“Motor Sport” visits –
Rally successes having put Volvo and Saab in the forefront of the sporting scene, these motor cars are now highly esteemed in Europe and America, so it seemed opportune for us to pay a visit to their factories in Sweden.
Thus it came about that one Sunday evening in April we left London Airport and landed three hours later at Gothenburg, where we were welcomed by Folke Reich, Export Publicity Manager of A.B. Volvo. Mr. Reich looked after us like a father during our stay in Gothenburg. He speaks fluent English and caused us considerable surprise later that evening by referring casually to Diamond-.J.A.P.s racing at Brooklands and to the old Public Schools M.C., his explanation being that he is ”a phoney Swede,” who was educated at Cambridge.
The Editor had an even greater surprise when he was met at the airport by a 1927 PV4 Volvo which the factory has recently painstakingly restored. This, a left-hand-drive 2-litre fabric saloon, is the model with which the Volvo Group entered the automobile industry 33 years ago. At that time there was considerable American influence, which is reflected in the old car’s detachable rims, drum-style Bosch headlamps and central ball-gate gear-change. The Editor was delighted with the car and was soon behind the wood-rimmed steering wheel, driving himself into Gothenburg at a dignified 50 k.p.h. This vintage Volvo is reminiscent of a Belgian F.N. saloon of similar age that he owned some years ago, and its rear-wheeled brakes are quite adequate under modern traffic conditions.
After we had checked in at the comfortable and efficiently-run Park Avenue Hotel, Mr. Reich used what daylight remained to drive us about the town of Gothenburg in a nearly new and very handsome, red, left-hand-drive Volvo 122S.
Gothenburg is it delightful town, very compact, with wide tree-lined avenues and gras-flanked boulevards. Its buildings are by no means blatantly modern, although not many of its old wooden houses remain. It is possible to drive within a few minutes to a church on a hilltop, from where a view over the entire town reveals that the river comes into the centre of Gothenburg, which is where the docks with their quays and railway siding, are it situated. That this is a seaport town is emphasised by the many statues to shipowners and other notabilities connected with the shipping industry, while there is a museum in which nautical exhibits predominate and an hotel where you can eat overlooking the shipping and floating cranes in the harbour. Here old ship’s cabins, and rooms furnished as they were long ago by shipping magnates, are preserved. Nearby are the Marine School and the Fish Market.
Gothenburg has a modern shopping centre and a remarkable new stadium built on cantilever principles with the roof hung on wire cables from concrete pillars, this stadium having been built in approximately eighteen months for last year’s World Football Cup Final. A canal running through the town is a reminder that it was founded by the Dutch, and a somewhat embarrassing situation in the light of Sweden’s present prosperity, which means dense motor traffic (one in seven of the population owns a car), is that only a single bridge spans the river Gota. There are also the trams – modern blue single-deckers with overhead gantry pick-ups, usually towing trailers, which one local motorist describes as “the sacred cows of Gothenburg,” because they have traffic priority and, like trams everywhere, increase road congestion.
Sweden is a prosperous country, with a high standard of living, which means no unemployment, few strikes, a shortage of labour for the factories, and a population rich in motor cars. There was no need to take a census of cars on the streets to discover which makes are in the ascendancy, because the Swedish Automobile Manufacturers’ Association issues far more reliable data in the form of a statistical book. From this we learn that on January 1st. 1959 (the last year for which figures were available), there were 175,254 Volvos, 137,871 Volkswagens, 124,690 Fords and 120,164 Opels registered in Sweden; or, in terms of new cars registered in 1958, 31,151 were Volvos, 24,827 Volkswagens, 24,361 Opels, and 1,186 Saabs.
The visit to Volvo
Because Volvo cannot hope to compete in quantity production in terms of world exports with, for example, Volkswagen or Ford, they concentrate on building cars of high quality, which are made exceptionally well and are finished to a very high standard. Formerly a branch of the great S.K.F. ball-bearing company, Volvo later achieved independence. The concern was founded by Asmar Gabrielsson, who retired four years ago. They built their first car in 1927, the aforesaid PV4, planning to produce 13,000 in three years. In fact, this was not achieved, the output being nearer 1,600, but the company gradually got into it, stride, and in 1934 it absorbed the factory at Skovde which had supplied its engines. During the Second World War Volvo took over the Swedish Aero Engine Company; in 1943 they bought up the Koping Engineering Works, which had made their gearboxes. As the factory expanded comparatively large cars like the PV51 Carioca saloon and overhead-valve commercial vehicles were built. A hydraulically-driven car was experimented with in the 1930s, with a hydraulic motor on each wheel. This proved a failure, but when the successful PV444 was planned experiments were carried out with front-wheel-drive, torsion-bar suspension and air-cooled engines, both vertical and horizontal. Eventually a conventional style was adopted, but in 1947 Volvo ran a car with air suspension for 50,000 miles and just before the Second World War they built the rear-engined PV40 with a two-stroke X-type eight-cylinder power unit, supercharged. Other experimental models were the Bertil two-door saloon, with Saab-like radiator grille, and a few smart Volvo sports cars with plastic bodies, one of which can still be seen at the factory.
Today the Volvo Group consists of an assembly plant at Gothenburg where cars and commercial vehicles are assembled, the engine factory at Skovde, the factory making combine harvesters at Flen, another dealing in brake drums at Flovy, the Bolinger factory at Eskilstuna where farm tractors, road graders and industrial engines are made, the Koping works which deals in gearboxes, rear axles and machine tools, and the Trollhättan plant where Rolls-Royce Avon jet aero-engines are made under licence and printing presses are turned out. This Group is the third largest in Sweden’s engineering industry and altogether gives employment to some 80,000 people, or 1% of the total population.
