With the Second World War coming to an end, Saab decided there would be a need to diversify away from military aircraft. Ideas banded around, included motorcycles, cars, commercial vehicles and even fitted kitchens! Saab decided to produce a niche car which would be the right size, type, construction and price – a small, affordable car.
Ursaab began life in 1945 as Project 92 (with the internal name X9248).
Development was started in Linköping by a 16-person team led by engineer Gunnar Ljungström and designer Sixten Sason.
Preliminary drawings for the body were completed by January 1946 and a full-scale model, finished with black boot polish, was completed by 15 April. A 1:10 scale model Ursaab was tested in a wind tunnel by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology and gave a drag coefficient of 0.32, an impressive figure even by today’s standards.
The full size buck was viewed with some reservations by Saab management but Ljungström argued: “…if it can save 100 litres of fuel a year, it doesn’t matter if it looks like a frog.”
Panel beaters used the wooden buck, on a bed of horse manure, to beat the metal panels for 92.001 – the first working prototype. Ursaab was propelled by a DKW 18hp two-cylinder; two-stroke engine, an Auto Union fuel tank and many other components that were salvaged from a scrap yard.
The engineers responsible for making the prototype had no prior experience in making cars, and out of the 16 engineers only two had a driving license. They needed information about the car manufacturing process, but had to simultaneously keep the project secret. A few visits were made to Nyköpings Automobilfabrik (later ANA), but as the extent of their work involved the simple installation of bodies on imported ladder frame chassis, the engineers were not able to gather as much information as they had hoped. Also, since all available literature only described how cars were made before the war, they realised that much of the manufacturing process would have to be learned on their own. They also purchased a number of cars to study, including a DKW, a Hanomag, an Opel Kadett and a Volkswagen.
Structural integrity concerns led to other design decisions. The team tasked with that portion of the project was used to building aircraft where every opening was covered with a load-bearing hatch. Since this was not viable on an automobile, it was decided that the body structure should be strengthened through the use of a rear window that was as small as possible and which used a split-window design, and omission of a rear boot lid.
Ursaab was to be a compact, front-wheel drive, monocoque construction – a rare combination in the Forties and the sort of departure from the norm that was only possible with aircraft manufacturers developing an automobile without any automobile design baggage. This is the sort of unconventional thinking that has come to typify Saab ever since.
The first Ursaab, 92.001, was ready to drive by the end of summer 1946 and was immediately tested day and night.
The prototypes engine was later replaced with an engine and gearbox designed by Gunnar Ljungström. The prototype engine blocks were made by Albinmotor. The head of the firm, Albin Larsson, was hesitant to take work since the cooling pipes in the engine block were considered to be complicated. After test driving the prototype, however, Larsson changed his mind.
Ursaab was driven well over 330.000 miles (530,000 kilometres), typically in secrecy, and usually on narrow and muddy forest roads and in early mornings or late nights.
In 1947, the Ursaab design was improved by Sixten Sason, resulting in another prototype: the 92002. The most remarkable difference between 92001 and 92002 is the hood. After an additional four prototypes the design was ready for production as the Saab 92. Ursaab was first shown to the press on June 10, 1947 at Saab AB’s headquarters
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