What a wonderful video charting Saab’s move from Aircraft to Cars – I hope you enjoy this piece of history as much as I did.
Saab Model history
Saab’ first car the 92 rolled off the production line in 1950, progress was rapid and the 92 was quickly followed by an updated model logically called the 93 in 1956. The new model was powered by a larger three cylinder engine (the 92 being two cylinder) this model was continuously improved and developed until a new model the 96 was introduced in 1960. Saab had already paved the way for the 96 when they introduced the 95 estate car a year earlier in 1959. Both these models grew in popularity, not only in the home market of Scandinavia, but also their export markets, and of course were seen here for the first time in the UK.
The two stroke had been a wonderful engine that had served the little car very well, but emission laws were beginning to tighten throughout the world, so with this in mind, Saab looked for a compact 4-stroke engine, settling on the Ford Taunus 1500 V4, itself a new engine at the time and in 1966 the 96 V4 was born.
By the late sixties the Saab customer was looking for a larger car, and in 1968 they got it, in the shape of the 99. Again Saab looked outside the company for an engine for their new car , development was a joint affair between Triumph, Ricardo and of course Saab’s own engineers. Initially 1709cc, it was soon enlarged by Triumph and Saab to 1850, and then further increased in capacity to two litres by Saab’s own engineers at Sodertalje. Following this development Saab started to produce the engine themselves.
The Saab range was increased further still in 1974 with the introduction of the 3-door combi-coupe hatchback, subsequently available with 5 doors and complimented by the 2 door EMS (Electronic manual special)
In 1976 another new model arrived in the form of the GLE, an executive model that had an automatic gearbox as standard.
By the end of 1978 the new 900 was waiting in the wings, and was introduced to the UK in March 1979. Although heavily based on the 99, the nose had been extended to meet new crash test regulations in the US and the car featured a completely new dashboard.
The New 900 remained relatively unchanged during the next decade, the new updated 16 valve double overhead camshaft engine arrived in 1984, and the model range was updated in 1987 giving the car a sleeker look and at the same time the handbrake now operated on the rear wheels.
The 99 was phased out during the early part of the 1980s and was discontinued during 1984/85, with the Saab 90 ( featuring the front of a 99 and the rear of a 900 saloon) also dropped during the mid eighties.
Saab launched its flagship executive car the 9000 in 1985, a joint development with Fiat and Alfa Romeo, this car featured a 5- door hatchback body, transverse engine and full pressure turbo. An early 90’s face lift saw the introduction of the CS model, with slightly different front and rear styling, but the same interior. The 9000 remained in production until 1997 and proved to be a very capable car.
1986 saw the introduction of the Saab 900 convertible, originally produced for the American market, but introduced to the UK and Europe the following year.
Initially the convertible was only available with the full pressure turbo including a standard leather interior, but at the beginning of the 1990s was also available with the fuel injected non-turbo engine. This model featured cloth seat facings as opposed to leather. A low pressure turbo version called the 900S was also available towards the end of production.
1993 saw the end of Classic 900 production, with a special edition called the Ruby, 150 cars were made, based on the t16s 3 -door, but with an uprated engine output of 185bhp to the t16’s 175bhp. All cars were Ruby Red in colour and featured a unique seat design of Leather with a cloth insert called Zenga.
The NG 900 was introduced for model year 1994, this was the first Saab car influenced by General Motors USA, who had by this time taken a stake in Saab Scania AB. Available in 3 door, 5 door, and convertible models, again with turbocharged and normally aspirated engines. A short lived car, as it was replaced in 1998 with the 9-3, using the same body but with a great many improvements, including a hydraulic clutch to replace the cable operated version in the NG 900 and Saabs first ever Diesel engine.
1998 saw the introduction of Saabs new 9-5 saloon, along with its first ever estate car, this car replaced the outgoing 9000 hatchback and was very well received. All models were turbo charged in either low or full pressure variants. A Diesel version also became available to those that wanted it.
The second generation 9-3 was introduced in 2003, a completely different body to the previous generation and no longer available in hatchback form, although an estate version called the Sportwagon was offered alongside the four door saloon. Again both petrol and diesel engines were available including the TTid twin turbo diesel.
Facelifted in 2007 for the 2008 model year, the second generation has remained largely unchanged.
Saabs last model to date is the NG 9-5, introduced for model year 2010, and available as a four door saloon only, although an estate version was planned to follow with a few models produced, but never seen in the UK.
The history of Saab GB
Saab (Great Britain) Ltd, was formed in October 1960 to market the Saab 96 two-stoke.