The first Volvo left a humble assembly line on April 14th, 1927, and on November 17th, 1959, the 500,000th Volvo, an L420 truck, rolled out of the Gothenburg plant. Volvo make no secret of the fact that they have outgrown this ex-ball-bearing factory. By 1963 they plan to open a new private car works nearer to the airport, which will have a floor area of 17,000 sq. yd., the buildings being in three wings connected by a two-storey building 2,800 ft. long and 60 ft. wide. Here the production target will be 150,000 cars a year. There will be a full test-track adjacent.
Volvo is unique in two respects. In the first place the company is not tied to national component suppliers and consequently purchases such components from all over the world, going to where the best product is made. For example, they make use of Bosch electrical equipment, Vandervell bearings, Hardy-Spicer prop.-shafts, E.N.V. axles, and some of their body steel comes from Wales. Secondly, Volvo make a car which attains high b.h.p. from an engine of modest size, this being possible because careful construction has enabled them to use high crankshaft speeds, while notable safety features are incorporated in their cars, such as seat belts, screen-washers, mud flaps, a guard over the handbrake release button, and laminated windscreens as standard equipment. There is crash protection within the car, the underside of the facia is free from dangerous projections and even the speedometer has safety glass. On the day on which we arrived in Gothenburg the new-type seat belt, which now includes a lap strap and a very neat quick-release mechanism, had been publicised by suspending in public view three Volvo cars from one of these belts!
The present Volvo range of private cars consists of the two-door P554, the P445 station wagon, and the Type P12204 or 122S which has established itself so well in England, where it is handled by Brooklands of Bond Street. The basic four-cylinder push-rod o.h.v. 79.37 x 80-mm. (1,583-c.c.) engine gives 66 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. on a 7.5-to-1 compression-ratio, using a single downdraught carburetter, this engine being the B16A version as used for the station wagons, P554s and 121s. In B16B form, as found in the 122S and 544 Sport, the engine gives 85 b.h.p. at 5.500 r.p.m., which is a high output achieved at high crankshaft speed for a normal 1.5-litre push-rod o.h.v. unit. In this form the engine uses twin S.U. carburetters and has a compression-ratio of 8.2 to 1. Including commercial vehicle engines, eight types are made, these embracing a 3.6-litre diesel engine giving 90 b.h.p., or 150 b.h.p. with turbo-exhaust blower, this power unit being used for trucks of up to 12 tons and, in a different chassis, for coaches.
Daily output is 50 of the 122S, 60 of the 121, and 220 of the P544, working mainly in eight-hour shifts: a total of 330 Volvos every day.
On the day after our arrival, we visited the Gothenburg assembly plant, which is sunk in a rock plateau on the outskirts of the town. The body shells arrive here by train from the Swedish Pressed Steel factory in Olofström, 200 miles South, and the engines by truck from Skovde, 100 miles North. Each body is coated with 3 lb. of protective grease, which is scraped off on arrival and returned to Olofström for further use. The bodies are brought from the railway sidings on two-tier transporters towed by tractors. They are then taken by roof conveyor for completion of assembly, cleaning and drying. After passing an inspection check the body goes on an automatic change-of-direction mechanism and a roof conveyor to the phosphating plant. This phosphating plant replaces a roto-dip plant which had been in use since 1947 and which could only cope with eleven bodies per hour. The new plant is 213 ft. long and has six spraying and intermediate draining-off zones. Degreasing is done in a bay 26 ft. 3 in. long, holding 12,000 litres of fluid at a temperature of 140°F. The rinsing zones are each 19 ft. 8 in. long and use water only at 113-122° F. The phosphating zone is 26 ft. 3 in. long and holds 10,000 litres of acid zinc phosphiate solution at a temperature of 131°F. The nozzles spray at from 21.3 to 28.4 lb./sq.in.
After passing through this elaborate rust-proofing process the bodies enter a drying oven and are then dipped into air-drying primer so that the under parts, inside and out, are completely immersed. Surplus paint is run off on a pitching conveyor and the thoroughly rust-proofed body is then ready for painting, the process so far having taken one hour.
The painting process is equally thorough and occupies 2-1/2 hours, the finished bodies emerging with a high gloss finish of the highest quality. In all five coats are applied, equal to 25 lb. of paint, while 30 lb. of undersealing is also applied. After hot paint has been sprayed on, wet grinding is applied. Dry grinding is done by hand. Ten pipes convey the different coloured paints to the spraying booths, and during their passage through the paintshop the bodies are baked once at 170°C., again at 130°C., and twice at 160°C. This vast painting shop, where such pains are taken to ensure a high-class finish, is able to cope with up to 30 bodies every hour, and each day six tons of paint, which is bought in Germany, is consumed. At every stage a minute inspection is carried out and even tiny blemishes result in rejection.
The assembly of the car from body shell to complete vehicle follows the normal practice. The 121 and 122S (which can only be called the Amazon in Scandinavian countries as there is a German moped of the same name) are dealt with in a separate shop. the two-carboretter engine being identified for assembly purposes by its polished valve cover, whereas the 121 engine has a red valve cover. The 544 is assembled with the station wagons in the main hall on two assembly lines, beside which stand the stacks of components required for the assembly process, these being brought by Clark and other makes of fork-lift trucks from various warehouses. There is not overmuch automation to be seen but the diversity of supplies is notable. Thus the laminated windscreens come from Belgium, petrol gauges and speedometers are German Vdo, tyres are supplied by five Swedish companies and by Goodyear in England, the steering boxes are F.C. but Volvo hope soon to make their own, batteries are Tudor, and a four to six months’ supply of British Hardy-Spicer propeller-shafts is held. Every car and commercial vehicle wheel is balanced, and a Hymatic inflator, made at Redditch, is used to inflate tyres.
