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Sålb Motor Vehicles Corporation (Riksmål: Sålb Motorvogner A/S), trading as Sålb, is a Scandinavian car manufacturer founded in 1951 as the automotive division of Scandinavian Steamtrain Corporation (Riksmål: Skandinaviske Damplokomotiv A/S), a major rolling stock manufacturer from Trollhättan, Sweden.
In 1847 Nydqvist Lidström & Holm was founded in Trollhättan as a manufacturer of turbines for hydraulic power plants. Later, in 1865, it manufactured its first steam locomotive becoming over the next decades the largest rolling stock manufacturer in the Scandinavian Realm. In 1916 it was reconstituted as a limited company called Skandinaviske Damplokomotiv A/S.
During the 1930’s Scandinavian car market was mostly dominated by two national manufacturers having two distinct philosophies: Volvo A/S produced internal combustion engined cars while Cederholm Brødrene A/S, from Ystad (in Denmark), produced steam powered cars.
In 1938 Skandinaviske Damplokomotiv A/S decided to diversify its markets and an automobile design project was started. The prototype, called SDAS Projekt 1, was a steam powered functional car with an engine provided by Cederholm. It was presented in Gøteborg and had a design inspired in steam trains, with a long boiler.
When the Scandinavian Realm entered in the Second Great War, in 1945, the development of this car was cancelled while Skandinaviske Damplokomotiv joined the war effort.
The birth of SÅLB
As the war ended Skandinaviske Damplokomotiv renwed then its interest in making its own car following the growing success of the German Volkswagen Type 1 or the Frojt Egg Car among others during the reconstruction of Europe. In 1951 the company was once again renamed, becoming Skandinaviske Ånd av Lokomotiver og Biler A/S (Riksmål for Scandinavian Spirit of Locomotives and Automobiles Corporation), SÅLB A/S for short. Such new name also intended people to perceive a certain scandinavian-ness to company’s products. A new logo was adopted featuring a wheel train axle.
SÅLB hired the surviving engineers from the now defunct Cederholm Brothers, destroyed by the German bombings over Ystad. First car was based in the pre-war SDAS Projekt 1 prototype and went for sale in 1953 as SÅLB 1-2-4 (internal name SÅLB Projekt 2) . It was presented in most major car exhibitions across Europe. Despite being roomier than all competitors among the contemporary people’s cars it wasn’t a sales success as it was more expensive and had more complicate mechanics. Less than 20 000 thousand were made. It had a steam train inspired look which became ever since a distinctive feature of the brand’s design language. A second model, SÅLB 1-2-5 (internal name SÅLB Projekt 3), replaced the original in 1956 as a sedan and three years later also as an estate (model 2-3-5). Commercial success was starting to be achieved as the 1-2-5 and 2-3-5 duo became the best selling cars of compact class in the Scandinavian Realm so as started to be exported to the Holy Roman Empire and Batavia]] during that year. They would be kept in production for the next twenty four years, being facelifted several times.
Racing helped SÅLB to build its reputation. In 1957 SÅLB participated in the Mille Miglia car race, in the Italies, surprising everyone by beating all competition and leaving in shock the ALFA Lorena enthusiasts. For the first time a steam powered car won that famous race. SÅLB’s racing car was also briefly sold to public (as SÅLB 7-2-2) in small numbers becoming the rarest ot its models (few hundreds were made), being the fastest road steam powered car offered in the market.
After its racing success in Italy SÅLB couldn’t be ignored anymore. Sales well progressed across Western Europe, notably in France, Northern Holy Roman Empire, Batavia and the Republic of the Two Crowns. Being its main exports markets right hand traffic countries, just like the Scandinavian Realm, SÅLB wasn’t affected by the Second Carquake as many other car makers. Volvo, which produced larger cars and was rather dependent from NAL market (a left hand traffic country), suffered much more and was close to bankrupty.
