John Gardner till vänster och författarkollegan Douglas Rutherford VÄRLDSDECKARKONGRESSEN
1981 i Stockholm
John Gardner and his The James Bond Books and SAAB 900 utanför
GRAND HOTEL med utsikt mot Kungliga Slottet.
Obviously, Bond got his request. The nickname “Silver
Beast” first appears in this second book. Gardner’s recollection was
that it was his son Simon who gave the car its now famous moniker.
In his "Author's Acknowledgments," Gardner thanks Saab (GB), Ltd.,
and Saab-Scania of Sweden "for the amount of time, trouble, patience,
and enthusiasm they have put into proving that the James Bond Saab
really does exist."
For Special Services features
what is arguably the best Saab action scene in any of the Gardner
books, when Bond races a Shelby-American Mustang GT 350 driven by
henchman Walter Luxor. Bond kicked on the accelerator, sensing the
Saab’s spoiler push the rear down onto the road. His own body was
forced back into the driving seat as full power took hold. Of course,
no henchman plays fair, and we get to see some defensive mechanisms
on the Saab that we didn’t see in Licence
as an automatic fire extinguisher system, which Bond uses when the
race becomes a little overheated.
For this mission, the Saab’s secret dashboard
compartments are also modified to include a compartment that holds
rare prints (as Bond is undercover as a rare print dealer in this
book). A favorite feature—the blinding aircraft landing light hidden
behind the front license plate—also gets nice play in this book.
Once again, the Saab takes a beating aiding Bond’s
escape from the villain’s Texas ranch estate (this time, launching
aboard a moving monorail); and once again, the book made the
best-sellers list. The new series was working. There was even
reports that a Saab would appear in Octopussy,
the next James Bond film (ultimately, this proved to be false).
James Bond and his Silver Beast would return the following year in a
book generally considered to be Gardner’s best. But it would be
their last ride together. A “million-dollar prostitute” would soon
come between a man and his Beast.
Breaking the Ice
“You have a car here, I believe. A Saab 900
Turbo. Silver. Delivered in the name of Bond, James Bond.”
– Icebreaker (1983)
Published in 1983, Icebreaker sees
007 sent to the Arctic Circle to do battle with a Neo-Nazi army.
Once again, the Saab sees action, this time facing off on the icy
roads of Lapland with three menacing snow-plows. “There was no doubt.
They were going in for the kill, prepared to slice the Silver Beast
in half. Silver versus yellow, Bond thought, and raised his right
arm, the left hand still clutching the stun grenade…”
Icebreaker is a fan favorite and remained Gardner’s
personal favorite Bond novel for many years, mainly because of his
own experiences in the Arctic Circle, a trip hosted by Saab-Scania.
Gardner shared his Arctic adventures with the James Bond
International Fan Club magazine, OO7.
“As I had already managed to skid a Saab into snow
drifts on three occasions, I had a very good driver who promptly
managed to do the same -- but right on the Russian border. Happily,
the Finnish army was on hand, and an officer walked the best part of
two miles through icy conditions to bring help. We were finally
towed out and all ended well.”
The author’s photo on the back of the U.S. edition
shows Gardner on a snowmobile (right) and is credited to
Saab-Scania, Sweden. Gardner offered additional thanks by including
one of his Arctic traveling companions, international rally racing
star Erik Carlsson (aka "Mr. Saab"), in a passage in the book. When
Bond is preparing for his own journey deep into the “land of the
rising sun,” he finds a note in his glove compartment: “Good luck,
Whatever You're Doing... Remember what I've taught you about the
left foot!!! -Erik.
Saab once again helped promote the paperback release
of the book with a “WIN BOND’S SILVER SAAB TURBO!” contest arranged
in conjunction with Berkley Publishing. Large standees (called “dumps”)
containing the paperback edition of the book had tear-off coupons
attached, which customers could fill out and send into the “Icebreaker/Saab
Consumer Drawing.” The prize was, indeed, a silver Saab Turbo, “the
driving machine of a lifetime for some lucky Bond fan.” The winner
was announced on May 31, 1984.
Never Say Never
Bond left the room and hurried downstairs to
reception to ask what self-drive hire cars were available
quickly. For once, Bond seemed to making his own luck. There was
a Saab 900 Turbo—a car which he was well used to—which only just
had been returned.
– Nobody Lives Forever (1986)
Gardner may have put 007 together with a
“million-dollar prostitute,” but he still liked to revisit his $300
call girl (sorry, he started it). Saabs continued to make cameo
appearances in many of Gardner’s later Bond books. In 1986’s Nobody
Bond rents a Saab 900 in order to make an undercover side trip to
the Klinik Mozart just outside of Salzburg. Bond again rents a Saab
for a dangerous mission in Dublin in 1987’s abysmally titled No
Deals, Mr. Bond.
M drives a Saab 9000 CD in 1991’s The
Man From Barbarossa (the
book which replaced Icebreakeras
Gardner’s personal favorite). One gets a feeling that Gardner missed
the old Silver Beast as much as the fans did.
Then as the Gardner era ran down, James Bond and Saab
were reunited. In Never
and SeaFire (1994),
Bond suddenly drives a Saab 9000 CD Turbo. This choice may have been
influenced by the fact that Gardner, who was now living in the
America, drove a white Saab 9000 CD himself.
The Saab 9000 CD is a mysterious presence at the end
of the Gardner era. Gardner never explains what happened to the
Bentley (actually the second Bentley as Bond trades up to a Turbo R
at some point), nor whether this Saab is Bond’s personal property or
part of the MI6 motor pool. Is it supposed to be the same car we saw
M driving in Barbarossa?
The Saab 9000 is a conservative four-door sedan, Saab's entry into
the luxury car market. It’s no Beast. Still, it’s a Saab, and it
seemed a fitting way to send Gardner's Bond out.
Gardner retired from the Bond series in 1996. Raymond
Benson took over and put Bond in a sleek new Jaguar XK8. Saab was
purchased by American car giant GM who, over the years, have
gentrified the cars and, incredibly, rolled back many of Saab’s
unique innovations. Under GM, Saabs have ceased to be the hot car of
the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and now some younger Bond fans question the
wisdom of James Bond ever driving a car they see as one their
mothers might buy.
Ah, but there was a time when James Bond and his
“Silver Beast” raced along the backroads of Surrey—clinging
to the grass shoulder, putting a fraction more power to bring the
car out of the bend—and
the two together seemed to embody all that was cool, sophisticated,
and European in the 1980s. For a time the original promotional tour
Saab 900, still outfitted with its deadly arsenal, was displayed in
a museum in Trollhattan, Sweden, on its hood is one of the bold
colorful posters from 1981—proof that at one time a Saab 900 Turbo
was the car of choice for that great connoisseur of motor vehicles
(and other earthly delights)—Bond, James Bond.
It was a great ride.