Assembly of the 544 is facilitated because the bonnet is integral with the wings and radiator grille, and this, with the radiator fitted – after it has been assembled on a special jig which has seats for the operatives – is lifted by crane and dropped into place on the body. At the end of the assembly line rejected bodies are touched up with mink brushes or may be completely rejected and re-baked for four hours in ultra-violet ray ovens. Every car is subjected to a water test for leaks, which lasts three minutes, high-pressure jets of water being forced over it from every direction by a battery of nozzles. The finished car is run for three minutes on one of three roller brakes, where it is driven at the equivalent of 60 m.p.h. while gearbox, steering and brakes are checked. One in ten cars goes for a 12-15-mile road test. Incidentally, we were shown round this plant by a Volvo guide who remembers the golden age of motoring when he worked at the Bugatti factory in France.
Before lunch we had a short chat with Volvo’s young chief engineer, who told us that while the 122S was tested in prototype form in Sweden, they took the new P1800 coupé to Germany to obviate undue curiosity. We were able to photograph the first of the prototype P1800 coupés which had been flown over from Pressed Steel in England to the Gothenburg factory. Volvo’s chief engineer believes in independent rear suspension but does not consider it a sales point at the Volvo price level – the Volvo back axle is supported by coil-springs and located by radius arms, which gives satisfactory results. He drives a Volvo himself, as does the present President and most of the executives of the company. It was interesting that the P1800 uses what is in effect one block of Volvo’s 3.6-litre V-8 commercial-vehicie engine. This attractive coupé should be in production in Sweden by July and in England by the end of this year.
On the Tuesday morning we drove the red 122S out over the cobbled stones of Gothenburg to Skovde, using a rather fine dual-carriage road for part of the journey, in order to look at the engine factory. On the way the sight of five “mini-brics” proceeding north on a transporter made the Editor homesick. The Swedes are deeply interested in this new B.M.C. Mini-car, and are anxious to see how it will perform in snow. Judging by the number of A35s seen near Sweden, it should prove popular.
At the engine factory, where Mr. Jernberg, who is over 65 and has virtually retired, made an able guide, we saw a great deal more of the impressive and elaborate steps which Volvo take in their search for perfection.
At Skovde Volvo have their own modern foundry and pattern shop, the patterns being conveyed on the conveyor belt system for filling. The pattern shop is equipped with Cincinnati drills, Milwaukee, Stal and Koping lathes, etc. Crankshafts and connecting rods are forged and these come from the Bofors factory but are machined in the engine assembly plant. These components are also supplied by English Steel. Good local sand is available from a lake 80 miles from Gothenburg. This is dried, and then mixed in two Simpson mixers, two kinds of sand, linseed and CO2, being used. After every 500 lb. of sand has passed through the mixers a sample is taken to the sand laboratory, where very elaborate checks are made for dampness, porosity, compression strength, etc. Incidentally, English starch is used as a binder for the sand.
The furnaces can handle nine tons of molten metal per hour, or three tons an hour each from the two high-frequency furnaces. Every half hour samples are taken and analysed, amounting to 100 checks per day. Because of the many different types of engines in production, Volvo use nine different alloys in their iron. Ten test pieces are taken from every rail-load of pig iron, and after the cylinder blocks and crankcases have been cast, the most elaborate checks are made in the search for defects, even to taking all types of sections out of finished blocks and other components. As we passed from department to department through wooden doors which would please Bugatti enthusiasts, it was evident that this check from the raw to the finished components is typical of the extremes to which Volvo go in their search for perfection both of their own materials and those of outside suppliers. An amusing item is that the high-frequency furnaces require a reserve of water and this is kept in a swimming bath and turkish baths, which the operatives are allowed to use free of charge when they come off a shift. However, should the furnaces urgently require it, the water would be drawn off.
The blocks are planed on Detroit broaching machines, which cause practically no rise in temperature, and are then passed to Ingersoll boring machines and on to Archdale machines for the semi-finish of the bores. This is done in pairs. The bores are then finished four at a time on Archdale semi-automatic machines, and final boring is carried out with the block lined up through the crankshaft bores so that a perfect right-angle bore is obtained. Hüller machines bore the tunnel for the distributor-drive shaft and the camshaft tunnel is bored on Honsburg machines. Sundstrand machines are used for drilling the crankshaft and three cuts are taken of all important dimensions. Rough machining of the crankshaft is carried out on Le Blond machines, and checks at all stages of cylinder-block boring are carried out with British Sigma air gauges. ‘The bores are finally finished on Volvo’s own machine tools, and in the very large machine shop Hüller transfer machines, Heller, Norton, Fortuna, Churchill and Linköping grinders, Gehring and other machines are encountered. We were amused to see that here many of the operatives were wearing Mobiloil caps. Small machine tools include Heald, Hüller, Archdale, a Krauseco transfer machine for boring valve guides, etc. As with cylinder blocks, so with connecting rods, the greatest care is taken and the bearings are lapped in by hand and afterwards honed. Crankshafts are balanced dynamically on a remarkable Schenck machine which automatically drills away the amount of metal required to give the correct balance. Crankshaft journals are polished on a Schraner Hydraulic No. 3 machine tool. Crankshafts are also balanced with the flywheel in place, starter rings being shrunk onto these flywheels, and the correct pitch of the starter teeth is checked by Sigma air gauge. The German-manufactured pistons are carefully weighed, the tolerance allowed being a maximum of 2 grammes.
It should be remarked that Volvo are particularly enthusiastic about M.T.M., or time/motion study, which is widely applied in their machining and assembly shops, with the full approval of the Unions.
Completed engines are run for 12 minutes whilst suspended above Nankervis test beds, the engines being run with a test carburetter clamped to the manifold, which is later replaced by the Zenith 34VN or twin H4 S.U. instruments as required. While the engines are so run, hot flushing oil is passed through them at a pressure of 85 lb./ sq. in., the engines running quietly and steadily at 1,200 r.p.m. Engines are occasionally picked at random and taken to the experimental test shop, where they are run at increasing speeds for three hours and then run flat-out for another three hours, after which a power check is taken, the tolerance allowed being approximately 1 b.h.p. Incidentally, on these experimental runs the 122S engine has been known to give a maximum of 127 b.h.p. The test bench for this purpose is a Siemens electric-brake, but diesel engines are tested on the Schenck water-brake, and while we were in the test shop such an engine was being run non-stop for an entire week.
