Home » Here’s A Look At Saab’s Camper That Was Meant To Be Towed By A 38 Horsepower Car

Here’s A Look At Saab’s Camper That Was Meant To Be Towed By A 38 Horsepower Car

Saab Camper Ts2
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The once-great Saab holds a special place in the hearts of car enthusiasts. When the brand was around was around, buying a Saab meant getting something with some quirky engineering and offbeat design. Saab just did some things differently, and even in the GM years Saab still had some things going for it. But as if you didn’t need another reason to miss the brand: Did you know Saab once and very briefly got into the camper space? The Saab SaabO camper is made out of glass-reinforced plastic and weighs around 700 pounds so that just about anything can tow it, including a 38 HP Saab 96.

I’m always fascinated by past efforts of automakers to get into the RV industry. Perhaps the most famous example for Americans is the 1970s GMC Motorhome. Don’t forget about camper vans by the likes of Volkswagen and recently, Hyundai. Then there are the countless collaborations between RV makers and automakers. For a time so short it was basically a blink of an eye, Saab threw its hat into the ring and made SaabO camper.

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1964 Saab Saabo Camper 318247223
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In production from 1964 to 1968, the Saab SaabO sold just 438 units over its entire production run. This unique piece of history is rolling across the Bring a Trailer auction block as I write this and given the trailer’s rarity, you probably won’t see another for sale for a long time.

Saab Diversifies

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Saab

If you’re abreast of your Saab history, you’ll know that Saab wasn’t at first a car manufacturer. As Saab explains, during the 1930s, the threat of a second world war was looming. Sweden was neutral, but it wanted to create an air force that utilized domestic industry. In 1936, Prime Minister Per-Albin Hansson said in a speech that
“our country should manufacture its own weapons as much as possible. We have good shipyards and armouries but we have no production in the country for warplanes.”

Svenska Aero AB was founded in April 1937 to produce combat aircraft. Over its expansive history, Saab would help build the Swedish Air Force with its aircraft. The company continues that during the Cold War, the Swedish Air Force was one of the world’s largest. Saab aircraft hits include the Draken, Gripen, and Viggen.

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Saab

Saab AB wasn’t content with just staying as an aircraft manufacturer and it was interested in getting into other markets. The manufacturer says car development started in 1945 with the Saab 92. The vehicle’s name was unimaginative–it was just the next number in sequence after the Saab 91 trainer aircraft–but it was the genesis of what would become a beloved car brand. Back then, Saab’s engineers thought they could apply aircraft aerodynamics knowledge to cars to make them accelerate faster than the German cars imported into Sweden.

As Saab Planet writes, the SaabO camper is another example of Saab’s push for diversification, and it also involves aeronautical engineers getting into a different kind of vehicle.

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Objects of the Maritime History Museum – SM 20305

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Saab was working on the Markeffektfarkost “MEFA” experimental hovercraft vehicle project. The MEFA project, which would be developed into a single working Saab 401 prototype, was supposed to be a military vehicle. The Saab 401 would be capable of hovering over both ice and water at speeds of around 40 knots.

The Saab SaabO Camper

1964 Saab Saabo Camper 1964 Saab (3)
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Two engineers involved in the hovercraft project, Bo Bjernekull and Birger Lindberg, embarked on their own personal project in their off-hours. The 1960s were a time when people all over the world wanted to get out and enjoy the outdoors. It was also a time of innovation. Here in America, we had a coach who helped coin the term “motorhome” and the Canadians innovated with the Boler molded fiberglass camper.

As Saab Planet writes, people in Sweden wanted to go camping, too, but a lot of them were driving the successful Saab 96, a car that at the time, was powered by an 841 cc two-stroke triple making just 38 HP. That’s not a lot of tow vehicle for a camper. Others were driving Volvos that also weren’t very powerful. Bjernekull and Lindberg would design a camper that was so lightweight that a Saab 96 could tow it without limitations. At the time, Saab Planet writes, there were speed limits for campers, but vehicles towing sufficiently light trailers were exempt from it.

