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  • Saab have always been – a little different.

  • For example, in the 1960s their main car, well their only car, had a 2-stroke 850cc

  • engine that meant you had to add oil every time you filled up, and the interior converted

  • into a bed for those remote Swedish road trips.

  • Oh, and their parent company made fighter jets!

  • But did you know you can still buy a Saab today, and why isn't it called a Saab?

  • This is the unconventional Saab story.

  • (music)

  • The story starts, oddly enough, with Germany's

  • surrender at the end of the first World War.

  • The peace treaty severely limited what aircraft Germany could produce, so the Swedish company

  • Svenska Aero was set up in 1921 to assemble German aircraft.

  • At the start they were little more than a way to get around the trade embargo, and many

  • parts supposedly manufactured in Sweden were actually made in Germany and smuggled out.

  • But during the 1920s and 30s both Svenska Aero and rival ASJA started to assemble other

  • aircraft like the British De Haviland Tiger Moth, and by 1929 they were designing their

  • own aircraft.

  • With the threat of World War 2 hanging over Europe, the Swedish government charged both

  • companies to produce a steady stream of military aircraft.

  • They couldn't rely on aircraft from other nations, especially as their partner up until

  • now had been Germany.

  • Both Svenska Aero and ASJA merged to form AFF in 1937, then SAAB Aeroplan in 1939.

  • Although Sweden was neutral during the war, there were fears that they would be drawn into

  • the conflict, fears that were heightened when the Soviet Union invaded Finland in the 1939

  • Winter War.

  • Saab's first plane was the 1942 Saab 17 bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, followed

  • by the Saab 18 twin-engine bomber in 1944 and Saab 21 fighter in 1945.

  • After the war the governments around the world had all the military aircraft they needed,

  • so Saab needed to do something with their spare production capacity.

  • Car production in war torn Europe was almost non-existent, and the US was concentrating

  • on satisfying local demand.

  • What Saab needed to do was produce a Swedish car.

  • The car would be namedUrsaabwhich meansoriginal Saaband would be designed

  • by Sixten Sason and engineered by Gunnar Ljungström in less than 6 months.

  • Both men would go on to create every Saab until the late 1960s.

  • You can tell the car was designed by a bunch of aircraft designers, because it looked like

  • an aeroplane with its wings chopped off!

  • But that sleek design produced 50% less drag than contemporary cars.

  • With just a 2-stroke 18hp engine it wasn't going to win any drag races, but it would

  • get Sweden moving.

  • Saab's first production car, the 92, was released in 1949.

  • Saab had an excess of military green aircraft paint after the war, so the only colour the

  • 92 came in was green!

  • Saab put their car through wind tunnel testing, quite a rare thing at the time, giving the

  • car a low drag factor of just 0.3, and it didn't use standard chassis construction

  • to save weight.

  • These things helped the 2-stroke 25hp engine allied to a 3-speed manual gearbox get the

  • car to a top speed of 65mph.

  • And that 2-stroke engine required an oil / fuel mix, so the filler cap had a label to remind

  • drivers to add oil.

  • To help sell the car, and to provide additional testing, Saab took the 92 rallying just 2

  • weeks after the car was released.

  • By 1952 they were winning races, starting with the 'Coupe des Dames'

  • in the Monte Carlo rally.

  • By 1953 the car was improved as the 92B, and Saab purchased paint that wasn't green to

  • give their customers some variety!

  • And a better car was needed.

  • Foreign car companies had recovered and were once again targeting Sweden.

  • The 92 had sold 20,000 cars and was replaced by the Saab 93 in 1955.

  • The car was a little bigger and better appointed, but the big news was a more powerful 3-cylinder

  • 33hp engine.

  • As Sweden had many remote, unpopulated areas, the cars could be converted for sleeping.

  • And Saab was growing as a company.

  • The 93 was the first car it would export, with the USA being its main market.

  • They used their advertising to highlight their aircraft roots, something they would return

  • to time and time again.

  • They started small, exporting just 300 in 1956.

  • With limited spare parts on hand, Saab initially restricted sales to only a few areas in America

  • to ensure their customers received good service.

  • By the end of the 1950s the USA was their main export market.

  • Many were exported to the Pacific Northwest where Scandinavians loggers had settled.

  • With sales taking off in the USA and Saab being seen for rallying success, they produced

  • a lightweight sports car for the American market.

  • Leaning on their aircraft division, the Sonett used a lightweight aluminium frame, allowing

  • its tiny 748cc engine to get it to 99mph.

  • Unfortunately, it wasn't a success, and only 6 were made.

  • With the Sonett a failure, Saab took a different tack with the GT750 in 1958, a sporty version

  • of the 93 with an uprated engine.

  • It could get to 60mph in 15 seconds, compared to the standard car's 27 seconds.

  • You really couldn't expect blistering speeds in the 1950s!

  • Saab rally drivers found if they kept the revs and momentum up, they could win.

  • They won the Great American Mountain Rally in New England in 1956, and the Monte Carlo

  • rally in 61, 62 and 63.