The company was an expansion of a Regent St London office, from where the components for the Royal Swedish Air Board and the Saab car division were purchased.
In 1961, the first cars were brought into this country on a pilot scheme to see how they faired. The cars were landed at Tilbury and then transported to George Bate Garages of Bath road, Slough, which was contracted to receive, prepare, and despatch the cars. In that first year 370 cars were sold.
As this strange little two-stroke car became more and more popular, it was decided that a two-tier system of distributors and dealers be established, and by 1962 there were already 100 Saab outlets.
Because of increased sales, larger premises were needed, and George Bate Garages purchased Haymill Garages Slough, and set up a parts warehouse.
By now it was becoming evident that Saabs had a future in Great Britain, so in July 1962 Saab Great Britain Ltd moved into its own premises in Wellcroft Road Slough. The new premises housed the whole of the administration, car preparation and parts set up.
By 1965/66 sales had climbed to around 1500 units a year, so it was decided that a preparation plant should be built near Immingham, where the cars landed after being shipped directly from Gothenburg, which until then had come in via Felixstowe.
The kiln lane Stallingborough site, covered 17.2 acres, and had sufficient storage area for 4000 cars. The original preparation unit covered 15,000 sq ft and was built at a cost of £70,000, it consisted of two inspection lines and the plant had a capacity of 10,000 cars a year.
In 1969, two more buildings were added, and the parts operation moved from Slough to Stallingborough. Buildings now covered 40,300 sq ft and had sufficient capacity to cope with the 2376 cars sold that year.
The History of Saab Great Britain: Part 2
The early seventies were to prove a boom time for Saab, with sales soaring to 11,382 in 1973. To cope with the extra demand, further buildings, covering 20,268 sq ft were added to the Stallingborough complex, providing a highly automated preparation and rectification unit that could handle up to 30,000 cars per year.
It was during these years that the Saab 99 won the Swedish Automobile Association’s gold medal for its then, innovative, headlamp wash/wipe system. While here in Great Britain the Saab 99 also won the prestigious Don Safety Award in 1972.
Saab had grown considerably by this time and had amassed 224 dealers throughout the country.
After 1974 Saab sales in the UK started to decline somewhat, due to the combined effect of the world economic crisis and the weakness of sterling against the Kroner. This forced Saab (Great Britain) Ltd to raise its prices considerably in a short period of time.
While sales stabilised around the 7000 mark, it was decided in 1976 to move from Slough to Marlow. Apart from the administrative staff, the Marlow site also had workshop facilities and some 32,000 sq ft of storage space for parts.
The parts operation moved from Stallingborough to Marlow in April 1977.
Although Sales declined further to 4,072 cars in 1977, an upward trend started to develop, with 6,407 cars in 1978, and reaching almost 10,000 by the end of 1981
The growing confidence in the UK market was highlighted in 1979, with the opening in Piccadilly of Saabs first West end showroom.
The new premises, wholly owned by Saab GB were ideally located for export and diplomatic sales and represented a major investment by the British subsidiary.
Although it wasn’t Saab GB’s policy to open wholly owned dealerships throughout the country, the company believed that where it wasn’t possible to acquire an adequate representation, then it should step in and fill the gap.
It was in such circumstances the Saab Manchester Ltd was opened in April 1981. The dealership represented an investment of more than £250,000 and had a total ground area of 30,000 sq ft, comprising a 5000 sq ft showroom, 10 bay workshop, and a 2000 sq ft parts stock area.
Later in the same year came news of Saab’s biggest UK investment, the building of a new £1.5 million after sales centre at Round Spinney Northampton. The main feature of the 5.7 acre site was a 1.2 million cu ft warehouse, with space for a one million cu ft extension.
Other features that were incorporated on the site included a training centre, featuring three lecture rooms and a large demonstration workshop. At the time a total of 70 people were employed in this section of Saab GB.
So there you have it, a fascinating insight into the early years of Saab here in the UK.
The early part of 1988 saw the 100,000th Saab 9000 roll off the Trollhattan production line. The first 9000 had been built only three years ago, so to reach this figure in such a short time was truly staggering for a small car company.
The 100,000th car was destined for the UK , was a turbo charged model, and fitted with options such as a sunroof, Automatic Climate Control and Grey leather upholstery.
I guess this car is long gone now, but someone somewhere in the UK once owned this special car .
The Long Run
Way way back on the 27th of October 1986, Saab embarked on an endurance challenge to show the world just how good their new 9000 Turbo was.
