- "Saab Paddan1" Lukasz19930915 on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0. Cropped.

Disguising the Saab 99 Prototypes

Normal camouflage wouldn't do in Trollhättan

Saab was always known for having their own, unique way of doing things. Two stroke engines, ignition switches on the floor, and the whole “born from jets” approach to marketing, if not engineering, are all part of the Trollhättan ethos of being different. That ethos also extended to the means of disguising the prototype 99s for testing.

The 99 was an important car for Saab. Previously, the Swedish aircraft-manufacturer-turned-automaker built quirky, egg-shaped economy cars with a reputation for both ruggedness and eccentricity. The 99, however, was to be a more sophisticated car, occupying a place further up in the market. This move upmarket would take the company into new territory, so it was important that Saab get it right the first time. So, like all other manufacturers, they carried out the usual regime of testing on the 99 to prepare it for production.

Except, unlike other manufacturers, Saab did not resort to the usual methods of camouflaging the prototype 99s. One effort, built in 1966, was known as the Paddan, or Toad. This unusual car consisted of a 99 platform clothed in modified bodywork from the 96. Now, it is not entirely unheard of in the automotive industry to disguise a prototype with bodywork from an existing model. But generally the prototype and the donor vehicle have approximately the same dimensions. The 99, in point of fact, was similar in size to the 96 in most dimensions. All except one: track width. As such, to fit the 99 platform, the body of the Paddan had to be widened by about 20cm in the middle. The extra width wasn’t terribly noticeable, unless a 96 happened to be around for comparison.

"Saab Museum" by Julian Knutzen on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Note the difference between the Paddan and the 96 on the right.

"Saab Museum" by Julian Knutzen on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Note the difference between the Paddan and the 96 on the right.

Later on in the testing process, Saab sent out a prototype with the 99’s body. However, rather than using the typical body camouflage used to hide a car’s identity, Saab resorted to misdirection. The body was completely unobscured and unmodified, but there were no SAAB badges on the car, of course. The car instead wore a badge cobbled together from available letters from existing Saab badges indicating the name of another manufacturer: Daihatsu.

"Saab 'Daihatsu'" by Ballista on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.

"Saab 'Daihatsu'" by Ballista on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.

What Daihatsu would have thought about his deception is unknown, and it probably wouldn’t be legally feasible to attempt any kind of marque misdirection today. However, anything less than such unusual solutions as the Paddan and “Daihatsu” would be out of character with Saab’s way of doing things.

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