  • Erik Carlsson was one of their top drivers and had a long and illustrious career, winning

  • in Saabs from the mid 50's to the late 60s.

  • He was known asCarlsson on the roofbecause of his habit of occasionally rolling

  • the car and having to get out and right it again,

  • something that was made slightly easier with Saab's round shape!

  • Saab kept improving the 93, and in 1959 produced an estate or wagon version.

  • To make better use of the small engine it received a 4-speed gearbox.

  • Despite the hiccup with the Suez crisis in the mid 50's that introduced temporary fuel

  • rationing in Sweden, times were good, and by 1959 Saab was exporting over 6000 cars

  • to the USA.

  • Saab was known for its quirky 2-stroke engined cars and developed a small but fiercely loyal following.

  • The Saab 96 has a more powerful engine: 42hp. New rear seats - there's room for three.

  • Bigger boot. New wraparound rear window. New instrument layout with safety padding.

  • New and ingenious ventilation system.

  • All new features making the Saab 96 stronger, roomier, more beautiful.

  • Drive the Saab 96, you'll be spellbound! Saab, the Swedish car with aircraft quality.

  • The 93 was replaced by the Saab 96 in 1960, a more refined and powerful car, but it still

  • had the 2-stroke engine that was by now in the 1960s getting really rather out of date.

  • They were unrefined, and with vehicle adoption moving to the mass market, new car owners

  • found it confusing and fiddly to add the correct amount of oil every time they filled up.

  • There was a power struggle within Saab over moving to 4-stroke engines.

  • Three engines were triedthe Boxer 900cc engine from the Lloyd Arabella, BMC's A-series

  • from the Mini and the 1.1L Lancia Appia engine.

  • But Saab had just spent a lot of money expanding.

  • It was still a small company with just one vehicle and didn't have money to develop

  • a new engine.

  • Buying one from outside would cut into Saab's tight profit margin, so its introduction was

  • blocked by Saab's CEO.

  • Saab's engineers staged a coup by going around the CEO to Saab's biggest shareholder

  • to plead their case.

  • It succeeded, and further testing resulted in Ford's V4 Taunus engine being chosen.

  • The engineers were vindicated when the 2-stroke engine failed US emissions tests in 1967,

  • meaning Saab dodged a bullet in their largest export market.

  • Saab tried another US sports car with the Sonett II in 1966.

  • To save weight it had a fibre glass body.

  • The tiny 850cc 2-stroke engine got the car to 60 in 12.5 seconds, and managed 109mph

  • on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

  • In 1967 the car received the Taunus 1500cc 4-cylinder engine which made the car more

  • refined, but surprisingly not any quicker.

  • Saab released the redesigned Sonett III in 1970 with cool pop-up headlights.

  • But sales of the Sonett were low throughout its life and Saab ended production in 1974

  • to focus on its mainstream cars.

  • And by now Saab was selling more and more of them.

  • By 1965 it had sold 250,000, and it sold another 50,000 the following year.

  • In 1968 they created the larger Saab 99 to join the 96.

  • The company instantly went from a maker of quirky cars, to a semi-luxury car maker, spoken

  • in the same breath as BMW's 2002 and Alfa Romeo's Giulia, and the car sold well in the USA.

  • It got the first ever headlight wipers in 1971 and heated seats in 1972.

  • Volvo is known as a company obsessed with safety, but Saab pioneered many safety features

  • and made it a top priority.

  • To save money, they used Triumph's new 4-cylinder engine, on an exclusive 4-year contract.

  • By 1972 they'd bought the rights to produce the engine and continued to improve it, and

  • it would be used in one form or another until 2009.

  • But the 99's party piece came in 1978.

  • Saab had merged with Scania trucks in 1969, and one thing Scania knew about was turbochargers.

  • With fuel prices sky high, and Saab wanting their 4-cylinders to compete with V8's,

  • they created the 99 Turbo, one of the first production turbo cars.

  • The public loved its increased power; 143hp with a 124mph top speed.

  • The Saab 900, introduced in 1978, would go on to be Saab's best-selling car.

  • Like many Saab's up to this point, the front glass was highly curved to provide exceptional

  • visibility on the sides.

  • Many put this down to Saab's military aircraft heritage, as they were still producing civilian

  • and fighter aircraft after all these years.

  • And Saab continued to use its jet aircraft heritage to sell cars.

  • The old Saab 99 continued production and would be sold until 1987 in its revised design as

  • the Saab 90.

  • To round out Saab's range, in 1978 they struck a deal with Fiat to sell the Lancia

  • Delta as the Saab-Lancia 600 in Sweden.

  • This agreement led to a broader agreement to create the Saab 9000, released in 1984.

  • A close relative to The Fiat Chroma, Lancia Thema and Alfa Romeo 164, it pushed Saab further

  • into the luxury car category, which help US sales.

  • The seats were apparently inspired by the classic Muppet Show sketchPigs in Space”,

  • but I'm guessing not much was inspired by the Swedish chef!

