The History of Saab Police Cars in Vail, Colorado

Posted on 05. Mar, 2009 by in 2000-2009

Photo Credits: Town Of Vail, Colorado

I have written about the incredible arrangement with Saab Police Cars in Colorado over the past few years here on Saab History. Today, I am been delighted to share with you full written account of the history of Saab police cars by the town of Vail, Colorado, following the account of Aspen, Colorado back in December.

The Vail Police Department, apparently began their partnership program with Saab USA back in 1973, (opposed to wikipedia and other sources who say 1980). This is indicated in not only the account below, but also in the early press releases a few years later by Saab USA.

The relationship as the Vail Police department describes, was beneficial and in 1989, their colleagues at the town council were also extended an offer to drive Saab’s during the World Alpine Ski Championships.

In speaking with their resident mechanic, Byron Stanley, now 85 years old, he recalls the orange and lime green Saab 99s first emerged into the fleet in 1973, replacing their Jeep Cherokees. He said that the “officers began getting excited when the turbo models were introduced once they got their 900 models in 1980”. This was a great time for the Vail Police force, of course, not those that tried to speed away from them in hot pursuit of course. The biggest issue they had at the time, was that in the beginning of the nineties, as Byron describes, ” the 9000s were introduced and, some arrived without turbos and the officers really did not appreciate that.”. Evidently, the turbo models were immediately requested after this situation came about.

With all good things, they finally came to an abrupt halt when the relationship ended in 2005. This partnership ended in the same way that it did for Aspen, as GM requested that partnership be concluded, with no opportunities to renew, even though the town’s police department wanted it to. The vail Police Department, even went so far as to get a local dealer to try and make some phone calls to GM, but even that did not help.

Apparently today, visitors continue ask the town police officers in Vail, “Where are the Saabs?”. The response is that the town now has Volvos. Since 2005, many of the residents are now following suite, unfortunately for Saab fans, slowly changing with the direction of the the police department’s fleet to Volvos in Vail, instead of the Saabs. I also understand many ski resorts in the immediate area also changed to Volvos as well, which has also contributed to the local residents making the switch.

This goes to show that the kind of publicity and notoriety that a police force can give a car company is incredible, it’s too bad that GM did not see the continued value in it for their Saab brand at the time. It’s worth noting though, Saab USA was on the ball for a number of years and it was super of them to have fostered this relationship for 32 years with Vail.

Due to this initiative in covering this Saab History, the town of Vail Colorado’s police department, now have a very concise history of Saab Police cars for their reference, tourists and visitors alike, for years to come!

A sincere thank you goes to the entire team that have constructed this historical reference of Saab Police Cars in the town of Vail, Colorado for Saab History.

badge.jpgHistory of Saab Police Cars in Vail, Colorado

In the late 60’s and early 70’s the Vail Police Department in Vail, Colorado was using a variety of vehicles as their police vehicles, to include a Jeep Wagoneer and an International Scout. These vehicles were selected for their performance in the heavy snows, as traditional rear wheel drive police vehicles were not practical. Vail receives an average annual snowfall accumulation of 366 inches and the four wheel drive vehicles provided the department the maneuverability needed in responding to different areas of varying terrain within the township.

99_1.jpgAccording to Town of Vail lead mechanic, Byron Stanley, in 1973 the town entered into a contract with Saab to lease their vehicles for use as police vehicles. Byron said that six Saabs, orange in color, were placed into service. Saab offered the town a great deal as they wanted to include Vail in their advertising. Other colors were eventually added to the fleet as the yearly leases ran out to include white and lime green. A colorful array of police vehicles, to say the least. Feedback from the citizens was mixed at first, some thinking it was “really cool”, while others were concerned that we were not buying American. The majority ruled and the relationship with Saab continued.

900_1.jpgInto the 80’s brought about the Saab 900 Turbo, with both standard and automatic transmissions and dark navy blue or black in color. These were welcomed by the officers as they were “really fast” and handled great. Four studded snow tires were used, which significantly improved the cars ability to get up and down steep roads that were developed as the town grew.

Moving into the 90’s, the entire fleet was equipped with black Saab 9000 Turbo’s with sun roofs, Blaupunkt stereo/CD systems, heated leather seats and automatic transmissions, all the necessary comforts. These cars were leased for a year and then traded in for new ones after 25,000 to 30,000 miles. They were so well liked that police officers were some of the first in line at the dealership to buy the traded in cars, having driven them and being aware of the maintenance records through the town mechanics.


An important aspect to the town was the safety rating of the Saab when considering the well being of the employees that would be driving them. Saab had the Number 1 rating in the country and this rating was put to the test on several occasions. These included two police Saabs being struck from the rear and one from the front, while investigating accidents on Interstate 70, a main thoroughfare passing through Vail All collisions involved speeds of 50mph or higher and in each incident, the occupant in the Saab walked away, virtually without injury. The rear of each vehicle was pushed to the back seat area without the passenger compartment being compromised. Very impressive.

9-5_3.jpgFrom a Public Relations standpoint, the Saabs were quite the attraction. Locals were buying Saabs for their personal vehicles and visitors to Vail from all over the world were constantly wanting to have their picture taken with the Saab police cars. Officers were asked about the comfort, performance, ride and handling of the cars from people that were considering buying a Saab for themselves. At times you felt like a Saab salesman as you went through the various features available on your particular model.

Driving instructors for the police department attended a variety of driver training classes throughout the state which involved operating vehicles through a series of timed exercises such as serpentine, high speed lane change, accident avoidance, braking, cornering, and low friction conditions. In nearly every case, the Saabs were clearly in a different class and performed so well against their competitors, that the Vail officers were required to drive another agency’s vehicle during the testing process as it was felt they had an unfair advantage in the Saab, since they were not feeling the extent of the dynamics experienced by other vehicles.

driving.jpgAll good things must come to an end and in 2004, Saab and the town mutually agreed to end their 31 year relationship. Even though five years have passed, guests returning to Vail still ask, “where are the Saabs?”

Thank you Saab for the great many years of service.

Brad Baldwin

Vail Police Department

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No Responses to “The History of Saab Police Cars in Vail, Colorado”

  1. peter

    05. Mar, 2009

    These sort of deals normally carry substantial discounts.

    Most likely GM didn’t think that the Saab publicity value was worth the subsidy required by the Vail purchasing authority.

    Volvo obviously did !


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  2. Dave

    05. Mar, 2009

    The proof of the start date of the arrangement between Saab and the Vail PD is in the picture. Saab only produced orange cars for MY 1974 starting in late CY 1973. There must of been a surplus of them since they were issued to executives as well at their then headquarters in Orange CT. After being driven for 6000 miles they were then issued to Saab dealers to sell. I know because I bought one. It was fitted by Saab in the US with air conditioning and an 8-track tape player which were then dealer installed optons. Orange colored cars were a short-lived fad in Europe at the time with BMW and Volvo also producing them.

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