When I bought 1992 my first Saab, a classic 900 S Sport, the new 9000 CS already rolled into the showrooms. With Trionic engines, unique, and probably the most advanced thing you could get for money back then.
What I did not want to understand at the time was why the drives from Södertälje did not show up in other GM models. Saab was 1990 50% to the Americans, who had the say at Göta Älv ever since. Instead, Opel had, with a few exceptions, only average goods and no gourmet food from Sweden.
In my youthful naivete, I suspected the engines were made exclusively for Saab, but I was wrong. In fact, the Opel management Saab sabotaged at that time, where it was possible, and would have closed the engine plant in Sweden today rather than tomorrow.
A Saab engine in Holden?
The little known story behind it was the following: In the year 1993, the GM daughter Holden started the search for a smaller engine for the Commodore. For a possible export offensive in various Asian countries, the used 3.8 liter V6 from Buick was not suitable, tax regulations demanded for smaller displacements. At Holden, there was a great deal of hope in opening up new markets; a powerful engine less than 2.4 liters of displacement would have been ideal. The developers identified two possible candidates: The slightly too large Opel 2.6 liter V6 from English production. Or the Saab Turbo with 2.3 or 2.0 liter.
The direct comparison of both machines was clearly for the engines from Sweden. More modern, more efficient, and with the ability to install both the small and the big machine in the Commodore without modification. The costs also spoke in favor of the Saab construction, so Neil Pogson and his colleague Russ Little set off for 1993 in Sweden in May.
They visited the relatively new production facility in Södertälje, which at the time was an impressive high-tech factory. Production was underutilized at the time and Saab Management was very interested in the Holden project. Close cooperation seemed logical on both sides, and the Australians sent weeks later two Commodore for engine installation in Sweden.
In February 1994 Pogson and Little were back at the Göta Älv and reviewed the progress in prototype construction. The B234 engine had to be installed long and not as usual crosswise, which resulted in some modifications. And then you needed a matching automatic transmission for the Commodore. No problem, because the GM shelf was well filled. From Sweden, the Australians traveled to Frankfurt and on to the transmission plant in Strasbourg.
The GM Hydramatic 350 transmission was to be installed in the Commodore with Saab engine - and was obviously ideally suited for the 350 Nm of the turbo from Sweden. However, only on the paper. The developers had specified their transmission with 350 Nm, but, as one had to admit, only tested up to 280 Nm. It was used at this time at Opel, with 260 Nm maximum load.
After much discussion, 300 Nm torque was accepted as clearance, the transmission sent to Sweden, and soon after, the first Holden Commodore with Saab Turbo engine traveled from Trollhättan to Australia.
Opel makes front against the Holden-Saab project
In the meantime, however, strong resistance to the project formed. The GM provincial principals wanted to see their own factories busy. Who was interested in the plans of Saab and Holden? In the forefront: Peter Hanenberger - at that time GM Vice President and head of the Opel Development Center - takes a stand against the project. Hanenberger was on the way as a hard renovator and cost reducer, the entrance to the descent of the brand Opel may also be moored to his person.
He would have liked to eliminate the Saab engine and replaced the turbos from Södertälje by Opel machines. Although he did not succeed in the following years, Saab rose to turbo competence center in the GM group. But he successfully torpedoed the Holden-Saab project.
Although the developers in Australia were enthusiastic about the Holden-Saab Commodore, the prototypes had to be scrapped with the arrival of the second vehicle. Instead, the 2.6 liter V6 was used. A very bad decision, because the Opel engine did not meet all tax and customs requirements in the targeted countries. The success was missing, the export offensive from Holden to Asia never took place.
In the end only losers
In the end there were only losers. Saab could not increase the number of engine production, Holden did not open up any future markets. And Opel remained sitting on the machines. Hanenberger exemplifies the sad fact that Opel Saab harassed since the first day where it was possible. Ultimately, he failed even in his brutal austerity course and despite backing from Detroit 1998 was not the Opel boss. The powerful employee representatives on the Opel Supervisory Board had enough of his destructive course and prevented his appointment as CEO. Peter Hanenberger, irony of history, was praised to Australia, of all places. But at Holden he should have done a good job.
Saab did not survive GM, nor did Holden. In October 2017 closed, after 69 years, the last Holden factory their doors. And Opel? After selling to the PSA Group, the French drive a consistent course. They realize what GM never did. Opel is fully integrated, the development center in Rüsselsheim filleted. PSA retains only one part in the Group, and transfers the rest to external service providers. The time of provincial princes, intrigues and one-on-one is over. The independence but also.
The complete Holden-Saab story has written down ex-Holden developer Neil Pogson in his memoirs. 10 pages with details, unique pictures and a hitherto little-known piece of Saab history are available here as download.