1967 Saab Saabo Camper Saabo Sid
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Bjernekull and Lindberg produced a 1/10-scale model of their camper in the hangars of Saab Aéronautique. The engineers presented their concept to the Saab diversification committee, which greenlit the camper for production.

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The SaabO’s prototype was built at the Fisksätra shipyards, where it was constructed from two glass-reinforced plastic hulls glued together. It was designed to sleep four or five and included two sofas, a folding dinette table, a galley sink, two wardrobes, and a gas cylinder to utilize for cooking meals, lighting, and heat. Oh, and the prototype came in at just 507 pounds.

1964 Saab Saabo Camper 1964 Saab (5)
Bring a Trailer Seller
1964 Saab Saabo Camper 1964 Saab (8)
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The production SaabO remained just as innovative. Like the prototype, it’s built from glass-reinforced plastic hulls featuring cellular plastic insulation. The interior includes all of the aforementioned basics. Something unique about the SaabO camper is its low front and rear windows. This design allows the driver of a Saab 96 towing the SaabO to look in their rearview mirror and see through the trailer as they drive down the road. Honestly, I’m surprised we don’t really see this in today’s small trailers.

1964 Saab Saabo Camper 1964 Saab (4)
Bring a Trailer Seller

The restored SaabO up for grabs on Bring a Trailer is a sweet unit. In addition to the above features, the trailer has stabilizer jacks, an AM/FM cassette stereo with two speakers, an ice box, and a floor-mounted radiator heater. You also get a ceiling vent, a cover, drum brakes, and an awning. According to Saab documentation saved by the seller, the trailer’s dry weight is 771 pounds and you get 5.9 feet of interior headroom.

Iffy Quality

1964 Saab Saabo Camper 1964 Saab (6)
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The seller has provided a 1964 review of the camper from MOTOR. The reviewer complains that the quality of the trailer wasn’t great. Apparently, the table legs wobbled, the floor was just painted plywood, and the interior of the brand-new unit looked dirty even though it wasn’t. The reviewer went on to say that the plywood cabinetry and the laminate countertop were substandard and the interior plastic didn’t look professionally done. Continuing on, the reviewer noted that the cabinet doors didn’t have latches, which meant a total mess to clean up after taking the trailer down the road. Apparently, the stove wasn’t standard, nor was a water pump or water tank.

1964 Saab Saabo Camper Saabo Lit
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So, don’t expect to get something of incredible quality. However, most of those issues have easy solutions. Still, this camper has survived for 56 years, so even a sort of crappy Saab camper is better than a lot more modern rigs. It’s not said why Saab built just 438 SaabO campers, but they’re a rare and seemingly obscure part of camper history.

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Of course, while Saab only briefly made its own camper, there have been other campers for Saabs. In the 1980s, EMICO, then later Scando, made the Toppola camper. This wasn’t a trailer, but a camper that slid into the back of Saab cars. During the early years, Saab partnered with the firm to make sure the campers had a fit, finish, and design befitting of a Saab car. Toppola campers were made for a variety of Saab cars and even the Ford Sierra, but the business fizzled out in 2006, not long before Saab itself tapped out.

1964 Saab Saabo Camper 1964 Saab (1)
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I think this SaabO is even cooler than a Toppola. Back in 1964, a SaabO cost 5,475 kr. That’s the equivalent of 70,744 kr today, or about $6,471 of your American dollars. So, these things were pretty cheap! As of right now, the 1967 Saab SaabO camper is bidding at $1,200 on Bring a Trailer in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts with five days to go. Thankfully I’m not in the market for another camper or else I would probably be a bidder.

