Johnny Johansson And His Story

A few weeks ago we had a SAAB Of The Week that featured a 9-3 Independence model that we were pleased to find out was owned by a former SAAB employee by the name of Johnny Johansson. This past week Johnny was kind enough to forward us his own personal SAAB story and it is quite the read. As I said before and will say again, thank you for all you did with Saab Johnny and thanks for sharing your story.

My Saab Story

Some weeks ago, my Saab 9-3 Convertible IE was ‘Saab Of The Week’. I got a lot of attention, not only for the car, but also because I worked 39 years at Saab. I was asked if I had any interesting story from Saab or the cars I have owned. Then an occurrence came to my mind, something that nearly made me loose my job, but also shows how the small Saab could hold its own against the big GM.

After eight years at Saab, I got my dream job. In April 1981 I became a modeller in the design studio. It was a very interesting job, building clay models of the future Saab cars.

image033 (1) image034

Left image: I work with the cover of the C-pillar, 9000. Right image: I am not sure, looks a little like the front of the EV-2, a concept car from the late 80’s. A reportage about EV-2 in the Swedish magazine Automobile, #4/2008.

In 1996 we got a new tool, we began building models digitally. We used Alias, an advanced CAD software, and we were called digital sculptors. In the beginning, we worked both digitally and with clay, but the digital models took over more and more. I have mostly worked with Saab, but also other GM cars, as Opel/Vauxhall and Cadillac.



image036These images are from an article in the magazine Car Styling, #156, September 2003. In one of the images I’m sitting working at the computer screen, in the other image, you can see that we had a big screen where we could study our models in 3D in natural size.

We at the Saab design studio developed a process, in which we used the two CAD programs Alias and Unigraphics to build digital models quickly and with high quality. Within GM, we at Saab had made most progress in the digital process, and other design studios at GM wanted to learn our process. We had just started with that, when we were told that GM decided to close Saab design studio next year, 2006, and relocate to a new EuropeanDesign Center at the Opel factory in Rüsselsheim, Germany. No one would be fired, all of us were needed in Rüsselsheim.

Americans came to us from Detroit, they thought Europe was like USA, a big country with a number of states, and that it was easy to move a business from one part of Europe to another. But Sweden and Germany are two different countries, different language, work market, culture, etc. I got an offer, if I took my job and moved to Rüsselsheim, I would get a salary more than 70% higher than the salary I had. But I was not for sale for that price, I did not want to move, my wife did not want to move. We did not want to sell our house in Vargön to move to a country where we did not speake the language. The situation was the same for most of my colleagues.

We told them, we did not want to move. What would normally happened then, was that we would have lost our jobs, and our jobs would be taken over by our colleagues in Rüsselsheim. But then GM also had lost the process we had developed to build digital models quickly and with high quality. This big GM, with thousands of employees worldwide, could not manage without a small group of 15-20 digital sculptors in Trollhättan. They established a ’Saab Brand Center’ in Gothenburg, where most of the designers had to go, and a ‘Competence Centre for Numerical form defining’ (not sure if I got this right in english) in Trollhättan, where we digital sculptors could work with what we knew best, build digital models of future cars.

I did not trust the promise, that we would continue to work in Trollhättan, I thougt that sooner or later they will come back from Detroit and tell us that now our colleagues in Rüsselsheim have learned the process, now they can take over our jobs. That did not happen, instead GM sold Saab, but that is another story.

And so some words about the cars I have had through the years:

I have been thinking and counting, and found that I have had 34 cars through the years, perhaps I have forgotten one or two. 19 of them were new cars, all of them, except the last one, my 9-3 IE Conv, delivered by Ana in Trollhättan. But the Conv also came from Ana, they finished it after the bankruptcy. 12 of the new cars were company cars, I kept the last one after the bankruptcy. I have been looking for pictures of my cars, but found that I have been a bad photographer, especially in earlier years.

My first car was a BMC Mini, I bought it in the late 60’s. My second car was also a Mini, but then, in 1971, I bought my first Saab, a white 1968 Sonett II V4. I was newly married, and the Sonett is not a family car, so after a year I replaced it with a Volvo Amazon 123 GT. It was not the car I wanted most, but I got a better price on the Sonett. After some weeks, the Amazon was replaced with a Saab 99 from 1969.

image049 image050

1968 Saab Sonett II V4 and 1969 Saab 99

We lived in Falkenberg on the west coast, and it was with this 99, in the spring 1973, I drove 180 km up to Trollhättan to look for job at Saab. We moved to Trollhättan, the 99 was followed by a 95 and then a 99. For a few years in the mid 70’s, Ana had a special agreement for Saab employees, that made it possible for us to have a new car for a reasonable cost. In 1976, I bought my first brand new car, a light green 99. Not everyone liked that colour, but green is my favourite colour. Next year it was replaced with a 99 GLE. Saab had two top models, 99 EMS, a sporty version, and 99 GLE, more luxurious and the most expensive Saab. It had dark brown metallic paint and alloy wheels with gold decor (EMS had the same rims with black decor). It had automatic transmission. I have for many years preferred automatic transmission, perhaps it started here.

After another 99 and a 96, I got my first Turbo in the late 80’s. An Acasia green met. 1978 99 Turbo. As optional equipment it had higher turbo pressure and water injection for more power. A fast car!


