The SAAB Way - History of the Marque
The SAAB Way Part 4
The Saab 93 with its improved engine proved extremely popular on the home market and the rally successes attracted a lot of attention abroad with the result that export sales rose steadily. Saab were particularly interested in the American market and put a lot of effort into making the car more attractive to customers there. Further improvements were incorporated into the 93B which came out in late 1957. These included a new curved one-piece windscreen, blinking indicators, a self-mixing fuel tank, better front brakes, more comfortable seats and anchor points for front seat safety belts. Production was very market-focused.
In the spring of 1958 Saab introduced the Granturismo 750 (GT 750) at the New York Auto Show. It was more powerful than the 93B and was clearly aimed at sporting drivers. In standard form the GT 750 gave 45 bhp which was good from such a small engine, but this could be increased to 57 bhp for rallying with a special tuning kit. In Europe Saab met stiff opposition from other car makers on the race track. Initially the main competition was from DKW and VW but later there were to be many thrilling battles with Mini-Coopers and Lotus-Cortinas, although clearly they operated under different class rules.
It was then that the little Saabs really became noticed in Britain.
In 1957 Saabs finished first in the ladies class in the Viking Rally and finished in first place overall in the Finnish and Adriatic Rallies, took second place in the Acropolis Rally and took the European Rally Championship. In 1958 it was the ladies turn, notably Greta Molander, giving Saab class wins in the Sestriere, Midnight Sun and Viking Rallies and a second place in the ladies class in the Monte Carlo. That year Saab won the Great Florida Rally and were second overall in the Lourenco-Marcques Rally. Further successes for the 93 followed in 1959.
While all this was going on, the Swedish racing scene was dominated by Saabs in the hands of amateurs winning local trophies on ice, gravel and tarmac. Eventually many of these events were elevated to qualifiers for national championships and some entries succeeded in attracting official support. So then we see Saab sponsored drivers like Erik Carlsson, Carl-Magnus Skogh and Rolf Mellde appearing on the winner’s board.
The pattern emerging is of a relatively young engineering company with long term ambitions establishing its products in a very competitive market and willing to spend money in support of these goals. Throughout this early period the competitions department at Saab was run through the development office, and this was the key. Motorsport provided much of the impetus to product development and the public perception of Saabs as exciting sports/family cars was growing.
1959 saw the 93 become the 93F with front-hinged doors and the launch of the 95 station wagon. The 95 was a significant model and with it came a new 841 cc engine and a new 4-speed gearbox. Both these innovations were to feature in a redesigned 93 which made its debut on a cold February day in 1960 as the 96.