North American advertisements have always been a little… punchy, compared to their British counterparts. It’s considered bad form here to overtly reference rivals, yet marketeers in the US think nothing of telling you rival brand X picks its nose and rival brand Y is cruel to puppies.
Saab would never stoop to such levels of course, but this US 1975 advert for the Saab 99 wasn’t afraid of referencing a few rivals. In fact, it wasn’t afraid of referencing basically all of them, suggesting you pop around to every rival dealer, test drive their products, and then experience the way the 99 combines all their best attributes.
It’s very good-natured really, which is what you’d expect from Saab, and comes from the same school of cleverly-penned ads as you’d have seen from Volkswagen at the time – coolly confident in the abilities of the product, reassured it would find the right buyers.
The ad also serves as a window into what North American buyers might have had on their shopping lists in the mid-1970s. Increasingly, ‘something that isn’t American’ was the answer; this was post fuel-crisis, the start of Detroit’s malaise era, and a well-engineered and fuel-efficient European or Japanese car was fast becoming a viable alternative to some emissions-strangled land yacht.
If you were in the market for a relatively compact, high-quality car then, you might have considered the Saab 99, with prices starting at $5198 – that’s around $28,000, or £23,400 today – or you might have plumped for some of the others in the ad.
The Volvo, for instance. It isn’t referenced specifically, but from the graphic it appears to be the 140 series, and clearly respected for its durability. The Audi seems to be a 100, allowing Saab to compare it for luxury, and the BMW is very clearly an 02-series car, right down to the ludicrous impact bumpers – and a Saab benchmark for performance.
The Dasher is US-speak for a VW Passat – a smart move, given VWs were always the frugal choice in the US market – and naturally, the quality reference point was the W123 Mercedes.
If there’s a surprise it’s the reminder that Peugeot was still selling in the US market in the mid-1970s, and the droopy-booted 504 serves as comparison for the Saab 99’s smooth ride.
Of course, the risk was that a prospective customer took Saab up on its challenge, then got as far as experiencing the BMW’s entertaining chassis or the W123’s magnificent build quality and never got as far as even viewing a 99.
But Saab buyers were always a very particular bunch, and we imagine more than a few simply nodded knowingly at the ad and headed straight for their nearest Saab dealer. It was, as Saab’s slogan states, what a car should be.