1978 99 Turbo

In 1991 we moved into our newly built house in Vargön. For a few years, I drove my wife’s VW Golf, while I waited for the new 900, which I knew was coming, I had been working with it. I ordered an Eucalyptus green met. 900 S 5D well in advance, so the third of these new 900 Ana delivered, was mine, it was in January 1994. Then came another three new 900 S, when I got the last one in early 1998, the name had changed to 9-3.

image052 image053


1994 900 S 5D 2,0i and 2002 9-3 Aero 5D

In year 2000, I got my first company car, it was a 9-3 SE 2.0T 185 M1 5D. It was followed by a similar next year, and in 2002, last year with the old 9-3, a 9-3 Aero in Hazelnut metallic. The new 9-3 was launched in 2003, my first was a Cayenne red met. 9-3 Arc 1.8t/150 SportSedan, then followed by four 9-3 2.0t/175: two Arc SportSedan, one Arc SportCombi and one Linear SportSedan. Then I had three BioPower, first a Linear 2.0t and then two Vector 2,0t.

image054 image055

2003 9-3 Arc 1.8t/150 SportSedan and 2008 9-3 Linear 2.0t BioPower SportSedan

In January 2011, I ordered my last company car, a 9-3 Vector TTiD 180hp SportSedan in java metallic, did not know then that this was the last company car. This is my first diesel. I am very satisfied with it, it goes well and is fast, but also stingy, I can drive over 1000 km on one tank of fuel. I bought it after the bankruptcy. All my company cars had automatic transmission, sunroof (where available) and some other optional equipment.


2011 9-3 Vector TTiD 180hp SportSedan and 2012 9-3 Aero Griffin Convertible Independence Edition #36

Beside these cars, I have for many years, as a hobby, also had a second and a third car. In 1981 it became possible for us to have two cars. I never forgot my first Saab, the Sonett, so I bought a 1973 Sonett III. It was the same year I started working at Saab design studio, after a few years I wanted to test my new skills, it happened to be on the Sonett. It got e.g. a modified front with a new grille and a spoiler, a wing on the back, wider wheels, mirrors from 900, and I added a new part to the body under the doors, a part I thought was missing. This was 30 years ago, I sertainly had not done this to a Sonett today. I still have it, but have not been driving it for over ten years.

A year in the late 80’s, I had a 93 two stroke, and in 1990 I thougt it might be interesting to have a bigger car. I bought a 1975 Cadillac Eldorado, it was large, 5,7 metres, 2,5 tons. If I took it easy on the road, I was able to bring down fuel consumption to 17 litre/100 km. Year 2000 I replaced it with a newer Eldorado, year model 1996. It was more modern and considerably more economical, could drive it under 10 litre/100 km. My idea was to replace it with a newer Cadillac now, but given what has happened, and how GM has treated Saab, I have lost most of the interest I had for GM and their cars. Last summer I decided that now is the time to get rid of the Cadillac and go completely for Saab. Then I was lucky enough to find just the car I wanted most: A 9-3 Aero Griffin Convertible Independence Edition. Most of it is perfect, I like the colour, Amber Orange metallic, and the bright leather interior, the automatic transmission and the nice 220hp engine. Maybe I had preferred the turbine wheels, the ones Victor Muller has on his IE. It is a very special car, not just because it is an IE, it is the last LHD IE produced, also the last LHD Saab Conv produced (so far, best to say).

image057 image058


1975 Cadillac Eldorado, 1996 Cadillac Eldorado and 1973 Sonett III


I hope Nevs will succeed in their plans and that in the future, I will be able to come back to Ana several times to order new Saabs, maybe not an electric car in the near future, but I would like a hybrid.

Another part of my car hobby is model cars. I have nearly 4000 model cars, among them about 600 Saabs. I can write about them some other time, if there is an interest.


15 thoughts on “Johnny Johansson And His Story”

  1. Johnny, really nice article You provided for SU see you in Trollhättan at the festival. Thank you for the work you and your buddies did for Saab during the heydays.

  2. Thank you Johnny for a very interesting posting as well as your contributions to the design of the wonderful cars we get to drive now!

  3. Hi Johnny, I just read your article about your work at SAAB for this long time, it impressed me much. Great work you’ve done and congratulation for your decision to stay in Sweden and not to go anywhere for some bucks more You and your Collegues are heroes!
    Hope to meet you at the Festival :-)!

  4. Very interesting observations indeed. It strikes me that GM was/is clumsy in fostering relationships. It’s astounding that Saab was a division of GM—-but instead of teamwork, GM apparently fostered an environment of adversity/rivalry within their own organization. General Motors has been losing market share, in buckets, for over three decades, probably close to four. They might have gone out of business—-assets absorbed by Ford and others, if not for an enromous “loan” they received to stay afloat. Clearly, Saab was fighting a losing battle trying to succeed as part of the GM empire. GM wouldn’t let them flourish. GM’s management has been so awful for so long—-and I think this is a “slice of life” article about what it was like to be a guppy in the ocean of GM.

  5. Very touching story and another of those SU gems… An insight we’ve all been longing for, about a true Saab Master. Thank you Johnny Johansson for making our dream cars a reality. Through your admirable work it all couldn’t have been possible. What an amazing career, and a nice write up. And also beautiful – 34 – Saabs!
    Congratuations and wish you a well deserved time with your family after a nearly 40 years’ dream job. Or, if you’re still actively working, hope to find joy in it and that NEVS will hire your invaluable genious sometime soon.

    PS. And oh yes, automatic trans just rules!

  6. One of the most interesting insider stories I have read so far on SU! Thank you so much.

    Brings up the question again, whether Saab would have been better of without GM.

    • Maybe better and maybe gone a long time ago. It is sad that the Swedes couldn’t get together and merge Volvo an Saab and keep their Swedish heritage without US or Chinese influence. But that was not to be.

  7. In the states, global companies think nothing of making someone move to another state if it suits the company. Move or lose your job is often the choice and most will move if they want to stay with the company because they have no leverage.

    In Europe at least you have the argument that you don’t speak the language of another country and are not a citizen. Better leverage.

    Good for you and your colleagues that you refused to go to Germany.

Comments are closed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.