Saab Cars – The background

Saab Trollhättan works in 1949
SAAB Trollhättan works in 1949. Note: no cars and all the bikes parked under protective roofs. The central part of the building was called “The Flight Tower”, from its use when aeroplanes were flight-tested until 1947. After 1959, these buildings housed, with extensions, the press and body-shops and various offices up to the closing of Saab 2011. In the last decade the press & body shops were highly automated with extensive use of robots. Photo: Innovatum Archive

Consolidation in the early 1930´s of the emerging Swedish aircraft industry, combined with the decision 1936 by Swedish Government to implement capability to build Swedish military aircrafts, led to the formation of SAAB in two steps:

– Svenska Aeroplanaktiebolaget was formed in 1937, owned by the industrialists the Wenner- Gren group. Headquarter, offices and a new plant was built in Trollhättan. Adjacent to this, a plant for NOHAB Flygmotorfabriker, later Volvo Flygmotor, and an airfield.

– Svenska Aeroplanaktiebolaget merged with Linköping-based ASJ-A into Svenska Aeroplan AB, now owned by the Wallenberg group. Headquarter and engineering moved to Linköping.

Photo from 1942 of the nearby airfield with planes lined up together with grassing sheep. In the 60’s, on the nearside of the fence, a short test track with various types of bad roads, e.g. ”Belgian pavé”, was built. Close to this the first crash test track, outdoor,  was installed also in the 60´s

The senior management foresaw the need after the end of WWII to broaden the business of SAAB into other, civilian, areas. Several different alternatives were investigated.

The Senior Managements decision to study the needs and potentials to produce a small passenger car initiated the following pre-studies for the project XP92 during the fall -44 / spring -45:
– Gunnar Ljungström & Ture Svensson investigating the engineering  aspects.
– Sixten Sason developing design proposals; both conventional and radical.
– Hugo Möller outlining the production prerequisites.

The Board meeting June 14th – 45 approved a radical design proposal of Sixten Sason and allocated 200.000 SEK for engineering and prototyping. The appointed engineering leader, Gunnar Ljungström, in the fall -45 recruited a project team of 10, located in Linköping.

Board approval  Jan 16th  – 46 to build of a first prototype, the 92001, a.k.a. the Ur-Saab. Completed and shown to the Management on  June 4th -46.
The year is 1947 significant for several reasons:
– Board decisions Febr 27th: to finalize engineering and prepare for production. 
– Press launch June 10th in Linköping.
– Contract with Swedish dealer Philipsons for a pre-order of 8 000 cars.
– Engineering and prototype builds transferred to Trollhättan.

Series production started in Dec. 1949, with first deliveries of cars just after the New Year 1950.

The description above is very condensed. 

Recommended reading for extensive and detailed information:  the book SAAB – WE did it, available at the SAAB Car Museum Webshop. Buy the book

In the photo on the cover of the book we see Gunnar Ljungström, head of Saab Car engineering 1945-1969.

Below you see some of the pictures from the book.

The 92001, the 1st prototype. Illustration by  Rony Lutz.
For its time exceptional aerodynamics, verified in modern full scale tests in 1989; Cd =0,30!
The 2nd prototype, 92002, in an idyllic 1940´s summer setting. A number of modifications vs the 92001, mainly driven by practical aspects, gradually making it rather close to the production execution. Note: in this photo still the low wheel fairings from 92001
The first Saab to be built in Trollhättan; in 1948
Competition immediately used for testing and PR/ Brand Awareness. Driving forces (literally) in engineering : Rolf Mellde and Olof Landbü, within the Philipson sales organization: Gösta Bergqvist, K-G Svedberg (achieving Saab´s first ever competition win in the Östgöta Rally around New Year 1949/50).
In Febr-50 Rolf Mellde and Greta Molander participated in the Monte Carlo Rally with very early production cars. Here with Greta´s car.
Cross section of the 92 production car. Illustration by  Rony Lutz.
Note the engine installed transversly in front of the transmission, a drive train lay-out which a decade later was to become the standard on smaller cars via the BMC Mini

The Design targets for the Saab passenger car, according to Gunnar Ljungström in his article from 1949 : SAAB 92 – A small passenger car (ref Vingpennor no . 11, SAAB Linköping): – The aim has been to build a robust, serviceable and as economical vehicle as possible, with good performance, adequate space for four occupants and without any special luxury.