Half a decade before the GM EV1 electric car burst onto the scene, beginning a saga that would last until the controversial end of the lease program in the 2000s, Saab had its own EV-1. The acronym held a different meaning, and the two cars couldn’t be different in concept or execution. But the EV1 is still remembered, and the EV-1 is as obscure as they come. We think the Saab EV-1 deserves its day in the sun, too.
The 1985 Experimental Vehicle 1 wasn’t driven by electricity, although interestingly enough it featured roof-mounted solar panels that powered a cabin cooling fan—take a look at its solar-oven-like greenhouse and you’ll understand why that was a necessity. Mechanically, it was heavily based on the 900 Turbo, with a turbocharged inline-four powering the front wheels. No inline electric motors or storage batteries here—just, we presume, lots of tire scramble. That’s because the EV-1 pumped a full 282 hp solely to the two front wheels.
The design was by Björn Envall, the head of design at the Swedish automaker. He was already responsible for the iconic shape of the first-generation Saab 900 and had been at the automaker for years. The body was rendered in various composite materials, including carbon fiber—at that point an even more exotic material than it is now.
The design is unabashedly ’80s-futuristic, with a rounded wedge shape and flush-mounted headlights mounted way down low. The greenhouse has a jet-fighter-canopy look, particularly with its blacked-out pillars, which enhanced the EV-1’s apparent length. The massive glass hatch sweeps backward, almost horizontally, and the stylized three-spoke wheels are a futuristic take on the company’s contemporary and iconic “Aero” wheels. In some ways, the EV-1 was an early take on some of the sporty styling tropes seen later … perhaps there’s a hint of the production Geo Storm?
The interior was less wild, being a futuristic take on existing 900 themes. But the instrument panel previewed a future beloved Saab feature: Night Panel, which dimmed all instruments and lights, save the necessary portion of the speedometer. If there was an issue, like low fuel, the relevant gauge would light back up. Born from jets, indeed.
But the real point was to show off the potential of the 900 Turbo, and that Saab could build legitimately sporty vehicles—not just quirky ones. The EV-1 might have been a dead-end for Saab, at least in terms of the overall concept, but it did preview the company’s higher-performance offerings, like the performance-oriented 9-3 Viggen.
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