Vintage R&T Road Test:1967 Saab 96 V-4 – More Power, More Fun, More Money

We’ve covered the Saab 96 a few times before here, but let’s take a look what R&T had to say about the new V-4 engine, bought from Ford. It was a fairly radical change for Saab, whose reputation  was pretty deeply entwined with two-stroke engines. In the US, they were really the only two-stroke player left, except for the marginal Subaru 360. But the times were changing, and the inevitable blue smoke wasn’t going to work anymore, both environmentally as well as just the perception.

The new V-4 acquitted itself well, but it also demanded a fairly hefty premium, price-wise. And the two-stroke didn’t totally disappear yet; it was still available in a lower-trim “Shrike” version. But it would be gone after one more year.

There’s a curious circular aspect to the compact Ford V-4 being used in the Saab, as Ford bought two Saab 93s back in 1959 or so to use as mules for the new V4 engine they were developing for their FWD Cardinal/M12.  It’s a good thing Ford decided to build the V4, because it’s a bit hard to imagine what other engine might have fit up there except for the Lancia V4, which would undoubtedly have been more expensive.

The 1498 cc mill churned out 73 hp @5000 rpm, although R&T wondered if some of the ponies had strayed, as acceleration was a bit slower than anticipated. A 0-60 time of 17.5 seconds and a quarter mile in 21.2 @65 mph was not much faster than a VW Beetle 1500, if at all.

That’s not to say it was a “slow” car, because its handling and chassis dynamics allowed it to make the most of that power. The body was very rigid, making it feel like a heavier car. It was dun to push it hard into curves and use full throttle to power out of them, without any drama. R&T reverted to the old axiom of a slow car being more fun to drive fast, by pointing out that a Mustang GT with wider tires could undoubtedly motor through the same curves with little or no drama, but not as much fun as having the Saab scrabble through on its skinny tires.

The upright seating position and controls were all given positive marks. The 96 was of course the most recent evolution of the only car they had built to date for almost twenty years, so it was well sorted out and quality was high.

In 1967, Saab was still quite a small player on the market, having sold some 8,000 cars in 1966. They were only just then opening up a distributor for the West Coast, which helps explain why Saabs were much more common in the east than west back then. They were something of a New England specialty, given the snow and all.