The first Saab prototype was powered by a two-cylinder DKW two-stroke engine of 18 hp, and many other components, such as the fuel tank, gearbox, transmission parts, were found in the scrapyard and assembled into a unique unit.
72 years is not a short time at all, so let’s start from the beginning.
Increasingly strong overtones of a possible war in Europe in the 1930s forced the Swedish government to invest more generously in defense forces. In fear of the expansionist aspirations of the USSR and Germany, in 1937 Svenska Aeroplan AB, or SAAB, was created. The first product of the Trollhättan-based company was the Saab B17, which entered service in 1941.
The military aircraft, which has nothing to do with the American heavy bomber Boeing B-17, never participated in military operations. As in the First World War, Sweden was saved from the ravages of war by a policy of neutrality that was rather questionable, but ultimately brought profit thanks to Swedish steel, ball bearings and matches.
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What to do with numerous weapons factories after the war?
Somehow those war years also passed. And with the end of the war, demand for fighter planes dried up sharply, and the Saab management, led by chairman Ragnar Wahrgren, went on the hunt for new products to take advantage of the huge investment in machinery, large human resources and plant.
Kitchen appliances, prefabricated houses, light commercial vehicles were considered, but in the end the choice fell on cars. A field that was sovereignly ruled by Volvo, which Saab decided to compete with a small and affordable car.
Project 92 was the designation behind the first Saab car, the number 92 was chosen for the simple reason that the previous project, the Safir light trainer aircraft, was designated Project 91. Initially, only 16 people were involved under the leadership of Gunnar Ljungström, of whom only two had driver’s licenses. Sixten Sason, one of the greatest Swedish industrial designers of all time, was in charge of the look. The son of a sculptor who completed his art studies in Paris, he showed his talent in the world of aviation.
In addition to designing, Sason also flew airplanes, and during the war he was a member of the Swedish military. He ended his piloting career with a crash in which he lost his lung wing and his license to fly, but he continued to work. His entry into Saab was self-evident, as were his working methods.
The Ursaab Prototype
Sason’s first preliminary sketches created in 1946 turned into the prototype known today as the Ursaab. The 1:10 scale model, coated in black boot patina, immediately ended up in the wind tunnel from which it emerged with a drag coefficient of 0.32, an impressive figure even by today’s standards.
However, aerodynamics was not the only reflection of the experience and knowledge gained in making airplanes. For example, the suspension elements are connected to the central structure of the chassis in order to bear the load more easily. At the same time, Sason was a proponent of front-wheel drive, which allowed him to dramatically narrow the rear end of the Ursaab.
The first prototype was powered by a two-cylinder DKW two-stroke engine (18 hp), and many other components, such as the fuel tank, gearbox, transmission parts, were found in the scrap yard. The Ursaab was a compact car with a self-supporting body, which was a rare combination in the forties, and the unconventional thinking and solutions that followed from it, from a team that was unencumbered by trends in car development, ultimately gave Saab a special image.
Test drives of the prototype with the number 92.001 started at the end of the summer of 1946. Ursaab spent day and night on the road and pointed out the details that needed to be changed. The thick doors were impractical and got in the way when getting out, and the front wheels were too “buried” in the body and prone to catching snow. Swedish newspapers reported on ruthless drivers, but the first prototype, on display today at the Saab car museum in Trollhättan, is still in working order and with its original body paint.
The next two prototypes covered more than 530,000 km, which was another characteristic of Saab, which from the very beginning attached great importance to safety and quality of production. Only after thorough testing of a total of 20 prototypes was the Saab 92 presented to the public on June 10, 1949 in Trollhättan, and Volvo, which had absolutely ruled the domestic (swedish) market for more than 20 years, suddenly had an “unpleasant” competitor.
Sales started in 1950
At the beginning of 1950, deliveries of the first cars to customers began, and by the end of the year, 1,426 examples were produced, all of them in green color. In four years, production reached 9,000 units, but it was too little compared to the interest. At one point, the number of orders received at the factory exceeded 30,000.
The car that looked like it came out of one of the cartoons of Walt Disney was redesigned in 1953 and received a DKW 3-cylinder engine that extracted 33 horses from 748 cc. Two years later, the Saab 93 was presented with a more compact and powerful engine. Although the two-part windshield was retained, it was accompanied by significant innovations, such as a synchronized three-speed gearbox, 12 V electrical system, coil springs… It was also the first model that Saab exported to the USA.
As most of us Saab enthusiasts know, unlike the military wing that developed into a global player, the story of Saab passenger cars was more prosaic.