Saab Service: About Saab
Saab is considered fairly new in the automotive business, as their first cars did not appear on Swedish roads until 1950. The company was originally Svenska Aeroplan Akiebolag, the Swedish Aircraft Company, formed in 1937 to build aircraft for the Swedish military. Following World War II it became apparent to the officers of S.A.Ab. that their core business would be much reduced, and in order to survive they must branch out into other industries. With high consumer demand for automobiles in the years after WWII, they chose to build cars.
SAAB engineers designed the cars to be strong enough to survive unpaved Swedish roads, yet provide economical transportation. To prove it, Saab entered two cars in the 1950 Monte Carlo Rallye. Both finished the rigorous event. Saab continued active in rallying until 1980, when some factories began to spend so much on the sport that little Saab could no longer afford to field a competitive team.
Today, Saab cars share the exclusive combination of performance, driver control and safety that is their hallmark. These characteristics must be experienced as a whole and not seen in isolation. Powerful engines, excellent roadholding and durable brakes provide performance on a wider scale than simply in the form of impressive figures. Balanced performance increases the driver’s degree of control and this in turn means increased active safety.
Furthermore, standardized safety tests repeatedly put Saab among the very best – if not at the very top. Prestigious reports such as European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP), the American Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) survey and the Swedish Folksam follow-up of real accidents, are the most recent examples. Both the current 9-5 and 9-3 Sport Sedans rate 5 out of 5 stars in the latest EuroNCAP safety ratings
The first SAAB, the Model 92, had a distinctly aerodynamic look, and featured a transverse-mounted 764cc two-cylinder, two-stroke engine and front-wheel drive, derived from a German DKW design. Engine power was rated at 25hp. Saab engineers also created a safety cage for the passengers, to protect them in case of accident, one of the first cars ever designed for safety. Through the years Saab cars retained many features of the Model 92, including front-wheel drive and aerodynamic styling. Swedish drivers could buy a SAAB 92 in any color they wanted as long as it was green. Legend says that SAAB purchased many barrels of war surplus green paint from the military and used that to paint the first cars.
The first 92s did not have a trunk, just a storage space behind the rear seat, so in 1953 the Saab 92B was introduced with a trunk, a larger rear window and several other noticable upgrades. The 92B was also available in a variety of colors. The engine was rated at 28hp beginning in 1954.
The SAAB 93 hit the market in 1956. Though it looked quite similar to the 92 from the side view, the hood and grille had been completely redesigned. Under that hood was a completely new engine, a three-cylinder, two-stroke powerplant of 748cc, rated at 33 hp and mounted longtiudinally. Underneath, coil springs replaced the torsion bar suspension.
In an effort to increase sales, SAAB began to import cars to the United States in 1957. SAAB Motors, Inc. was founded in New York City as the sales arm for SAAB. The little cars made a big impression when three factory-backed SAAB 93s were entered in the 1956 Great American Mountain Rally in New England and won overall, class and team trophies.
The 93B arrived for 1958 with a one-piece curved windshield, turn signal blinkers to replace the lever-arm indicators in the B-pillar, and optional seat belts. Brakes were improved for 1959, and the front seats could be adjusted for rake. The final version was the 93F, sold only as a 1960 model, the “F” designation because the front doors were now hinged at the front.
In 1958 SAAB came out with its first performance model, the GranTurismo 750, intended as a turn-key rally car. It featured a sport steering wheel made of wood, tachometer, more comfortable seating up front but only a padded bench in back, auxiliary driving lights, and a Halda Speedpilot for rally navigation. The engine was rated at 50hp, but SAAB dealers offered a kit to create a GT-750 Super, for competition only, rated at 57hp.
Saab added a Station Wagon version of the 93 in 1959. The major innovation mechanically was the addition of a four-speed transmission. The four-speed was not installed in the sedan until the 96 arrived as a 1961 model.
Beyond that, the 95 was mechanically the same as the 96 through its life. Like many station wagons of the time, the 95 had a third seat in the cargo area, so could accomodate seven passengers.
From the front end, the 96 did not look very different from its predecessor, the 93. The most noticeable change occurred at the rear with a redesign of the trunk area. The 96 gained a much larger rear window and trunk space. Another change was the addition of the 850cc engine, much redesigned for the new model.
The front end was redesigned for the 1965 model, in anticipation of a more conventional four-cycle engine. That arrived in 1967 in the form af a 1500cc V4 sourced from Ford. Though not significantly more powerful than the three-cylinder it replaced, it did meet U.S. regulations regarding tailpipe emissions, a growing concern in the late 1960s.
The 96 and 95 were sold in the U.S. through the 1973 model year, when new safety regulations could not be met economically enough to justify the expense. In addition, there was growing competition from lower-priced Japanese makes, so the 96 was phased out of the North American market. The 95 continued in production for Europe through 1979, while the final 96 rolled off the production line in 1981.
