other things needed to be taken care of, like the electrical systems, interior, and more. More parts are found and bought and the donor car is acquired: a well-equipped used 2010 Jet Black Saab 9-5NG TiD Vector with automatic gearbox, ventilated seats, HUD and navigation. SFRO is contacted again with the updated construction plan details and the go-ahead was received more or less immediately. Now the “real work” could start!
The real work starts
After lots of preparations, the actual cutting of the donor car starts on November 15th and many weeks of additional bodywork follow. Along the process, the decision to add a panorama sunroof also gets taken. In January 2016 the project team gets together again in Trelleborg. Much progress had been made: a movable rear door and the frame for the specific “combi” shape were in place. New team members Oskar and Joel Persson and Philip Salonen started disassembling the interior parts, the windows and the front of the donor car.
While reconstructing the rear from Sedan to SportCombi was a real challenge, it had proven to be relatively manageable. Yet, the team was facing a major issue: the rear side windows. Given that the body was custom-made, the required measurements for these windows didn’t match anything that was already on the market. So how to get around this potential showstopper? Help was obtained through a friend of Jonas: Peter Westlund, a Clay Modeler with experience working at companies like Saab Cars, Porsche and Volvo. With Peter’s support, Ola was able to get the windows hand-crafted from polymer materials.
The bodywork is done!
In early March the construction had progressed to the point where an official SFRO inspection was required. Only the roof was missing, but pretty much everything else had found its correct place. Luckily, the required approval was obtained and less than two weeks later, Jonas completed the bodyworks and the car now featured a top; including a panorama sunroof.
Jet Black turns Ice Pearl
Besides the many choices around different technical solutions, interior, design, the team also had to decide about the exterior colour. While the paint of the donor car was in good shape, the reconstruction work that had been done on the rear side had to be (re-)painted in any case and while keeping the car in the Jet Black colour was an option, something more special was preferred. Initially, the goal was to get it into the “ultimate colour”: the Saab AeroX’s silver grey tint. A special visit to the Saab Car Museum was undertaken to try and sample the colour, but it turned out that this paint was too hard to get. So what then? The team felt strongly that it had to be a modern looking colour that had been used on a Saab before, and decided for Ice Pearl white metallic (colour code 330, known from the 9-4X) in the end. The actual paint work was done at a specialist firm, Moses Bil & Lack in Tollarp, about 100 kms north of Trelleborg.
Re-assembly and “Griffin” upgrade
The ‘reborn’ -now shiny white- car was transported to Ola’s place in Borensberg at the end of April. Now it’s time for Joel, Oskar and Philip to start the re-assembly work. Most of the original interior parts were put back again but some new items were added, especially in the back (including the custom-made rear windows). This is also the point where all used ‘wear & tear’ items were replaced to get the car in top condition. The team also wanted to do something extra special and to upgrade from its prior Vector to “Griffin” trim level. Saab typically used “Griffin” as a designation for fully-featured models that were at the end of their lifecycle (eg MY12 9-3 Griffin), and the team felt that this luxurious was the appropriate trim level to aim for. A very rare MY12 9-5NG front lip and a proud “Griffin” logo on the rear subsequently completed the transformation. Now the car was ready!
SFRO approved the car on May 18th, followed by a special registration inspection and MOT on June 5th. Happy days! But arguably the true “final inspection” was at the 2017 Saabfestival in Trollhättan, where the “9-5NG SportCombi Griffin” drew a lot of attention and several pictures were taken of this new “Grifffin” next to its original sibling, a 9-5NG SportCombi with VIN 4000017. A year and a half really hard work and dedication has truly paid off!
Q: This is really cool- I want one! Can you build one for me too or share a detailed “how-to” manual?
A: The team is currently not considering this.
Q: What are your plans with the car? Will you use it as a daily driver?
A: The car is a collector’s item and will be getting special treatment. Expect to see it at selected Saab meetings in the future.
Q: Why did you choose to use Insignia parts instead of original 9-5NG SportCombi parts?
A: First of all, the original parts are really hard to get and we didn’t want to create an additional burden for the owners of the original cars. Secondly, as SFRO required us to use a Sedan donor car, we were facing other measurements than the original so we had to find alternative solutions. The Insignia Tourer turned out to be the closest match.
Q: I want to know more about the original, factory-produced, Saab 9-5NG SportCombi. Where can I find this?
A: Check out http://9-5sc2012.com for more information.
Q: So what’s next? Will you now be building the CombiCoupé or the Convertible?
A: Who knows…!
About Jonas Åberg and Ola Persson
Jonas and Ola met in ”Saab-city” Trollhättan at the first Saab 9-5NG meeting in September 2014. It turned out that they had much in common and although Ola was challenged at first to understand Jonas’ distinct accent from Skåne county, they “clicked” and stayed in touch ever since.
Jonas: 44 years old and raised in the Österlen region, on the Swedish south-east coast. Saab blood runs through his veins as his dad worked as a mechanic at a Saab workshop in Ystad. Jonas has always been fascinated by the Saab 99 Turbo and the 900 Turbo but as a 13 year old, he decided that ‘he could do it better’ and designed two new 99’s: a 2-door and a 4-door. He started working on a sporty 2-door model in 1991 and when the car was finished in 2000, it was awarded first prize at a “Vallåkraträffen”, Scandinavia’s largest car enthusiasts’ meeting. Since then, Jonas has owned and worked with several Saabs. He is an aluminium caster and welder by profession and currently works as a mechanic, mostly working with heavy-duty commercial vehicles.
Ola was a sportsman in his younger days, but became an entrepreneur and developed a real passion for cars, in particular Saab. Saab really stands out for Ola as he greatly appreciates their vision and the actual fun to drive. He bought his first Saab in 2009 while on vacation; a brand new 9-3 Vector XWD. It was this car that sparked everything. It didn’t take long before the car received its first upgraded equipment and changed colour through a red wrapping. After that, things only continued and through their shared passion for Saab with his sons Joel and Oskar, the family’s Saab collection grew steadily. Ola appreciates rare cars that attract attention because they are in fact rare, as demonstrated earlier though his “Saab 9-5X” project and now the “Griffin”.