The SAAB Quantum I & II, a history by Dave Hosmer

Posted on 22. Mar, 2007 by in 1950-1959, 1960-1969, 2000-2009, Boston, Massachusetts, Company, Enthusiasts, Lime Rock, Connecticut, Quantum I, Quantum II, United States

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Photo Credits: Dave Hosmer

Dave Hosmer, a longtime devoted Saab enthusiast has recently granted Saab history with written permission to republish his extremely well written and thorough history on the SAAB Quantum I & II models. The Quantum I & II were designed by Walter Kern, a colleague of Ralph Millet who was the former founder and president of SAAB Motors Inc, who was responsible for bringing Saab to the United States in 1956.

Here is Mr. Hosmer’s writeup in his own words.

QUANTUM I & QUANTUM II
by
Dave Hosmer

Back in the 1950’s Walter Kern was an active sports car racer in the Boston, MA area and all the cars he raced had the same problem, loss of oil pressure in hard cornering. Consequently he blew up several engines. Walter was Manager of Design, G. A. Philbrick Research, Inc. and he thought he could come up with a better design. At this time, SAAB started importing cars through the port of Hingham, MA and established a warehouse and car preparation facility there. Walter heard about the strange Swedish car with its 2-cycle engine and thought, “Hey, no oil. Maybe I won’t blow up any more engines if I use a 2-stroke.” But, Walter being Walter, he also wanted to improve on the handling characteristics of contemporary sports cars. Since he previously had a serious “off course excursion,” he thought a car with neutral steering would be better and safer on the race course.

So, on July 1, 1958, Walter sketched the first design of his “SAAB Spyder.” quantum_i_3_photos_color_200.jpg This sketch clearly shows his intent to use SAAB components in this car. It was eventually named the Quantum presumably because Walter was a physicist. He and some racing buddies decided to build the car. He talked to Bob Wehman, who happened to be General Manager of Service and Spare Parts for SAAB Motors, Inc. Through Bob, Walter met Ralph Millet, President of SAAB Motors. Ralph supplied (sold or gave?) the SAAB parts for the car. Russell Blank, another sports car racer, who owned Eugene Engineering Corp, a sheet metal company that manufactured parts for the aircraft industry, built the chassis.

The Saab 93 engine and transmission were fitted as in the sedans. To achieve his design objective of neutral steering, the radiator and spare tire (required for GT racing) were located as far as possible to the rear. As in the Saab street cars the track was 48″, but the wheelbase was only 73″ and the overall length was 106″. It is widely believed that the car was originally fitted with a 750GT motor. The rear suspension is standard Saab. However, in order to have the fenders and hood profile low; and to keep the center of gravity as low as possible Walter used a very unique front spring design.

Early testing and racing successes led Walter and three other buddies, Alfred C. Conrod, Senior Engineer, instrument Technology Laboratories Div of Itek; John Suomala, VP for Engineering Gabriel Electronics; and Norman Karasick, President, Swift Business Machine Co. started Quantum Corp, a car manufacturing company, with offices at 31 Milk St., Boston, MA sometime in 1960. Quantum Corp is recognized by the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline. MA as a New England auto manufacturer, registered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The April 24, 1960 issue of the Sunday (Boston) Globe Sports has a picture of the Quantum on the starting grid at an SCCA drivers’ school. It is shown in its first body that was hand-formed aluminum. This body was RATHER crude and sometime later replaced with a more “attractive” (???) one.

Walter claimed to me that the first time off the trailer at Thompson, the car equaled the track record for its class. He also said that “In the wet, the car would beat a Ferrari.” He attributed this to the excellent handling of the car. Although Walter never drove the car competitively ( remember the afore mentioned off road excursion) , a race driver named Joe Dodge campaigned the car successfully at Lime Rock and Thompson. CT. He placed 6th overall and 1st in H Modified during a race in Thompson, CT on May 31, 1961. The car made this appearance in the “improved” body very nearly the same as its current configuration.

Bill Pelley owned Quantum I prior to1989 and only autocrossed it. He sold the car to John Aibel in 1989. quantum_i_without_body300.jpgAccording to the logbook, from 1989 to 2000, John ran the car at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix five times and raced the car seven times at Lime Rock. George Vapaa bought the car in October, 2003. Since he’s owned the car it’s been raced at Pocono, VIR, Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, Summit Point and Lime Rock.

I had always been told that Quantum I was the first chassis and that Quantum II was the Quantum I chassis with a body on it. Walter never corrected that in all my conversations with him. In the late 1990’s, I got a phone call from a man in the Finger Lakes area (he got my name and phone number from who else but Bud Clark) claiming that his friend had a Quantum race car. His description of the car matched that of what I thought was Quantum II, with the exception of the color. This car was painted white, whereas all the cars Walter produced we painted red. Needless to say, I was skeptical. Several months later I had to pass through the area on a business trip and decided to check the car out since it was less than an hour off the New York Southern Tier Expressway. The owner of the car’s name was Richard Blank. He took me to his shed and showed me the car. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew that John Aibel owned [ what I believed to be ] Quantum II and his car was red. This car was white and looked just like the pictures I had of Quantum I.

