Saab and the six-cylinder. Rumors and truths. (1)

Saab and the six-cylinder. A relationship that has never been easy. The first six-cylinder moved into the 1993 II and the 900 from 9000. A GM unit, which quickly earned the engine the reputation of having been forcibly adopted by the Swedes under pressure from the Americans. Since then, the fans have been strangling with these 6 pots, which is unfortunate. From the 9000 to the 9-5 NG, the engines have always been pleasant drives. Was it really pressure from Detroit that prompted Saab to add six-cylinders to the program? A search for clues that is associated with clearing up prejudices.

Saab and the six-cylinder. The V6 in the 9000. Forced by GM?
Saab and the six-cylinder. The V6 in the 9000. Forced by GM? Image: Saab Automobile AB

The market in the 80s

You had a six-cylinder in Gothenburg, but not in Trollhättan. The fact is: if you wanted to play a song in the upper class, you had to have at least 6 pots under the hood. Volvo joined the Peugeot and Renault consortium in 1971, which in 1974 became the Europe V6 known PRV engine launched. In Germany, Daimler and BMW traditionally built fabulous engines with many cylinders, and in North America it was not even possible to think of a luxury class without a generously distributed displacement with V6 or better V8.

Japan also entered the market with six-cylinder engines, and in Trollhättan the Saab AB automotive division recognized the need for action. Years before the Americans joined Göta Älv.

It is therefore wrong that GM Saab pushed the six-cylinder into the model range. The opposite is the case, since Saab has been actively looking for a solution with more than 1986 cylinders since 4. The need was seen in 1985 when the first 9000 generation rolled off the assembly lines.

The Saab luxury class needs six-cylinder engines

With the start of the first luxury class Saab, there were new engines with 4 cylinders and 2 liters displacement. They came from the factory in Södertälje, which was probably the most modern engine production facility in the world at the time. The management quickly recognized the demand for more displacement, the development of the 2.3 liter engine with balancer shafts began shortly after the introduction of the 9000. The engine, later introduced under the designation B234, became a success and a legend. Some see it as the best Saab engine of all time.

While the enlarged four-cylinder was the right solution for Europe, the important market in North America called for even more displacement and, above all, more cylinders. Engines with 6 or 8 cylinders were compulsory in the upper class, Saab saw the elimination of six-cylinder drives as an impending loss of market share.

For this reason, the search for a suitable engine was started in Trollhättan in 1986. Kent Gustafsson and Stig-Gösta Johansson from engine development were commissioned to test various drives for their installation options in the 9000 and their suitability for the US market.

The Saab Monster. The first attempt with a six-cylinder, which consists of two 3-cylinder engines. Never went into series
The Saab Monster. The first attempt with a six-cylinder, which consists of two 3-cylinder engines. Never went into series. Image: Saab Automobile AB

Just where should the engines come from? Not every manufacturer was willing to cooperate with the Swedes. And the list of possible drives was also straightforward. Saab relied on transversely installed engines and front-wheel drive, which automatically eliminated a number of candidates. In the end, Ford, Mazda and Alfa Romeo remained. There is also a fourth company whose cooperation is surprising, if only because it could be ruled out as a supplier for six-cylinder engines in the late 80s. A journey into the past of the brand, compiled with material from Saab veterans from Trollhättan. It starts in Germany.

The contact to the German Ford plants has always been good. The Ford V4 in the Saab 96 saved the small brand's life, why not inquire again in Cologne?

(German) Ford V6 engine for Saab

The Ford works in Cologne produced a V6 engine with 2,9 liters displacement, which was also used in the Scorpio. The engine itself is an old construction. Equipped with a central camshaft, it was based on the V4 engine family that was already used in the Saab 96. The advantage: You could have taken over the production of the engine and continued to produce it at Saab-Valmet in Finland.

In the spring of 1986 the Ford engine was installed in a 9000 by a company in Hengelo, the Netherlands. The Ford V6 was tested with the ZF automatic system used by Saab in the greater Hamburg area. Then the project rested until 1988, when the Swedes tried more engines, to be reassessed. The drive could not convince the engineers, the configuration was only certified as acceptable drivability.