Volvo have a very elaborate laboratory where all materials and components from outside suppliers are tested, and when we say all, this is literally true, every bearing, every valve, every piston ring being carefully checked. The Vandervell bearings are checked at pressures which they would have to sustain in the engine and four dimensional checks are made of them on a Solex air gauge. Pistons are weighed on Lindell’s weighing machines, and even bolts are exhaustively tested, for example, on Philips X-ray apparatus.
Perfect-Circle piston rings used in Volvo engines are similarly checked. For a time every tenth one is subjected to this process, but if a fault develops every individual ring is again tested, as was the case during our visit. We were told that valves supplied by the Farnborough Engineering Co. of Kent, are very satisfactory and it is very, very seldom that a faulty one is found. In the case of the Vandervell bearings the percentage of rejects is 1%. Car crankshafts are given an induction heat treatment lasting two seconds, but commercial-vehicle crankshafts have this treatment for four seconds, after which crack tests are made. In the experimental laboratory there is a bench the top of which is made from volcanic rock from a near-by mountain, which is lapped with two similar tables and is then used as a measuring base as it maintains a practically constant temperature. Reverting to the experimental test beds, we were told that for some time before the P1800 goes into production every one of these engines will be subjected to such bench tests and will be run for a six-hour endurance test until Volvo are satisfied it is completely reliable.
Space precludes a detailed description of these elaborate checks and tests but it is very obvious that nothing is left to chance and that Volvo prefer to discover any defects in the laboratory rather than allow faulty parts to pass to their engines, which will ruin any manufacturer’s reputation if they give trouble in the hands of the customer.
After this most interesting visit to the engine manufacturing plant we drove back to Gothenburg in a snowstorm, the 122S making light work of averaging practically 60 m.p.h. between the two towns. After this visit to the factories in the Volvo Group and having seen how carefully Volvo cars are assembled and checked at every stage of their manufacture, we were not surprised to hear that they are sold with a five-year free insurance cover.
Looking in on Saab
The Wednesday morning found us driving the Volvo 50 miles north to Trollhättan to discover what Saab is all about. We were met at our hotel by Hans G. Andersson, their Public Relation Manager, who had come down to Trollhättan from Linköping to stay until we left, looking after the “English journalists” with charm and courtesy.
Saab, or Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, came into being in 1937, and in 1939 delivered its first aircraft to the R.S.A.F. In 1949 Saab entered the private car market with the wind-tunnel-tested Saab 92, which had a transverse two-cylinder 25-b.h.p. two-stroke engine in a four-seater two-door, front-wheel-drive car. This car was built at Trollhättan, as the main aircraft factory had been moved to an ex-rolling stock works in Linköping. The Saab car, as the 92B, eventually gave 28 b.h.p. In 1955 the Saab 93 was announced, this having a three-cylinder two-stroke engine mounted normally, new suspension, a re-styled body, and which gave 38 b.h.p. This f.w.d. car achieved many notable rally successes in America, Finland and Sweden, and two years later appeared in improved form, as the 93B, and then, slightly modified, as the 93F, from which was developed !he GT750 which gives 50 b.h.p., and which is about to be introduced to the British market with a new four-speed gearbox, which was tried outt at Le Mans.
Last May the Saab 95 station wagon was announced, with a new 841-c.c. 42. b.h.p. engine, and early this year the Saab 96 two-door saloon with the new engine, and a wider back seat, bigger rear window and larger boot than the 93F, and with a special ventilation system. etc., the body having been styled by Sixton Sason, was introduced.
The Saab 93 has continued to achieve impressive competition successes, giving second place in the European Rally Championship to the Saab works driver, Erik Carlsson, last year. This lends interest to the GT750, which will now have the type 96 body styling, the aforesaid four-speed gearbox, and which in GT750 Super form gives no less than 57 b.h.p. at 5.000 r.p.m. in a car weighing under 16 cwt., the engine in this Super trim using a Solex 44 P 11 carburetter and the same 9.8-to-1 compression-ratio as the normal G.T. model. We shall have more to say later about this remarkable little car, as we were allowed to drive one for a considerable distance.
As the emphasis was on this highly promising competition car, it was suggested at lunch that the Editor might care to go out with Saab’s Rally Champion and see just how the car behaves over one of Carlsson’s test routes. This proved to be quite a unique experience, not frightening only because it was so interesting! Carlsson used a winding dirt road through a forest, over which he threw the G.T. Saab about in a fantastic manner, bouncing off the sides of the road, hurling the little car around corners in a full-throttle understeer, somehow contriving to get the tail to follow the front wheels again after hanging it out very much sideways, often with daylight showing beneath all the wheels. The road-holding and riding comfort over surfaces that would make M.I.R.A. look like a bowling lawn were simply fantastic, particularly as the suspension, even to the shock absorbers, is standard. Indeed, the only way in which the G.T. Saab differs from the 96 in its chassis is in having Ferodo in place of Capasco brake linings. As if this sensational piece of motoring had not impressed us sufficiently, Carlsson fetched his friend Carl-Magnus Skogh in his rally Saab, who repeated the process with a few special embellishments. This was indeed an experience to which mere words cannot do justice!
After we had returned to Gothenburg Carlsson got into his Tulip Rally Saab 96 and gave us another heart-stopping “dice” round the works. This car has the fruity exhaust note for which competition Saabs are noted but was mainly standard except for a larger petrol tank in the near-side rear wing, supplemented by two jerry-cans in the boot and duplicated petrol pumps, while the dual-choke Solex carburetter had rather special 45° air-cleaners and the driver a racing seat. The car was due to be driven on to the Acropolis Rally fafter the Tulip without returning to the works, which shows the confidence Carlsson has in its reliability. He told us that the special rally engine is producing its as much as 68 b.h.p., which had resulted in a maximmn speed as high as 115 m.p.h., but that his Tulip Rally car was geared to do about 106 m.p.h. Similarly, the 750-c.c. engine has heen tuned to give 66 b.h.p. It seems that when the car arrived at the start of the “Tulip” the officials ohjected to this highly-tuned engine and a more normal one had to be substituted.
