Whirring like an Evinrude, the little Saab 92 gathers up velocity hand of over hand. There’s no tachometer, so shift points come by ear. The column mounted lever moves with typical reluctance, shafts and levers falling into place. Up, forward and up, first gear sides into second. Down on the throttle and the 25 horse two-stroke two-cylinder engine reverts from popping to that earnest whir again. Shift once more and its high gear.
With every revolution, two pistons push 764cc of spent premix into the Swedish evening air. The 1950 Saab 92, fresh from the Saab Bilmuseum, trails a tell-tale blue plume in its wake.
This was an early Saab automobile, Saab 92 production number 192. Is two-cycle engine, with oil added to the fuel for lubrication, may have been crude, but as such it was also simple. There were a mere seven moving parts: fewer to break and, just as important, fewer to make. For a company making its first car, that was crucial.
Saab wasn’t only a novice car maker, however. The company, Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, or SAAB, had been around only since 1937, a reaction to the events of the south, an action to assure that in the likelihood of war Sweden’s cherished neutrality and freedoms would be preserved, by force or the threat of it. SAAB would supply military to the Royal Swedish Air Force at a time when other countries, hurriedly arming themselves, could not.
Indeed Sweden, unlike less militarily prepared Norway and Finland, remained neutral in World War II. The approaching peace held problems, though, for the fledgling SAAB. Diminished postwar production of military aircraft would not keep its workforce busy. Nor might that of the SAAB 90 Scandia, a twin-engined airliner, and the SAAB 91 Safira single-engined light aircraft, both civil aircraft projects begun in 1944.
For Saab, prefabricated steel buildings and household appliances were too dull. Scania-Vabis and Volvo had the lucrative truck market locked up, and the motorcycle market was spoken for as well. With Volvo in the upper end of the car market, however, perhaps there was room for a Svenska small car.
SAAB began development project 92, its third civilian project, in 1945. It’s not surprising that the company’s engineers settle on front-drive and a transverse two-stroke twin, like the popular prewar DKW. The prototype, in fact, used the drivetrain from a scrapped DKW. But SAAB did more than copy the old design. Instead of DKW’s non-synchro gearbox positioned behind the engine and driven via chain, SAAB would place the engine and transmission side by side, with synchro on the top two of its three speeds.
The carburetor was single downdraft Solex 32AIC, the engine using crankcase charging with transfer ports and slightly concave (rather than deflector-topped) pistons. A muffler was positioned in front of the engine, the exhaust pipe bending under and back along the right side of the car, with no rear resonator like many early Saabs had. The radiator, too, was aft and above the engine, with thermo-siphon cooling. All engine and transmission bearings were roller type except the wrist pins’ and reverse shaft’s, freewheeling to prevent damage from a lack of lubrication when the throttle was closed on long downhill runs.