(American) Ford engine for Saab

While the Ford V6 from Cologne was antique and boring, Ford had a hot iron in the fire in the USA. The SHO V6 was developed by Yamaha and based on the Vulcan engine family. The abbreviation “SHO” stood for Super High Output, and you can tell from the name that it was simply a different time back then. However, the engine suited Saab's performance concept better than the unit from the Rhine. That was the thought in Trollhättan.

Variable intake pipes, two overhead camshafts, aluminum cylinder head. It was all high-tech and revolutionary in 1988. In fact, the Americans refused to sell engines to the Swedes. A single engine came to Trollhättan via a detour with the help of Saab partner American Sunroof Corporation (ASC). And it was difficult to install.

The electronics had to be adapted extensively, Ford obviously took completely different paths than Saab. But, the engine workshop noted, apart from the electrical problems, the 3 liter SHO V6 with 223 hp would be the ideal engine for the 9000.

Performance, driving behavior and noise development corresponded to what one hoped for. And optically beautiful, even without the plastic cladding, the engine would have been too, they noticed in Sweden.

Cologne wanted to sell engines to Sweden, but Dearborn didn't. Just as the Ford headquarters are not in the mood to buy Saab and prefer to join Volvo. But there is still Japanese hope. And Alfa Romeo. And a completely different company that is ambitious. At the time, that didn't actually have a six-cylinder in its range. Not one that customers could buy. But Saab does. All right?

You will find the continuation with the second part of the Saab six-cylinder story here.

18 thoughts on "Saab and the six-cylinder. Rumors and truths. (1)"

  • Whatever and whoever it was ...

    On the wish list of the turbo roll 3.0 L and 24V should have been. A modern and as large as possible vacuum cleaner that is easier to understand for conservative journalists and buyers than the 2.3 in the Aero ...

  • You might ask, which engines would have fit into the 9000 relatively easily?
    First of all, the drives of the technically related models Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema and Alfa 164 should come to mind.

    Alfa Romeo is already mentioned in the article, the Croma only got the six-cylinder in the 90s, probably from the Alfa 155, the topic that had a variant of the PRV engine remains. However, Lancia sold the model without any problems and probably very much to customers, so it does not really fit the description above.

    The PRV engine was also found in various other cars, for example in the Renault 25, there also in a turbo version. Saab probably did not really want a turbo for the USA and customers could also easily purchase an R25 V6.

    That is why Peugeot can actually be ruled out, as some models with variants of the PRV engine have been in production for some time. On the other hand, Peugeot had taken over Citroen and the XM was to get a six-cylinder that Citroen had not had for a long time.
    With Citroen instead of Peugeot, the description would somehow make sense. The next good question would be why Saab asked Citroen instead of Peugeot.
    Citroen was possibly responsible for the development of the engine version with 24 valves (since more avant-garde than the one with 12) and if Saab wanted it, Citroen would have been the logical contact. But that's just a guess on my part that I can't prove. However, it would fit the description in the article.

    Either everything is now clear, or it is only left to wait until the second part is resolved 😉.

  • Didn't the six-cylinder have thermal problems (diesel and petrol)?

  • Mazda! Saab had contacts there!

  • I don't know why but I would think of Suzuki ......

  • The riddle doesn't leave me alone 🙂

    My suggestion with the Princess 2200 was nonsense. A 6-cylinder with approx. 102 HP would have had enough torque, but would not have been competitive.

    So what then?

    The 6-cylinder boxer engine for the Citroen DS was too early, Walter Becchia designed this engine in the early 50s, unfortunately this engine did not reach series production.

    The PRV 6-cylinder was coupled with front-wheel drive at least in the Renault 30, but was only partially competitive, but still an interesting vehicle.

    Maybe a conversion from a V8 to a V6?
    Also hard to imagine, the Citroen SM with the Maserati engine - also with front-wheel drive - should be mentioned here.
    Or even the Tatra 603 or 613/700? A conversion from a V8 to a V6 would also be possible here - but the financial means were lacking.

    Tom mentioned a company that was ambitious but - yet - did not have a 6 cylinder in its range. This could only have been Audi with the technology freak Ferdinand Piech. At that time, the Audi 5 couldn't accommodate more than one 200-cylinder in-line engine. Perhaps the 9000 offered more space for a 6-cylinder that was never officially presented at Audi? But Audi would have created an additional, stronger competitor ...

    I'm looking forward to the resolution!

