Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Blast from the past 7 - 'Ursaab'

Just getting ready to go to Sweden tomorrow, and this has put me in a Swedish sort of mood.

So here's the most Swedish of cars, the so-called 'Ursaab' of 1946. I think the prefix 'Ur' plays the same role in Swedish as it does in German; it's difficult to translate but in German, at least, it usually denotes that anything to which it is applied is very old, or a true original. That contraption that looks like a park bench with bicycle wheels that Mercedes claims was the first proper car, for example, is sometimes called the 'Ur-Benz'.

Anyway - back to the Ursaab. Project 92 was the first Saab passenger car and was developed over the years into the 93, 95 and 96 lines, which only finally bowed out in 1980.

Nobody could accuse this Saab of being a re-skinned Vauxhall - in those days, the design teams leant on Saab's aircraft experts for ideas rather than Opel, a fact that shows in the remarkable purity of the Ursaab's sleek bodywork. But let's not be too harsh on today's models for their part-sharing; Saab was always a small company before it was taken over by GM, and despite its distinctive identity, it often relied on links with other manufacturers to keep going. In 1966, when the two-stroke engine fitted to the 95 and 96 needed to be replaced, Saab bought in a V4 four-stroke from the German end of Ford. A little later, it asked Triumph to design the overhead-cam engine for the 99; this power unit, related to that fitted to the Dolomite, survived in heavily developed form until comparatively recently. And in the 1980s, the 9000 was the result of a joint development effort that also produced the Fiat Croma, Alfa 164 and Lancia Thema.

So Saabs have never really been quite the pure thoroughbreds some of us might like to imagine - but it would still be nice if they could recover a bit more of their former individuality.


Fourwheelsteer said...

Even the 2-stroke engine beloved of SAAB purists owed its origins to DKW.

David Wilkins said...

The idea that it was a DKW or DKW inspired engine certainly enjoys wide currency but a big Saabophile whose expertise I would trust told me once that this was a red herring. I looked at Wikipedia and that says that the first prototype used a DKW engine and gearbox but that these were later replaced by items of Saab's own design. I suspect that's how the story started!