The Sonett was a fiberglas-bodied sports car based on the 96 chassis, and intended to build Saab’s image in the American market. The name comes from the Swedish phrase “Sa natt de nar” (literally So neat it is). It was introduced in 1967 with a modified, 55hp version of Saab’s 850cc three-cylinder, two-stroke engine. The Sonett II weighed a mere 1630 pounds with a full tank of fuel. Only 258 copies of the Sonett II with the three cylinder engine were built, and about 100 still exist.
Beginning with chassis number 259, the Sonett came with the same 1.5L Ford V4 that had just been added to the 96/95 models. Since the sports car was being built primarily for the U.S. market, it was felt that a more conventional, 4-cycle engine was necessary to reach potential customers. With the new engine, the car became the Sonett V4, and was popular for ice racing due to its front-wheel drive and light weight. Total production of the Sonett V4 was about 1600.
The Sonett was restyled for 1970 and designated the Sonett III. The design came from the pen of Italian designer Sergio Coggiola. While the Sonett II/V4 was considered by many an Ugly Duckling, the Sonett III was sleek and beautiful. The low nose required pop-up headlights and the small opening in the one piece fiberglas front end made engine access difficult. Rear access was easier thanks to an opening rear hatch window instead of the small door that was on the previous body.
A larger 1700cc engine arrived in 1973, but stronger emissions laws and safety laws eliminated the Sonett from Saab’s lineup after the 1974 model year. About 8,000 Sonett IIIs were built, bringing total Sonett production to nearly 10,000 over eight model years.
The 99 was a radical departure for Saab, and the first completely new car for the company since the original model 92. Introduced as a 1969 model, the 99 featured an inline 4-cylinder engine of 1.7 liters displacement, designed by Ricardo and built by Triumph. That engine was later enlarged to 1.85L, but was soon replaced by a Saab-built engine of similar design and displacing 2.0L (1985cc). An ancestor of that four-cylinder engine can be found under the hood of Saabs built 30 years later.
Saab has always been an innovator, and the 99 was where many features found on today’s cars were first seen. Headlamp washers and wipers (1971), electrically heated seats (1972), and self-repairing 5-mph bumpers (1972) were all introduced by Saab on the 99 model.
A hatchback version of the 99, called the Wagonback in the U.S. and the Combi Coupe in other markets, hit the showrooms in January, 1974, one of the first hatchback models on the market. While most other companies that built hatchbacks later drifted away from the 3-door body style, Saab continued to provide the utility of a hatchback until the introduction of the 2003 9-3.
To provide economy with performance, Saab was one of the first companies to add turbocharging to an economical engine for power on demand. The first turbocharged Saab was the 99 Turbo, which made its appearance as a 1978 model. Turbocharging raised the engine’s power from 100hp to 135hp with few other modifications. The 99 Turbo was sold for only one year in the U.S., giving way to the 900 Turbo in 1979.
The Saab most people know is the classic 900, introduced for 1979. The 900 was a derivative of the 99, with a longer nose and longer wheelbase. The two models shared many components especially from the firewall back. The 2.0L engine was redesigned with a new head for 1981, and is referred to as the “H” engine or B201. The most noticeable change was that the distributor was on the front end of the camshaft instead of driven off a separate internal shaft. Saab also added a 5-speed transmission beginning in 1981. Saab’s Automatic Performance Control (APC) was introduced in 1982 to better integrate the turbo as part of the engine system rather than an add-on.
One of the first four-valve per cylinder engines on the market made its appearance in the 1985 900 Turbo, and later became the basis for the entire Saab engine line. It was called a 16-valve engine – four valves times four cylinders – or the B202 (2.0-liters, with two camshafts). Now nearly all manufacturers offer engines with four valves per cylinder.
1985 also saw the introduction of Saab’s popular 900 SPG (called the Aero in other markets). SPG stood for Special Perfomance Group, which consisted of stiffer suspension, an aerodynamic body kit and special three-spoke wheels. Though the SPG initially had the same power as the standard 900 Turbo (16-valve, 2.0L four cylinder, 160hp), in later years its engine management computer allowed up to 175hp.
Saab was among the first manufacturers to return to drop-top models with the introduction of the 900 Turbo Convertible in 1986. Only 350 900 convertibles were built for the 1986 model year, all in silver, all for the U.S. market, one for each dealer in the United States. The convertible 900s were built at the Saab-Valmet factory in Finland, and production of the classic 900 convertible continued through the 1994 model year. Convertible sales reached as much as one-third of 900 annual sales in the United States.
The 9000 was Saab’s first “Large Car”, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based on interior space. Added to the Saab lineup as a 1986 model, the 9000 retained the hatchback style initially, though it was joined by a sedan, the 9000CD, in 1988. The 9000 had the distinction of being named Sweden’s Safest Car several times by the Folksam Insurance Company, and regularly topped the listing of safest cars by the Highway Loss Data Institute in the U.S. It was also named to Car and Driver magazine’s annual “Top Ten Cars” list from 1986 to 1989.