The following morning we were conducted over the Saab factory by Mr. N. G. Nilsson, Assistant Works Manager at Trollhättan. Here the bodies are made of steel brought from England and America, the sheets being pressed in seven big Clearing presses, of which the first three were installed in 1947 and of which the biggest is of 800 tons. Saab uses steel sheets of 0.9 to 2 mm. thick, which is a comparatively heavy gauge for cars of this size, a notable safety factor. Yale trucks convey the panels and parts about the spacious press shop but there is little automation to be seen and the casual safety precautions at the presses would shock British works managers. Conveyor belts are to be put in later. Small jet engine parts are made in the same shop and some of these go to Rolls-Royee in England. Electric, oxy-acetylene and spot-welding is used on the body shells, with very close welding points and a great deal of seam welding, which forms a very strong structure. particularly at the front of the car. There is a length of 7/8 in x 1-1/4 x 1/8 in. steel tubing welded into each screen pillar to give strength should the car motor on its roof. Carlsson endorsing the value of this from frequent Rally experiences of this kind!
Saab use their own gantry welder, which unites the four sections of the floor structure with some 90 welds in a very few operations. The 96’s new ventilation system calls for a special inner roof panel by the rear window. The most notable aspect of the press shop was the large number of oxy-acetylene torches in use and the extreme rigidity and accuracy of the hydraulically-locked jigs. The doors, for instance, are so accurately made that they are interchangeable and do not travel with the body but join any body at a later stage. A Hagglunds spot welder is used far some of the work. Frequent inspection takes place, with much electric grinding and rubbing down by hand to ensure smooth surfaces.
Saab have their own tool shop, containing a group of VDF lathes, Collet drills, etc., and they employ one inspector to every fourteenth productive worker. One car is produced every 5.11 minutes on an assembly system occupying some six hours, worked by a single shift.
The station wagon body shells come up from Linköping for painting but returned to Linköping for assembly.
The completed body shells are vacuum cleaned and inspected, and the bodies then travel on a hanging conveyor through a long tunnel over the factory car parks and roads to the phosphating bay and paint shop. They spend some five minutes in each of the 11 bays of phosphating plant being sprayed with this rust-resisting finish. The seat frames have previously been placed under the bonnet, so that they, too, get the benefit from this process.
Each bodyy is heavily primed and sealed with rubber undersealing, after which female operatives clean it and it is rubbed down by hand and machine before receiving two double coats of paint. Six different colours are available, and paint is mixed and taken to the paint bays in pressure tanks, not by pipeline. Normally one colour is used for one day’s output, another colour the next day, and so on. The red paint comes from Germany – the other colours from Swedish suppliers. The paint shop was built last year and is extremely well arranged, with large glass windows, almost complete freedom from fumes within although only under-floor water absorption is in use, while the baking ovens are oil-heated.
Reverting to the undersealing process, long nozzles probe into the box-sections of the chassis structure to take underseal into every crevice, and it is also brushed onto internal body joints, battery platform and wheel arches.
Assembly proceeds at floor level, the body being slightly raised to enable the dead-beam back axle with its coil-springs and radius arms to be attached, this being done by an operative who is seated under the car as it travels along the floor-level conveyor. Parts required adjacent to the conveyor line are stacked nearby, but automation to bring these parts up is not in evidence. The assembly line is some 200 metres in length, including a right-angle section.
The front coil-spring independent suspension units go on, the alloy-head two-stroke power units are mounted, and so assembly proceeds. Toughened glass windscreens are used, and wheels are balanced only on the G.T. cars. Tyres are supplied by Swedish manufacturers and Goodyear, and in tubeless form from Norway. The present daily output is 110 type 96s, some of which are sent out in knocked-down form for export, plus seven station wagons, which will later be stepped up to 10 a day. In addition, eight GT750s are made each week, soon to be increased to 15, of which 50% will be for export. In fact, car production has risen from 1,200 a year in 1950 to 17,000 last year, and the aircraft and auxiliary factories are extremely important. Altogether, Saab employs over 8,200 people, and at the time of writing was making the fastest jet fighter in European service, in the form of a Rolls-Royce Avon RB146-powered Saab 35B Draken, which exceeds Mach 2.
Every car is tested for leaks in the water tunnel, where it spends some five or six minutes, although the volume of water sprayed does not appear to be very great. Saab make their own upholstery, using Singer sewing machines.
The finished cars are inspected on two lines and every car is taken on the road for a run of some five miles and driven over a bumpy track.
The inspection department for supplied parts occupies 30 inspectors and includes salt-water testing of the chromium on filler caps, etc, The Trollhättan dealer distributes Saabs to some 40 subsidiary companies in Sweden.
Saab’s very fine experimental test-house has just been completed at Trollhättan, with a low-temperature room capable of assimulating temperatures of -40° C., and two Schenck water-brakes for testing engines of up to 200 b.b.p., and two Siemens electric-brakes for taking engines of up to 120 b.h.p. and capable of exerting a braking effort of 88 kilowatts. These test benches have a remote-control panel, are sound-proofed, and are very spacious. They would do ample justice to a racing-car factory, but when it was remarked that this test-house seemed to be very elaborate for testing engines which would not normally exceed 50 b.h.p. this was met with smiles – but no enlightenment!
