Saab 900 II saga. Project 102.

Money is short of the automobile division of Saab. In the late 80 years, the coffers are empty and investments are postponed. You have to get along with what you have and in case of doubt, just redesign. For example, for engines and transmissions.

Saab project 102 in August 1989
Saab project 102 in August 1989. Image: Saab Automobile AB

By Gunnar Björck

Saab relies on 9000 on a transversely mounted unit of engine and transmission. Why? In the event of a head-on accident, the engine and transmission unit form an insurmountable barrier in front of the passenger compartment. An advantage over longitudinally installed engines that move in the crash in the direction of the passengers. And that's one of the reasons why Folksam Versicherung still rated the 9000 2017 as an average safe car.

The new 900 will also get a transversely mounted engine, and that brings Per Gunnar Björck on the scene. He still lives in Trollhättan, near the Saab Museum, and he will play an important role in the Saab 900 saga.

For the new Saab 900 actually new engines would have been necessary. The unit from the 9000 was too long for 7 millimeters, but the management refused to invest in engine development. Björck is instructed - under the strictest secrecy - to find a way to cut the engine. In early summer 1989 he gets to work, partly in his private rooms, but also undercover on the company premises. He finds what he is looking for and saves almost 40 millimeters by laying the oil pump.

Meanwhile, discussions between Saab AB and GM are entering a critical phase, and GM is completing the conclusion that Project 102 will fit on an Opel platform. In addition, Saab must be able to present the 1993 successor at the latest 900. No new Saab, no deal. Hard bandages! The project 102 as a dowry, on which the fate of the brand would hang.

30. November and 1. December 1989. Rüsselsheim.

The fact that GM did not want to invest in a big way even then should have made everyone involved think. But where was the alternative? The pressure was probably too great, and so Per Gunnar Björck in November 1989 sent on the trip. Under the greatest secrecy. Off to Germany, to Rüsselsheim!

At the headquarters of Opel will be clarified whether project 102 will fit on the Vectra platform. The future of Trollhättan depends on it. The Saab powertrain is too wide by 96 millimeters, but Björck can save around 40 millimeters on the engine. Additional 58 millimeters should contribute to the gearbox, which equates to the difference plus a few millimeters for the production team. The "feasibility study" conducted in an urgent procedure gives the green light. Two weeks later, Saab Automobile AB is founded and GM enters Trollhättan with 50%. You can read the exciting days of Per Gunnar Björck in the book "Saab 900, a Swedish History" by Anders Tunberg.

Einar Hareide is working on the project 104
Einar Hareide is working on the project 104. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Project 102 becomes 104.

The project 102 has saved Saab. With the entry of GM, the project code of 102 changed into 104 and the actual drama takes its course. Optimistic estimates suggest that 50% of development performance could be transferred from 102 to code 104. Engine and transmission, safety, design and rigidity and the Saab organization scheme of the development teams are to be adopted.

On the other side is a platform that only seems appropriate. But that does not meet the Saab requirements. At the time, Opel was building vehicles beyond the safety mindset of the Swedes, the Vectra is not in the price segment of a Saab 900. Today you would not use an economy platform for a premium vehicle. But 1990 just does not know it better.

Saab is modifying the Vectra A base to achieve the desired results. Anyone who has ever looked at both vehicles from below, does not recognize a relationship. The Saab has braces where the Vectra is a maximum of thin sheet metal. Safety first.

Many parameters that are considered fixed must be redesigned and tested. Also, the design suddenly does not fit anymore. The rear of the 900 II is redesigned by designer Einar Hareide, who renounced his summer vacation. In retrospect, it was pure madness to adapt an almost finished concept to another platform. But for Saab it was the only chance.

Early draft of Saab project 104 Car Clinic
Early draft of Saab project 104 Car Clinic. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Meanwhile, beyond Sweden.

In the 90 years, the car industry is changing drastically. Where previously technicians had the shots, take over more and more merchants and marketing the command. This has implications, even with Saab. Market surveys suggest that Saab would have more chances with a sedan than with a hatchback.

Uncertainty arises, and Car Clinics are organized. Also in Germany. One of my former business partners is invited. Saab shows a hatchback and a notchback. The notchback falls through. His comment: "I could also buy a BMW right away". He does not suspect that GM wants to go there with Saab. And no one else suspects that. He will not buy a BMW later either. But no other Saab, but many years remain loyal to his red Saab 900 Cabriolet.

