Saab Bilmuseum, the museum in the center of the Saabista’s world

Saabs lined up at the Saab Bilmuseum, the official museum of Saab automobiles.

Saabs lined up in the Saab Bilmuseum, the official museum of Saab automobiles.

The center of the earth for Saab enthusiasts is a place called Trollhättan, the origin of Saab and where all but the Saab 9-4x are made now. And the holiest of shrines in Trollhattan is the Saab Bilmuseum, “bil” being Swedish for “automobile” and museum, well, you get the picture.

The name of the Saab museum is in Swedish, naturally, because Saab is Swedish. Trollhattan is a small city in southern Sweden on the Göta alv River, named for the islands that local inhabitants had thought looked like hats—hattör—worn by the giant trolls who lived under the water. Saabistas don’t necessarily share the belief in the trolls, but they hallow the burg as the origin off all things Saab automotive. It’s the home of the original Saab automobile factory.

Nowadays all Saab cars are made in Trollhattan, the Saab 9-4X made in a General Motors plant in Mexico. When Saab was bought by General Motors—trucks and aircraft divisions having gone their separate ways in a rather convoluted corporate history—Saab headquarters stayed in Trollhättan, and subsequent to GM selling off, production returned to Sweden. However, for the ordinary Saab fan—if “ordinary” and “Saab” don’t constitute an oxymoron—the true reason for a pilgrimage to the city on the Göta alv is the Saab Bilmuseum.

The museum documents the sixty years of  Saab automobiles with a collection of important Saabs, including the 1947 Saab 92.001, the actual first Saab prototype powered by a pre-war German DKW two-stroke twin with body panels from “surplus” SAAB aircraft parts. Designed by aeronautical engineers—who with true engineer hubris concluded that making a car should be easy compared to making an airplane—the teardrop shaped 92.001 was unlike anything that existed at the time.

At the Saab Bilmuseum, a window decal reads "Made in Trollhattan by trolls."

At the Saab Bilmuseum, a window decal reads "Made in Trollhattan by trolls."

Or since, for that matter, unless one considers the production Saab 92 that followed. One of these initial Saabs, nicknamed “the toad” for it contours and typical dark green color, is in the museum. Despite its slow whirring acceleration and popping cruise from the two-stroke twin cylinder engine of Saab design, the 92 was an easy cruiser on rural Swedish roads.

The 92 was followed by the 93—Saabs at that time were simply given their engineering project number as a name—largely similar to its predecessors but with three instead of two cylinders.

And that was just the beginning. The Saab Bilmuseum documents Saab automobile history with a sample of every car model, including the 95 (a station wagon), the 96 (a further development of the original teardrop sedan), and the 99 (another sedan). Note that there’s no 94 nor 97, which were aircraft projects, nor 98, a stillborn automobile. To stay with the “9” theme, the next series was dubbed 900, and the series after that, 9000. Because 90000 would simply be ridiculous, Saab adopted the current 9-3/9-5/etc. nomenclature.

No matter. The Saab Bilmuseum covers ’em all, plus all three generations of Sonnetts, various racers and rally cars, and The Monster. The latter was a Saab 93 with two three-cylinder two-stroke engines grafted together end-to-end with power taken off a spur gear in the middle. Intended to race against the rear-engined Porsches of the Fifties, The Monster was frightfully fast and ungodly loud but where the Porsches were in perpetual danger of spinning out, The Monster responded to inducements to turn by breaking. It remains a glorious one-off.