Saab Design – an icon right from the start

Saab 92


Back when I was looking for some info on the Saab EV-1, I received a PDF document on Saab design and it’s a great little read. I’m going to reproduce it here in three parts.

This is part one, looking at Saab’s design beginning. Click any of the images to enlarge.


Aircraft heritage

Saab was founded in 1937 to build military aircrafts: With war looming on the horizon, Sweden needed to be able to guarantee its neutrality. To sustain its activities after the war, Saab decided to also produce civilian planes and automobiles. Its car design has always reflected the influence of this aircraft heritage.

Saab 92 plane

1945 – Gunnar Ljungström, chief engineer

A talented engineer working on Saab aircraft projects since 1937, Gunnar Ljungström was appointed in 1944 to lead the creation of Saab’s first automobile. His first known sketch, dated May 1945, shows an aerodynamic shape which characterized every Saab car for the next 40 years.


Ljung Sketch

The designer Sixten Sason

An all-round genius who combined all the talents of an artist and an engineer, the designer Sixten Sason gave the first Saab its shape. He also designed motorcycles, planes (this one in 1941), the Hasselblad camera… and every Saab car until his death in 1967.


Sason plane

1945 – Sixten Sason’s original sketches

Sixten Sason’s sketches were always great springboards for the engineers: he felt the unity of shapes and materials. He could “think in metal”. His first sketches show a sleek car featuring organically integrated elements. Sason brought Gunnar Ljungstöm’s initial idea closer
to reality.

1945 – Saab 92001 wooden model

While developing the first Saab, the definition of its aesthetics was a priority: it should be aerodynamic, efficient, yet remain compact and appear radically different from its competitors. It was materialized with wooden models in 1945 and 1946. Functionality clearly dominates ornamentation.

Saab model

1945 – Outstanding aerodynamic efficiency

In the 1940s, not many cars were developed in the wind tunnel, but the Saab naturally was – as was each aircraft. Whereas most of its contemporaries had a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.50, the Saab 92001 delivered an outstanding 0.32.

Wind tunnel

The original Saab 92001

Three experimental cars, numbered 92001, 92002 and 92003 were hand-built in 1946 and 1947 to undergo all kinds of tests and give the first Saab production model its final shape and technology. In order to save development costs, the 92001 was given VW Beetle headlights. Today, this vehicle is exhibited in the Saab Museum in Trollhättan, and is still driveable.


1946 – Refining the Saab 92’s shape

As the original 92001 underwent its first road tests in the summer of 1946, Sixten Sason further refined the shape of his original concept. This sketch of a 92002 shows slight evolutions, especially in the form of the engine hood and the headlights. They were retained on the final 92.


1949 – The final Saab 92

Presented in June 1947, the final Saab 92 went into full scale production in December 1949, with one single, dark green color. It had lost its covered wheels, but its Cd remained 0.35. Gunnar Ljungström:“I don’t mind if it looks like a frog, as its shape saves 100 liters of gas a year”.

Saab 92

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  1. The 2008 9-3’s hood looks like it was influenced by the sketch in the 7th pic.

    Pretty cool find – hopefully there is more?

  2. It is great to see this stuff. I see a pattern in car design and engineering time after time – a strong leader (Sir William Lyons for Jaguar, Colin Chapman for Lotus and Alec Issigonis and in this case Sixten Sason) who desgin a car to their vision and principles. Then once thay are gone “experts” try to give the market what they think it wants and the company loses its way.

    If the date of the aircraft sketch is correct, it is a (very) radical design for 1941.

  3. We are fortunate to have the legacy of such visionaries. Saving gasoline was the last thing on the minds of most other manufacturers of the day — American and European. The fact that they were not afraid to be very different is also something that we cling to today. FInally, the commitment to engineering and testing that was unheard of during that time is something to be proud of.

    Now, if we could just convince the current Saab stakeholders that these values should be displayed in advertising….

  4. Jeff: I think you meant Draken
    Also a design of its own in terms of jets of that era. Actually the 1st of ~1/2 size LillDraken prototypes looks even closer

  5. the 92 has a great design flow. the lines play incredibly well together. it even manages to look well-mannered yet sporty.

    as well it should, design has always played a prominent role with saab. most of the lineage has managed to keep the visual pedigree, highlighted especially in profile. (the long “nose,” the signature “behind,”….)

    this is why other brands cannot be “adapted” into a “saab.” it’s just too difficult to fill in the missing visual cues..

    i hope the next-gen saabs can compete in today’s design environment (which doesn’t lack in aggression and/or sophistication) and still pay homage to the past.

  6. I think I read somewhere that the UrSaab tended to lift into the air at high speeds because it was shaped like a wing. I’m probably remembering wrong because that sounds crazy.

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