The history of Saab

By: Unique Cars magazine

Presented by

saab saab

Before Saab made cars, it did indeed make aircraft

From Unique Cars #284, Mar/Apr 2008 


Saab was established by the Swedish government in 1939 to provide airborne protection against the threat it correctly predicted would come from Nazi Germany.

Following WWII, the company transformed its Trollhättan factory into an automotive plant and set out to build a car designed around aeronautical principles. While the ovoid Model 92 with its twin-cylinder two-stroke engine lacked the ability to get airborne (except when rallied), its wind-baffling shape certainly made the most of minimal power output.

| Read next: 1955 Saab 92B & Sonett III review

During the 1950s and as other manufacturers moved away from two-stroke engines, Saab reveled in the curiosity value of its cars and their incredible durability. Despite being pushed relentlessly to maintain speed, the front-wheel drive Saabs driven by Erik Carlsson and others defied logic to win prestigious events including the Monte Carlo, RAC and Acropolis rallies. A Ford-supplied V4 engine introduced in 1967 carried Saab into the automotive mainstream. It even broached the sporty car market with a V4-engined Sonnet coupe.

Well before seat belts and side-intrusion bars became mandatory; owners of Saabs with these features stood a better chance of surviving a serious crash than those driving other brands.

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After almost three decades building cars that directly drew their shape from the 1940s-designed 92, Saab’s styling and image underwent some radical modernisation. The 99 that appeared in 1974 was squat and broad, with slim pillars and huge windows belying an immensely strong structure.

| Read next: Saab 99 Tubo review

Finding additional performance from the 99’s 2.0-litre engine led to Saab becoming the first volume manufacturer of turbocharged cars. By 1983 its pioneering 99 Turbo had developed into the distinctive 900 series and was available in various body styles including a Cabriolet.

While Saab had abandoned the rally world in 1980, the significance of speed as a measure of durability was not forgotten. To promote the arrival of its 9000 Series, Saab sent three turbocharged cars to the Talladega Speedway in Alabama where they covered 100,000km to post a record speed for the distance of 213km/h. A decade later, Saabs returned to the Talladega banking with 900 series cars to claim a 25,000km speed of 226.34km/h.

Part-owned by General Motors since 1989, Saab has failed to advance at the same pace as European rivals and sales have suffered as a consequence. Development of a ‘plug-in’ hybrid Saab was reportedly aborted by GM in favour of the Chevy Volt.


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