Then Richard told me how he acquired the car and everything fell into place. His father, Russell Blank, had passed away and Richard had to clear out his father’s shop outside Boston, MA. The shop was Eugene Engineering. In one corner of the shop under a pile of “stuff” was this car, so he dragged it home and put it in his shed with the intention of working on it with his kids, since they knew so little about their grandfather. They kids named the car “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, because of its similarity to the movie car. Richard remembers that when he was a young boy in the ’60s, his father, Russell, would take the car and go racing for the weekend. Richard believes that the car had a “competition motor” which was removed and returned to SAAB in Sweden at some point and replaced with the current stock engine which is a 750cc standard SAAB 93 engine (according to the casting numbers). I showed Richard one of the Quantum III pictures that I have that were taken at the 1962 New York Auto Show and he identified one of the people as his father. He was surprised.

quantumii_300.jpgSeveral months after my visit, Richard called asking for assistance in getting the car running. I contacted Gary Stottler, informed him of the situation, and asked him if he could help Richard out since he lived about an hour away and I live about five hours away. Gary spent a few days helping to get the car running and Gary feels that the current engine is very nearly new and is one of the quietest (mechanically) stroker engines that he has ever heard. Richard had to part with the car and Quantum II now resides in Gary’s garage. Since neither Scott Prentice, Bud Clark or myself had ever heard Walter mention a second Quantum I or II, I often wondered if Walter knew that a second car existed. After Walter passed away and before Russell Blank’s Quantum surfaced, I was given Walter’s scrapbook by his wife Barbara. In compiling this history, Scott gave me copies of pictures that either Walter or Barbara had given him. One of the pictures is of a white Quantum II with Massachusetts dealer plates, so Walter must have known that the car existed. Scott, George Vapaa and I now agree that George’s car is indeed the Quantum I chassis and that Gary Stottler’s car is Quantum II.

The racing success of the Quantum’s and resulting publicity, caught the interest of SAAB. Walter Kern would go onto design the Quantum III with the intent of producing an attractive sports car for the public, but I’ll save that tale for later.

This article is based on fact, recollection of discussions with Walter Kern, and some speculation as to his intent.

Acknowledgements: Scott Prentice, Richard Blank, George Vapaa, Gary
Stottler

9/28/06

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5 Responses to “The SAAB Quantum I & II, a history by Dave Hosmer”

  1. Tom Clayton

    22. Mar, 2007

    I would like to obtain permission to reproduce this story, it’s photos (and any others that might be available) on my web site. The Quantum I & II have an interesting history and should be included in my archives of H Modified sports racers.

    Thanks,

    Tom Clayton

    Reply to this comment
  2. Tom Clayton

    22. Mar, 2007

    BTW, my web site is the Sports Racer Network at http://sports.racer.net .

    Reply to this comment
  3. robert ward

    04. Apr, 2007

    I was trying to locate an old friend John Thompson who spent time with Saab in Australia and then worked for SAAB in the home factory office and who has since gone to France to retire

    Any assistance would be appreciated
    Robert Ward

    Reply to this comment
  4. John E. Aibel

    02. Jun, 2007

    I was driving my Quantum at Lime Rock, and the clouds got thicker, and thicker until it started to SNOW. With freezing fingers, I pressed on. I soon realized that non of the faster cars were passing me. Then I realized I was the only car still on the track! That was the greatest cars I have ever had the pleasure to own and race.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Jill Kern

    12. Dec, 2007

    What a joy to stumble across this story on the web! As so aptly reflected in this narrative, my dad was an avid car nut, and a consummate engineer (and many other things, including an inventor with over a dozen patents, and an incorrigible punster.)

    Most of the photos of him that we have scattered about the house include a Sonett as well, in particular the one he converted to electric power, painted bright yellow, and used for commuting. The rear hatch contained a solar panel to help recharge the battery array — Dad was always *way* ahead of his time with technological innovations.

    I remember him taking me out in the electric car, which ran silently (much like my own current Prius), and sneaking up on pedestrians to surprise them with his stealth Sonett! He also liked snapping my head back by mashing the accelerator on his Sonett Turbo.

    I remember going to races with Dad when I was quite young (Lime Rock among them, John!) and getting kicked out of the pit for getting too excited when timing laps with my ‘junior’ stopwatch. That “off-road excursion” was often cited by my mother as the reason Dad quit racing and focused on designing… We still have lots of silver platters, bowls etc that he earned on racetracks throughout the Northeast.

    Thanks so much for this reminder of everything my dad loved about cars, engineering and life.

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