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SAAB 99, the first medium class car from Trollhättan


Already early in the 60s, it was clear to the SAAB management that a car in the Volvo class with a 4-stroke engine was needed in order to survive as a car factory. It was a big and expensive task that lay before the small Swedish car factory. SAAB chose to cooperate with other car manufacturers. This made good sense at the time. The engine for the big SAAB came about through a collaboration with Triumph in England, who also needed an engine for their mid-range car models.


SAAB had drawn up drawings and construction principles for a modern engine, and thanks to the English specialist company Ricardo and Triumph, a common engine concept was developed.

It was logical to let Triumph, who already had the facilities for it, build the new and modern engine. It was a 1.75 liter engine. But like everything else English from that time, that engine was not entirely without childhood ailments. Fortunately for SAAB, they had secured an agreement which allowed SAAB to further develop this engine themselves. SAAB thus had a hand in the game from the very beginning, and the basic concept in the "Triumph" engine was good enough. SAAB bought 50,000 units. of the 4-cylinder engine, but soon realized that they had to take control of the engine manufacturing themselves. High oil consumption and blown head gaskets were typical problems for early versions of this engine. 


SAAB's own engine

The last SAAB 99 that rolled off the assembly line in 1984

That is why SAAB decided already in 1969 to develop its own 2-litre engine. Thanks to SCANIA's involvement in SAAB passenger cars, it was natural to have this engine built by Scania's engine division in Södertälje. It became the so-called B20 engine, an engine that came into use in the early 70s and was further developed for decades to come. The Triumph engine was used however in parallel with the B engine for some years. You saw that engine in particular in the cheaper versions of the 99, now in the form of a slightly enlarged version of 1.85 liters. Over time, thanks to SAAB's own further development under Per Gillbrand's expert leadership, the Triumph engine became an excellent engine.


At the end of the 70s, the B engine was updated and made lighter. This engine generation received the engine designation B201. B stood for Gasoline, 20 stood for 2 liters and 1 for single camshaft, and B202 for 2 liters and 2 cams ksler. The cylinder head with the 2 camshafts and 16 valves finally gave the model the power that SAAB cars had been lacking all along.

The B20 engine was a really good engine, which ended up with both a DOHC cylinder head and even a Turbo, whereby it came to set a new standard for usable engine power in an ordinary car. 


Unusual engine compartment

The SAAB 99's construction was created with great consideration for well-balanced driving characteristics, which created reasonable space in the engine compartment by placing the engine slightly on its side at an approx. 45 degree slope. Unusually for a front-wheel drive car the engine lay lengthwise over the front axle with the gearbox just below the engine with power transmission via chain. However, without a common oil sump as on BMC's cars.

This very compact construction gave plenty of space for a fine and robust front-car construction, which made the 99 a very well-balanced car that was not too nose-heavy.


Triumph's engine development

Triumph also went its own way with the fine 4-cylinder engine. It came to make up half of what was to become the 3 liter V8 that Triumph needed for its larger models such as the "Stag" model, this without having to develop too much new .

It was also the same engine construction that sat in the Triumph Dolomite. A funny detail was that the Triumph version remained with a camshaft and although the Dolomite Sprint was a 16 V engine, all 16 valves were actuated by one and the same camshaft, which was quite unusual for its time.


SAAB pioneers turbocharged petrol engine

SAAB's investment in turbocharging a petrol engine was well thought out. The Saab 99 Turbo Coupé, which came in 1977, was quite simply the world's first successful petrol-powered turbo engine in a regular car.


SAAB's regular 2.0 engine got, with the help of petrol injection and a Garrett T3 turbocharger, a whopping 135 hp, approx. 20 hp more than the regular 8-valve 2.0 engine. This was a new era for SAAB, and it applies to both the 99 model and its successors, that SAAB Turbo became a term that commanded respect. SAAB's 2 liter turbo engine ended up with well over 200 hp in standard form, and everyone who has driven these cars with a turbo engine probably remembers them especially for the glorious pull from 60-160 km/h, which was unparalleled for its time in a regular passenger car with a 4-cylinder engine. 