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Robert Turner
Robert Turner
9 months ago

See also the Thompson Mini-Glen, a caravan trailer intended to be towed by a mini.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago

I’d still take a Toppola over this, but very cool.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 months ago

Ooooh, tempting. And exempt from trailer brake regulations in NY since it comes in under 999 lbs. First order of business would be installing brakes and taller tires. Having the tail wag the dog stinks.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
9 months ago

Installing larger tires looks like it’d be a complicated process. Not much room in the wheel wells.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
9 months ago

And it ruins the look.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 months ago

Bingo. A new Dexter torsion axle with brakes would be the ticket. The heck with the look, it looks better safe at the campsite than wadded up in a ditch.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 months ago

Ick! Rip that out and replace with electric! So much better since brake force doesn’t go away on downhills and they can be independently applied for sway control if needed. Yes electric over hydraulic could work but it’s way simpler to run wires.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

Why is the trailer door on the left? Was Sweden still driving om the left when these were made or are the examples UK export models made with a mirror image layout?
Overall the SaabO seems very similar to the various North American fiberglass trailers of the 70s but boxer.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
9 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Sweden drove on the left until 3 Sept 1967:

https://de-academic.com/pictures/dewiki/68/Dagen_H.svg

The Telstars wrote a catchy song to remind everyone to “Keep to the Right, Svensson” for the occasion:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntVcOVemvdo

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

My dad turned 17 that summer and worked for the local government, moving traffic signs across the streets.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
9 months ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

I’ve never moved Swedish traffic signs but I do have the t-shirt:

https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/52548022975_0197f0c229_c.jpg

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Big props. I need to get me one of those and receive the adulation of probably threes of people across the continent.
I used to wear a Mazda R360 t-shirt and only two people ever acknowledged it – one Japanese dad at Lime Rock and an Indonesian prostitute who tried to chat me up in Singapore…

Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
Jesus Chrysler drives a Dodge
9 months ago

Off-topic but funny: I’m reading this article and in-line video ad says “Watch Mercedes crash 2 electric cars head on.” It’s right in the middle of her article, so I was naturally excited … and then disappointed it was the OTHER Mercedes.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago

“The reviewer complains that the quality of the trailer wasn’t great. Apparently, the table legs wobbled, the floor was just painted plywood, and the interior of the brand-new unit looked dirty even though it wasn’t. The reviewer went on to say that the plywood cabinetry and the laminate countertop were substandard and the interior plastic didn’t look professionally done. Continuing on, the reviewer noted that the cabinet doors didn’t have latches, which meant a total mess to clean up after taking the trailer down the road”

Are you sure this thing was built by SAAB and not IKEA?

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago

I’m thinking it would be really stylish to bring this to the airport campground behind a tow motor and also bring a stair car to go up on the roof. Would you need flag peeps to direct you to your spot?

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
9 months ago

Look at those cabinet door handles! LOOK AT THEM!

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
9 months ago

Tiny 8″ wheels probably wouldn’t be very good at higher speeds anyhow – can you imagine the wheel revolutions per minute at 80mph? And those poor bearings? I think 38hp sounds just about right.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

Picturing cartoon speed lines now…

Sklooner
Sklooner
9 months ago

My dad towed a Westfalia trailer in the 50s with a 40hp Opel- the trailer was made of steel and was not light- when he move to Canada the tow car was a 67 New Yorker with a 440

V10omous
V10omous
9 months ago

powered by an 841 cc two-stroke triple making just 38 HP.

I cannot emphasize enough that I, a private homeowner without a farm or anything, own both a machine used only for cutting grass that makes 27 hp from 810 cc, and another machine used only for yard work and snowplowing that makes 60 hp from 900 cc.

And people were out there driving whole-ass cars pulling trailers on the highway with the same engines. Never let anyone tell you this isn’t a great country.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
9 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

For the record, some of us still are out there driving whole-ass cars pulling trailers on the highway with the same engines.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

You had me ’til the last sentence… thought you were going to point out the absurdity of our society.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

Is the door key located in the center?

Torque
Torque
9 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

You have to put the trailer in reverse in order to open the trailer door to get out

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
9 months ago

That’s a lot of space for 771lbs, why does it seem like even ultra basic/light weight campers of today always seem to weigh more than they probably should? The excuses for cars porking up don’t apply, trailers don’t have air bags and don’t get crash tested

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
9 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Because OSB is heavy! And flimsy to make up for it.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
9 months ago

That’s tempting. I already have a matching trailer hitch:

https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/52643250146_92f0ca5448_c.jpg

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