Saab SmartBack is another unrealized concept from a series of Saab development projects, in addition to the “secret” projects we mentioned. At one time, Björn Envall, as the former head of design at Saab Automobile, mentioned in an interview for the Swedish club magazine several unrealized projects on which his design team worked diligently. Among those projected projects is the Saab Smartback project.
The journalists of the Saab club magazine managed to get a never-told story out of Björn, because some topics are simply “not for newspapers”, referring to some secret and unrealized projects. As he himself testified, Not everything went as the design team wanted. These are models that were developed by his design team, but were simply rejected by the Saab management at some point, due to various reasons.
Some of these development models are left in one or another basement, some are completely lost, and some are only sketches left. Everything could be placed in the official Saab museum called “Björn’s garage“, but it is necessary to collect all the remaining sketches, pictures and testimonies of people who used to be in the development team.
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On this very occasion, Björn mentioned, among other things, a very interesting convertible called the Saab Smartback at the time. This model was then conceived as a link in the series between the Saab 900 and 9000 models, but also as their complete replacement – but it never came into production.
This project, unlike the others, which ended only with sketches, went very far – even to a 3D model. At one point, Saab Smartback was shown as a full-scale plastic model, designed by Geoff Wardle, and lived quite a long time in the Saab system, as a promising potential. Geoff Wardle, the Briton who, among other things, designed the Chrysler Voyager before joining Saab.
The Concept car was supposed to be 465 cm long, and practical tests showed that it was more spacious than a Volvo 760, which was the ultimate “truck” (family car) in Sweden at this time. SmartBack was based on a modular system, much like you could change the rear and get a coupe, combi-coupe or station wagon – something that the picture of the white car shows.
As with the Nissan Pulsar NX from 1988, the idea is to design a rear end that comes in standard units so that the car can be changed from a hatchback to a long-back without much adjustment.
The work to produce the car continued until the mid-eighties, and the concept was still “alive” when Björn left Saab in 1994.
Why was SmartBack never launched?
Björn explains that the resources became too small (both manpower and finances). This was in the mid-eighties, during the work with the launch of the first convertible, as well as the upgrade of the existing Saab 900 which took a lot of time, then came the Saab 9000 CS, then GM. SmartBack was not prioritized, at that time.
The Aero Side Skirts on the Saab 900
When we already mentioned the designer Geoff Wardle, it is important to mention his contribution during his work in the Saab design team.
Geoff is the man behind the Aero skirts on the Saab 900, which was a lot important design change for Saab enthusiasts. In contrast, Björn doubted that the side skirts could be made and successfully integrated on the Saab 900 body in practice. He had seen Mercedes’ problems with corresponding skirts on the S-Class, and how they had been forced to add long profiles as reinforcements so that they did not lose their shape and failed.
However, Geoff did not give up, he created an icon, and extended the life of the Saab 900 by several years.