The 99's successors, the SAAB 900 and 9000, also got a turbo engine, and performance gradually increased along with the possibilities of electrotechnical control of the engine, making it possible to control the mixture and ignition to perfection. Bengt Gadefeldt who was an engine engineer at Scania and not least SAAB's own engine expert Per Gillbrand "Turbo-Pelle" took care of developing SAAB's iconic turbo engine. The first years without a water-cooled turbocharger were sensitive to overheating of the turbocharger, but gradually the turbo technology was mastered, not least thanks to the knock sensor, which was one of SAAB's many innovative ideas, which was ground-breaking in keeping a red-hot turbo engine under control, and which made it possible to keep a gasoline engine just below the knock limit, which is when the gasoline spontaneously ignites before the desired ignition time. A problem on all early turbo engines regardless of make. The idea that SAAB developed was to make an engine where turbocharging enabled high torque from low revs, which kept both consumption and emissions in check. 


Made by Trolls

Per Gillbrand was behind many ideas for SAAB's engine development. You can rightly call him a motor wizard. SAAB succeeded in headhunting Per Gillbrand at Volvo. Per was the man behind the development of the legendary Volvo B18 engine, and later from 1964 he was the man who had to lead engine development at SAAB towards using 4-stroke engines instead of the primitive 2-stroke engines. The story of Turbo-Pelle, who died in 2016, deserves its own story on these pages.


Model 90 and 900

From model year 1979, the 900 series was added, which were largely enlarged 99s. The 900 had the same silhouette and was available in the same versions as its predecessors Sedan and Coupé. Already at the introduction of the 99 in 1967, there were plans for a Coupé variant, which became a reality from model year 1974. It was called the Combi Coupé. The modified rear part made room for a large practical tailgate, and here in Denmark this model became very popular as a van. Its silhouette was repeated in the 900 model, which became the best-selling SAAB model of all time, with a production figure that almost reached one million.


The two models were sold side by side from until 1984, when the 99 models were eventually phased out. The basic concept in the 99s lived on for a short time here in Scandinavia in the form of the SAAB 90, but that model was not a success, and only 25,000 units were sold. of this model. It was therefore without great historical interest and therefore nothing for this page. These 3 models 99, 90 and 900 all had the engine longitudinally above the front axle and were developed over the years with a long series of innovations and innovations such as bumpers that could withstand collisions, headlight wipers/vases and system pollen filter.


SAAB 9000, a different SAAB

The SAAB 9000 was produced from 1984 to 1997 and was based on a platform shared by Fiat and Alfa Romeo models such as the Croma 164. A nice and spacious car, but perhaps a little too ordinary to be a SAAB. Funnily enough, this car had the engine installed transversely just like the very first SAAB 92 with two cylinders.


The subsequent SAAB models until GM took over SAAB completely in the year 2000 is something I will return to. The time after GM's takeover and until the company's end in 2011 is not relevant for this page, but a sad story and the end of the idea of the optimal Scandinavian utility vehicle. Something SAAB was close to succeeding in.


In hindsight, one cannot help but think why Saab-Scania AB, which was formed in 1969, was not strong enough to survive independently (where Saab AB and Scania-Vabis merged), and whether would have been better off without GM's interference. 


SAAB's history in brief looks like this: SAAB AB (1945–1969), SAAB-SCANIA (1970–1989), GM - General Motors (1990–2010), SAAB - Spyker (2010–2011).


SAAB passenger cars were cars for enthusiasts and only in the period from 1997-2007, when they reached just over 100,000 cars annually. In the context of car manufacturing, obviously not enough to remain independent. The last big year was 2007 with 125,000 cars produced. It took SAAB a good 25 years to reach car number 1 million, which rolled off the assembly line in 1976.

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