SAAB was incorporated in 1937 to design and build military aircraft in response to the gathering winds of war. “Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget” (its acronym “SAAB” meaning “Swedish Airplane Inc.”) manufactured over 300 airplanes by the end of WWII. Realizing that its efforts to develop and penetrate the postwar civilian aircraft market would take time, Saab’s board made the decision to diversify by producing automobiles - after considering various options, including household appliances and prefabricated houses. A team of 15 aviation engineers, led by Gunnar Ljungström, set out to create a car from scratch that would be later promoted as being “built to be better, not different.” Soon there was a prototype, and by the end of 1949, the Saab 92 was in production.
Saab took full advantage of their profile as a high-tech company-builders of military jet aircraft to promote their cars in the United States. But the cars achieved a distinction earned on road rally successes almost annually since 1950. In 1963, driver Erik Carlsson won the Monte Carlo Rally for the second time. Saab capitalized on this stunning success-achieved with his co-driver Gunnar Palm - when they renamed their “Granturismo 850” model to the “Monte Carlo 850.”
The Monte Carlo 850, like its predecessor, was based on the Saab 96. Company ads had headlines like “SAAB beats seven Fords in 1964 Monte Carlo!” and taglines like “World’s Only Car Engineered to Aircraft Standards.” Like the GT850, the company emphasized an engine that delivered “over 1 hp per cubic inch of piston displacement”-just like its sister car, the “Saab Sport” which was the name of that model outside the North American market.
“Dear Motorist: Four years ago, SAAB of Sweden introduced the Saab automobile in the United States. Built by one of Europe’s leading producers of jet aircraft, the Saab presented an entirely new automotive concept to American motorists.”Ralph T. Millet, President, Saab Motors Inc. (SAAB Advertisement | Car and Driver, April 1961
The Monte Carlo was easily recognizable at a glance by its twin chrome strips along the rocker panels. Its two-stroke engine had its own lubrication design where the oil did not go in the gas tank, but in a reservoir where oil would be pumped directly to all cylinders, rods, and bearings. Its 57 bhp 3-cylinder engine had no valves, no cams, no tappets, and each cylinder had its own Solex carburetor. Given this simplicity, the engine itself had only seven basic moving parts. The Monte Carlo also featured front wheel drive, front disc brakes, and heavy drum brakes in the rear. The brakes were connected by twin hydraulic diagonal systems. While the radio was an option, the list of features included fully reclining seats that could adjust to any position, seat belts, wooden racing wheel, and a large tachometer and speedometer. The current owner of this Monte Carlo 850 purchased the car from Vernon Atterberry of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Mr. Atterberry is a Saab specialist, enthusiast and collector-and he rebuilt this car.
The Saab Monte Carlo 850 is a favorite with Saab enthusiasts - it’s no wonder, this car draws an engineering halo from the aviation company that made it, as well as a proven record of success in competition. Further, while there were 527,241 Saab 96s made through its nearly 20-year production run, there were less than 1,000 Monte Carlo 850s made - a result that was all but guaranteed by its hefty price premium over the standard Saab 96. Whether on a show field, or on a road rally, this car’s next owner will have car that performs and delights.