General Motors had just lost the fight over Jaguar Cars in 1989 when another possible bride - who wasn't as demanding and would come far cheaper - surprisingly emerged.
Insiders aren't certain who began the flirtation, Saab Scania AB or GM.
However, the U.S. automaker still wanted a small European premium brand to complement Opel's product range.
Fiat S.p.A was deeply involved in takeover negotiations with Saab by the time GM negotiators arrived in Sweden. Fiat wanted all of Saab. However, the Agnelli family was beginning to suffer a clash of personalities with Saab's owner, the Wallenberg family of Sweden.
To maintain secrecy, Bob Eaton, then president of GM Europe, kept his negotiating team small.
'We didn't want it spilling out that we wanted another bride,' a GM insider said.
Saab quickly forgot its Italian suitor, the insider said. Within five weeks, GM and Saab negotiated a deal. The U.S. automaker would acquire 50 percent of Saab, plus total management control for $600 million. GM later raised its total investment in Saab to $1.3 billion.
Eaton hammered out most of the details along with John Smith, GM Europe's former vice president for planning and now head of Cadillac.
Saab Scania's management sought a partner because it felt the car business was becoming too difficult without one.
'They couldn't really plan an effective future for Saab without one,' said David Herman, Saab's first chairman from GM. 'They were never able to get production over 120,000 cars a year.'
Eaton successfully kept the negotiations secret. Even Fiat didn't find out about GM's deal until it was announced.
'Once our deal came rolling to fruition, no one was even worrying about Fiat - and it was still making a play,' said the GM insider.
Holiday phone call
Herman, who now is vice president of GM's subsidiary in Russia, recalls getting a phone call from Eaton at his home in Germany over the 1989 Christmas holidays. Eaton offered Herman the top job at Saab.
'I had to ask Bob where Saab is located,' Herman said. 'I asked, `Is it in Stockholm?' '
Herman said he and his wife Isabel raced for an atlas to find Saab's home, Trollhattan, on the map. He had been involved in the Jaguar discussions, and immediately thought Saab was a better deal.
'GM wanted a luxury brand to compete, and it felt that it could not and should not push the envelope of its Opel brand up, down or in-between.'
Herman said he also took the job because Eaton was clear that Saab would 'remain a brand that was to be cherished, nourished and remain as Swedish as it ever was.'
At press time, GM was negotiating to buy either all or part of the remaining 50 percent that it doesn't own. Company executives argue that Saab is headed in the right direction.
Following the merger, Saab has achieved modest cost reductions, and the company expects to turn a small profit for the year, after losing $481 million in the four previous years.
But analyst David Strickler said GM has yet to integrate Saab effectively into its own lineup of luxury cars. If GM expands Saab's product lineup, it will have to boost its investment again.