The unique Swedish car: Saab

SAAB.LOGO

THE SAAB ENSIGNIA

SAAB stands for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolager, a company founded in 1937 to buid Swedish military aircraft. The first Saab automobile was introduced on June 10, 1947. The car — built by Gunnar Ljungstrom and his colleagues — was shown to journalists at Linkoping, Sweden. Mr. Ljungstrom had been employed as a wing designer for Saab airplanes before he was asked to create a new car.

“With a profile that looked like the cross-section of an aircraft wing, it was unlike any car on the road at that time.” (Made in Trollhattan — Saab Automobile AB 2001.)

The first Saab automobile was allocated to “Project 92.” Saab’s military projects went up to 89 and non-military projects started with the number 90.

Saab’s first prototype car had the number 92,001. The original Saab is in the Saab museum in Trollhattan.

The prototype of the Saab 92 took less than six months to build in 1946.

“Commercial production of the Saab 92 started in December 1949 when a batch of 700 was made. . . . [N]one of Saab’s engines were original Saab designs. The 92’s was borrowed from DKW. It was a two-cylinder, water cooled two-stroke, with 764 cc capacity. It . . . allowed the car to reach a top speed of 65 miles per hour (105 kph).” (Saab: A Short History by Brian Williams.)

“Sweden’s largest car dealer — Gunnar V. Philipson — not only ordered the first 8,000 Saabs due to be produced, but, it is said, he also paid for them in advance. It was this down-payment which aided SAAB’s severe lack of finance and its cash-flow problems . . . ” (Anders Tunberg, Saab: From two-stroke to turbo.)

The designer of the first Saab automobile was Sixten Sason. Mr. Sason designed the Saab 92, 93, 95, 96 and 99. The Saab 99, 900, 900 convertible and EV-1 were desingned by Bjorn Envall.

“He was a genius — an engineer with the talents of an artist or an artist with the temperament of an engineer — not matter which way you put it, he was it,” said Mr. Ljungstrom said about Mr. Sason. “Never did he allow a design, however excellent, to interfere with functionality. With his technical background and his common-sense approach to design problems, he was the ideal partner to work with.”

Mr. Sason (1912 – 1967) also designed vaccuum cleaners for Electrolux, motorcyles for Husqvarna, cameras for Hasselblad and scooters for Monark. (Mr. Sason’s surname was Andersson when he was born in Skovde, Sweden. He changed his name to Sason, which is the Spanish name for “spice” or “seasonings.”)

Rolf Mellde, an engine specialist, was also an important part of the Ljungstrom-Sason team. “In 1946, after spending some time designing engines for boats, he replied to an unobtrusive advertisement in Svenska Dagbladet for an auto engine designer — and was immediately hired by Saab.” (Bjorn-Eric Lindh, Saab: the first 40 years of Saab cars.) At one time Saab considered the Wankel engine due in part to its compactness. “The idea was soon shelved without a protype being constructed. Rolf Mellde once said that the decision over the Wankel engine was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make in his time at Saab.” (Mark Chatteron, Saab: The Innovator.)

Saab introduced many features that are now common on cars. In 1971, Saab was the first automobile company to offer heated front seats. Ventilated seats were introduced 26 years later.

Saab introduced the Saab Variable Compression (SVC) engine. The goal of the engineers at Saab was to develop an engine with the power of a 3-liter V6 and with the economy of a 1.6 liter engine. The first series of 1.6 liter, five-cylinder SVC engines produced 225 hp at 6000 rpm.

Saab did not produce more than 10,000 cars per year until 1958. By the mid-70s Saab was producing about 90,000 car per year. The highest annual total was reached in 1986 when 134,112 cars were produced. In addition to being produced in Trollhattan, Saab cars were also assembled over the years in Linkoping, Arlov and Malmo (Sweden), Mechelen (Belgium) and Nystad/Uusikaupunki (Finland).

Saab produced these automobiles:

SAAB 92 (1950-55) — It featured a two-cylinder, 25 hp transversely mounted engine. The top speed was 62-65 mph. “Gunnar Ljungstrom had never been pleased with the handling of the 92 with its oversteering characteristics and had wanted to change it at the earliest possible opportunity.” (Mark Chatteron, Saab: The Innovator.) “It was decided to abandon independent torsion bars [of the 92], and instead use more conventional coil springs. At the front independent coil springs were used. . . . At the rear independent suspension was abandoned and coil springs . . . were fitted to a U-shaped tubular axle, located by trailing arms and a central bearing.” (Id.)

SAAB Sonett Super Sport (1955-56) — It featured an in-line, three-cylinder engine. The top speed was 103-plus mph depending on gearing.

SAAB.SONETT.SUPER.SPORT.1955

THE 1955 SAAB SONETT SUPER SPORT

SAAB 93 (1956-1959) — It also had an in-line, three-cylinder engine which developed 33 hp. It had a top speed of 68 mph.

SAAB 95 (1957-1978) — It also had an in-line, three-cylinder engine. It developed 38 hp and had a top speed of 78 mph.

SAAAB 96 (1960-1969) — It also had an in-line, three-cylinder engine and developed 38 hp. It had a top speed of 75 mph. “The most important new feature of the car was the rear seat, widened by 10 in without increasing the external dimensions. This made it a true five-seater.” (Mark Chatteron: Saab: The Innovator.)

