Friday, August 10, 2012

Back in Time: Saab 96 Series to the Ur-Saab

Not long ago Saab, the Swedish automobile firm (not to be confused with Saab, the aircraft manufacturer, though they once were one and the same) expired. I suppose there might still be a movement afoot to resurrect the corpse, but that would be a triumph of nostalgia over business reality.

I never seriously considered buying a Saab, though I never disliked the brand. The problem was that whenever I was in car-buying mode, whatever Saab was offering at the time was out of synch with my needs or financial resources. In recent decades, the problem was price. Thirty or 40 years ago, I didn't like the styling (take that!, model 99). In the late 1960s it was my concerns about the reliability of front-wheel-drive. Before that, it had to do with the fact that Saabs were powered by a two-stroke motor that required adding oil with every gasoline full-up.

Wikipedia has comprehensive coverage of Saab. Here is their introductory entry which devotes considerable space to the company's final crises. Below are links to entries about the Saab models in the photos.

The present post deals with the first generation of Saabs that were small and featured perhaps the most aerodynamic styling of their day. The photos begin with the final version of that series and work back to what some observers call the "Ur-Saab" -- the prototype Saab automobile. (The term Ur-this or Ur-that is a Germanic locution linking the name of Ur, supposedly the earliest city in the world, to class of something with a history. The Ur-whatever would be the very first known example.)


Saab 96 - 1960-80
The Saab 96 was the last of the early Saabs that featured teardrop streamlining. A useful improvement over previous 9x Saabs is the wraparound rear window. The final 96s got a four-stroke motor, eliminating the need for continually adding oil.

Saab 93 - 1955-60
The first Saab that came to the serious attention of American buyers was the Saab 93, shown here. When Saab began exporting cars to the USA, they were only marketed in the northeastern states where severe winters and hilly roads in northern New England and Upstate New York made front-wheel-drive a desirable feature.

Saab 92 - 1949-56
The Saab 92 was the initial production model. Front end styling is a little different from the prototype. The production motor generated 25 horsepower, but the streamlined body allowed model 92s to reach 65 miles per hour (around 100 km/h) -- or so it is said. Note the size of the rear window in the 92 and and compare it to that of the prototype below.

Prototype Saab 92 (1947) - as seen in museum
The Wikipedia entry on the prototype Saab is here.

Prototype Saab 92 (1947) - showing front

Prototype Saab 92 (1947) - showing interior

Prototype Saab 92 (1947) - showing rear

Phantom Corsair prototype - 1938
The Phantom Corsair (Wikipedia entry here) was a prototype ultra-streamlined luxury car by millionaire Rust Heinz of the 57 Varieties Heinz clan. Sadly, Heinz died in a car accident in 1939, so any prospect of a production Phantom Corsair vanished with him.

I include this photo so that you can compare its styling (on a long Cord platform) with the Ur-Saab's rear styling on a much shorter platform. The little Saab's styling was extremely elegant in an era when streamlining created an awkward appearance. (See this recent post for examples.)

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