During the 1960’s SÅLB, now stylized as Sålb, became the leading steam powered car manufacturer in the world and earned a cult and passion status only comparable to Frojt. Driving a Sålb became synonymous of being someone different (such was strongly exploited by company’s advertising campaigns) and it bacame the favourite car of creative people and intellectuals. In 1967 a new and larger model (Sålb 3-4-5, or SÅLB Projekt 7) was launched, being voted as the European Car of the Year 1968 and moving the brand upmarket. It became SÅLB’s most successful car to date and helped the brand to take the lead in Scandinavian domestic car market between 1970 and 1974 until Volvo recovered its usual first place there. In thirteen years of production all of its versions (2 and 4 doors sedan, 3 and 5 doors estate) together surpassed one million becoming the best selling steam engined car ever and boosted Sålb’s image as a luxury car maker. Last new steam powered model of the period was a small sports car, the new 7-2-2 (internal name SÅLB Projekt 10), offered in both coupe and convertible configurations.
In 1968 Sålb Motorvogner A/S was created by separating rolling stock operations (stylized as SÅLB) from automotive operations under the umbrella of SÅLB Konsernet A/S (SÅLB Group).
(R)Evolution and decay
During mid-1970’s taking advantage from low oil prices caused by the Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393 Sålb launched for its first time a model powered by an internal combustion engine. Sålb’s enthusiasts were shocked by what the company advertised as (R)Evolution. By 1980 the last steam powered cars rolled off the production lines and from then on all Sålb’s models used internal combustion engines supplied by Panhard from France and when oil prices recovered sales figures started to fall. For enthusiasts internal combustion powered Sålbs weren't true Sålbs.
During mid-1980’s Sålb jointly developed with Borgward, FIAT and Panhard a new platfrom for a full size luxury car. Such gave origin to Sålb 5-4-6 (internal name Sålb Projekt 16), FIAT 154, Borgward Henriette and Panhard 6 and 8 DS Dynamique all launched between 1986 and 1988. They weren’t sales success as all together couldn’t beat similarly sized Mercedes-Benz 180S sales figures worldwide.
During late 1980’s Sålb Motorvogner started to starve from funds from its parent company. SÅLB (the train manufacturer) was then much involved in development of its first high speed train (the X2000) which absorved much of its effort and interest.
During the late 1990’s was rumoured Sålb Motorvogner was going to be shut down, after years of decreasing sales and large debts. Such was confirmed when SÅLB announced the end of its automotive subsidiary in 2003. Scandinavian government intervened and nationalized Sålb Motorvogner to avoid its end. For Scandinavian government a brand such as Sålb worthed to be saved as it was a part of Scandinavian image of quality around the world.
Scandinavian government started to look for national or foreign automotive companies and investors interested in acquiring Sålb. According to government intentions sale would only be allowed if the buyer kept production facilities in Sweden so as kept what they called Sålb’s historical heritage and identity.
Volkswagen was rumoured by automotive press to be interested as it wished to establish an upmarket brand separated from regular mass produced cars. Such was never confirmed. Groupe Panhard-Citröen-Amilcar (PCA Group) also showed interest but negotiations came to nothing. Surprisingly was a Japanese car maker, Nidji, which acquired Sålb Motorvogner.
After an initial distrust from automotive press and enthusiasts Sålb was reborn. Initially Nidji kept the internal combustion models until it was capable to replace all them. By 2008 all its models were once again powered by steam engines recovering its lost image and progressively its sales figures. For the happiness of enthusiats the true Sålbs were back.
Since its beginnings Sålb cars nomenclature resembled steam locomotive classification. All models were named after three (sometimes four) numbers as follows:
- First: class of the car. 1 for compact car, 3 for mid-size car, 5 for full size car and 7 for convertibles and coupes. After Nidji acquired Sålb number 9 was added for off road cars. Numbers 2, 4 and 6 were the estates of the preceding class.
- Second: number of doors.
- Third: number of seats.
- Fourth: facelifted models received a fourth number. One for first facelift, two for second and so on.
People tend to use Sålb's internal names as are less confusing than commercial names.