1981 Saab 900 Safari by Nilssons Karosserifabrik

The Saab 900 was SAAB’s best selling model in 1978 and was available in 3 and 5 door hatchbacks. A 4-door sedan was added to the line-up in 1981. Volvo introduced their 145 estate in 1968 and it was followed by the 240 in 1974. Saab experimented with a prototype of a Saab 99 estate but that was never taken into production.

Nilsson Special Vehicles AB in Laholm, Sweden modified two Saab 900 in the early 1980s and created these unique Saab 900 Estates, also known as a station wagon in other parts of the world. SAAB had nothing to do with these converted Saab 900 models. Another Swedish company Setrab, a large supplier of oil coolers for the automotive industry, thought it was a time for a Saab 900 estate and instructed Nillson to build these models.

Some say 8 of these Saab Safari were made and SAAB eventually ordered all of them to be destroyed. And somehow, these 2 made it out alive before they went into the crusher. But no evidence has been found of the other 6 Safari’s so it just remains a story and rumor. The Safari owner got in touch with Fredrik Nilsson, the grandson of the Nilssons Karosserifabrik founder, and confirmed only two of these Saab 900 Safari were ever made by Nilssons.

The name Safari sounds unusual for a Saab and it is not known why Nilsson or Setrab used this name. The badge on the back of the car also shows the Setrab name. Malmó Flygindustri developed a single engine propellor airplane which had its first flight in 1969. Saab took over production of this airplane and named it the Saab Safari. They made about 250 airplanes with this name and some are still being used as private and military planes.

This particular red Saab Safari was owned by a Saab dealer in Sweden for about 20 years. They had it displayed in their showroom. It was purchased and imported to The Netherlands by Bas Smit in summer of 2010. The front of the car was changed by a previous owner from a straight to a slant nose of a later model year that was introduced in 1986. The wheels are from a 900 turbo from the late 80s and the dark brown Colorado leather interior is also from a later model year.

The engine in this Saab Safari is a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder with a single carburetor and does not have a turbocharger. It produces only 73 kW/100 hp and is mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. Top speed was 165 km/h and 0-100 km/h took a leisurely 14 seconds. But these special Saabs were not about performance and all about the estate conversion. This Saab only had about 78.000 kilometers on the odometer when it was imported in 2010 and was only driven for 2.500 kilometers in the first year.

The Safari has the same exterior dimensions as any regular Saab 900. The rear side windows are made of glass while the window in the back is made from plexiglass. The tail lights are the same as regular Saab 900 lights. This red Saab Safari originally left the Nilssons Karosserifabrik in a brown color. It was repainted in a cherry red color that was also used on production Saab 900.

The Safari changed owners in February 2011 and was purchased by Henk Griffioen from The Netherlands. It was offered for sale again at the end of 2011 and asking price was EUR 9.000, a very reasonable price for this unique Saab. There was a lot of interest by the Saab enthusiast community, as well as the automotive press. The owner decided to sell the car in an auction and was eventually sold to another Saab enthusiast in the Netherlands. It is not known how much it sold for in 2012.

The Saab Safari remains in The Netherlands and is currently not legal to drive on public roads. Pictures in the gallery below are from saabsafari.com, the site that was used to sell this Safari in 2011. Information in this article came from a forum thread on the Dutch Saab forum and articles in SaabBerichten magazine from  Saab Club Nederland and the Dutch automotive magazine AutoWeek.

Articles in Dutch:
Gepasseerd station – AutoWeek
Zeldzame 900 classic estate: Saab Safari – SaabBerichten

Do you have any more information to share about the Saab Safari? Should SAAB have made an estate version of the Saab 900? What do you think of the design? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The other Saab Safari at the Saab Museum in Trollhättan.
The Saab Safari at the Saab Museum has its original straight front grill / headlights and wheels

1 Comment

  1. The engine and the roof had some issues. I hope it will be fixed this summer, so another visit to Sweden, the Saabfestival in Sweden in 2018, should be possible …
    Would be nice to have the two cars next to each other. The blue turbo charged Safari, with a nice safe in the boot, and the red Safari (brown originally). Nice to see the differences between the cars.

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