Saab filed for bankruptcy over three years ago in 2011, but is it still too soon to mark this proud and determined company off? Let’s take a quick trip from their early history through its present uncertainty.
After producing aircraft during World War II, Saab decided to go into automobile manufacturing. From their aeronautical background, the original sixteen engineers designed a car that was aerodynamic, had good driver ergonomics and was fuel efficient, safe and comfortable. The first Saabs had the lowest coefficient of drag of any car of its time. Early Saabs were powered by small economical engines through front wheel drive that gave good performance in Sweden’s snowy conditions, which also helped Saab get established here in Colorado when front wheel drive autos were uncommon. Influenced by high speed aircraft, Saab always emphasized good performance and pioneered turbocharging in automobiles. Saab quickly earned a reputation in European rally events by outperforming many cars with larger and higher horsepower engines. There was truth in advertising in Saab’s slogan “born from jets”
While well designed and practical, Saabs were also “quirky” and unconventional. The original two and three cylinder, two-stroke Saabs required a quart of oil be added to each tank of gasoline. Radiators in the early/mid 1950s Model 92s and 93s were above and behind the engine, with the cooling fan driven through a long, open shaft above the engine. Later generations of Saabs had the radiator in the typical location in front of the engine, but with a shade that the driver could pull up (via a chain from inside the car) to restrict air flow through the radiator for faster engine warm up in cold weather. Some early Saabs had the engine "backwards" compared to other cars, with the output facing forward. Saab hinged its hoods in the front, giving unrestricted access to the engine compartment for easy servicing. Saab ignition locks were located in the center counsel between the seats, rather than the conventional location on the dash. This provided an anti-theft security system that locked up the transmission while also preventing injury to the driver’s knees from hitting keys hanging from a dash ignition switch in an accident. Saab always did things their own way.
General Motors bought 50% interests in Saab in 1989 which saved the brand from bankruptcy, at least for a while. Sales temporarily improved, but new GM directed products such as the rebadged Chevy Trailblazer and Subaru Impreza were market disasters, rejected by loyal Saab and GM buyers alike.
Saab filed for bankruptcy and ceased production in December of 2011, which looked like the end of Saab. However, in June of 2012, a Chinese consortium called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) purchased the main assets and factory of Saab to again produce Saabs. Production of Saab branded vehicles resumed in September of 2013 and continued until May of 2014, when production was again discontinued. NEVS is now in discussions with undisclosed potential purchasers for continuation of the Saab brand.
As has been the case for the past three years, Saab’s future remains uncertain. What remains constant is Saab’s loyal followers and collectors. View the attached slide show of Saab cars that were recently displayed by the Rocky Mountain Saab Club at the Annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival held in Estes Park, Colorado. You can learn more about the Rocky Mountain Saab Club at: http://www.rockymtnsaabclub.com/.
Trivia Question: In what year and vehicle model did Saab first introduce a turbocharged engine?
Answer to the last article’s Trivia Question: “A-Bone” is hot rod slang for a Ford Model A.
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