Saab 900 NG Saga - the Saab Project 102

Money is tight with Saab's automotive division. In the late 80s the coffers are empty and investments are being postponed. You have to get by with what you have and, if in doubt, redesign it. For engines and gearboxes, for example.

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.

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

Per Gunnar Björck takes the stage at Projekt 102

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.

New engines would actually have been necessary for the new Saab 900. The unit from the 9000 was 7 millimeters too long, but management refused to invest in engine development. Björck is instructed - in strictest secrecy - to find a way to shorten the engine. In the early summer of 1989 he went 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 relocating the oil pump.

Meanwhile, talks between Saab AB and GM are entering a critical phase, with GM making completion conditional on Project 102 fitting onto an Opel platform. In addition, Saab must be able to present the 1993 successor by 900 at the latest. No new Saab, no deal. Hard bandages! The Project 102 as a dowry on which the fate of the brand would depend.

November 30 and December 1, 1989 – Ruesselsheim

The fact that GM didn't want to invest on a large scale back then should have given everyone involved something to think about. But what was the alternative? The pressure was probably too great, and so Per Gunnar Björck was sent on a journey in November 1989. In the utmost secrecy. Off to Germany, off to Rüsselsheim!

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

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

Saab project 102 becomes 104

The Project 102 saved Saab. With the entry of GM, the project code changes from 102 to 104 and the real drama begins. Optimistic estimates suggest that 50% of development effort 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 hand there is a platform that only seems appropriate. But it does not meet the Saab requirements. At that time, Opel produced vehicles beyond the safety thinking 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 in 1990 you just don't know any better.

Saab modifies the Vectra A base to achieve the desired results. Anyone who has ever looked at both vehicles from below will see no relationship. The Saab has struts where the Vectra has maximum thin sheet metal. Safety first.

Many parameters that are considered fixed must be redesigned and tested. The design suddenly doesn't fit anymore either. The rear of the 900 II is being redesigned by designer Einar Hareide, who gave up his summer vacation. In hindsight 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 business partners at the time is invited. Saab shows a hatchback and a notchback. The notchback fails. His comment: “I could buy a BMW right away”. He has no idea that GM wants to go exactly there with Saab. And nobody else suspects that. He won't buy a BMW later either. But also no other Saab, but remain true to its red Saab 900 Cabriolet for many years to come.

Moose test on the test field
Moose test on the test field. Image: Saab Automobile AB

GM cleans up at Saab

While in Trollhättan the development of the project 104 is running at full speed, GM returns with an iron broom. The plant in Malmö is closed and the infinite vertical integration at Saab is eliminated. What you can do yourself, has been done by yourself up to now. Trusting in quality and because that's how the structures have grown. GM sells, spins off, and before long the 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.

Finding one's way around in this structure becomes a problem - especially later at the start of production, during quality assurance and series production. Yet it is not so far. The schedule is tight. The first prototypes should be ready in May 1991, and the second generation in November. In March 92 the third generation of prototypes had to be on the road, and at the turn of the year 92/93 the pre-series rolled off the assembly line.

The 31st week of 1993 is planned as the start of production.

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 on "Saab 900 NG Saga - the Saab Project 102"

  • 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 a 1982 Turbo and then a 900 Cabrio from 900 onwards, I was deeply disappointed by the arbitrariness of this design. He had absolutely no character, which we Saab lovers appreciate so much. I then clearly expressed my rejection. My next car was then a Volvo ...

    • 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 greater inside and out at Volvo. Hardly any other manufacturer has offered the inimitable “good” feeling of constantly banging your head against the wall (on the highway through the wall from headwind) as the cube-shaped Volvos. Or a dashboard like a fishing cutter.

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

  • 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

    • 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?
      It would be nice to say: “It's just a better Opel! ”To take the wind out of the sails.

      • 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!

        • 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.

    • Congratulation!

      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?

  • Hi all,
    First of all, a big compliment to the authors - great report. Then I remembered while reading. As a 23 year old at the time, I probably had a 4-pager for the new Saab 900 at the IAA. Then a 900 II on the Tjörnbron in a wonderful Swedish setting. Not only that, but also the technical data of the 2.0 Turbo with its 185 hp thrilled me, knowing full well that this car was out of reach at that time. But at this point it had awakened the Saab interest in me. At the time, I considered the previous models to be antiquated. And then, two years later, it was the classic with which I or we found our way into Saab's passion for automobiles. But there was already the whole story here on the blog.
    Later we had a 2002 9-3 with the great 185 hp machine - a paragon of driving pleasure with completely acceptable consumption. Well, I mourn this vehicle and every time I am happy to see such a 900 or 9-3 on the road. I am still enthusiastic about the successful hatchback design and the successful proportions. Well, let's see if a corresponding Saab could not enrich the fleet at some point.
    Many Saabian greetings

  • Great article ... the sentence that matters to me: “In the 90s, the auto industry changed dramatically. Where previously technicians had the say, more and more business people and marketing are taking over the command. ”…… ..and the consequences were not the worst at SAAB, despite the GM takeover …… .if we look at the German market, then the switch at Mercedes-Benz immediately comes to mind from the W 124 model maintenance level 1 (Mopf1) to Mopf 2, contaminated with bacteria-contaminated water-based paints and then to the W 210, which are now almost all rusty ... what would have been if MB in Trollhättan got on ?? If we had got nice “Daimler-Diesel” in 9-3 and 9-5 …… .with Saab's help because of the space problems with the transverse installation we could get a 2ltr today. Four-cylinder diesel from the Daimler OM 601 engine series with a nice turbo drive ...... okokokok ... you can also spin something, right?

