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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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”.