Saab was formed in 1945, where it grew over time to become an emblem of the finest in Swedish auto making. It began life as an aerospace company, building planes to fight in the war, but transitioned into auto making as the war drew to a close. Its most prominent model was the Saab 900, which sold nearly 1 million cars during its production run.
Today, Saab is an embattled company run by a Chinese consortium on the brink of bankruptcy, a far cry from the Saab of old, which demonstrated dominance of both the track and rally racing scenes. For those of us who prefer to look on the bright side of life, we offer this retrospective of Saab and its legacy.
Saab’s First Racer Car
The first Saab race car wasn’t really a project the company was interested in making. Rolf Mellde, one of the company’s engineers, had created a concept for a two seater with an open top. He and a few colleagues built it without Saab’s blessing in a barn about 40 miles from Trollhattan. It was characterized by its light weight body, its three-cylinder engine capable of a whopping 5,000 RPM for 60 HP. Its top speed was 120 miles an hour, and the engineers dubbed it the 94. Saab ended up calling it the Sonett, Swedish for “how neat it is,” and used it to try and break into the American market that was hungry for sports car bodies. Changes to the rules of racing kept the Sonett on the sidelines. Only six were ever made, but they are beautiful examples of Swedish auto making.
The Saab 99
Saab’s 99 model was their first with a turbocharged engine, and showed the power and efficiency of these types of engines. The original design called for a two-stroke engine, but engineers ultimately went with a four-stroke. Combined with a lower and wider suspension, the 99 handled quite well for its time and became a popular choice for sports cars. Mass Motorist from the UK argued that the 99 was a trendsetter, and they were right in a way. The turbo charging the 99 set as a standard was soon followed by others like BMW and Alfa Romeo.
Although the turbo-charged edition of the Saab 99 did not debut until 1978, at the time it was hailed as one of the greatest technological achievements to date. The car was also victorious in the International Swedish Rally in 1977 and 1979.
Genuine Saab parts are built for safety and reliability are still widely available as aftermarket replacements. Every Saab is given the elk test, which is designed to simulate an elk coming from the woods and how the car reacts to the sudden movement. Saab has also recorded a database of over 6000 real-life accidents that have occurred with its cars, beginning with an accident in 1948.
Saabs are also built with a floor-mounted ignition to reduce the chances of a driver shattering his knee cap during an accident. This is also a nod to Saab’s earlier work designing aircrafts. Saabs also have a reputation for being quite difficult to hot wire.
Saab is now owned by a Chinese consortium that isn’t doing so well. It has definitely seen better days, and looks to be focusing its future on the production of electric vehicles. Saab’s Phoenix model, unveiled in 2011, is a hybrid that runs a custom version of Google’s Android operating system to power apps in the car. Saab still manufactures the 9-3, a luxury car with decent power under the hood.