Archive for 'Quantum I'

The First President of Saab USA – Ralph T. Millet

Posted on 05. Apr, 2007 by .

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ralph t millet 300 The First President of Saab USA   Ralph T. Millet Ralph T. Millet’s association with Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebologet (SAAB) began in 1946 during a business trip to Sweden. Mr. Millet was at the time working with a U.S. company that exported parts for SAAB Aircraft. During this visit, he was asked to purchase material and and machinery needed for production of a new car on the boards in Sweden. This offer was accepted by Mr. Millet by SAAB and shortly thereafter opened an office solely focused on the exporting of SAAB aircraft parts in New York City in 1947, the year SAAB automobile officially started.

Millet, a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded SAAB Motors, Inc. in 1956 in New York City. Mr. Millet’s first import into the United States was the SAAB model 93 and it first debuted at the New York Auto Show with the Sonett “Super Sport” (94). A year after the 93 was introduced, it was showcased at the Great American Mountain Rallye in Northern New England in 1957.

The SAAB 93 hauled off ships from Gothenburg, Sweden into the port of Hingham, Massachusetts (near the old location of the Shaw Saab dealership). As a result of Mr. Millet’s work and diligence, SAAB Motors grew and eventually moved to New Haven, Connecticut in 1961. In the the 1970’s the heavy harbour traffic in New Haven’s ports rerouted automobile transport boats to full operating ports across the United States and as a result, SAAB Motors, Inc. moved to Orange, Connecticut in 1972. During this time, Ralph Millet retired SAAB Motor’s Inc. became SAAB-SCANIA of America, Inc. Following retirement, Mr. Millet served on the Board of Directors of Saab-Scania of America from 1979 until 1987. While serving on the Board, he also became an industry relations export on government related issues in Washington, D.C.

Ralph T. Millet continued his support of the Saab community by his participation in numerous Saab Owners Conventions and other events. Mr. Millet passed on December 20th, 2002 in Middletown, Connecticut and I have provided you his obit written by longtime friend and colleague, Lennart Lonnegren.

Ralph T. Millet, 85, of Old Saybrook, CT., the man who brought the Swedish Saab cars into the United States, and was president of the Saab importing company, and who became a highly respected spokesman for the imported car business in the United States, as President and Chairman of the Automobile Importers of America, a group representing most of the companies importing automobiles to the United States, died Friday, Dec. 20, 2002, at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, CT.

When the Saab automobile was first introduced into this country in 1956, it was a quite different automobile from those generally sold here. The car’s origin and the management of its importing company, were also somewhat different than what is common in the US auto business.

The first Saab cars were powered by an unorthodox two-cycle engine that required the addition of oil to the gasoline every time the fuel tank was filled; and in difference to most other cars the engine propelled the front wheels, instead of the rear wheels, As to its origin: it was manufactured by a company called Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (abbreviated Saab), that had previously been solely engaged in the manufacture of military aircraft.

Heading the US operation was not exactly your usual “car guy” but an aircraft expert. Ralph Turner Millet had had no previous experience in the automotive field, but would eventually become the representative for almost all of this country’s automobile importers, and steer his adopted company and its unorthodox product through more than 15 years of business ups and downs.

Ralph T. Millet, as a matter of fact, saw the little Saab car become something of a cult car, as well as one of the leaders in the field of automotive safety, before he relinquished his position as head of the importing company, to become a consultant to the company, and its spokesman in safety and environmental matters.

As Mr. Millet recalled it, the actual origin of the entry of the Saab into the US auto market, came at a dinner in Minneapolis, Minn., where the head of Saab, after a meeting with aircraft component suppliers, turned to Mr. Millet, at the time, a purchasing agent for Saab, and said that since Americans were buying Volkswagens, maybe they would also buy Saabs. Mr. Millet said that he seriously doubted the viability of selling a car with a two-cycle engine in the US, but the next day, back in New York, the Saab president persisted.

“He told me to reserve some space at the next New York Auto Show. He would send some cars over, and we would see what reaction they got. Then we would decide about selling the cars.”

A few months later four Saab 93 sedans and a prototype sports car arrived in New York, just in time for the 1956 New York International Auto Show. At the show itself, the reaction of both public and press was quite positive, and several auto dealers expressed their interest in representing the new Swedish make. One even bought a car for resale. Ralph T. Millet was about to change careers, from a specialist in procurement for the aircraft industry, to the job as head of the country’s newest imported car company.

