Saab and the six-cylinder. A VW VR6 for Sweden. (2)

Volkswagen in the 80s. Do you have compact V6 engines for transverse installation in the program? And do you want to sell them to an equally aspiring competitor? “Not really” will now be the answer. And it shows how wrong you can be. Because Volkswagen delivers engines to Saab. Engines that don't actually exist yet and that no customer can buy at the time. Interesting, unthinkable today. But at that time VW was very ambitious and always looking for new partnerships.

Saab 900 II. A six-cylinder in the middle class
Saab 900 II. A six-cylinder in the middle class. Image: Saab Automobile AB

Volkswagen VR6 engine for Saab

The VR6 concept from Volkswagen is a story in itself. In order to fit a six-cylinder into a compact car like the VW Golf, an old idea was remembered on the Mittelland Canal. Lancia had its first aircraft engine for the Aeroplani Caproni in VR shape built. The advantage of the design was a reduction in the cylinder angle and an associated saving of 10 centimeters in width. Volkswagen introduced the engine to series production for the first time in 1991 - and Saab tested it in 1988.

Which could lead to the interesting question of how deep the relationships between the executive floor on the Götaland Canal and that of the Mittelland Canal could have been. They must have been quite good, because the trials in Trollhättan received an engine and an engine housing from Wolfsburg at a very early prototype stage. The housing itself was installed in a 9000 for crash test testing, but this never happened.

The complete engine was used for driving tests, and the developers in the Stallbacka attested that the machine from Lower Saxony ran well and was comfortable to drive. Installation in the engine compartment of the large Saab 9000 was easy due to its compact dimensions. Because of the height, the use in the series would have led to further modifications. The adaptation to the ZF transmissions used by Saab and the company's own 5-speed gearbox would also have required new clutch and torque converter housings. So the decision was made against the VR6 solution, and today we are welcome to speculate what would have happened if both companies had come closer to each other. Saab would probably have been taken over at some point and is now a brand in the realm of VW. Maybe as successful as Skoda. Kissed awake and built up by Volkswagen with long-term investments.

Mazda JE-ZE engine for Saab

Mazda was seen as a prospect for the Saab takeover in the late 80s. In 1989, around the time when it was debated on the executive board floors, a JE-ZE engine was bought from the Japanese. A well-behaved, classically unspectacular V6 with a displacement of 3 liters, as used in the Mazda 929. The Swedes doubted the promised 205 hp, the installation of a Japanese engine in the Scandinavian housing required improvisation.

After all, the developers saw a pleasant driving behavior. That was it with the Mazda engine in the Saab 9000.

Alfa Romeo engine for Saab

Oh yes, if I had a wish, it would have been the wonderful engine from Alfa Romeo. The legendary Italian V6, for which you do everything. Because he sings such a beautiful song that electric car drivers of the present and future will never hear. Yes, but for that they save the world, it couldn't be any smaller.

In 1988 and 89, the climate crisis was not yet an issue, one could still be disinterested and pay homage to beautiful things. In Sweden they tested the Alfa V6 and installing it in the 9000 was a breeze. No wonder, the Alfa 164 was related to the 9k through the platform, so the modifications were hardly worth mentioning. You could even have taken over the manual Fiat-C530 gearbox and thus the entire drive train.

A stylish engine with an unbelievable sound, that's how the technicians noted at the time. Which still had a long way to go and was expanded to 24 valves and 3.2 liter displacement. Why not choose Alfa Romeo? Because GM got in the way and suddenly V6 engines were on the shelf. Or also because the Alfa V6 was a little too thirsty.

None of the test engines described came into series production. The signs changed - suddenly everything was very simple.

Motors from Ellesmere Port for Saab

With the entry of the Americans in 1989, the English V6 engines were suddenly available. All other options were off the table. Too bad, because there were options with charm that would have suited Saab well. I personally would have voted for the Alfa V6 in the Saab, but the Saab technicians had quite clearly the Yamaha Ford engine (see part 1) prefers. It was the most modern unit and also met all emissions standards with a view to the future. The fact that Ford did not want to deliver engines is another issue that was anyway off the table with the 50% takeover by GM.

As a result, Saab adapted the transmission interfaces to the Opel / GM standard and was therefore able to adapt the V6 engines without any problems. After the 9000 they came in the 9-5 and 900 II. They became a success and are one of the reasons why the brand was able to master the 90s with flying colors.

17 thoughts on "Saab and the six-cylinder. A VW VR6 for Sweden. (2)"

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    Another very informative article

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    Thanks to you for the answer

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    Thank you for the detailed answer!

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    I like the Saab engines. With a VW engine and a cooperation, Saab might have survived. But at what price?

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    @ turboseize,

    I like to believe that the 6-cylinder have the described characteristics and it is true that the 4-cylinder self-grown do not rely on high speeds ...

    ... but it is not true that there would be no more fun at 3000 rpm at the latest. Depending on the engine, the music plays (elasticity range between max. Torque and max. Power) up to 5000 or 5500 rpm.

