SVC thoughts

Take a look at what was on sale today on Ebay here in Australia. I spotted it with 4 hours to go. It was sitting at A$18,750 at that stage. I asked Mrs Swade about whether we had a spare $20K lying around and she assured me we didn’t.

Shame.

Saab 9-3 Viggen.jpg

It got me thinking though. The Viggen was made from MY 2000 onwards if my memory serves me correctly. I’m not sure if there’s been another specialty Saab model ever since it was discontinued. It’s almost like it’s the last of the Swedish-devised specialty models and definitely the last of such prior to GM’s 100% ownership of Saab. A last hurrah from the natives before The Borg took control.

Another final roll of the ‘independant’ dice took the form of the SVC engine.

The SVC engine was a highly experimental concept and the initial results seemed to be quite promising. The 1.6 litre 5 cylinder engine could develop similar power output to a tuned 3.0 litre 6 cylinder engine in conventional mode. Additionally, it could do all this with a huge torque curve but retaining the economy characteristics of a regular 1.6 litre engine.

That’s a pretty cool mixture in anyone’s language. The concept won widespread recognition at the time and if successful, it could have been the big evolutionary change in engine design for the 90’s-00’s.

The $64,000 question (that I can’t answer here, sorry) is What Went Wrong?

The engine got up to test-mule status. There were several 9-5’s running around with the engine installed. You can see one at the Trollhattan post from a few days ago or go look at a whole bunch of them here. The word going around in recent discussions is that there were seal problems with the engine.

You may recall from the Channel4 article reproduced here the other day that the key to the whole SVC system was the tilting ‘monohead’. The gap between this monohead and the rest of the block was sealed off with a rubber bellows gasket. As this seal covers up the whole focal point of this engine, it’s quite likely to be the problem being aired around as the reason engines may have failed.

There were a few other hiccups noted in the test drive covered in the article:

a) considerable noise from the supercharger
b) cold-running problems

Combine these with the seal issue and you do have a legitimate concern that needs addressing if you’re trying to slip these engines into a vehicle to be marketed as a premium European product. Add to this the fact that Saab had been leaking, nee hemorraghing cash for some time and you can see, if you squint really hard, why GM may have pulled the plug on this project at the time.

BUT…

None of the problems with SVC engine that were mentioned above seem insurmountable if you apply the advanced knowledge that a company like GM should have at it’s disposal. Are you really going to try and convince me that Europe’s top scientists and engineers can’t solve a gasket problem? Really? Because I have a hunch that there’s some decent 12th grade science classes that could take this on for a year-long project and come up with a solution.

Others have opined in comments both here and elsewhere, that this concept deserves a second look . Think of the benefits! First up there’s the benefit to the motorist of having good fuel economy plus the torque curve and total output of an engine twice the size. Second up there’s the global recognition of pioneering a technology that breaks totally new ground like this. It’s got to be marketing gold. OK, you may need to test it for several years and make sure that you can apply a decent warranty to it, but if it works it’s manna from heaven.

And that may be the rub, people. The difficult part is that I, for one, haven’t ever heard a reason why the program got benched. If it was a chronic reliability issue that couldn’t be ironed out, then fair enough. There’s the wonders of engineering and then there’s good business sense.

But until someone digs up the reasons why, it just seems waaaay too coincidental that the program was shelved right around the time that GM took up the reins.

If this program’s still got some life in it, then GM – please consider! There’s the stench of promise in the air. Saab’s record in 2005 is starting to tilt in a more favourable fashion. There’s the anticipation surrounding the SportCombi. Acceptance and even (shock!) sales of the 9-7x. There’s the Biopower engine being added to the 9-5 range. There’s talk all over town on the need for alternative engines and fuel sources. There’s high-and-only-getting-higher oil prices.

In the light of all this, what more Saabish thing could there be to do than to deliver more from less?

The pundits were right then, and the commenters are right now. In the absence of some darn good reasons why it failed so badly, the SVC engine concept should be looked at a second time. If it did fail so badly then a quick explanation of the fact would suffice.

If there’s anyone in Sweden (or anywhere else) reading this and you have some info on the demise of the SVC program, then I’d love to hear from you either in comments or via email.

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3 Comments

  1. This is probably heresy but……isn’t the viggen a bit of an overpowered fiend of a thing that requires several $$$ thou in suspension/chassis mods before driving in an acceptable way?
    I like the look, the concpet, the idea. the numbers, the vibe even…but don’t think I need to own one.

  2. PT, I don’t think it’s heresy to say it. Helluva nice car though and I wouldn’t mind it, at all.

    I think the big handling problems are more of an issue if you’re taking it out hard. Which I wouldn’t be doing (all the time).

  3. Actually, the Viggen was made from 1999 until 2002. My 2000 does have incredible torque steer, but only if you really punch it and the turbo kicks in, you really gotta be careful of the car next to you 🙂 But damn is it fun to drive.

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