Moose test on the test field
Moose test on the test field. Image: Saab Automobile AB
GM cleans up

While the development of the 104 project is in full swing in Trollhättan, GM is returning with iron brooms. The plant in Malmö is closed and the infinite vertical integration at Saab eliminated. What you can do yourself is done so far. Trust in quality and because the structures have grown that way. GM sells, outsources, and after a short while, its workforce has shrunk by a good 50%.

This is relatively silent, but has an impact on the 104 project. While problems have so far been solved by going across the yard to the next department and discussing changes on the small service route, one suddenly finds oneself within a worldwide organization. A culture shock for the Swedes. The colleagues across the yard are still there. Only works on the factory site, but not for Saab. But for a supplier, which must be requested via the GM structure.

Getting around in this structure becomes a problem - especially later at the start of production, in quality assurance and in series production. Yet it is not so far. The schedule is tight. In May 1991 the first prototypes should be finished, in November the second generation. In March 92 has the third prototype generation on the road, and at the turn of the year 92 / 93 rolls off the pre-series from the band. The production start will be the 31. Week 1993 provided.

Saab keeps the schedule, but is perhaps a little too fast on the way. Then problems arise that were not included. And the press scatters alternative facts. More in the last part of the Saab 900 II trilogy.

28 thoughts too "Saab 900 II saga. Project 102."

  • 6. February 2018 at 11: 54 AM

    Should not it be called "... late 80 years ..." in the first line?

    Another exciting article about the 900 / II!

    • 6. February 2018 at 11: 56 AM

      It really should. Corrected! Thank you!

  • 6. February 2018 at 12: 30 PM

    Pressure gauge written like a thriller. Hats off !
    Now it is said, wait for Part III

  • 6. February 2018 at 1: 02 PM

    This trilogy is as thrilling as Stieg Larsson's. In the filming one or the other SAAB can be seen. Do I have to look again? The SAAB 900 II: delusion, damnation, forgiveness. Looking forward to the third part.

    The last hatchback. At the same time the last SAAB coupes. Nice that there is the 900 II / 9-3 I. Good that he made it on the road in a successful way. Truly a thriller! An economic, technological and globalization crime ...

    Well written again. You can feel the culture shock of the trolls almost physically.

  • 6. February 2018 at 1: 50 PM

    The 104 design somehow reminds me of the first Citröen Xsara series ...

    • 6. February 2018 at 2: 42 PM

      I find an affront.

      No Xsara can match the flowing lines and the superb 900 II built-in lights. Both are backbones, but that's where the similarities end. In addition, the Xsara came later and the worse optics ...

      A comparison (Xsara vs 900 II) is like comparing a X-limousine with the 9-5 NG. I think it's not that easy, it's not that easy ...

      Limo is just not the same limo and hatchback not the hatchback. Or station wagon not the same combination. Convertible not the same convertible and turbo not equal turbo ...

      Of course, there is also one or the other well-designed and / or well-designed car from Citroen. Only the day before yesterday I saw a lemon with H-mark on a tank. With a TURBO emblem on the fender! ! !

      When the driver squealed and crunched the car (a CX 25, if I've seen it right ...), it shot through my head again, something like that in Sweden would never have happened at the factory gate ...

      • 6. February 2018 at 2: 45 PM

        Dangerous terrain Herbert! I once had a CX GTI Turbo II. The car almost ruined me then, I was still very young. But if he ran, then he was divine ....

        • 6. February 2018 at 3: 52 PM

          Delicious, very good AW ...

          Blogger's affinity with the French did not go unnoticed. And who would not like to have one or the other citrus fruit? My darling would be the one with Maserati engine ...
          But even with the predecessor (preferably as a station wagon), I would certainly not say "no".

          But that's the beauty here. The automotive view goes far beyond Sweden. If the blog and the articles of the rest of the world were gone, they would be worthless anyway, a fan page on a teenage level.

          Nice that it is different.

          • 6. February 2018 at 4: 06 PM

            The brochure folder of the one with the Maserati engine is still here. Unfulfilled dreams ... that will remain unfulfilled.

            And the affinity to the brand continues. Unfortunately, she is not reciprocated. Weeks ago I was traveling with a rental car with said double angle. Very sobering what was made of the brand.

          • 6. February 2018 at 4: 32 PM

            Currently it irritates me nothing ...

            But after all, the still "current" cars. At least new cars. This mark SAAB has not been so far ahead for many years.

        • 6. February 2018 at 4: 08 PM

          So rather the Toyota Corolla of the 90er reminds me of the shape of the Ys3d!

          Has anyone copied?
          Or does he look just like a Ys3d forward and backwards against a wall to cut it?

    • 6. February 2018 at 8: 52 PM

      So the gray "104er" definitely reminds of the Xsara - which came later. Fortunately, the production model has become much saabiger.