The 9000 initially came with the same 2.0L engine as in the 900, in both turbo and non-turbo versions. A redesigned 2.3L four-cylinder hit the market in 1990, first as a non-turbo engine, but turbocharged beginning in 1991. A redesign of the 9000 for 1992 called the 9000CS blended the best of the two models, with hatchback utility and sedan looks.
To prove that the 9000 was not just another “pretty face” Saab took three 9000 Turbos to the Talladega International Speedway in Alabama in October 1986 for “The Long Run”, an attempt to break International speed records with completely stock, production line cars. After twenty solid days of driving they set two world records and 21 international speed records. The fastest car covered 100,000 km at an average speed of 213.299 kph.
In the ever more expensive market of bringing a new model to the marketplace, Saab was forced to find a larger partner to stay in existence. After talks with Ford and Fiat, the announcement was made in December 1989 that General Motors would purchase 50 percent of Saab’s automobile division. GM later took over 100 percent of Saab Cars. The new company, Saab Automobile AB, was guided by GM’s European division which also built Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in England. As a result Saab was able to retain much of the character that made its cars unique, without them becoming a European version of the Buick or Oldsmobile.
The New 900 / 9-3 (1994-2002)
The “classic” 900 came to an end after a 25 year run (including the era of the 99) with the 1993 model, still featuring a look that other manufacturers have only come to emulate in recent years. It was replaced by an all new 900 in 1994, which was re-named the 9-3 in 1998. The new 900 added Saab’s first-ever V6 engine, a 2.5-liter powerplant built by General Motors in England. The convertible version of the new 900 was introduced a year later.
As part of the General Motors Europe (GME) family, the New 900 made use of many existing GME components in non-critical applications. For instance, the suspension mounting points for the 900 looked like those for the similar sized Opel sedan, but the Saab stampings were produced in Saab’s Trollhattan factory and were of heavier gauge steel.
Saab returned to Talladega Speedway in 1996 with several new standard production 900s. The engines included normally aspirated 2.0L, turbocharged 2.0L and normally-aspirated 2.5L V6. The cars were driven day and night for eight days with brief stops for fuel, driver changes and tires. When it was finished Saab came away with 40 International and World speed endurance records in three engine size categories for time up to 24 hours (227.497 kph / 141.359 mph for the 2.0L Turbo) and distance up to 25,000 miles (226.450 kph / 140.709 mph, 2.0L Turbo). In 1997, Saab offered a “Talladega Edition” of the 900 to commemorate the record setting cars.
With the introduction of the larger 9-5 as a 1998 model, the 900 was re-named the 9-3 to maintain a sort of family identity. The “9″ had been the first number in all Saab production cars since the beginning, while the second number indicated a size category, similar to BMW’s 3 and 5 series models.
Saab Viggens: Aircraft and landcraftA performance version of the 9-3 called the “Viggen” was introduced in 1999, named after the Saab 37 Viggen jet used by the Swedish Air Force. The Viggen (Swedish for “Thunderbolt”) was a multi-role aircraft that performed the roles of attack, reconnaissance and fighter.
The 9-3 Viggen had a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder engine that was exclusive to the Viggen model. It developed 225hp at 5,500 rpm and 252 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,500 – 4,000 rpm. The suspension was stiffened and lowered, with firmer shock absorbers, larger brake calipers and discs, and special 17″ x 7.5″ 5-spoke alloy wheels with P215/45×17″ Z-speed rated performance tires. Aggressive front and rear bumper covers and a larger rear spoiler improved the aerodynamics and gave the Viggen a unique visual identity. Sport seats provided better support for the driver, and there were other interior cues exclusive to the Viggen such as the metal-look dash panel.
9-5 Sedan and Wagon (1998 – )
The 9-5 joined the lineup for 1998 to replace the 9000. The two large Saabs were sold alongside each other for a few months until the supply of new 9000s dwindled away. The 9-5 came with either the turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder or a new 3.0L V6 from GM. Saab also offered a Light Pressure Turbo powerplant which gave the acceleration of a six-cylinder and the economy of a four.
The hatchback was dropped from Saab’s Large Car model and replaced with a Wagon version, featuring a roll-out floor and other typically exclusive Saab convenience features.
9-3 Sport Sedan (2003 – )
The 9-3 Sport Sedan is completely new beginning in 2003. There are three models, with two engine choices and a new 6-speed manual transmission for the performance minded. The base model, the Linear, comes with a 2.0 Liter light-pressure turbocharged engine rated at 175hp. The Arc and Vector both come equipped with a 210hp turbo 2.0L. The Vector is the sportiest of the three, with a susupension tuned for more aggressive driving.
Sales of the New 9-3 have exceeded Saab’s expectations, and the new model has helped to set all time sales records for the marque during the summer of 2003.