Thursday, August 2, 2012

Saab Ursaab
Cars That Were Never Made #8
Cute little 
bugger, isn't it?

Linkoping, Sweden 1945. Of the sixteen engineers on the design team building Saab's first car, none had any automotive experience - and only two were licensed to drive. 

No matter.

First things first. A little history on the now defunct auto manufacturer that was Saab. The company closed its doors for good in 2011, and that makes me kinda sad.

Saab, the preferred car for dentists and interior designers, is no more.

I must say, I'm a life-long Volvo fan, and have never owned or really wanted a Saab, but I can certainly appreciate their unique take on how they put their cars together.

Saab engineers were very concerned with safety and reliability. They'd begun life as an airplane maker - specifically - warplanes. 

The Saab 21R, first flown in 1941, is the only aircraft in history to see front-line service as both a piston-engined fighter, and a jet-powered attack aircraft.

At the end of World War Two, Saab AB decided to get into the car business....except they didn't know anything about cars. No matter.

Their first car, the adorable Ursaab, reflects the engineers glaring lack of automotive experience...but in a good way. The body, and every single part on the car, was hand-crafted by engineers that had once specialized in building super-tough aircraft. What could possibly go wrong?

The wheel arches were enclosed for better aerodynamics. But on roads covered in snow, the wheel wells would get packed up - and you lost the ability to steer. No matter.

There were a few other niggling issues, such as a minuscule rear window and no trunk. The Ursaab's biggest problem, however, was the engine.

Saab thermosiphon two-stroke
As I've stated before, Saab was obsessed with the two-stroke power plant. By our standards today, they are comparable to a Third-World motorcycle engine and would never be allowed to operate on modern roads. 
The Ursaab motor produced a grand total of 25 horsepower, and the oil - like all two-strokes - was mixed with the gas.
This meant that the motor was not being lubricated when you let off the gas. So you didn't, and this made driving down a hill a very interesting affair. No matter.

The Uraab and the first production Saab - the 92 - were extremely well built and very aerodynamic. The drag coefficient is actually better than a modern 911. The bodies were literally stamped out of a single piece of steel, then the door openings were cut out. 

Saab 92
Saab engineers were driven to make a enormously safe automobile, and they succeeded. Even though the cars were a little bonkers, they sold well, and customers embraced the brand from 1949 onward.
But the three-cylinder two-stroke engine and the front-wheel drive was a little ahead of its time. The early Saab line-up never really caught on with the rest of the world. Production averaged about 50,000 cars a year. That's a week of production at GM.

Saab persevered, however, with their odd body designs and two-stroke motors until 1980, a run of 31 years. 

Who says the Swedes aren't stubborn? Must be those Viking genes.

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