  • Saab sold just one model in the 1960s, but by the mid-1980s, at least in Sweden, it was

  • selling four different cars.

  • But despite the fact that two of these were modified Fiat's, the company was in dire

  • financial straits.

  • Rising costs were shrinking profits.

  • The company looked around for potential suitors and found it in General Motors.

  • GM had been trying to produce high margin luxury models in Europe for decades through

  • Vauxhall / Opel, but by the late 80s customers wanted prestige German brands, and GM realised

  • they needed a company like Saab to compete.

  • For Saab's part, they eyed GM's vast US dealer network, hoping to expand its main

  • export market.

  • But the two companies were like chalk and cheese.

  • GM was like your strait-laced dad, with freshly starched shirts and shiny shoes.

  • Saab was the unruly teenager who was always out late, driving fast and thinking big.

  • Almost immediately GM was asking its unruly teen to do the sensible thing and rebadge

  • its Opel Vectra with minor modifications.

  • Saab rebelled.

  • The first fruits of their collaboration was the updated Saab 900 in 1994.

  • It was supposed to be a lightly restyled Opel Vectra, but only 1/3 of the car was an Opel,

  • and the other 2/3 reworked with Saab's “magic”.

  • That in itself was OK, but Saab focused on reworking the wrong parts, making an unremarkable

  • car that would need to sell big to recoup the inflated development costs.

  • By 1995 Saab had made its first profit in years, and by 1997 had produced 3M cars.

  • They introduced the 9-5 to replace the 9000 they'd created with Fiat.

  • This would be GM's first big push into the luxury car market, and it was the first car

  • to offer ventilated seats.

  • Like the 900 it used the Opel Vectra platform also used by the Saturn L-series.

  • But rather than relying on that reworked Triumph V4 from the late 60s, Saab had access to

  • GMs large range of engines.

  • To compliment the new 9-5, the 900 would be updated and renamed the 9-3.

  • But Saab had lost some of the quirkiness existing customers loved, and new customers saw BMWs,

  • Audis and Mercedes as more compelling luxury cars.

  • To round out the range, GM launched two new cars in 2005.

  • The 9-2X, a rebadged Subaru Impreza, and the 9-7X, a lightly reworked Chevy Trailblazer.

  • But no one was fooled that the 9-7X was a high-end luxury SUV that could compete with

  • a BMW X5.

  • And if you want a Subaru Impreza, why not just go and buy a Subaru Impreza?

  • It all came to a head in 2008 when GM filed for bankruptcy.

  • With a Government bailout they were forced into making difficult decisions and cut several brands.

  • Hummer, Saturn, Pontiac, and yes, Saab got the axe.

  • GM was rumoured to be in conversation with several car companies, but in the end, it

  • came down to Swedish Koenigsegg, who would be backed by Chinese car maker BAIC.

  • But due to delays and problems ironing out financing, Koenigsegg backed out.

  • GM announced that if Saab wasn't purchased by January 2010, it would wind down the company.

  • At the 11th hour GM accepted an offer from Dutch sports car maker Spyker.

  • Part of the deal was for GM to supply the upcoming Saab 9-4x from GM's Mexico plant,

  • although given the last two rebadgings had failed, it was hard to see how this new car

  • – a rebadged GM Thetawould do any better.

  • But Spyker showed off a new Saab grand touring concept at the Geneva Motor Show in March

  • 2011, called the PhoeniX, hoping it would help Saab rise from the ashes.

  • The goal was to re-enter the Chinese market, but Spyker failed to hit its sales targets

  • and by April 2011 suppliers had stopped delivering parts due to unpaid bills.

  • By June, Saab workers weren't getting paid.

  • By August production ended and by the end of the year the company had filed for bankruptcy.

  • The Saab assets were sold yet again, this time toNational Electric Vehicle Sweden

  • or NEVS, a consortium of Chinese companies.

  • Their plan was to produce electric 9-3's, and the PhoeniX would be the 9-3's replacement

  • down the line.

  • But if you remember, there was still a company called Saab who built aircraft, and they owned

  • the nameSaab”.

  • They blocked the use of the griffin logo, as they felt NEVS would misuse it in the Chinese market.

  • NEVS removed all GM parts from the 9-3, and restarted production in September 2013.

  • But production quickly ended again and NEVS themselves filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

  • With all this financial uncertainty, Saab denied them future use of the Saab name.

  • NEVS restructured and by 2019 it was producing and selling electric 9-3's in China.

  • Saab was born out of a passion to get their country moving again after World War 2, producing

  • a car that played to Saab's strength as an aircraft company.

  • They carved out a loyal fanbase who loved their quirky cars with a passion.

  • If you want to learn more about the Winter War or learn about the history of Out Run,

  • check out my new second channel, Little Car in the link here, and if you want to help

  • either channel please subscribe or think about becoming a Patron.

  • Thanks for watching and see you in the next video!

Saab have always been – a little different.

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The SAAB Story

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/10
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