GM’s struggle for survival has triggered the demise of another marginal brand. Efforts to sell Saab proved unsuccessful and the Swedish maker known for off-beat design and technology will expire unless a suitor appears with an emergency rescue plan. The highlights (and low points) of Saab’s history follow:
1921 Forbidden by the Versailles treaty to manufacture aircraft at home, the German company Heinkel established the Svenska Aero AB in Sweden as a creative end run but the enterprise failed to prosper.
1937 Fearing Germany’s evil intentions, the Swedish government finally endorsed the formation of a home-grown aircraft industry. Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (AB) – Saab’s oldest ancestor – was incorporated and the first factory and airfield were constructed north of Trollhattan.
1939 The first Saab-built B3 bomber – actually a German Junkers Ju86K built under license – took to the skies a few weeks after war commenced.
1944 Twin-engined B18 bombers, the first aircraft designed wholly by Saab, were delivered to the Royal Swedish Air Force.
1945 The Saab 21 twin-boom fighter-interceptor was one of the first aircraft equipped with an ejection seat. The same airframe was used for Saab’s first exploration of jet propulsion, though with limited success.
1946 Even though Saab continued manufacturing civilian and military aircraft, it became clear that post-WWII prosperity depended on finding other profitable endeavors. Towards that end, Saab initiated a small car project. The first Saab 92 prototype was constructed in six months. This tear-drop-shaped coupe had two rear-hinged doors, front-wheel drive, and a 25-hp two-cylinder two-stroke engine. The wind-tunnel-shaped body panels were hand beaten on a block of oak allegedly resting on a pile of horse manure (to obtain the desired resiliency).
1949 Production of a revised 92 began; all were painted bottle green.Two Saab 92s finished 55th and 69th in the 1950 Monte Carlo Rally.
1955 An improved 93 model with conventional doors and a three-cylinder two-stroke rated at 33-hp was introduced.
1956 A 2-seat roadster concept called the Saab Sonnet was displayed at the Stockholm Motor Show. Limited production of a revised version commenced a decade later.
1957 Distribution of Saab 93s began in the USA with 1410 sales the first year.
1959 A three-door wagon, called 95, was added to Saab’s lineup.
1960 The new 96 married the old 93 front end to a revised back end with a larger rear seat and more trunk space. Engine output jumped to 38 hp and a 4-speed transmission arrived in 1964. Dual diagonal brake plumbing – a Saab first – was added in 1961.
1967 Saab’s first 4-stroke power came from a 1.5-liter, 73-hp V4 supplied by Ford.
1968 A new and larger Saab 99 eventually expanded to include two-, three-, and four-door bodystyles. This model was powered by a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine and featured four-wheel disc brakes.
1969 Saab ignition switches were relocated to the center console to facilitate locking the transmission instead of the steering column.
1970 A renamed Saab-Scania organization encompassed cars, (Scania) trucks, aircraft, computers, and industrial equipment manufacturing.
1978 Adding a turbocharger to its 2.0-liter SOHC four-cylinder bumped the Saab 99’s output from 115 to 135 horsepower. A much larger 900 model, also available with the turbo engine, followed late in the year.
1980 Saab’s ingenious Automatic Performance Control (APC) system used a detonation sensor in a feedback loop to modulate boost.
1985 Addition of a twin-cam 16-valve cylinder head raised the turbo engine’s output to 160 hp. Direct ignition with coils located atop the spark plugs was added in 1988.
1989 Following the failure of its attempt to buy Jaguar, GM purchased 50-percent of Saab’s automobile division for $600-million with an option to obtain the rest later.
1994 A new Saab 900 sharing the Opel Vectra’s platform was introduced at the chagrin of traditional Saab enthusiasts.
2000 A magnanimous GM assumed Saab’s debt and purchased the remaining half of the auto division for $125-million.
2003 GM merged Saab development and manufacturing operations into Opel operations.
2005 A rebadged Subaru Impreza named Saab 9-2X (and nicknamed Saabaru) was introduced for a two-year run. It was the first Saab with all-wheel drive. Also, the Chevy Trailblazer was rebadged as the Saab 9-7x, the company’s first and only SUV. That model lasted four years.
2008 When GM announced that Saab plans was under review, more than two-dozen firms expressed interest in taking control of this boutique car maker. Two months later, after no negotiation proved fruitful, Saab entered the Swedish equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. An advanced all-wheel-drive system was introduced for top 9-3 models.
2009 An all-new Saab 9-5 using GM’s Epsilon platform was introduced as a 2010 model. Negotiations to sell Saab to Koenigsegg (backed by the Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corporation) or to Spyker Car NV (funded by the Convers Group, a Russian banking combine) fizzled.
December 18, 2009 GM announced that the 218 dealers selling Saab automobiles in the US would wind down operations in January. While rumors of ongoing efforts to save Saab from extinction abound, that seems unlikely.