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How Saab took off from making planes to race-worthy autos; Saab, the Innovator, by Mark Chatterton. North Pomfret, Vt.: David & Charles Inc. $9.95.; From Two-Stroke to Turbo, by Anders Tunberg. Motor Racing Publications Ltd.: London $9.50.

To the Saab owner, these books may be worth the purchase price and more, yet the nonowner motorist perhaps couldn't care less. Saab has a good image for four-wheel innovation and for building highly safe, even if not beautiful -- at least in the earlier days -- motorcars. Internationally, of course, the company is not too important. After all, its yearly auto output is minuscule when compared with some of its European neighbors, not to mention the Japanese and Detroit.

Despite the small numbers, however, Saab has enjoyed good success on the auto rally circuit and has used that success to improve the production cars it markets around the world.

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Actually, Saab -- an acronym for Svenska Aeroplan AB -- was formed in 1937 with private money to build military aircraft for the Swedish government. In 1944, when it was apparent that World War II was drawing to a close, Saab launched out into the car-building business as the need for more aircraft fell. In fact, it was the only way for the company to survive.

Thus, Project 92 was set up under the direction of Gunnar Ljungstrom, who came from a family of inventors and engineers.

The fledgling carmaker was able to twin its aircraft know-how -- strength, lightweight construction techniques, and low coefficient of drag -- with the expertise of other carmakers as well as that of its own engineers in coming up with its first full-size running prototype in 1946. constantly modified, the production of the Saab 92 began in December 1949. By 1950 the small company built 1,246 vehicles and in 1951, 2,179. By the middle of 1952 only 5,300 cars had been produced -- all green.

Then in December a new model came off the line, the 92B.

Thus, the fledgling Swedish carmaker was on its way. To show how far it has come, one need only look at the new 900 Turbo 4-door sedan, including its highly refined styling and sharp performance under way.

The second book, "From Two-Stroke to Turbo," is the story of Saab's highly successful experience in motor sport, which it used as a major part of the testing and development program for its cars. Saab's rally champions, including the highly rated Erik Carlsson, who was burning up the rally circuit two decades ago, have gone a long way in putting the car on the road maps of the world.

Both books can be bought at Saab dealerships in the United States.

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