After lunch with our Swedish friends, who really are the most charming and unassuming of hosts, we were driven in the GT750 Saab back to Gothenburg, where Saab engines are produced in what was once an Electrolux washing-machine factory. This factory, round which we were conducted by T. Nilsson, the Chief Engineer in charge, already employs nearly 700 people but is soon to be extended so that it will have a potential engine production capacity of 100,000 engines a year. It is already an impressively large works considering that a two-stroke engine is comparatively simple to manufacture. Saab do not possess a foundry or forge but all machining operations on blanks and castings supplied by outside manufacturers are carried out here. The compact three-cylinder engine has a very impressive built-up roller- and ball-bearing crankshaft, which after assembly is stored in dust-proof bins. On this shaft, 32 machining operations alone are required. After inspection each engine component is stored on its own roller conveyor line ready for taking to the engine assembly line. A Colonial machine re-tooled by Detroit machines the crankshaft balance weights and special machines bore and broach the webs and cut the key-ways. A similar machine cuts both f.w.d. drive-shafts in one operation. Gearshafts are finished on a Red Ring finisher. First speed gears are finished on a Red Ring shaver and the second, third and fourth speeds are ground. Other machine tools in the gearbox shop include Staehely drills, a Herbert No. 4 Senior lathe, Garner and Swasey lathes, a new David Brown Hydrax gear cutter and Lorenz cutters, etc. A Colonial cutter re-tooled by Detroit carries out four operations on the con.-rod blanks, which are then hardened and ground, and heat-treated in Max Sievest furnaces.
Gearbox pinions are tested for quietness and assembled in selected pairs, gear grinding being carried out on a Maag machine with automatic setting, and internal grinding being done on an automatic chuck.
The engine being a two-stroke, machining operations and assembly are comparatively simple, the cylinder blocks having the three bores drilled together by a Burr boring machine, the threads tapped hy Honsberg machine, while other operations are done with Newton and Heald drills, a Micromatie honer, etc. The cylinder bores are finished on another Burr machine. A special Burr machine tool finishes the crankshaft journals and many Fritz Werner lathes are in evidence. Drilling and broaching of the front-drive universal joints is done on Honsberg machines.
Gearbox casings are painted and baked in a drying oven, the gearbox is assembled on Saab’s own machines and mated to the engine, after each box has been tested in each gear, on both drive and overrun. Besides the current three-cylinder Saab engines the earlier two-cylinder engines are reconditioned in the factory. Some engines run up to 60,000 miles before coming in for overhaul.
Every Saab engine is run for 20 minutes at 3,000 r.p.m. at approximately half-power and towards the end of this test-run petrol consumption is checked on a flowmeter. Simple hand-throttles are fitted to the engines for this bench testing and there are eight Froude G-type water-brakes for running-in new engines, two Schenck test beds, one for two-cylinder, the other for three-cylinder engines, for testing reconditioned power units. Some three engines a week are selected for a power check, after being run for five hours at from 1,500 to 5,500 r.p.m. and every G.T. engine is also run for five hours. Each engine is required to give its catalogued power output during these tests except in the case of G.T. engines, which have to give at least 45 b.h.p. (D.I.N.).
For identification purposes G.T. engines are painted red, the 95 engines blue, the 96 engines grey and the former 750-c.c. engines green. The factory turns out 100-120 engines daily and these leave every evening for Trollhättan, 40 in a big Scania-Vabis lorry, and 96 more in its vast Harryda trailer, this transporter is run under contract to Saab by Bilspedition. This remarkable transporter, which has never failed to deliver its precious load, was running on a variety of tyres – Dunlop Road Trak Major, Michelin and Goodyear. In action it is a fine sight but motorists leaving Gothenburg by route-7 would be well advised to get away before the Saab engine supply leaves on its 50-mile journey, for this vast transporter can hold up traffic for a considerable distance before the open roads are reached.
Before leaving the engine factory we were shown its tastefully decorated offices and canteens with, as at Trollhättan, spotlessly clean open kitchens. All the decoration, with polished wood doors and the most modern and tasteful of wallpapers, is the work of one architect. Time and motion study is believed in by Saab and entails, among other things, the most amusing tricycles on which operatives can scoot themselves about the factories. At Gothenburg Mr. Nilsson took us into a large room in which the plans of the present and projected factories are set out in model form, so that the placing of machine tools, etc., can be easily planned. We were told that gearbox assembly time has been reduced from 59-1/2 minutes per car to 20 minutes per car by installing the new Saab machinery, that the assembly of universal joints has been reduced from 5.5 minutes, per car to 2.3 minutes a car, and that operations on the cylinder-head assembly have been reduced from 18.3 minutes per car to 4.5 minutes per car by the installation of special tools. In the same way, by changing gearbox machining from being done haphazardly about the engine machine shop to line production, the time of such operations has been cut down from 42 minutes per car to 29 minutes. At Trollhättan the workers have their own locker-room with adjacent shower-baths.
The Saab is too recent a make to have much history behind it, but at Trollhättan we came upon the Saab Sonnett, an open two-seater sports car which was shown at the 1956 Stockholm Show. This car has a plastic body with excellent lines and a low windscreen, the 748-c.c. engine developed 57-1/2 b.h.p. and the dry weight is approximately 1,100 lb. The Sonnet was the work of Rolf Mellde, the engineer in charge of the Road Test and Competition Department, himself no mean rally and racing driver in Saab cars. In a small showroom at Trollhättan we were shown the 1946 experimental car on which the Saab 92 was eventually based. This has a D.K.W. vertical-twin power unit and rather original body lines. It was something of a menace, because under winter conditions the brake cables were apt to freeze in their casings, while in heavy snow the wide front wings would become so snow-packed that steering was impossible. Mr. Mellde showed us some interesting items in the test shop, one of these being a Saab bump bench, rather like that used by the Dunlop Rubber Co. for tyre testing, which Saab built and installed early last year. By placing a car on the two rollers on this bench and running it for 100 hours more information can be obtained about suspension and chassis twisting, etc. than would be obtained in 60,000 miles of motoring on the road. While we were there, Saab were also conducting destruction on a new form of seat frame to see whether the back would be likely to fracture, were testing brake linings, by running brake drums at a given speed and then braking them to a standstill many times, and were subjecting a wheel to a deflection test to see how long it would be before it pulled off over the studs. It appears that normally Saab wheels will stand this for 30 hours at a rotational speed representing 25-30 m.p.h. Saab have found the most satisfactory wheel to be that of the Volkswagen, in spite of its thin gauge.