      • 8. February 2018 at 10: 16 AM

        Yes, yes, that's right. I should read more closely (104) and look before I write ...

  • 6. February 2018 at 2: 37 PM

    THANKS for part 2 of 3!
    Written spellbound, hats off!
    Informative, as always and further it becomes clear, why GM u. Sweden did not really fit ... and the "cards for SAAB" were bad before 2011. Nevertheless, it must be positively highlighted, which good quality was produced under these difficult conditions in Trollhättan !!!
    I mourn for Zt. My 9-3 Bj. 1998 u. 9-3 Bj. 2001 afterwards ...
    I'm looking forward to the 3. Part!

  • 6. February 2018 at 2: 55 PM

    It was just bad luck that SAAB landed in the clutches of GM. Other interesting manufacturers such as Jaguar or Volvo were at the end of their independence as well as broke - but they had the great difference to SAAB lucky to land in organizations that are better managed. Even TataMotors (Jaguar) can do better than the amateurs at GM.

    Some blog participants still consoled themselves that SAAB was "given" by GM for 20 years. In my view, this is only a very small consolation - SAAB had actually earned a large corporation, which acts with fairness and foresight. However, these attributes still do not distinguish GM in any way.

    • 6. February 2018 at 4: 58 PM

      Which global corporation acts today as it did then with foresight and fairness?
      GM? The Opel and Saab have driven into the abyss?

      Or VW, who deliberately and deliberately lied to and deceived the whole industry and the buyers?

      Remains Toyotoa, but wait - they are conspicuous for your constant recalls - for me that falls under lack of quality, which does not sound far-sighted for me, if I have to call back a few 100.000 cars every few years / months.

      I do not have to talk about the Italian industry, I think that already had enough problems.

      What remains ? In any case, no group would have enough capital and market share / has to clean up the "dump" in Trollhättan reasonable and build again.

      In the end, the cake is divided into the automotive industry. Something like individuality was then no longer wanted, as it is today, even though a brand like Tesla currently lives from such a quality.
      In the end, a brand like Saab was only used by GM at the end to consolidate or even expand the mentioned market share.

      • 6. February 2018 at 7: 54 PM

        Describing the SAAB plant in Trollhättan as a dump is rather unobjective - good vehicles have always been built in clean and modern production halls. There should be no other way of looking at things here.

        Even the last sentence of your comment is completely wrong. A consolidation of market shares in the upper class GM just did not succeed and an expansion of such market shares was of course also at any time - although the development department at SAAB was always filled with good people. I'm sure that we could buy SAAB automobiles now and in the future, if, for example, we had worked with Ford instead of GM. Later, SAAB might then have landed at Geely like Volvo - but Ford and Geely I think are more far-sighted companies than GM is - and GM's management teams are more serious in comparison to GM.

        • 6. February 2018 at 8: 26 PM

          I admit that I should have explained the choice of words. The Saab had a modern work available is clear - you do not have to discuss - my expression referred to the financial situation in which Saab has moved or the more than tight financial framework. Saab was already on the brink of insolvency, if I'm not mistaken. What happens to insolvent companies? They are "rehabilitated" ie the term "shack" but it is so.

          The attentive reader should also have noticed that I have made in the description of the market shares no classification in (automotive) classes. What I'm talking about (or even writing about) is the market share of the entire car market, no matter what class you look at. The more brands I buy, the bigger my market power.

          To Volvo: Even under Ford and Geegly was not all gold and what glitters. Volvo also had financial difficulties, was almost repelled in the end. Now there are (Chinese) Volvos, the cash registers are (supposedly) full and the works are full. The question arises whether in the end would have really fit to Saab.

          • 9. February 2018 at 12: 54 PM

            GM was already concerned with market shares in the upper class - especially with regard to the European market. Only Opel had been found to be inadequate at that time and they were looking for a product that was aimed at premium.

            As you know, however, GM headquarters never quite got along with the Swedish acquisition. Good new developments usually slowed down and mostly limited to regular fashion changes (so-called facelift). Then came as it had to come: GM as a group went bankrupt and quickly separated from some brands that in the years before in the overall group but already received no more attention - all in all, just a bunch of dilettantes without fairness and foresight. Notable market shares in certain classes were in the GM Group so at least not achieved - to date, even the alleged corporate premium brand Cadillac in Europe no noteworthy market shares

  • 6. February 2018 at 4: 28 PM

    Great article ... ..the decisive sentence for me: "In the 90er years, the car industry is changing dramatically. Where previously technicians had the shots, take over more and more merchants and marketing the command. "...... .. And the consequences are there at SAAB, despite GM acquisition first not the worst ...... .wenn we look at the German market, then The change at Mercedes-Benz from the W 124 model care level 1 (Mopf1) to Mopf 2 immediately comes to mind, contaminated with water-based water-based paints and then to the W 210, which today are almost all gone ......... what would have been, if MB in Trollhättan would have stepped ?? If we had then get nice "Daimler-Diesel" in 9-3 and 9-5 ....... With Saab's help because of the space problems with the transverse installation we could today a 2ltr. Four-cylinder diesel engine from the Daimler engine series OM 601 with nice turbo drive ...... okokokok ... you may even spit something, right?

