Curbside Classic: 1973 Saab 95 Wagon – Now That’s A Real Saab!

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Poor Saab. They had such a dedicated fan base for years, but lack of funds meant only two “real” Saabs were built over its existence: the 92/93/95/96 and the 99/900. Once GM got their hooks into the tiny, quirky company, all bets were off. They still looked like Saabs–more or less–but they were more an Opel in a Saab suit after 1993 (though a few Classic 900 cabriolets were sold as ’94 models, the last were built in March 1993). I still see a “classic” 900 here and there in town, but anything older than say, a 1986 model is nonexistent. So you can understand my excitement when I found this cool 95 (no, NOT 9-5) wagon thanks to a tip from my dad.

Saab-95-FR-600x400image: saabmuseum.com

So what was the 95? Well, it was basically a 96 wagon. Think Volvo 244 sedan vs. Volvo 245 wagon. Instead of the cute little airplane-without-wings look of the 96, the 95 longroof got squared-off rear flanks and, believe it or not, a rear-facing third row seat! The first ones appeared in 1959.

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Early 95s got the three-cylinder two-stroke engine, just like their sedan counterparts. Despite their light weight, most two-stroke Saabs had a rather leisurely 0-60 time of around 24 seconds.

1960-1980-Saab-96-Erik-Carlsson-Advertising-Photo-1920x1440image: seriouswheels.com

But Saabs were a big part of racing in the ’50s and ’60s, especially with Erik “On The Roof” Carlsson, and with the proper tuning and mechanical bits, the 95/96 could cut that time to 15 seconds and below. I just love this picture. “Ah well, I’ll remember that curve next time.”

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In 1967, however, the 95 (and 96 sibling) could be had with the new Ford Taunus-sourced V4 engine. Displacing 1.5 litres, it produced 55, 60 or 65 horsepower. In a 95 wagon with seven Swedes aboard, acceleration might well have been as bad as a VW Type 2. Has anyone here on CC ever sat in the third row of one of these? I’m interested in how spacious or cramped it was.

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Well, seven people in a 95 probably did not happen too often, and besides, the 95 and 96 were nice, light little cars, with a 98.4-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 169.3 inches. In ordinary circumstances, they could be right zippy with an experienced driver aboard.

saab_96_usv_1_69image: cartype.com

A stock 95 or 96 GT850 two-stroke could go naught-60 in 18 seconds, and a 95 with the later 1.5 or 1.7L V4s could do about the same. Tuning could bring that down considerably–check out this site with vintage Saab 0-60 times for proof. And keep in mind we are spoiled today with 300-hp Impalas and Altimas. What is considered slow today would have been quite respectable 40-50 years ago. That is why a new Accord can suck the doors off a ’60s Camaro SS or ‘cuda. Technology marches on.

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Like Volvos, Saabs of this period were not prone to excessive fillips, or Brougham frippery. Yes, these cars were very, VERY different from most cars of the period in the U.S., where most folks bought Ford LTDs, Plymouth Fury IIIs and Chevrolet Caprice Estates–especially so in the Midwest.

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It took a special sort to buy a Saab in the ’70s, and if you lived between Green Bay and Nashville back then, you probably wouldn’t have seen too many of them–perhaps none at all. Unless you happened to live in a college town. Yes, true to the stereotype, many professors and college types saw the appeal of unusual European rolling stock.

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With St. Ambrose, Palmer College of Chiropractic and Augustana College in the Quad Cities, there were probably a few of these about in my neck of the woods back then. Indeed, some English professor in Davenport might well have purchased this CC new. Strieter Lincoln-Mercury in Davenport sold Saabs for quite a while, finally giving up on the marque in about 1999.

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Oh yes–did I forget to mention that these mini-wagons had fins? Well, they did come out in 1959. And quite subtle fins they are, for the time. The Saab fins held forth on 95s all the way to the end of production in 1978. U.S. imports ended after the 1973 model year.

36_2image: griffinmodels.com

One interesting thing I found while researching this car is that in certain European markets, a panel van variant sans rear seat was also offered. While they were never officially imported to the States, I wonder if any made it into the country as Saab dealer parts haulers?

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Last summer, my dad told me he saw a cool old Saab on River Drive. A couple of days later I went over to see if I could find it and had no luck. As Dad had seen it in a parking lot and not curbside, I thought maybe it was an office worker’s mode of transportation and he/she had left for the day, as it was early evening when I went searching for it. I mentally filed it away and promptly forgot about it.

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Fast forward about three months. I was in traffic and spotted this well-kept 95 and promptly forgot about where I was heading. Wow! A Saab 95! Must photograph! Fortunately I did not drive off the road or anything. It was only after I had taken several pictures that I realized I was in the part of town where Dad said he had seen an old Saab…oh, this is that car! For some reason I pictured a 99 when Dad told me about the car he spotted. But a 95 was so much better.

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As your resident CC Swedish car guy, I had to share this car with you all, despite Paul’s excellent CC on a similar car. These things just aren’t seen in the Rust Belt. It really made my day to check this little wagon out–the first 92/3/5/6-model Saab I’ve ever seen in the metal. How cool! I wish nothing but the best for this car and its owner.

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