The Saab Story Chapter 1: 1948-1964
The story of my favorite car brand
Saab was originally founded as an aviation company in 1937, with "SAAB" standing for "Svenska Aeroplan Atkiebolag", and still produces airplanes today. Most Saab airplanes were for the military, but some civilian planes were also produced. After the second World War, demand for military aircraft nosedived, causing Saab and other aviation companies, such as Messerschmitt, to diversify into automobiles.
Work on the project began in 1945, with the first car internally codenamed X9248. It would later be known as Project 92, with the car becoming the next vehicle in the product sequence after the Saab 91 airplane. The car was to compete with German cars like the Opel Kadett and Volkswagen Beetle and meet a target price of 3,200 SEK (a staggering $3,849/£3,011/€3,309 today). Bror Bjurströmer, the head of design, developed a 1:25 scale sketch with design specifications of a 2.75-meter wheelbase (108.3 inches), a 4.5-meter length (177.2 inches), monocoque construction, 50% less drag than other cars, an 800-kilogram maximum weight (1,763 lbs), a transverse two-stroke engine, front-wheel-drive, and rear-hinged doors. A total of four prototypes, 92001 to 92004, were created. The 92 finally entered production in December 1949.
The 92 was powered by a 746-cc transversely-mounted water-cooled, thermosiphon, two-cylinder two-stroke engine that produced just 25 horsepower. It's top speed of 65 MPH (105 KPH) was achieved in half a minute. Despite the modest output, the 92 had a drag coefficient of a still-impressive 0.30. A tuned version got second place in its Swedish Rally class just weeks after its launch, with much more success to come. Initially, the only color available was dark green because of the surplus army paint that Saab had due to the lack of demand for their airplanes. Just 1,246 were made in 1950, but there was a waiting list of 30,000 because of the toughness and reliability of the 92.
1953 saw the arrival of the 92B, which had a larger rear window, increased cargo space, and a choice of colors. A box that converted the car into a van and a kit that transformed the cabin into a double bed was also available. In 2008, General Motors compiled a list of their all-time greatest cars, with the 92 finishing in first, beating out the 1964 Pontiac GTO, 1931 Cadillac V16, and 1953 Corvette.
Left to Right: Saab 93, Saab 95, Saab 92
The 92B was joined by the 93 in 1955, which had 33 horsepower, optional two-point seat belts, and, in 1957, an optional cloth sunroof. Both models were replaced by the 93B in September 1957, which had a single-piece windshield. The 93B in turn was replaced by the 93F in late 1959, which had front-hinged doors. A total of 52,731 93s were sold. The 93 was also the first Saab to be exported, going to the United States. A seven-seat wagon version of the 93, dubbed the 95, was launched in 1959.
Saab Sonett Prototype #1
Saab also created a sports car in 1955 called the Sonett, which is also referred to as the Super Sport or Saab 94. It used a 748-cc three-cylinder two-stroke engine stabling 58 horses, but also weighed just 600 kilograms (1,323 lbs), good enough for a projected top speed of 120 MPH (190 KPH). A run of 2,000 units was planned for 1957, but the competition rules changed and just six were built. Prototype #1 resides in the Saab Car Museum in Trollhättan, Sweden.
The Sonett's engine was used in a high-performance version of the 93 called the GT750, albeit detuned somewhat. Aimed at the US market, it developed 50 horsepower, good enough to hit 60 MPH in 15.2 seconds; the 93 required 27.2 seconds. An optional tuning kit called the GT750R stabled another five horses. Road & Track praised the GT750 for its high equipment level (including a rally-style trip computer), smooth ride, and responsive steering.
The 96 replaced the 93 in 1960 as an evolution of the original 92, now ten years old. It utilized a 750-cc two-stroke three-cylinder engine that produced 37 horsepower, twelve more than the 92. It could reach 60 MPH (97 KPH) in 25.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 75 MPH (121 KPH) compared to the 92's 65 MPH (105 KPH). Replacing the GT750 was the GT850, sold as the Monte Carlo in the US and the Saab Sport in the UK. It had the same engine and body as the 96, but featured front disc brakes. The Saab 96 and Saab Sport were the first Saabs to be exported to the UK.
Left to right: Saab 96, Saab 93, Saab 92, Saab X9248
End of Chapter 1