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.
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 http://saabhistory.com/
“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.