Saab 93 – Santa Claus’ Car of Choice

Santa Claus driving a Saab 93B

Once again, the Christmas Day will soon be upon us. Every year, automakers launch holiday advertising campaigns in hopes of encouraging people to buy their products. A favorite advertising tactic used by automakers during Christmastime is to send out Christmas cards advertising their latest models to the motoring public. During the late 1950s, the Swedish automaker Saab Automobile AB came up with a fun idea for its Christmas cards. Saab apparently asked the following question: what kind of car would Santa Claus drive? If one were to take Saab’s word for it, Santa would be the proud owner of a Saab 93.

The Saab 93 was a small economy sedan. Manufactured between 1955 and 1960, the 93 was specifically designed for operation in difficult driving conditions one encounters in Sweden. Sweden is noted for its harsh winters, which tend to be long, cold, and snowy. At the time of the 93’s production, much of the country’s highway network consisted of rough gravel roads. In order to create a car that could effectively cope with such extraordinary conditions, Saab adopted a number of unorthodox design ideas when it developed the 93. The end result was a unique car that was well-suited for the driving conditions of its home country.

Santa Claus and his elves loading a Saab 93F

In terms of overall design, the Saab 93 was very unusual for its time. It was a small car for its day, measuring a mere 158 inches long, 58 inches high, and 62 inches wide. Yet it had a surprisingly roomy interior, which could seat 4-5 people and featured seats that could be folded into a double-bed. The 93 was powered by a decidedly unconventional power plant, a 748 cc 3-cylinder 2-stroke engine. The car was equipped with front-wheel drive and rode on four-wheel independent suspension (using coil springs in both the front and the rear). The whole package was clothed with a round and bulbous body designed by Swedish industrial designer Sixten Sason. The body featured very rigid unitary construction and was highly aerodynamic for its day, achieving a drag coefficient of 0.32.

Although strange in appearance and concept, the Saab 93 was well-suited for operation in harsh northern climes. The 93 was very solidly constructed and could take a lot of abuse. The car’s front- wheel drive system gave it excellent traction in ice and snow. Its four-wheel independent suspension blessed it with excellent road-holding abilities and allowed for a safe and surprisingly comfortable ride over rough roads. Over the course of its production life, the 93 earned a reputation for reliability and durability. Its reputation was further enhanced by its success in motorsports, winning a number of international rallies.

In an effort to advertise the car’s reputation for reliability and durability, Saab presented the 93 as Santa Claus’ car of choice in its advertising Christmas cards during the late 1950s. Although done in a light-hearted vein, there is arguably more kernel of plausibility to it. If one were to follow Saab’s logic, because jolly old St. Nick lives at the North Pole, an isolated region noted for extreme cold, heavy snow, and a lack of good roads, it seems only reasonable to believe that he would want a car that is reliable, durable, and designed for operation in harsh northern climes. If so, Saab certainly had a good case portraying Santa Claus as the proud owner of a 93.

To all readers of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, the staff of the Hagley Museum and Library wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We will be back in 2013 more fascinating items to share with you.


Covello, Mike, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-2002; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 2002, p. 708-709.

Saab from Sweden: Saab: Trade Catalogs: Specific Model: 93, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Saab History 1947-2011

“Santa loading his SAAB,”: Saab: General Publications: Promotional Items: Calendar and Christmas Cards, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library, 1958, n.d.

Untitled, Christmas Card of Santa Claus in a Saab 93B: Saab: General Publications: Promotional Items: Calendar and Christmas Cards, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library, 1958, n.d.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Non-Automotive Materials in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Trains Series

1946 Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad passenger train timetable

When I started working on the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection in July, I was surprised and delighted to learn Mr. Vinson was not only an automobile enthusiast, he was also very interested in railroads. In addition to that, he was also a frequent and avid traveler and he took a number of train trips in the United States and overseas. While pursuing his interests in railroads and travel, he accumulated a fascinating collection of railroad memorabilia. In recognition of Mr. Vinson’s interest in this mode of transportation, I decided to focus on the portion of the collection containing materials he collected that pertain to railroads: the Trains series.

The Trains series is one of the smallest portions of the collection, containing only 3.5 boxes of materials. But as is the case with the other non-automotive series, the depth and significance of its contents more than make up for its small size. The materials found in the Trains series date from 1865 to 2008, but a large majority of them where published in twentieth century. The series’ contents focus mainly on railroad companies. A number of railroads in the United States and Europe are represented in this series, including present-day companies such as Amtrak and Deutesche Bahn, and defunct companies such as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and the New York Central Railroad. There are also a small handful of items concerning railroads in Canada, Africa, and Asia.

1938 passenger information brochure for the New York Central Railroad’s 20th Century Limited

In addition to items pertaining to railroad companies, the Trains series also contains a small amount of materials regarding manufacturers of railroad equipment. A handful of American and European rail equipment manufacturers are represented in this series, including present-day firms such Siemens AG and defunct firms such as Pullman Company. The types of equipment manufactured by these firms include locomotives, railroad passenger cars, locomotive motors, and urban mass transit equipment.