  • It was just bad luck that SAAB ended up in the clutches of GM. Other interesting manufacturers such as Jaguar or Volvo were almost broke at the end of their independence - but in contrast to SAAB, they were lucky enough to end up in organizations that are better managed. Even TataMotors (Jaguar) can do better than the amateurs at GM.

    Some blog participants still consoled themselves with the fact that SAAB was “given” by GM for another 20 years. In my eyes, however, this is only an extremely weak consolation - SAAB would actually have deserved a large company that acts with fairness and foresight. However, these attributes still do not distinguish GM in any way.

    • 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?

      That leaves Toyotoa, but wait - they are conspicuous for your constant recall campaigns - for me this falls under the heading of poor quality, which does not sound like foresight to me if I have to recall 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 that would have had / has enough capital and market share to properly renovate and rebuild the “dump” in Trollhättan.

      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.

      • To describe the SAAB plant in Trollhättan as a heap is quite irrelevant - good vehicles have always been built there in clean and modern production halls. There should really be no other view of things here.

        The last sentence of your comment is also completely wrong. GM has not succeeded in consolidating market shares in the upper class, and of course such market shares have never been expanded - although the development department at SAAB was always staffed with good people. I am sure that we could still buy SAAB automobiles now and in the future if it had worked with Ford instead of GM, for example. Later SAAB might have ended up with Geely like Volvo - but I consider Ford and Geely to be corporations with more foresight than is ever the case at GM - also consider the management teams of Ford and Geely to be more serious than GM.

        • I admit I should have explained the choice of words. It is clear that Saab had a modern plant available - you don't have to discuss it - my expression referred to the financial situation in which Saab moved or the more than tight financial framework. Saab was already on the verge of bankruptcy, if I'm not mistaken. What happens to insolvent companies? They are being “rehabilitated” ie the expression “dump” but be it.

          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.

          • GM was already concerned with market shares in the upper class - especially with regard to the European market. Only Opel had been determined to be inadequate at the time and the search for a product aimed at premium was started.

            As is well known, the GM headquarters never quite coped with the Swedish acquisition. Good new developments are usually thwarted and limited mainly to regular fashion changes (so-called facelift). Then what had to happen: GM as a group went bankrupt and quickly parted with some brands that had not received much attention in the group as a whole in the previous years - all in all, a bunch of amateurs without fairness and foresight. In any case, the GM Group did not achieve any noteworthy market shares in certain classes - to this day, even the alleged premium brand Cadillac in Europe has no significant market shares

  • THANKS for part 2 of 3!
    Written spellbound, hats off!
    Informative, as always and further, it becomes clear why GM u. Sweden didn't really fit ... and the “cards for SAAB” were bad before 2011. Nevertheless, it must be positively emphasized what good quality was produced in Trollhättan under these difficult conditions!
    I mourn z. Currently my 9-3 Bj. 1998 u. 9-3 Bj. 2001 afterwards ...
    I'm looking forward to the 3. Part!

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

    • I find an affront.

      No Xsara can compete with the flowing lines and the superbly integrated lights of the 900 II. Both are hatchbacks, but that's where the similarities end. In addition, the Xsara came later and with a poorer look ...

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

      Not all limos are the same, and not all hatchbacks are the same. Or station wagon not the same wagon. Convertible not the same convertible and Turbo not the same 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 started the car (a CX 25, if I saw it correctly ...) screeching and creaking, I suddenly thought that something like that would never have passed the factory gate in Sweden ...

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

        • Delicious, very good AW ...

          Blogger's affinity with the French has not remained hidden from me. And who wouldn't want one or the other citrus fruit? My favorite would be the one with a Maserati engine ...
          But even with the predecessor (preferably as a station wagon), I would definitely 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.

          • The folder from 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.

          • At the moment nothing excites me either ...

            But at least they still have “current” cars. At least new cars. This SAAB brand was not that clearly ahead for many years.

        • 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?

    • So the gray “104” definitely reminds of the Xsara - although it came later. Fortunately, the production model has become much saabier.

      • Yes, yes, that's true. I should read (104) and take a closer look before I write ...

  • 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. It's great that the 900 II / 9-3 I exists. It's good that he made it onto the road in a successful form. Truly a thriller! An economic, technology and globalization thriller ...

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

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

  • Shouldn't the first line read “... late 80s ...”?

    Another exciting article about the 900 / II!

    • It really should. Corrected! Thank you!

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