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Industry News: Saab shows its first concept car

19 Sep 03 00:00

The Frankfurt Motor Show may have boasted a comprehensive display of concept cars and prototypes, but one of the oldest cars on the stands was one of the most interesting. The GM stand featured a small, unimposing bug-like black car: the so-called Ursaab, or first Saab, codenamed Saab 92.001.

The 92 (Saabs 90 and 91 were aircraft) was conceived as a cheap peoples' car to get Sweden moving after World War II, when its economy was depressed - it was to play a similar role for the country as the Citroen 2CV did for France, and the Volkswagen Beetle for Germany. It was the work of aeronautical engineers seconded from the Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, or Swedish Aircraft Company, and this prototype caused a stir when it was first revealed in June 1946. The aeronautical engineers had used their wind tunnels, and the Urssaab was over 50 percent more aerodynamic than most production cars of the time, with a drag coefficient of 0.32. Project leader Gunnar Ljungstrom said at the time: "If this car's shape can save 100 litres of fuel a year, it will have been worth making it look like a frog." The car's designer, Sixteen Sason, was also responsible for the styling of boats, motorcycles and the legendary Hasselblad camera.

The engineers on the project were also obsessed with safety, and incorporated much of their aeronautical experience to produce what Saab claims as the first safety cage seen in a production car. The A, B and C pillars and roof were all reinforced, with attention paid to rollover protection. In a departure from the norms of the time, the Ursaab had a unitary or monocoque construction, rather than a separate body bolted onto a frame; this means that the beams and panels were all welded together to form a single load-bearing structure, which not only saved weight, it enabled increased strength and rigidity. The 18bhp, 592cc two-stroke, water-cooled engine itself was not revolutionary, but along with the gearbox, it was mounted transversely and drove the front wheels - still very rare in the 1940s. Features were simple: the first cars did not even have a separate boot lid, with luggage loaded from the inside by folding down the rear seat. Until the second-generation 92B of 1953, only one colour was offered - military green. This was said to be down to a surplus of this after aeroplane construction in the war...

The Ursaab was designed and built on a budget of just 200,000 kronor, and Saab says that when this prototype and a second car, 92.002, were moved to the site of the Trollhatten factory in 1947, all the engineers' tools and paperwork were carried in the two cars. The factory was established, and the first production 92s (with a larger 25bhp 764cc engine) rolled off the line in December 1949. Saab went on to make 20,128 92s between 1949 and the end of 1956, and Saabs have been built at Trollhatten ever since. The Ursaab displayed in Frankfurt, in original condition complete with stone chips from its road-testing, is usually on show in Saab's museum there.

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