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 feel like selling them to a likewise aspiring competitor? "Actually not" will now be the answer. And that shows how wrong you can be. Because Volkswagen delivers engines to Saab. Motors that actually do not exist yet and that no customer can buy at this time. Interesting, unthinkable today. But at that time VW was very ambitious and was 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 driver testing, and the developers in Stallbacka attested that the machine from Lower Saxony had good engine running and pleasant driving behavior. Installation in the engine compartment of the large Saab 9000 was easy due to the compact dimensions. Due to 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 gearshift would also have required new clutch and torque converter housings. So they decided against the VR6 solution, and today you can speculate what would have been if the two companies had come closer to each other. Saab would probably have been taken over at some point and is now a brand in the VW realm. Maybe as successful as Skoda. Kissed awake and built up with years of investment by Volkswagen.

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; you could still be objective and pay homage to beautiful things. The Alfa V6 was tested in Sweden, and installation in the 9000 was child's play. No wonder, the Alfa 164 was related to the 9k via the platform, so the modifications were hardly worth mentioning. You could even have taken over the manual Fiat-C530 gearbox and 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.

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

  • 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

    • 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.

  • Which engine ...

    ... did the Saab engineers favor?

    From the article I can see that the blog would have liked to see the Alfa V6 and that Saab had an unexpected contact with VW. Furthermore, that the Mazda was unloved and that all of this was ultimately off the table with GM's entry. Which engine was preferred 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?

  • Pingback:

  • Thanks for the AW.

    If you hit the crucial parts of the text of both articles with your nose, it becomes conclusive. And if I understand correctly, the V6 from Alfa had neither 4-valve technology nor the (later) displacement at the time. Since I can make friends very well with the (modern) favorite of the trolls ...

    But anyway, for me personally, the question of big vacuums in new cars had already been dealt with at the latest with the first 2,3 Turbo from Saab. I am open to the group of those who consider the B234 to be one of the best engines ever built ...

  • Are the 6-cylinder petrol engines a recommended machine?

  • This is clearly a question 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 is well known, only the V6 diesel bought from Isuzu should be avoided….

  • The V6 are considered lame and drunken within the Saab scene and maintenance-intensive at the Opelgang. The latter is correct, the timing belt change interval is very short at 60mm, changing the spark plugs on the rear bench is no fun and the engines tend to leak heavily, especially on the valve covers. When the cooling water changes are sloppy, the oil / water heat exchangers like to rot through and then simulate head seal damage. But that's about it - if you pay attention to timing belts and the heat exchanger, the motors can get very, very old.
    And the oil from the Saab scene regarding “lame and drunk” is completely unjustified. It is true that the engines have a completely different characteristic than the Saab family. The Saab four-cylinder are all torque buffalos with a lot of power from the speed cellar and with a medium speed range; not just the turbos, but also the vacuum cleaners. The GM-54 ° -V6, however, are speed motors. They run smoothly, they sound nice, they are quite efficient (for a six-cylinder) and they are actually fast. But they only wake up beyond the 4000 / min.
    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 engine is in your element when driving quickly. A quick country road hunt - turned the aisles at each exit of the town, drove “with VAT” between the villages - I did often enough with a 7 before the decimal point. And I did not get more than 12 liters through the nozzles on sharp freeway journeys with high unlimited proportions, even with force. With a comparable driving style, a turbo would then need a few liters more.
    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.

  • Thanks Turboseize for the detailed, great comment. I can only agree with the writing across the board. Cruising in this car is indeed a pure pleasure ... And care needs all of our treasures….


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

  • @ turboseize,

    I like to believe that the 6-cylinder has the characteristics described and it is true that the 4-cylinder family does not rely on high speeds ...

    … But it is not true that at 3000 RPM at the latest it would be funny. Depending on the engine, the music plays (elasticity range between maximum torque and maximum output) up to 5000 or 5500 rpm.

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

    The home-grown plants are not quite as hostile to speed and unwilling. And the elasticity range of the turbos even shows the larger speed range, even if the max. Performance a little earlier than the vacuum cleaner. With all the enthusiasm for suction and V6, so much honesty must be ...

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

  • Another very informative article


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