Saab, the car company, traces its roots to a Swedish aerospace and defense company launched in 1937. The parent company built bombers and fighters for Sweden during World War II.
With the war ending, the company decided to diversify its product portfolio by including automobiles. Thus, in 1945 Saab Automobiles was founded, following Volvo to the consumer market.
The first model from this automaker was the Saab 92, launched in 1949. The two-door 92 was very aerodynamic for its time and came with a safety cage to protect passengers. This compact, front-wheel-drive model featured a tiny 764 cc two-cylinder engine mated to a three-speed manual transmission. For the first few years, all models were painted green, supposedly to help deplete surplus paint leftover from wartime aircraft production.
In the mid-1950s, the automaker replaced its original model with the two-door Saab 93. Only slightly larger than the previous model, the 93 offered a 750 cc three-cylinder engine and a three-speed manual transmission. It was also the first Saab model exported, and the United States was a key market. A wagon variant rolled out in 1959.
Saab’s success as an automaker seemed assured in 1960, when the Saab 96 was introduced. Initially, it employed the same two-stroke, three-cylinder engine arrangement of the 93. Later, the automaker later sourced its first four-cylinder engine from Ford. Wagon versions sported the 95 name.
Saab was involved in motorsports, beginning with a single-seat racer. Immediately, Saab made a name for itself in world rally events and finished second in its class at the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours.
In 1968, Saab merged with commercial vehicle manufacturer Scania and released a new model, the 99. It was the first all-new model from Saab, as the previous vehicles shared a common platform. The Saab 99 showcased the company’s innovation, as it offered headlight washers, self-repairing bumpers and side-impact door beams. Saab initially offered the 99 in two- and four-door sedan body styles. Later, it expanded the 99 lineup to include three- and five-door hatchback versions.
Perhaps the first model to endear itself to Saab faithful and reach iconic status was the 900. It was introduced in 1978 and built for the next 20 years. Based on the 99 chassis, the 900 matched the 99’s body styles and also included a convertible.
In 1989, General Motors purchased a 50-percent stake in newly independent Saab Automobile AB. In 2000, GM exercised its right to buy out the remaining shares of the company for full ownership.
Under GM, Saab launched several new and updated models. Coinciding with its 50th anniversary, Saab launched the midsize 9-5 to replace the 900. It was followed by the 9-3, which was a compact model.
Later models also included the 9-2X, which was based on the Subaru Impreza, and the 9-7X, which was based on the Chevrolet Trailblazer. In 2003, Saab introduced the second-generation 9-3, replacing the popular “combi” or hatchback style with a sedan.
As part of GM’s bankruptcy and reorganization in 2011, the automaker sold Saab to Spyker Cars N.V., a Dutch manufacturer. The following year, Saab introduced the 9-4X, which is an upscale compact SUV based on the Cadillac SRX. The 9-4X was offered for a year before it was canceled, as the new owners encountered financial difficulty.
For 2012, Saab’s final year selling cars in the U.S., the 9-3, 9-4X and 9-5 were the last models offered. Saab’s official last year of business was in 2014 as an electric car manufacturer, but with no new vehicles to show for it.