SAAB Sonett II (1966-1974) — This was Saab’s sports car. The 1966 model had an 841 cc engine while the 1971 model had a 1,698 cm engine. “The name Sonett is attributed to Sixten Sason. Having tried, in vain, to have the name used on a car since 1946, he was finally allowed to have his way. (In Swedish Sonett . . . [has the] meaning ‘how nice, how neat’.).” (Saab: the first 40 years of Saab cars by Bjorn-Eric Lindh.) The Sonett II had a top speed of 100-plus mph. “This car, the Sonett II, was probably the most sporting of all the production Sonetts. . . . “The little car was quite a success in the U.S., although the two-stroke engine did rather limit its appeal. With this in mind, the Sonett in 1968 was fitted with a standard V4 engine producing 65 bph. The car was no faster than the old two-stroke model, and as it was more nose-heavy it handled slightly less neatly.” (Mark Chatterton: Saab: The Innovator.)

SAAB 96 V4 (1967-1979) — This car had a V4, four-cylinder, four stroke engine that developed 60 hp. It had a top speed of 88-91 mph. “The fact that the V4 had proved to be Saab’s salvation is vividly illustrated by examination of Swedish sales figures for 1967 and 1968. In 1967 almost 24,000 V4s were sold, against only 500 two strokes, and in 1968 over 30,000 V4s were sold against only 28 two strokes.” (Mark Chatterton: Saab: The Innovator.)

SAAB.96.1967

1967 SAAB 96 V4

SAAB Sonett III (1969-1974) — The Sonett III was equipped with a V4, four-stroke engine that developed 65 hp.

SAAB 99 (1967-1984) — The 1967 model had a four-cylinder 1,709 cm engine that developed 80 hp. It had a top speed of 95-99 mph. The 1978 model offered a turbo that developed 145 hp. “Unfortunately, Sixten Sason did not live to see the culmination of his work [on the 99], dying in January 1967 after a long illness.” (Saab: the first 40 years of Saab cars by Bjorn-Eric Lindh.) The 99 was built in Trollhattan, Sweden, and in Uusikaupunki, Finland. “With the benefit of hindsight it may be said that the introduction of [the 99] was an extremely significant event in the history of Saab cars in so much as it marked the start of their movement ‘up market’.” (Mark Chatterton: Saab: The Innovator.) “With the arrival of the 900 all the 99s were dropped except two models — the 99GL two-and four-door saloons, which were cheaper than any of the 900s and did not duplicate any model in the range.” (Id.)

SAAB 90 (1985-1987) — In 1985, the Saab 99 became known as the Saab 90. It was manufactured at a facility in Uusikaupunki, Finland.

SAAB.90.1985

THE 1985 SAAB 90

SAAB 900 (1978-1998). This car had a four-cylinder, 1,985 cm engine that developed between 100 hp and 175 hp. The “first generation” (known as “the classic”) was built between 1978 and 1993. The “new generation” was built between 1994 and 1998. “The Saab 99 was the last model to be designed jointly by the three men who had also provided the main inspiration for the very first car — the Saab 92. Sixten Sason died in 1967, while Gunnar Ljungstrom retired on pension in 1970 (although continuing to act as a consultant for the Company for several more years) and Rolf Mellde left to join Volvo in 1971 . . . .” (Saab: the first 40 years of Saab cars by Bjorn-Eric Lindh.)

SAAB 9000 (1985-1995). The four-cylinder, 1,985 cm engine developed 175 hp. (The 9000 was replaced in by 9-5 in late 1997.) The 9000 was designed by Bjorn Envall and Giorgetto Giugiaro. A 3.0 liter turbocharged V-6 was made available that developed 210 hp.

SAAB 9-3 (1998-2012) — Engines ranged from 130 hp (B204i) to 276 hp (2.8T V6).

SAAB 9-5 (1997-2012) — Engines ranged from 118 hp (2.2TiD diesel) to 300 hp (2.8T V6).

SAAB.9-5.AERO-SALOON.UNKNOWN.YEAR

SAAB 9-5 AERO SALOON

Books on Saab automobiles include:

Saab, the Innovator (1980) by Mark Chatterton.

From Two-Stroke to Turbo (1980) by Anders Tunberg.

Saab Turbo: 99 and 900 Series, 3, 4, 5 Door (1983) by Graham Robson.

Saab: The First 40 Years of Saab Cars (1987) by Bjorn-Eric Lindh and Tom Byrne.

Saab 900: A Swedish Story (1993) by Anders Tunberg.

The Spirit of Saab (1993) by Rolf Bleeker.

Saab 9-5: A Personal Story (1997) by Anders Tunberg.

Saab: Half a Century of Achievement, 1947-1977 (1997) by Eric Dymock.

Saab (1997) by Xavier Chauvin (published in French).

Saab 9-3 (2002) by Anders Tunberg.

Saab (2010) by Thomas Lang and Ilya Meyer.

SAAB Cars: The Complete Story (2012) by Lance Cole.

Saab (2013) by Dieter Gunther (published in German).

SAAB.92.1947

1947 SAAB 92

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