Most people do not realize that SAAB was an airplane manufacturer before anything else. When it began life in 1938, the Swedish company was tasked with arming the Royal Swedish Air Force in preparation for war. Even to this day, the Gripen and the Viggen fighter jets are best associated with Saab. The 93—known as the Saab 900 in some markets—represents the midpoint of the company’s expansion into other equally lucrative fields. In two decades, this compact executive car would prove that Saab was capable of translating its experience in aircraft design to make a car just as reliable.
1978-1993: The classic
The front wheel drive, compact Saab 93 debuted in May of 1978, and came with a slew of very odd design features. For one thing, it had its engine in backwards. That is, power was delivered from the crankshaft out of the front of the car—as opposed to the rear in most other vehicles. For another thing, the transaxle transmission was bolted directly to the bottom of the engine itself, and formed the oil pan—with lubrication separate from the engine.
With a refined version of its predecessors double wishbone suspension installed, the Saab 93 enjoyed superior handling and a very comfortable road feel. The earliest models did not, however, come with sway bars—these were installed in 1985, and quickly became a standard. The deeply curved front windshield allowed the best visibility for the driver out of any automobile before and even after it—a clear nod to Saab’s aircraft design roots.
Other clear and distinct signs that this is a car designed by airplane manufacturers were the curved and accessible dashboard and the great amount of storage space that the 93 offered. With regard to the former, one could easily access any of the controls from the driver’s side and all indicators and gauges were more than amply lit. As with an airplane, engineers at Saab placed and spaced these controls and gauges based on which were most used and looked at.
Of course, a car is nothing without its engine—and the Saab 93 was equipped with a whopper of one. With a 2.1-L, 16-valve, turbocharged engine under the hood, the car felt and drove like it was an airplane!
1994-1998: The last years
The second and last generation of the Saab 93 was built upon General Motor’s Opel Vectra platform, and was a complete re-design of the “classic” that came before it. The look was modern and far more typical of the era it came into. It has been said that there were over 1100 individual improvements and changes introduced in this time period. Most noted were the Sensonic clutch, the Saab Information Display, and a brand new engine.
Sensonic clutch retained the manual clutch lever but did away with the pedal in favor of an electronics suite that took over clutch control from the driver—in fact, it performed the task far more efficiently. The information display gave drivers real-time relevant information while on the road—including actual fuel efficiency at the moment and outside air temperature. Clearly, Saab couldn’t simply let go of its airplane roots easily! The last engine that the 93 came with was a 2.5-L B258I V6 with 24 valves and a—then—impressive 168 hp output!