  • 6. February 2018 at 6: 38 PM

    Hi all,
    First of all a big compliment to the authors - great report. As I read, I remembered again. As at that time 23 yearlings I had probably plugged in at the IAA a 4 side to the new Saab 900. Then an 900 II on the Tjörnbron in a fantastic Swedish scenery. Not only that, but also the technical data of the 2.0 Turbo with its 185 PS inspired me, knowing that this car was out of reach at that time. But at that point, it had sparked Saab interest in me. The predecessor models I considered antiquated at this time. And then two years later it was the classic with which I or we found the entry into the automotive Saab passion. But there was already the whole story here on the blog.
    Later we had an 2002 9-3 with the great 185 PS engine - a joy to drive with perfectly acceptable use. Well, I'm already mourning this vehicle and every time I'm happy to see such an 900 or 9-3 on the road. I am still fascinated by the successful hatchback design and the successful proportions. Well, let's see if someday a Saab could enrich the fleet.
    Many Saabian greetings

  • 6. February 2018 at 10: 10 PM

    The inspection of the platform from below I got confirmed last year by the TÜV. My new entry, the 902 Coupe 2.0T had to be the first HU with me. At the first HU at the tender age of 20 you are not really calm, even though I had checked everything carefully.
    The TÜV-Ing. got into the pit, looked at everything and suddenly asked if that is the SAAB on the Opel platform? Yes. "This looks different here". When I asked what that means now, he brought me down and showed me some details that the SAAB was constructed much more stable. Especially the front arms and the suspension pleased him.
    HU / AU without complaints

    • 6. February 2018 at 11: 08 PM

      It would be really interesting to know how much Opel really is in it!
      According to the famous British auto show, a third!
      But where and what are these 33,3%?

      I'll go for cables, fuel pumps and other electronic parts.
      Rear axle maybe still. But then?
      What is the rest?

      Has anyone followed it?
      Would be nice to the whole: "is only a better Opel! "To take the wind out of the sails.

      • 7. February 2018 at 3: 57 AM

        It is clearly less than a third. Also many electronic parts are taken from the 9000, probably around (just like the drive) to keep the parts range small. The only visible GM control is the fluttery exterior mirror adjustment, no comparison to the indestructible version in 9000.
        With the Opel propaganda was of the "trade press" so happy to be on SAAB. Even the 9000 CS was pushed into this drawer at times, but also certain circles from the SAAB scene ride on this wave until today. There are events, because the 902 is not welcome!

        • 7. February 2018 at 9: 46 AM

          Is stupid to exclude the 900 II deliberately!
          The 9.3 II has a lot more GM parts installed. And that's also based on the platform.

    • 7. February 2018 at 9: 00 AM


      2009 told me a TÜV engineer. even before the pit, that will probably be nothing. There is seldom anything at SAAB. It's NOT an Opel, he said. The man already knew.

      But my hatchback was only 11 years old. Unfortunately it died shortly thereafter economically a no fault of accident. Maybe it still lives somewhere today?

  • 6. February 2018 at 10: 10 PM

    Really a very good report.
    Also I was invited at the beginning of the 90iger years in a Saab Car Clinic in Munich.
    After driving an 1982 Turbo and then an 900 Convertible from 900, I was deeply disappointed with the arbitrariness of this design. He had absolutely no character, which we Saab lovers appreciate so much. Then I clearly expressed my rejection. My next car was then a Volvo ... ..

    • 7. February 2018 at 9: 51 AM

      I felt the design - unusually smooth and flowing - initially too complacent.
      Until I liked it just because of this creative quality at some point, well, yes.

      The continuity of "design" was certainly bigger at Volvo inside and out. The inimitable "good" feeling of constantly banging your head through the wall (on the highway through the wall of headwinds) has hardly been offered by any other manufacturer for as long as the cube-shaped Volvo. Or a dashboard like a fishing boat.

      I like both the unagitated modern and the Swedish rustic, for different reasons.

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