|The 1975 Saab 99 EMS, for the Canadian market, came equipped with a tachometer, Pirelli 175/70 HR-15 CN 36 steel-belted radial tires and cast aluminum alloy wheels.|
In the beginning there was Scania. The Swedish company was founded in 1914 to build aircraft. It collapsed with the founder’s untimely death in 1919. Svenska Aero AB followed in 1921, heavily funded by Germany’s Heinkel. When that company ran into trouble during the Dirty Thirties, the aviation leader was important enough that the Swedish government rescued it and turned the faltering aircraft manufacturer into a Crown Corporation.
In 1937, the corporate name became SAAB, an acronym for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget. The company built numerous warplanes from 1939 to 1945 but as the world conflict neared an end it became clear there would be little need for such a huge workforce. If the workers were terminated, the entire Swedish economy would be thrown into a long-term, even permanent tailspin. It was decided to diversify the market and strengthen the domestic economy by building automobiles.
The first automobile prototype featured a hand-built body. In the aftermath of war-ravaged Europe (despite the fact that Sweden had been neutral), parts were scarce. The drivetrain, engine and other parts were sourced from scrap yards.
Because the car was designed by aircraft engineers, the Saab took on a very aerodynamic shape. It was completed in the summer of 1946. The public got a glimpse of the blue-black vehicle on June 10. A second prototype appeared in May 1947. Workers began turning out cars in June but sourcing material was difficult and production was sporadic.
Mass automobile production at the Trollhatten factory began in earnest in 1950. All 1,248 Saabs built that year were green in colour. The sturdy little car was a hit and the 10,000th Saab rolled out the factory doors on March 6, 1954.
Saab began exporting its products early. Denmark was the first market conquered' that country took half of the company’s 1951 output. In 1957 an American sales subsidiary was opened and eager owners in that country began a Saab buying spree, snapping up two out of three Saabs produced for the world market.
|1968 Saab 99.|
A third generation of Saab was introduced on November 22, 1967. Model 99 was radically different from its predecessors. This new Saab was 20 cm (8”) wider than before. The wider stance allowed a change from the old 3-cylinder, 2-cycle motor, replaced with a peppy 1.7-litre 4-cylinder, 4-cycle transversely mounted mill. The new 99 was fitted with disc brakes all around.
Automatic transmission was made available in 1970 which no doubt helped to boost sales. The 500,000th Saab was assembled in February of that year.
Surprisingly, there was no concerted effort to market Saab in Canada. Swedish competitor Volvo was sold here as early as 1960 as were numerous other European vehicles such as West Germany’s DKW, the Czechoslovak Skoda and the Italian Fiat. Hard on their heels came the Japanese, fielding Datsun and Toyota.
Canadians liked small cars and bought them in large numbers. Volvo, Isuzu, Toyota, Renault and Peugeot all found it worthwhile to open assembly plants in Canada. Still, Saab shied away from testing our waters.
|The 1974 Saab family.|
Finally the Swedish automaker took the plunge into Canadian waters in 1974. Under the rules of the Federal Investment Review Agency, a foreign company wishing to do business in Canada had to have a wholly-owned Canadian distributor. To meet the FIRA requirement, Scancar Limited was organized. Initial plans called for dealers to be planted from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. The Toronto-based company began to stock the first dealerships with cars and parts.
|The 1974 Saab Sonett was a two-seat sports car.|
Advertising claimed that despite the big demand for Saab in Europe and the US, it had held back from servicing the Canadian market until they could guarantee a steady supply of vehicles and give them the proper service and support required.
|Dubbed the WagonBack, Saab’s clever GL hatchback offered more than 15 cubic metres (53 cubic feet) of space to hold just about anything.|
Now that Saab was here, it was here in full force. “From Sweden the perfect car for Canada.” It claimed that it was superior to other vehicles because of its front engine, front-wheel drive. “No ordinary car can carve through bends, or bull its way through snow, or grip on ice like the Saab. It’s a revelation!”
Saab promised to be powerful, maneuverable, spacious and safe for Canadians. “The Saab 99 also goes in the snow and lasts in the salt as if it were built for weather like ours. Which it was: it’s Swedish.”
Advertising pointed out the features that Canadian motorists might appreciate: precise rack-and-pinion steering, the electrically heated driver’s seat, a complete roll cage with high torsional rigidity, the front and rear deformation (crumple) zones, the nylon velour upholstery that was cool in summer and warm in winter covering seats that were designed in conjunction with medical experts. Heat levels in the rear of the cabin were controlled by the rear seat passengers. Finally rustproofing was mentioned, a feature that made a Saab “unusually resistant to the ravages of snow and salt.”
|The 1975 Saab GL 99 four-door Sedan weighed in at 1149.8 kilos (2,535 pounds).|
Not only was the car introduced, so was the parent company. In carefully crafted advertising, Canadians learned that Saab was much more than automobiles that Saab-Scania built supersonic jet aircraft, missiles, space equipment off- and on-highway trucks, buses, industrial and marine engines, X-ray equipment, precision tools, computer and data systems.
Four GL models were sold that first year: the 2-door Sedan, the GL 4-door Sedan, the clever hatchback GL WagonBack Sedan and the sporty EMS.
They all boasted the 2-litre, fuel-injected, overhead-cam engine. Automatic transmission and power steering were made available as an option package.
Saab did well in its first year and would return for many more.
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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.