SAAB: made in Belgium

The fact that the Stallbacka factory in Trollhättan hasn’t been the only place where SAAB cars have been built over time is relatively well known. Valmet in Finland, Magna Steyr in Austria and the GM plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico for example are well publicised, but who knew that SAABs were built in Belgium as well?

SAAB: made in Belgium
SAAB: made in Belgium

Mechelen
The historical city of Mechelen, situated between Belgium’s capital Brussels and Antwerp, is home to no less than three different objects featured on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In the late 50’s of the previous century however, it also became the location of the I.M.A. plant (“Importateur des Moteurs et d’Automobiles” or “Importer of engines and cars”). Besides importing different car brands, I.M.A.’s key activity was the assembly of Mercedes-Benz cars, but from 1959 to 1961, 276 SAAB 93’s and another 332 SAAB 96 2-stroke’s rolled off the assembly line.
What makes these SAAB’s truly unique is that they were targeted at the Belgian market only and they carried a custom manufacturer’s ID type shield.

Unique type shield
Unique manufacturer type shield for SAABs assembled in Mechelen, Belgium

 

Several bodies being transported by train from Sweden to Belgium.
Several bodies being transported by train from Sweden to Belgium.

Almost 25,000 SAAB 99’s
By 1973, Mercedes had stopped their own production in Mechelen after 11 years of production. Interestingly enough, this also marked the point that SAAB returned to Belgium. SAAB was looking to expand their production capacity elsewhere in Europe at this time and an agreement between SAAB-Scania and I.M.A. led to the Mechelen facility being renamed to “Sobelmotors”. This new entity assembled no less than 24,821 SAAB 99’s between 1973 and 1977. This time, the cars weren’t built for the Belgian market only. In fact, more than half of the production was exported to the USA.

Sobelmotors remained a daughter company of the I.M.A. group, which meant that SAAB was often to be found in Belgian showrooms together with Mercedes-Benz. Although the assembly line was closed in November 1977, the import of SAAB’s continued until mid-1979.

History lives on
Anyone interested in the traces of the SAAB history in Mechelen can still visit the previous factory buildings on the corner of the Guido Gezelle Laan and the Rode Kruis Plein (the facilities are now in use as a shopping mall though).

Model of a Belgian 99 still to be seen at the Automobilmuseum Mahymobiles in Leuze-en-Hainaut.
Model of a Belgian 99 still to be seen at the Automobilmuseum Mahymobiles in Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium.

Pictures and text used with kind permission of Saabclub Belgium (www.saabclub.be).