Catalog for Pullman Company’s exhibit at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair

The contents of the Trains series consists mainly of materials published by the railroad companies and equipment manufacturers represented in this series. Many of the publications, including, but not limited to, timetables, fleet catalogs, and passenger information brochures are striking similar to those found in the Airline Company Series ( see Non-Automotive Materials the in Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: Airline Companies Series). Other items, including, but not limited to, trade catalogs, annual reports, and company magazines, more closely resemble materials found in the Automobile Makes series. Also found in the Trains series are a handful of magazine and newspaper advertisements through which the railroad companies and equipment manufacturers publicized themselves and their services. The series also contains a few items published by neither the railroad companies nor the equipment manufacturers, including, but not limited to, newspaper articles and magazine articles.

Although the Trains series is a very small, it does not lack for fascinating items. One such item is a 1946 passenger train timetable for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Another item of interest is a 1938 passenger information brochure for the New York Central Railroad’s famous 20th Century Limited. Also of interest is a catalog for Pullman Company’s exhibit at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, where the firm showed its latest railroad passenger cars.


Chesapeake and Ohio Lines, Route of The George Washington, The Sportsman, The F.F.V., June 9, 1946, Timetables, Trains: Chesapeake & Ohio: Timetables, 1933-1968

Pullman, Trains: Oversized: Pullman, 1929-1935, n.d.

The New 20th Century Limited, New York Central System, The Water Level Route….You Can Sleep, Trains: Oversized: New York Central, n.d.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

The Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire: The World’s First Turbocharged Passenger Car

Trade catalog for the 1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire.

During the early 1960s, compact cars such as the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, and Rambler American were popular with the American driving public. For the most part scaled-down versions of large American cars and powered by 6-cylinder and small block V-8 engines, these compacts were designed for economy rather than performance. Although the economical attributes of these compacts were much appreciated at the time, there was a sector of the American driving public that desired more horsepower from these cars. In response to the demand for more powerful compacts, General Motors’ Oldsmobile Division took a then-novel approach of installing a turbocharger on a small block V-8 engine. The end product of Oldsmobile’s innovation was the world’s first turbocharged passenger car: the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire.

Introduced in April 1962 and sold during the 1962 and 1963 model years, the Jetfire was a special version of the Oldsmobile F85 compact. Marketed as a sporty personal car, it offered a higher level of performance than the typical American compact of the day. The Jetfire used the F85’s chassis and rode on a 112-inch wheelbase. It was clothed with a two-door hardtop body. Inside, the Jetfire was given a sportier interior than the standard F85, being equipped with bucket seats and a front compartment console.

Trade catalog diagram of the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire’s “Turbo Rocket” engine.

But it was the Jetfire’s exclusive “Turbo Rocket” engine that set it apart from other cars of the day. The engine itself was a high-compression version of General Motors’ 215 cubic-inch Small Block V-8. An advanced power plant originally designed by Buick, it featured an all-aluminum block and cylinder heads, and was given a single-barrel carburetor. The engine was fitted with a turbocharger supplied by Garrett AiResearch, which was powered by the engine’s exhaust gases. A particularly novel feature of this turbocharged power plant was its use of fluid injection, which cooled the engine by spraying “Turbo Rocket Fluid” into the air-fuel mix when the turbocharger was engaged. A 50/50 mixture of distilled water and methyl alcohol sold by Oldsmobile dealerships, the “Turbo Rocket Fluid” was supplied by a fluid reservoir that required periodic refilling by the car’s owner.

Fitted with this innovative engine, the Jetfire was capable of a high level of performance for an American compact car. The “Turbo Rocket” engine produced 215 horsepower, at a then-impressive power ratio of 1 horsepower per cubic inch. The car was also blessed with excellent acceleration, able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 8.5 seconds. Oldsmobile also boasted that turbo charging allowed it to improve the car’s performance without sacrificing fuel economy.

Trade catalog image of the 1963 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire. The 1963 model received a restyled body.

Although the Jetfire was a pioneering car, it ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. The engine was plagued by cooling problems, and drivers frequently neglected to refill the “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir, which often led to engine damage. These problems led Oldsmobile to take the extraordinary step of offering to remove the Jetfire’s turbocharger system and replace it with a four-barrel carburetor, and many Jetfire owners opted to do just that. A market shift towards cars with larger engines also hastened the Jetfire’s demise.

After an unsuccessful two-year production run, Oldsmobile pulled the plug on the F85 Jetfire in 1963. Only 9,607 of these cars were built. A mere handful of fully intact F85 Jetfires are still in existence today.


’63 Oldsmobile: Ninety-Eight, Super 88, Dynamic 88, Starfire, F-85, Jetfire, Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Oldsmobile Range, 1962-1964

Hunter, M. Park, “1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire,” Special Interest Autos, April 1996

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 589-593

New From Olds…Only From Olds!…Jetfire by Oldsmobile (1962), Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hurst/Olds, Jetfire, Landau, Limited, and L55, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

There’s Something Extra Under This Hood! – Exclusively in Jetfire by Olds! (1962), Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hurst/Olds, Jetfire, Landau, Limited, and L55, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

The Early Days of Turbo – Part 4,” Autospeed, Issue 504, 28 October 2008

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.