  • I had a 9 l 3 cylinder from Holden in my 2,8-6 SC. Was a great engine. Unfortunately GM meanwhile managed to destroy Holden.

  • My first thought was the Cosworth version with 24 valves of the Ford 2,9 V6. Cosworth had previously made four-cylinder for Ford or eight-cylinder for Formula 1, but the cliffhanger won't be that cheap.

    Which manufacturer would you never associate with six-cylinder engines in the 80s? For example Volkswagen.
    But I think the six-cylinder boxer passed on to Oettinger is rather unlikely and whether the VR90 presented at the beginning of the 6s was already known by other manufacturers in the second half of the 80s is also questionable.
    The same can be assumed for the V90 engines presented by Audi at the beginning of the 6s.

    The question remains, who else could it have been? Somewhere in my memory a Subaru SVX appears, which is actually a child of the 90s. Googling, however, reveals a predecessor called XT, which was also available as a XT6 with a six-cylinder engine in North America.
    So if it's supposed to be something pretty unlikely, I guess Subaru as a possible fourth engine supplier.

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  • @ Uli Beitel,

    those were exciting years in vehicle construction. Just the diversity of the different approaches ...

    Maybe you are right? In any case, so far you are the only one who dares to make a guesswork and are therefore closer to the resolution per se than anyone else.

    I still think you're wrong. At that time, a number of findings from thermodynamics found their way into engine construction. 4-valve technology also became standard. The bottom line was that a combustion chamber of 500 cc per cylinder in the ratio of stroke to bore was ideal if it was easy to fill.

    Physically, one cannot get any closer to the ideal combustion chamber (a sphere) and the given propagation (velocity) of the ignited mixture ...

    Hopefully it couldn't have been a small 6-cylinder (less than 2,3 liters), which was thermodynamically and with regard to its ventilation and filling far removed from the latest findings and possibilities at the time, which did not even come close to the own 4-cylinder ...

    Nevertheless, Britten and Italians had interesting approaches with many cylinders with surprisingly little displacement. They were really very fine engines.

  • In the 70s and 80s there was a largely unknown vehicle in Germany with the combination of a 6-cylinder in-line engine and front-wheel drive, the Princess 2200 (also available as a 1800 with a four-cylinder).
    The engine compartment of the Princess was large enough to accommodate this engine without major thermal problems (unlike the 9-5, where the V6 had a significant build-up of heat in the rear three cylinders).

    Maybe it was this manufacturer that Saab got in touch with at the time? This would come full circle to the Saab 99, where the engine was also developed in England ...

  • I'm really looking forward to the second part of the story ... But I enjoy the result every day anew. My 902 Cabrio V6 automatic is a pleasure even after 300k kilometers. Strong. Unproblematic. With a wonderful sonorous sound.

    Greetings

    The Lizi

  • "Are you okay?"

    Nope, nothing is clear. I'm excited and crooked, a personalized question mark and I'm looking forward to part two.

    Here is a small addition to the national competition. Before WW II, Volvo had a 3,6 liter 6 cylinder (in line) as standard. In the 1950s this engine lived on in a sedan / taxi and military vehicles. 3,6 liters also had a younger V8, which was originally intended for a luxury car, but was only used in trucks - actually a gasoline engine in the truck ...

    In Sweden, this V8 is a coveted object, and is often found in old Volvo cars. From the perspective of their proud owners, their (tuned) classic cars are still almost in their original condition - namely the idealized one, which would have been theoretically possible at the time with available original Volvo and its suppliers.

    Finally and after WW II, the first new attack on international competition was a 3,0 liter 6-cylinder in series and in series. This was on the market a few years before the V6 mentioned in the article.

    But it is true either way that Saab was under pressure nationally and internationally that large parts of the target group (potential buyers) and the multipliers (motor journalists) were not ready for 4-cylinder in upscale vehicles.

  • I love and hate these tension arcs ...
    Part 2 could follow soon ... please!
    Oh yes, Audi had big plans at the time ... and made it into the so-called upper league, whatever that means and how and what is rated. Back then, however, there were 5 cylinders ...

  • We will fill the “commercial break” with other interesting topics. Time will pass quickly 😉

  • Learned something new. Thank you.

  • Exciting background story. Part 2 could be preferred? Please 😉

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  • Tom the "commercial break" is not nice at all
    Want to know the rest and have to wait.

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