We were unable to meet the Director of the Trollhättan factory, Mr. S. Holm, or the President of the Motor Car Division, Tryggve Holm (no relation to one another) because they were not at the plant, but we spent an interesting time with the Chief Engineer of Motor Car Design, Mr. G. Ljungström, who was in Coventry from 1930 to 1936, working on a pioneer fully-automatic suspension, which he tested in Rover Fourteen and Standard Sixteen cars. He made no secret of the fact that originally the Saab was designed by a German, Herr Muller, formerly of Auto-Union. Saab chose the Muller design because they favoured a front-drive car for snow conditions and also had to bear in mind economy of production. However, they soon found that they had to make certain improvements, one of the first modifications being to increase slightly the size of the front-drive shafts, in which D.K.W. soon followed suit. An air-cooled engine was considered but they dared not introduce it as there would have been insufficient interior heat for Swedish winter conditions with this form of engine cooling. The Saab differs from the Auto-Union in having rather less crankcase compression and more compression within the combustion chamber. It is therefore more economical. Another difference is that whereas Auto-Union favour triple-coil ignition, Saab use a normal Bosch distributor. The Saab also has a rather special rear suspension, with a lower roll-centre, which prevents the outside rear wheel lifting on fast corners and results in consistent understeer up to almost the maximum speed of the car. Saab have carried out much research in the matter of which is the best oil for lubricating their engines for efficient cold-starting and to prevent corrosion of the bearings. They are not prepared to comment on this at present, except for asking American owners not to use outboard-engine oil in Saab two-stroke engines. However, we noticed a tin of Castrol in the boot of the Tulip Rally car – verb. sap!
Mr. Mellde said that for sports-car racing they detach the front anti-roll bar to reduce understeer where tight corners are involved, and while he favoured Pirelli Cinturato tyres for this purpose, he also had a good word to say for Michelin “X” tyres, while for Rally work and winter driving over gravel roads, etc., the Goodrich tyre, with its square tread which digs into loose surfaces, was found to be preferable. The latest Saab 96 has the aforesaid new ventilatory system with air extracted by suction from ducts on the outside of the rear body panels, which provides for a fresh air supply without opening the windows, and soon a rear windscreen demisting outfit will be available for use with the new system. It is also interesting to note that underbonnet air is extracted through ducts in the front wheel housings, these being points of low pressure. as Alec Issigonis discovered when laying out the cooling system of the B.M.C. Mini-cars. On the Saab the ports are normally closed by covers, which are removed in hot weather. In addition the Saab cooling system incorporates a hand-operated radiator blind and a thermostat. The Saab engine is a compact unit and its cylinder block is inclined slightly towards the near-side of the car to produce a lower bonnet line. The Saab 96 can be supplied with a Saxomat automatic clutch and we took a short drive in a new car so fitted..
Having referred to the latest Saab model, it is opportune to give in greater detail some figures relating to the expansion of Saab Car Division. From turning out 1,200 cars in 1950 they produced 6,500 in 1956, made 10,000 cars in 1957, pushed this up to 14,000 1958, while in 1959 the output was 18,000 cars. By the end of this year they hope to have produced approximately 30,000 cars made up of the new models referred to, the Saab 93F having gone out of production in the third week of April. Export sales have also increased encouragingly. Only 5% of the output was exported during the years 1950 to 1955 but from 1956 the figure rose to 8,500 cars in 1959. In the same way, exports to America increased from 1,700 Saabs in 1957 to 3,800 in 1958 and 5,100 in 1959, while an estimated export of approximately 10,000 cars is expected this year.
Saab and Volvo cars on the road
The last task to be completed, and an extremely pleasant one before we left Trollhättan was to drive a 750GT Saab. We have already referred to the quite remarkable road-holding and suspension and suspension of the normal Saab, as demonstrated to us by Erik Carlsson, and this was borne ut by our own experience, the little car riding exceedingly well over rough stuff at speeds as high as 80 m.p.h It is possible to drive it extremely hard without the radiator water exceeding a temperature of 85°C. The exceptional road-holding and cornering were also experienced, the car understeering and refusing to get out of control providing the throttle was kept open through fast bends. It is possible to use the brakes hard on loose surfaces without locking the wheels and practically no brake fade was evident, the car pulling up well with a certain amount of noise from the rather hard linings. The polished wood-rimmed racing-type steering wheel controls firm rather than heavy rack-and-pinion steering, which on smooth roads is devoid of kick-back. This is high-geared, accurate steering and when making the best possible use of it through fast bends very slight tire howl was experienced from the inner front Pirelli Cinturato tyre.
This Granturismo version of the Saab is very completely equipped, the facia containing a 180-k.p.h.Vdo ribbon-type speedometer and a tachometer reading to 6,500 r.p.m., it has rally-type seats with a headrest for the passenger, these seats being of the fully-reclining type, the doors contain wells covered by upholstered flaps, and rear-window de-misting is included in the very efficient heating system. Seat belts are standardised, the free-wheel can be brought into use by pressure of the foot on the floor control, while a Halda “Speed Pilot” is also standard equipment. Electrical screen washers are fitted. It was extremely difficult to remember that we were being propelled by an engine of under 750-c.c., for it runs extremely smoothly and gives the car quite an astonishing performance. The maximum indicated speed on a level road was the equivalent of 87-1/2 m.p.h. and this was exceeded on a downhill stretch. It is permissible to take the little engine up to 5,500 r.p.m. in bottom gear and to 6,500 r.p.m. momentarily in the higher indirect gears. This represents maximum of, respectively, rather better than 20, 40 and 65 m.p.h. A check of the tachometer readings against those of the speedometer showed that at the maximum indicated speed quoted the speedometer was reading rather more than 2 m.p.h. fast, so that the genuine level-road maximum would appear to be 85.2 m.p.h. A rather unusual feature of Saab driving technique as far as the G.T. type was concerned is that the throttle should not be opened more than half way until engine speed exceeds 2,800 r.p.m., this is of such importance that on the German speedometer the instructions were printed in English. There is rather a large gap between third and top gear, so that when cruising in the latter at around 6,000 r.p.m., the change to third drops engine speed by almost 2,000 r.p.m. The steering-column gear change lever on the l.h.d. car is controlled by the right hand and the action is as good as most gear changes of this type and extremely light. The front wheel arches project the pedals towards the centre of the car.
