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.
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.
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.