As with any new car produced by a manufacturer, the buying public are always wary of being the ‘guinea pig’ when it comes to new models, preferring to let others be the first to find out any shortcomings or problems before reaching for their cheque book.
Confidence in a new model takes time, time the car manufacturer really doesn’t have.
This is why an endurance test such as the one Saab carried out at the Talladega speedway in Alabama USA was felt to be a good way to instil confidence in its new car (which was after all very different from the Saabs the existing core buyer was used to) and to show the motoring press just how good a car the 9000 was.
It turned out to be quite a challenge too. The distance ran was an amazing 62000 miles at an average speed of 132mph by three cars picked randomly from the production line with no modifications other than the fitting of role cages and a six point safety harness for the driver. During the test Saab managed to bag 21 international and 2 world records.
As I mentioned earlier, the cars were picked at random from the production line under the supervision of FISA (Federation Internationale Sportif Automobile) International motor sports authority, and were sealed prior to shipment to the USA.
International rules allowed 85kg of spare parts which were carried in a special aluminium case on the back seat, and only these parts could be used to repair the car during the test.
Obviously Saab couldn’t carry out such a mammoth test without help, so partners were sought, these being Shell, Pirelli, and Garrett.
Pirelli supplied 400 P600 tyres, Shell made sure that approaching 100,000 litres of fuel and suitable quantities of lubricating oil was available, and Garrett supplied back up and expertise within the world of turbocharging.
So what about the test itself. Well, 25 drivers, most of them Saab engineers, took turns behind the wheel of the three test cars. Each car made a pit stop every hour for fuel, and every other hour for a driver change.
Front tyres were changed every 12 hours, and the rear tyres every 24 hours, with servicing carried out at the normal 12,000 mile intervals.
The cars were driven constantly at 136mph, with pit stops reducing the average speed to 130mph. This equated to each car covering around 3000 miles a day for twenty days.
To conclude the ‘Long Run’ post I had a look at the repairs carried out on the cars to see how they had stood up to the gruelling test, often carried out in heavy rain and strong winds. Despite these difficult conditions the average speed never dropped. This was put down to the excellent all round abilities of the Pirelli P600 tyres and obviously the skill and confidence of the test drivers.
So what went wrong with the cars during the test? Nothing much actually, the one thing Saab hadn’t given too much thought to was the steeply curved bank of the track. After a day, it was found that the engine was being starved of fuel when the level in the tank became low just before each fuel stop. It was found that sufficient allowance had not been made for the shifting of the fuel to the lower side of the tank, resulting in the fuel pump drawing in air, which in turn caused one exhaust valve in each car to burn out after 15 days. The quickest remedy was to replace the complete head with the spare head carried in the car, and just in case any damage had been done to the turbochargers, these were replaced at the same time. However when checked at the end of the test the turbo chargers were found to be in near perfect condition, proving just how long these units would last in normal service (always one of the questions any potential owner was bound to ask) therefore making head replacement the only major repair to the cars.
The entire test was carried out under strict supervision. Laps were continually counted and timed, and all work carried out in the pit lane was closely scrutinised.
With the ‘Long Run’ completed the cars were completely stripped down, and the various components inspected and measured for wear.
The engines were taken back to the engine laboratory in Trollhattan, where all three engines were subsequently found to be in excellent condition, although Shell did find a small degree of impurities in the drained engine oil.
The gearboxes had also performed perfectly during the test. The oil never changed as the units according to Saab were ‘lubricated for life.’
No chassis components such as springs, shock absorbers, or wheel bearings needed to be replaced.
The brakes of course were little used, apart from high speed stops entering the pit lane, with each car coming in 500 times during the test. Remarkably only two of the cars needed the pads changing once, with the third car still on original pads at the end of the test.
I think the most interesting thing about the test, other than showing just how good these cars were, is the damage done to the windscreens and headlamp glass. The dust kicked up from the track made by the three cars constantly driving round for hour after hour, day after day had ‘sandblasted’ the glass, making it very difficult to see through the windscreen, especially at sunset and in the mornings.
So there you have it, no need to be surprised anymore as to why your car ‘just goes on and on.’ Saab knew all along just how good their cars were.
No wonder the Saab 900 was an expensive car. In life you pay for what you get, quality never comes cheap. Once you have seen this remarkable video, you will feel very different the next time you take the wheel of your ‘hand built’ car.
You will have a renewed sense of pride in a car that was not not rushed down the production line and into the showroom. You will have a car that each worker in the team took great care to produce, and did it to the best of their ability.
The name Saab stood for quality and durability, and the fact so many of these wonderful cars are still on the road today is a great tribute to the people that built them.