Saab Monster

Earlier this year, I read the amazing book Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, focused on our sensory world, and how different things—old age, going blind, going deaf, doing drugs, feeling pain, etc.—can cause us to hallucinate.

Hallucinations are apparently quite normal; often, Sacks' older patients would hallucinate everything from realistic street scenes to grotesque imagery. Some would see patterns or cartoons, others would see deformed faces. Figures, objects, ghosts…his patients often say that they feel like a silent movie is playing out all around them.

Interestingly, Sacks had been studying and practicing in his field during the time hallucinogenics were being tested by both the medical industry and the U.S. government. With easy access to these drugs, he began testing the effects…on himself.

From what I remember, he tells a story of a strange and elaborate breakfast… that turned out to be part of a dream.

We often associate drug use with a certain kind of person, but think about it—vices span all walks of life. Still: Why would an otherwise intelligent person block off entire days to get high on LSD?

When I think about professors, doctors, scientists–that sort, I associate them with Saab. It may be somewhat of a stereotype, but in my experience they've never been scarce around intellectuals—if you didn't own one, you knew someone who did.

This brings me to my next assertion: I'd imagine that the automotive equivalent to tripping on LSD would be trying to set a world speed record in a twin engined Saab 93.

Let me explain.

The Saab 93 was introduced in 1956, a compelling blend of aircraft-styled bodywork and insane engineering. Under the hood, a three cylinder inline 2-stroke engine powering the front wheels.

For those who enjoyed properly maintaining their performance cars and spirited drives in the country—rally competitors included—the 93 was a compelling choice. Its front-drive traction and low weight of 787 kg (1,735 lbs) gave the little 93 the agility to hang with more powerful machines in certain conditions.

What better way to show the world in 1959 that the car punched far above its weight with a world record attempt, specifically for vehicles with engines of less than 1.5 litres of displacement.

Of course, that would mean doubling the displacement, so they decided to add a second motor alongside the first, joined in the middle as sort of a split in-line arrangement—with the headers from all six cylinders exiting toward the front bumper. Both were slung in front of the front wheels, which would have no doubt made the car quite front-heavy.

With about 140 horsepower underneath a very slippery, wing-like shape, the prototype 93 was unleashed at Såtenäs airfield, hitting 196 km/h, a clear world record for a 1.5 litre car. 

During the attempt, Saab engineers realized that their go-faster modifications (thinner glass and a plastic hood, among other things) had unintended consequences, chief among them that the car became more unstable the faster it went.

It was so treacherous, they christened it "Monster." 

The best part? They didn't conduct the test properly, so their world record meant nothing. When they tried again, the car broke.

Doesn't an unstable, high-strung, land speed record prototype fit nicely with the idea of a drug-induced sensory overload? Maybe we build our extreme machines, our homebuilt monsters and our precise German supercars to wilfully inject just a little bit of danger in our lives.

You expect the likes of Koenigsegg, Pagani, Saleen, Hennessey, and others to create such vehicles. Sometimes, though, it's nice to know that even Saab can get a little wild every now and then.