    Of course, this is anything but high-revving and you are absolutely right. An ideal switching point for the max. Propulsion at 5000 rpm is unusually early for a petrol engine. But the 3000 rpm are very badly exaggerated ...

    The homegrown people are not quite so hostile to revs and unwilling. And the elasticity range of the turbo even shows the larger speed range, even if the max. Performance a little earlier than with the vacuum cleaner. With all the enthusiasm for vacuum cleaners and V6, so much honesty has to be ...

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    The YAMAHA-FORD V 6 in the small Ford Festiva (SHOGun) was really (unreasonable) fun:

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    Thanks Turboseize for the detailed, great comment. I can only agree with what has been written across the board. Cruising in this car is a real pleasure indeed…. And all our treasures need care….


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    The V6 are considered lame and drunk within the Saab scene and as maintenance-intensive at the Opelgang. The latter is true, the timing belt change interval is very short at 60mm, changing spark plugs on the rear bank is no fun and the engines tend to have severe oil leaks, especially on the valve covers. If the cooling water changes are messy, the oil / water heat exchangers tend to rot and then simulate damage to the head gasket. But that's about it - if you pay attention to the timing belt and the heat exchanger, the engines can get very, very old.
    And the booze from the Saab scene regarding “lame and drunk” is completely unjustified. It is true that the engines have completely different characteristics than the Saab own plants. The Saab four cylinders are all torque buffets with a lot of power from the lower speed range and with a medium speed range; not just the turbos, but also the vacuum cleaners. The GM-54 ° -V6, on the other hand, are speed motors. They run smoothly, they sound nice, they are quite efficient (for a six-cylinder) and they are actually fast too. But you only wake up beyond 4000 rpm.
    For a Saab driver who is used to surfing on the torque shaft of the Turbo at 2000 to 2500 rpm, it feels incredibly lame. Because nothing really happens in the area with the six-cylinder.
    It is also correct that the six-cylinder have a slightly higher basal metabolic rate. When driving particularly economically, you need about half a liter more; in city traffic and maybe even with an automatic transmission, the V6 drink like a Swede on the ferry.
    The six-cylinder engines are in their element when driving quickly. A brisk country road chase - at every exit of the town the gears were turned off, drove between the villages “with VAT” - I have often enough done with a 7 before the decimal point. And I did not get more than 12 liters through the jets, even with force, during sharp motorway drives with high unlimited proportions. A turbo would then need a few more liters with a comparable driving style.
    In short: whether the v6 is recommended depends on the driver and the driving profile. These are engines first for leisurely connoisseurs (because no other Saab cruises as gently and relaxed as with a V6 automatic), secondly for fast motorway stages. If you like turbodieselbums and switch at 3000 rpm at the latest, they are not for you. But if you get involved with the engine, you can have a lot of fun with it.

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    This is clearly a matter of personal taste….
    As already written several times, I drive a 170 PS V6 in a 902 convertible and I don't want to miss it.
    Reliable, moderate consumption, extremely powerful and with a wonderful sonorous sound.
    Because the naturally aspirated engine, he lacks the turbo bite that Saabisten loves so much. I don't want to miss him.
    As you know, you should keep your hands off the V6 Diesel bought by Isuzu.

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    Are the 6-cylinder petrol engines a recommended machine?

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    Thanks for the AW.

    Bumped into the key passages in both articles, it becomes conclusive. And if I understand correctly, the Alfa V6 had neither 4-valve technology nor the (later) displacement at the time. I can very well make friends with the (modern) favorite of the trolls ...

    Be that as it may, for me personally the question of large vacuum cleaners in new cars had already been settled with the first 2,3 Turbo from Saab at the latest. I am openly committed to the group of those who consider the B234 to be one of the best engines ever built ...

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    Which engine ...

    ... did the Saab engineers favor it?

    From the article I can see that the blog would have liked to see the Alfa V6 and that there was an unexpected contact between Saabs and VW. Furthermore, that the Mazda was unloved and that all of this was ultimately off the table with GM's entry. Which engine was favored by the Saab engineers (and why) is unfortunately not quite clear to me ...

    Is there anything known about this or is this a book with 7 seals / a wide field for speculation?

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      The Yamaha Ford engine, see Part 1 and last paragraph part 2.

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    Hello, interesting story about the possibilities of a 6 cylinder engine for Saab. However, I miss the Saab development of the SVC engine, with adjustable compression in the description. I had seen this engine several times at the Saab booths at auto shows. That was in 1994/1995. As I remember it was a 5- or 6 cylinder with a saving of approx. 30% fuel, due to the automatically changeable compression depending on the power requirement. Unfortunately, I have never heard or seen anything of this development. Best regards Peter Kern

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      The SVC engine came 10 around 10 years later and has 1.6 liters with four cylinders. So it doesn't fit thematically or chronologically. But the topic is very interesting, there is still a ready-to-drive 9-5 with this engine in the museum's depot.

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