That dinner meeting in Minneapolis was not really Ralph T. Millet’s first encounter with the Saab cars. Born in Boston on August 21,1917, Mr. Millet was educated at the Boston Latin School and received a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940, just in time to join the US Army Air Corps, where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war he started a firm handling procurements for different corporations, one of them Swedish Saab. During his first visit to Sweden, in 1946, he heard of the company’s plans for a small car, and one of his earlier assignments for Saab involved the purchase of body presses for the new car. In 1948, he recalled, an early prototype car was sent to the US, and Mr. Millet had some discussions with the Willys Overland company about building the car. One early problem for Saab, however, was the shortage of suitable steel for the car bodies, It wasn’t until 1950 that the first Saab car was built sold, and not much was thought of exporting it until production reached adequate levels.

But after the 1956 New York Auto Show, Saab Motors Inc. was ready for business. The fist shipment of cars for sale to dealers arrived just before Christmas 1956 at the port of Hingham, Mass., where Saab had established a warehouse and make-ready facility. Fifteen dealers were signed the first year, and sales reached all of 2,200 units in 1958. “We made money in 1959,” recalled Mr. Millet, “but the next year the bottom fell out, when Detroit’s big three introduced their own small cars.”

In 1961 Saab Motors moved all of its operations to New Haven, Conn., leaving only a small aviation purchasing office – the operations Mr. Millet had originally started – in New York City.

The safety reputation of the Saab car has helped sell Saabs throughout the years, as the cars have gradually evolved, first by replacing the original two-stroke engine with a more acceptable four-stroke, and later with newer and larger model cars. Today the company, now Saab Cars USA Inc., and owned by General Motors, sells two distinct lines of cars, the 9-5 and the 9-3.

Safety has always been a major feature in Saab’s marketing efforts, and is something that has been the subject of Mr. Millet’s interest for many years. When the government stepped into the field of auto safety in the late 1960’s, Mr. Millet was one of the first representatives of the auto industry to be appointed to the new Highway Traffic Safety Advisory Council of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At about the same time, the first trade organization for the imported car industry was founded and Mr. Millet, after originally just representing Saab, eventually became president and chairman of the Automobile Importers of America. As spokesman for the imported auto industry, Mr. Millet was for many years a frequent testifier before congressional and other legislative bodies on matters relating to imported cars, remaining the Saab representative with the trade group, today called the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, until quite recently.

In 1982 Mr. Millet was named to the Board of Directors of the successor company to Saab Motors Inc., Saab-Scania of America, Inc., which by then was involved not just in Saab automobiles, but also built and marketed Scania trucks and buses. Mr. Millet was heavily involved in establishing the Scania business in the US, initially in assessing the market possibilities for the Scania products, and later in helping set up marketing and manufacturing operations in the US. During the 1980’s, Scania operated a complete assembly operation in Orange, Conn. making city busses for a number of different US municipalities.

Always interested in Saab doings even after his retirement, Mr. Millet has been a frequent visitor at Saab dealer functions, as well as at Saab owner conventions, both in this country and overseas. Most recently he and his wife, Gunlog, attended the dealer preview of the all-new Saab 9-3 cars in Sweden this past summer, and the August Saab owner convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.

An active churchman, Mr. Millet was a life-long Episcopalian, and was Senior Warden Emeritus, as well as treasurer of the Grace Memorial Church in Old Saybrook, CT.

Ralph T. Millet resided in Old Saybrook Connecticut. Besides his wife, he leaves four children, Francis N. Millet of Clinton, CT; Charles G. Millet, of Dedham, Mass.; Mrs. Ronald Bearse of Alexandria, VA; and Miss Kristine R. Millet, of Dedham, Mass. He was predeceased by another son, Ralph Millet, Jr., and by his first wife, Elsie Johnston, who died in 1959.

A Memorial Service will be held Thursday, December 26, 2002, at 11 a.m. at the Grace Episcopal Church, 338 Main Street., Old Saybrook, CT. Contributions in the memory of Ralph T. Millet may be given to the Grace Church Memorial Fund, care of Grace Episcopal Church, 338 Main Street., Old Saybrook, CT 06475.

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

Posted on 22. Mar, 2007 by .

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quantum i walter kern color 600 The SAAB Quantum I & II, a history by Dave Hosmer

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