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Scania - Vabix

 1897 - Present


Think of Scania and you think of Trucks. But there was a time, now long ago, when they company also manufactured cars. In fact, the history of Scania is bound up with that of Sweden's first motor company, Vabis, which produced a car at Sorahammer in 1897.

Gustaf Erikson

The Sorahammer car was a fairly ambitious project, Vabis even deciding to develop its own engine. The project was entrusted to a young engineer, Gustaf Erikson, whose first mistake was to use kerosene instead of petrol. His first brainchild, a hot-air type four-cylinder unit, seized up on its first run and never functioned again. Erikson was spurred to try again, this time using two opposed cylinders and an ingenious control arrangement whereby the fuel/air ratio was automatically adjusted to suit the load.

Ignition was by porcelain tube, but this proved unsatisfactory, and when the first Vabis car was produced its engine had a mechanically-produced spark. Erikson's inventive mind constantly produced revised designs and few early Vabis cars were the same. He soon turned his attention to petrol, and by 1902 the company was making marine engines as well as cars.

In this same year an arch rival appeared-Scania company of Malmo, a successor to the Swedish branch of the Humber Cycle Co. Their first car, designed by Reinhold Thorssin, had an under-seat engine with a complex chain drive, but Thorssin soon left the firm to join AMG in Gothenburg and the first production Scanias, a trial series of six cars, had two-cylinder German Kamper engines under the already-conventional bonnet.

Crown Prince Gustav

One of these cars was bought by Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden. By 1905 Scania were making their own engines. The first was a four-cylinder unit developing 24 hp, and having such comparatively advanced features as mag- neto ignition, overhead valves, 'central lubrication and pressed-in cylinder liners. From 1908 to 1911 approximately 30 Scania cars were built, with engines of from 12 to 36 hp.

Scania and Vabis rivalry had produced good results from both firms, but in 1911 the advantages of a merger were apparent to both, and AB Scania-Vabis was formed. Engine development then made rapid strides forwards in outputs and cylinder size. The firm concentrated on two four-cylinder models, a mono bloc unit producing 20 hp and a 55 hp engine with cylinders cast in pairs. This latter model was visually distinguished by a sharply V-pointed radiator and V-screen.

Scania and Vabis Merge

In 1903 at the first international motor show in Stockholm, Vabis had presented a truck with a two-cylinder 15 hp petrol V-engine, spoked wooden wheels with iron treads, and a 1½-ton payload. Scania had reacted with a truck with ball-bearing wheels which created a sensation in 1909 by running from Malmoto Stockholm in 32 hours. World War 1 produced pressures for working vehicles which moulded Scania-Vabis thereafter. A gigantic marine engine of eight cylinders was developed in 1916. It was nine feet long, burning alcohol and producing 120 hp at 1000 rpm. Another significant development was an aero engine of six cylinders producing 110 hp, made of a new light alloy and weighing half as much as contemporary aero units.

The first Scania bus appeared in Malino in 1909, with provision for up to ten passengers. The first joint Scania-Vabis bus was made in 1911 with twelve seats, a 20 hp petrol engine, chain transmission and solid rubber tyres cast on to the wheels. With bus traffic in Stockholm expanding rapidly in the 1920s, Scania-Vabis came up with a - giant in its day - 32-passenger bus with a 17 ft wheelbase, with a 36 hp engine and prop shaft driving the rear wheels. In the same year a combined bus and mail vehicle was produced for the Swedish Post Office, with tracks on the rear, runners under the front wheels, and a snowplough on the front. It proved so effective in the winter that examples ran right up to the early 1940s.

1902 Scania four-seater runabout
A 1902 Scania four-seater runabout; by this time the company was making several different models using two and four cylinder engines with power outputs ranging from 4 to 24hp. Note: The first image in the slide show above is Gustaf Erikson's original 1897 two-cylinder Scania-Vabis carriage.

Scania-Vabis Trucks

Another outcome of the war years was Scania-Vabis specialisation in purpose-built trucks. The first, in 1916, was a 40hp truck fitted with side-tipping bins. By 1924 the firm decided to concentrate almost entirely on commercial vehicles, although in that year a Scania-Vabis car with a 50hp alcohol engine soundly defeated an international field in a race outside Stockholm. This engine had overhead valves and a new type of carburetor, and proved to be not only more reliable than its rivals, but to have a better fuel consumption. Despite this important victory, the firm made only four more cars up to 1929, when it moved into the diesel era.

The 'Bulldog' Bus

Between them, Scania, Vabis and Scania-Vabis had produced less than 500 cars from 1897 to 1929. With the accent now eqtirely commercial, Scania-Vabis set about innovation in a substantial way. A propeller-shaft drive was introduced in 1924. A three-axle layout was also tried in that year, and Scania-Vabis also produced the first 'bulldog' bus in the world - the body being extended forward to take in the engine, with the driver sitting alongside the bonnet. Pneumatic truck and bus tyres also appeared on Scania-Vabis commercials in the 1920s. In the 1930s the bogie design pioneered by the firm found wide acceptance, and with it came greater payloads. The 1933 Scania-Vabis truck, with 110 hp engine, carried six tons and was equipped with a periscope to give the driver a rear view.

The Hesselman Diesel Engine

The increasingly powerful engines being developed through the 1930s brought higher fuel costs, and haulage men were demanding more economy. Scania-Vabis responded by adding the oil-burning Hesselman engine to its production programme. This unit retained spark ignition, but high-speed running produced combustion difficulties, and Scania-Vabis developed a new pre-combustion chamber type of engine which not only gave smoother and quieter running but also used up to one-third less fuel equivalent units. The first Scania-Vabis engine of this type appeared in 1936, displacing 7.76 liters with its six cylinders and producing 120 hp at 2000 rpm.

The firm stayed with this type of engine until 1949, when the combustion chamber was sited in the piston, cutting down heat dissipation by the cylinder block and reducing fuel consumption by a further 20 per cent. The first direct-injection Scania diesel, type D240 had four cylinders but was quickly followed by six and eight cylinder variants based on the same components. Many of these early direct-injection units are still in use. The D 10 design appeared in 1958, a six-cylinder 10.3 liter unit developing 165 hp at 2000 rpm, with stouter dimensions, a new lubricating system, a double-acting oil cleanser, and provision for turbo-charging, with which Scania-Vabis had tried as early as 1951. This turbo-charged version gave 205 hp.

A smaller D7 series engine of 7.17 liters developing 120 hp at 2400 rpm was introduced in 1959. With the introduction of these powerful new engines came other heavy truck developments. Direct-acting compressed air brakes and power steering had been developed during the 1950s. In 1958 the firm's L75 series of trucks introduced a string of new features - synchronised auxiliary transmission, double-reduction rear-axle gear, and pneumatically operated differential lock.

The Vabis name was dropped in 1968. During the 1970s the D10 and D7 engines form the basis of the Scania-Vabis range, giving 195 hp - and D8 giving 145 hp. A DS11 with turbo-charging, and incorporating a new injection system with smoke-reducer, produced 260 hp. Not only commercial trucks but buses were fitted from Scania-Vabis' lively engine development over the years. Bus production continues today as a major part of Scanias production.
1927 Scania-Vabis limousine
A 1927 Scania-Vabis limousine; although the Swedish firm of Scania-Vabis had largely abandoned private-car manufacture by the Vintage era, they would still build American-looking sedans of this type to special order as late as 1927. Note the fixed wooden wheel rims.
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