There is no doubt but this G.T. Saab is an outstanding small sports car and in G.T. Super form it should be capable of close on 100 m.p.h. A particularly attractive feature of the car, apart from the extremely characteristic exhaust note, which sounds rather like the buzz of an approaching swarm of bees, is the lack of wind noise, even when cruising at speeds in the region of 80 m.p.h. The windows, which have no quarter lights, can also be opened without producing undue wind disturbance. Few cars can out-corner the Saab and very few cars indeed can be driven over rough surfaces at high speed without suffering damage, which is another outstanding aspect of this unusual little motor car. The G.T. Saab has a 28-mm. Solex carburetter and the G.T. Super a 32-mm. dual-choke Solex carburetter, while all Saab engines are lubricated by mixing oil with the petrol, in a proportion of 1/33 in the case of the Saab 95 and 96, and 1/25 (4%) in the case of the. G.T. car. We were not able to take any fuel consumption figures or to check aceeleration, but Saab claim a standing-start quarter mile in 22.2 sec, or in 19.5 sec. in the case of the G.T. Super, and 0-60 m.p.h. in 20.3 sec. and 18.8 sec., respectively. The brakes have a total lining area of 105 sq. in. and the front drums have transverse (not turbo) cooling fins. Apart from the special equipment already mentioned it should be emphasised that a cigar lighter, twin fog lamps, reversing light and storage pookets under the armrests for the rear-seat passenger, are included. The direction flashers are operated by a convenient short stalk above the gear lever for operation by the right hand, while the hand brake is set immediately between the front seats.
This Saab GT750, together with the Saab 96, will be introduced here at the next Earls Court Show. These cars should have a good reception here, always assuming, of course, that you are in sympathy with Schnurle and are not irrevocably a disciple of Herr Otto! It is interesting that Carlsson considers the 850.-c.c. Saab 96 to be as good a car for rally work as the smaller Saab G.T. On the other hand, for those who want a very fully equipped G.T. car at a distinctly competitive price the smaller model has obvious advantages, as far as we were able to judge in the amount of driving that were able to do in these cars in Sweden. At the earliest opportunity, of course, Motor Sport intends to carry out full road-tests on both models.
Having returned what we suppose Americans would refer to as “the minute red bomb” to its makers, we bid goodbye to Trollhättan, where we had been comfortably accommodated at the Stads Hotel. Trollhättan was colonised as early as the 6th and 7th centuries by warriors seeking shelter on the islands of the river from wild beasts, Trollhättan is noted for its locks, of which work on the first started as early as the 17th century. These old locks are still in existence although they are no longer used, while the waterfall which was once one of the town’s chief attractions has dried up. However, the four lock-lines now in use are still regarded as one of Trollhättan’s greatest sights. The line now used was ready for traffic in 1916. Emptying and filling the locks is done automatically, ships of up to 2,200 tons capacity being taken through them. This is an impressive sight, as the difference in level is as much as 96 ft. Thus big ships pass frequently up and down the canal and main road traffic has to wait while the very modern dividing bridge opens to let them through, this bridge having been installed only a year or so ago. Trollhättan also has two power stations which are well worth visiting. The first was put into service in 1910 and comprises 13 units with a total output of 142,000 kilowatts, while the other was opened in 1942 and is practically built underground. This station has two units, with a total output of 100.000 kilowatts.
Incidentally, like most manufacturers, Saab investigate the products from other factories and we noticed during our visit there for example, a Triumph Herald and a 741-c.c. D.K.W. Junior, while Carlsson told us that he had been testing Dunlop and Girling disc brakes.
We drove back to Gothenburg and spent the last day of our visit seeing something of Sweden in the Volvo. There is no need to describe this car in detail as a full road-test report on the 122S was published in Motor Sport in February 1959 and the car has not changed since then. Suffice it to say that it Is a we’ll finished and well-equipped car, with doors that shut nicely and with excellent performance for its modest engine size. It is capable of cruising contentedly at a speedometer speed which was the equivalent of approximately 88 m.p.h, and a fuel consumption check showed that it was doing about 23-1/2 m.p.g. There is excellent acceleration, accompanied by a rather hard power-roar from the engine, the brakes work extremely well, and the gear lever, although of the old-fashioned stalk-type rising from the floor and set rather far from the driver, enables quick and positive gear changes to be accomplished. No door pockets or cubby-holes are fitted, but there is a useful under-facia shelf before the passenger and a deep well behind the back seat. Some vibration is transmitted up the gear lever and the brakes faded slightly when they became really warm but the general handling qualities of the Volvo were highly appreciated. On the motorway it was possible to get a maximtsm speed reading equivalent to 100 m.p.h. on the Vdo ribbon-type speedometer but the engine was rather too new for this to be held for any length of time. In third gear the indicated maximum was 75 m.p.h. When driving the Volvo over rough by-roads, the suspension was found to cope very reasonably, and although some axle tramp was evident the axle is so well located that it does not deflect the car, while the steering remains precise under such conditions. Incidentally, the Volvo was shod with Trolleborg Safe Star tubeless tyres, and its pedals are well placed.