Saab Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Saab Home Country: Sweden Sweden

Saab is a younger, smaller and most unusual car manufacturer, most of which on purpose. Saab actually started as an aeroplane manufacturer as its name actually gives away: Saab = Swedish Aeroplane AB – with AB having the meaning of share holding. This explains as well why car production didn’t even start until 1950. Simply after WW2 the demand for small aircrafts went down rapidly and Saab had to find an additional income, preferably with a product that could help Swedish economy and people. Their first car was the 92, soon followed by the 93. Interestingly these early numbers meant as much as 9 for the car model name (all other numbers being used up for plane models) and 2 or 3 being the number of cylinders the engine had, a reference that however was soon dropped when the 93 estate was badged 95.

Still, this is already were Saab’s cars start being extremely interesting. That they were small cars you could understand from the economic situation at the post war time. That they had an unusual, very aerodynamic shape is explained with Saab being an aeroplane manufacturer. But 2-stroke engines of a 2-cylinder or 3-cylinder layout was well unusual. OK, there were other 2-stroke cars like the DKW Junior or Donau, but these still had more than this 3-cylinder engine configuration. That the cars were unusual and unique was full purpose. Such in these early models Saab even thought up the weird idea of having the already small engine in front of the front axle, so far so that the radiator was placed behind the engine, above the gearbox. Part of the idea was, no kidding, so you could drive your Saab into a snow wall without clogging or damaging the radiator. Saab stayed with this configuration for a long time. But when they needed a bigger engine for the only slightly bigger 96, just to stay competitive, they actually did get a 4-stroke 1.5 litre engine, but Saab wouldn’t be Saab if this was just a normal layout. OK, they bought this engine of Ford, but the reason Saab decided for this Ford engine was because it was unusual – a V4! The much bigger 99 came, that at first had a 2.0 16v engine that seemed too common to rally it for some time. And when they started using it, Saab didn’t take long to find another unique idea: they fitted a turbo to it. OK, BMW had a turbo engine before, but that came just with the start of the big oil crisis in Europe, such struggled to find friends. Saab re-launched that idea, turned it into a big fashion, and indeed, when Stig Blomqvist won the Rally Sweden in 1979, it was the first WRC victory ever for a turbo car – and unfortunately the last WRC victory for a Saab.

After this history making victory, the early 1980s saw cars like the R5 Turbo and the Audi Quattro. Saab wanted to stay unique and unusual, but the new 4x4 or even mid-engined supercars did not seem to give Saab the chance to keep up with road car related cars on a decent budget. By 1981 Saab closed down their competitions department. This is an undescribeable shame. When Saab started making cars, they were cars that were designed specifically with wintry conditions in mind and they were tested thoroughly before they were launched onto the market. This seemed to implement rallying as a sensible thing for Saab, so there are indeed stories indicating that the first works Saab competed on an international rally no more than 4 weeks after their car production started! To have rallying without Saab and Saab without rallying feels like something that just can’t be true! Like a major disaster! Unfortunately all isn’t too well at Saab, they fell under the ownership of GM. This pretty much means the story of really unusual Saab road cars and Saab in rallying will never be the same again! Worse even, when GM fell into a crisis, Saab was the first make they got rid off, soon followed by what is a modern problem: GM denied a Chinese take over of Saab. Yes, GM got rid of Saab, but Saab cars by now were full of GM technology and GM had to avoid the Asians getting their hands on this technology. What then is GM doing with Daewoo? But irony of history, sadly there seems no room for unique cars with a difference in the modern world. So of course GM was very helpful to them at first, but thanks to GM cooperation now they were very suddenly in a cul-du-sac and had no option but to close their doors by 2011.

The Saab story would not be complete without a reference to some of their drivers. There are many claims from many sources that the attitude, family style and loyalty of French teams is really good and strong. But it is Saab who took this a big step further than it would even be sensible. It may hardly be a surprise that Saab’s drivers were mainly Swedish. Their first star name was Erik Carlsson, nick named “Carlsson on the roof”, which is the title of a series of kid books by Enid Blyton. Erik got the name for his driving style he used to make up for the car’s lack of power. The Saab of course had this unusual, really roundy, high and aerodynamic shape, which meant the car could roll easily and it would always land on its wheels without suffering much damage. It was nearly a common sight at the time that Erik Carlsson would enter a curve way too fast, flick it sideways, roll over once, land on the wheels, carry on as if nothing had happened – and in all that Erik was usually quicker through the corner than normal people in normal cars with normal driving styles! But about loyalty and family atmosphere: Erik was hugely successful, but all his successes were in Saabs. He was found navigating, he was a team mechanic, he had a word to say in the development of new rally cars and incredibly until the day when Saab closed he was a PR manager for Saab, all in one person. When Erik Carlsson married Pat Moss, sister to F1 driver Stirling Moss, nobody was surprised that Pat became a Saab works driver as team mate to her husband. When Erik retired, the chapter was handed over to Stig Blomqvist, Per Eklund and Ola Strömberg. Especially Stig is that typical Saab character: He started rallying as a navigator aged 12 and he is still rallying now, aged 60. He doesn’t care about results and people’s opinions, he cares about having fun. In 1971 Stig won for Saab in Sweden, Finland and GB and from that moment he was chased with fantastic offers from Ford, Lancia, Audi and others, and he turned down every single one of them for nearly 10 years! For Stig to move via Talbot to Audi, who gave him a WRC title in 1984, it took as much as the closing down of Saab’s competitions department, otherwise he would have never moved! To get rid of Ola Strömberg was even harder, even when the competitions department shut down he drove a sometimes funny collection of Saab cars for the next 15 years!

COLOURS & TYRES:

The easy bit first: Saab was always on Dunlop tyres.

But in colours and brand identification it is becoming much trickier than that. Early 92, 93 & 95 models were in a dark red all over. But with the 96 Saab tried to spice things up. They were bright orange with a thin black stripe (from RAC 1973 throughout 1974). This soon made way for eggshell green cars with extensive blue and yellow decoration (1975 & 1976). Later the 99 Turbo was in black with blue and yellow stripes. Saab works cars were as well occasionally seen in silver or in white or in white with blue bonnets. Only once the team had sponsorship (by Publimmo, all blue), at all other times they were in full Saab works colours, which however at least in the 1970s changed severely on a near annual basis.

REGISTRATIONS:

Simply normal Swedish plates, see our general registration guide. Well, actually early 92 & 93 models carry plates of the old Swedish system, which was 2 letters followed by 5-digit numbers, usually the letters would be PA. But we hardly have a record of either this system, nor works Saab reg plates to this system.

Saab Rally Cars

Model Class
Saab Saab 900  Group A
Saab Saab 96  Group 2
Saab Saab 99  Group 2

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1979 WRC Open 11th. Saab (18pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1978 WRC Open 11th. Saab (18pts) 11

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1977 WRC Open 8th. Saab (30pts) 11

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1976 WRC Open 4th. Saab (43pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1975 WRC Open 8th. Saab (30pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1974 WRC Open 9th. Saab (25pts) 8

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1973 WRC Open 5th. Saab (42pts) 13

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar