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.
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.
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.
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.
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.