I love the comment that my son said to me once while we were watching the Olympic games one day. After I explained that the athlete who was a Swede came from Sweden, my son, after hearing the commentator talking about some athletes from Cuba, piped up: “That must make that person a cucumber!” Ever since our boy made this comment it is hard for me not to have a smile on my face whenever I think of anything to do with Sweden. Saabs are Swedish – at least before G.M bought a large slice of Saab, followed by its recent amalgamation with Subaru.
A Saab still offers something special, though. Whether it be the sleek lines of a 9-5 or the aggressive stance of the 9-3 or the stealthy looking 9-X, Saab has always had a design that stands out from the rest of the world. But where did it all start for Saab?
Saab stands for Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag (Swedish Airplane Corporation). Originally, in 1938, the Saab factory was built in Trollhattan, Sweden to produce aircraft. However it was not built to produce cars. With World War II on the horizon, the Royal Swedish Air Force was in need of aircraft, so Saab built bombers and fighters. Currently Saab still makes the highest quality civilian and military aircraft, as well as trucks, buses, spacecraft and the famous jet fighter Viggen and the latest innovation Gripen.
Viggen (“lighting”) and Gripen (“griffin”) are also used for the top-range Saab cars, so take care when buying a Viggen or Gripen online that you search car dealers’ sites and not an aeronautical one. While the Saab Viggen jet fighter was designed to take off from short and bumpy strips, your driveway won’t quite do…
When 1940 was reached Saab showed interest in the automobile industry by building its first prototype automobile called Project 92. The result was a cleverly designed, small and affordable car. The car was thoroughly tested and in December of 1949, production of the Saab 92 commenced. The engine was a 750cc two-cylinder two-stroke, transversely mounted ahead of the front axle. Saab engineers also created a safety cage for the passengers, to protect them in the event of an accident. This was one of the first cars ever designed with the safety of the occupants being of great importance, a tradition that Saab has continued.
Saab entered two cars in the 1950 Monte Carlo rally. Both cars finished the painstaking event. Saab continued actively in rallying until 1980. Because other marques started to spend so much on the sport, Saab could no longer be competitive.
At the 1958 New York Automobile Show, Saab exhibited a car that they called the Gran Turismo 750. It was a sporty and luxurious model that was pitched specifically at the growing US market. The Saab GT750 had twin carburetors, and the engine had been tuned to develop 50 bhp. It was also the first Saab to have factory fitted seat belts. In February 1960, the new Saab 96 was revealed in Stockholm. It was also equipped with the V4 engine, and was for the Swedes what the VW beetle was for the Germans.
With the disappointment of the Sonnet II design, in 1964 Saab decided to develop a new and larger Saab. The Saab 99 was developed with a Triumph engine which was essentially half of a V8 engine. In 1970 Saab produced car number 500,000. The Sonett III, was a product of the Swedish-Italian cooperation which was unveiled in spring 1970 this was a much nicer design than that of the Sonett II.
Saab models in 1972 featured Saabs unique electrically heated driver’s seat, and a bumper that could absorb impacts of up to to 8 Kph. Saab was also first to come up with the air/pollen filter found on many modern cars. In 1976, the one-millionth Saab car came off the line at Trollhättan. In 1978 the quick and punchy Saab 99 Turbo was produced and went out onto the market. The Saab 99 Turbo had great success in the Swedish Rally with Stig Blomquist behind the wheel (who is not, contrary to popular rumour, The Stig off the BBC’s Top Gear). The classy Saab 900 was a model that spanned the entire 1980s, being in production for some fifteen years. During its lifetime, over 900,000 units were produced, almost 50,000 of which were the successful and stylish 900 convertible. The car still has a wide enthusiast club spanning around the globe. The Saab 900 TurboS still is a particularly desirable car that is capable of over 200kph and a 0-62 mph time of around 8 seconds.
The Saab 9000 of 1987 was another well designed and impeccably built model that became the first front-wheel-drive car to offer ABS brakes. The car was styled by Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro, and was roomy and very safe. In 2.3 Turbo form, the Saab 9000 was a true performer particularly when pulling out to pass slower moving traffic. The Saab 9000 Gripen, when timed for the passing maneuver from 80–20 kph, was comparable with a Ferrari. In 1986, three Saab 9000 Turbo 16s in guaranteed standard condition set off on the world’s fastest racetrack, the Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega, U.S.A. Thirty-one drivers took turns at guiding the three cars around the circuit, with stops only for refueling and service. In nearly twenty days of uninterrupted driving, they easily broke two world records and 21 international speed records. The fastest car covered 100,000 km at an average speed of 213 Km/h, the other 2 Saabs averaged around 210 and 208 Km/h.
In 1989, GM announced it was to buy 50% of Saab’s car operations. But the records didn’t stop coming for Saab. After the 1996 return to Tallageda, the standard production Saab 900s created 40 new international speed records. The fastest car, a 900 Turbo, turned in an average speed of 226 Km/h. G.M bought the remainder of Saab in 2000. Still, the Saabs are designed by Saab, but the parts come from G.M. Very recently Subaru is now providing some mechanical parts as well. The current Saab 9-2 is in fact based on the Subaru Impreza platform, and is sometimes called a “Saabaru”.
The Saab 9-3 was launched in 1998 which was essentially a rebadged Saab 900. It was under the body that the changes had been made on the 9-3. Over 1,100 changes including suspension, in an attempt to tighten up the handling characteristics of its predecessor, the Saab 900. In 1997, the new Saab 9-5 was presented in Trollhättan. It was to become the safest car ever with superb results coming from from tests and surveys done by Saab, from Folksam (the Swedish insurer), Euro NCAP and American HLDI.
If you have already been to a dealer, and are now a proud owner of a suave Saab, the fun doesn’t have to stop there. Across Australia, there are a number of Saab Car Clubs near you. Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia have a Saab club. You might be interested to know that if you become a club member, you will enjoy preferential and special treatment. Entitlements to Saab Automobile Australia sponsored events( e.g. Opera Australia, Melbourne Theatre Company, Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, Sydney Ensemble Theatre) and Sydney/Melbourne Motor Show free passes are all part of the package. Enjoy (as if the car wasn’t enough fun already).
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