Rolf Mellde

From Academic Kids

Rolf Mellde, engineer specialized in engines and a car racing enthusiast.

His grandfather August Johansson built one of the first cars in Stockholm and sold it to Lars Magnus Ericsson. His father, Evald Johansson, taught car mechanics at a school in Stockholm so it was natural that Rolf Mellde would work in the same field. Already at the age of ten he draw turbo compressors and diesel engines.

After finishing his basic education he studied thermodynamics for two years at the Svenska Teknologisk Institut (STI) under Folke Mannerstedt (race driver and engine designer) and Nils Gustafsson.

His first job was at Bergbolagen in Lindesberg that made engine powered inspection trollies. After that he worked two years at Skandiaverken in Lysekil working with two stroke boat engines. Then he started working at SAAB in September 1946 and was put in charge of engine development.

In Skarpnäck in 1948 he started his competition career in a DKW. When he became head of testing he suggested that SAAB should participate in automotive competitions to show what the engines could do and in 1950 SAAB entered the Rikspokalen and won big. Up to 1961 and the final Rikspokalen SAAB won five times.

In the 1960s it became harder to sell two stroke cars and Rolf Mellde went ahead with his idea to test a four stroke engine. They had tested several four strokers and the one that was best was the Ford V4. The engine was put into a test car and the board was invited but none of them wanted to test drive the car. Tryggve Holm even thought the idea of a SAAB with Ford engine was absurd. Lars Brising refuesed to state his opinion. The Saab management instead wanted him to continue working with the Saab 99.

Having no luck he talked with Marc Wallenberg who used to drive a Saab 92. Marc talked with his father and Rolf got the go ahead with the V4 engine. Even before the go ahead Rolf had secretly visited Ford in Detroit and asked both Don Fray, then head of Ford US, and Fray contacted Robert McNamara, head of Ford, and he had nothing against selling the engine to Saab. The price would be the same Ford charged their own daughter companies.
The switch to the V4 was done under great secrecy. Just before the factory closed for the summer 1966 a number of workers were asked if they were willing to work on some 96s that had "faulty brakes". 40 persons volunteered and then Svante Holm explained that the real reason was that they would take the unsold cars and refit them with V4 engines. 600 cars were rebuilt and the V4 Saabs became a big hit and outsold the two-strokers by a factor of three.

Shortly after Curt Mileikowsky came in from ASEA, but it turned out he knew nothing about cars and Rolf decided that after 25 years at SAAB he had done his share and left to work at Volvo instead. At Volvo he saw what was to be the replacement of the Volvo 140, a huge car powered by a cast V8 engine. Rolf quickly formed a group to work on the new 200-series, Jan Willsgård designed a new front and the V8 was changed to an inline 4. At Volvo he worked to improve safety and also worked on an experimental front wheel drive taxi cab. In 2000 he worked on the light component project (LCP) that produced a very light diesel engine with direct fuel injection that gave very good fuel efficiency, only 0,03 litre/km.

Rolf Mellde is now retired and lives in Lysekil.


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