(first posted 3/15/2016) Saab was starting to take root in the Northeast when Car and Driver decided to conduct a road test in the March 1966 issue to see if the quirky car really did offer something desirably unique for American drivers. The “Special” version of the 96 (and 95 wagon) came with the more powerful 60hp three-carb engine as also used on the Monte Carlo, as well as disc brakes and a tachometer.
Sweet looking Saab! I had a neighbour who had one like this when I was a boy. I can’t remember what the colour was, but I know it looked a lot like this car.
Interestingly, circa 1959 or 1960, John Bond, owner/publisher of Road &Track wrote an
article detailing his thoughts for the ultimate family car. His thoughts were of a two stroke 3 cylinder front wheel drive car similar in size and concept to the SAAB. Bond especially reveled in the idea of a power stoke per individual cylinder with each revolution making the 3 cylinder two stoke power delivery equivalent to a 6 cylinder engine–he neglected to discuss inline 3 cylinder vs inline 6 cylinder balance issues however. Cheers, Yr Fthfl Lyl Srvnt.
Kei cars are close to that, except they’re 4-stroke with more socially acceptable emissions.
What a difference the decades make- the 1.5L I3 in my Mini makes 134HP and 162ft-lb of torque.
I remember my friend and I found one of these in the woods back around 1970. I thought it was strange seeing the 3 cylinder, if I recall it sat behind the front axle. Back in the 60s there were a few of those in town, when one drove by it was very obvious from the sound that it was a 3 cylinder Saab. I’ll bet the engine was loud at highway speed. From what I calculated referencing the specs, at 60mph the engine was probably turning around 3500 rpm. I appreciate these articles, and the time it takes to copy each page. I’ll look on the site to see how I can make a donation.
The engine was in front of the axle, like an Audi.
My bad – couldn’t remember if it was in front or behind. I may have been thinking of the radiator behind the engine. Great photo.
My dad drove one of these when I was a small boy and it was the Sport model with three carbs and a four speed manual with freewheel. I was seven or so when dad sold it and cried when he did so. Here it is in our driveway in Winnipeg, late 60’s or early 70’s:
I can see why. 🙁
How did your dad get it and service it? I’m fairly sure Saabs weren’t sold in Canada until after the 96.
I had a series of Saab V4’s, but never a two-stroke. I once got to drive a ’64 (IIRC) Monte Carlo for a few minutes at a Saab Club meeting, and it was a blast!
The car was a private import, and my dad rallied it on numerous occasions. Last year I found the Hella Auto Pilot (I think that’s what it’s called – used for measuring time/distance when rallying) in his basement. The car was serviced at a local independent repair shop as my dad was not mechanically inclined. It was sold locally and painted red.
Perhaps the Halda SpeedPilot?
^ Yes, that’s it! Not sure what I was thinking earlier.
Mrs. JPC’s father sold these in the 60s. I can’t imagine that he sold many in the midwest, and I don’t think he kept the franchise after about 1968 or 69.
I loved that article’s generalizations about how this car was made for rock-ribbed New England yankees who cared about winter traction but gave no heed to comfort. I wonder if any of those people even exist any more (if they ever did).
We had the wagon of this when I was a kid. Great in the snow. I can confirm the need to drive it hard, based on my parents’ behaviors. I have a very vivid memory of getting mostly, if not fully, airborne with my mom behind the wheel ( I was about 7 at the time).
It was however horrible in the damp – often if it rained it just wouldn’t run. Stranded us the night before thanksgiving on the Connecticut turnpike. I recall my dad opening the hood in the garage with the lights off on a humid night and seeing several blue arcs going around the engine compartment.
It was a solid car too, dad was rear ended by a drunk in a big American car and was able to drive home; the big car was DOA. The Saab died at 5 years old when the transmission died.
My ’68 Saab 96 V4 was T-boned by a Plymouth Duster at ~25 mph and ended up on its roof. My passenger and I were hanging by the seat belts. The Saab was totaled, but we climbed out without a scratch on us. I’d bought the Saab in large part for its passive safety, and this confirmed that I’d made the right choice.
I thought there was ad years ago – of a Saab 96 purposely that was pushed down a hill, rolling over several times. The driver then started it and drove away. Good thing it’s touted safety/toughness came through for you.
That was a Chrysler Airflow.
” … rock-ribbed New England yankees who cared about winter traction but gave no heed to comfort. I wonder if any of those people even exist any more …”
The did certainly exist – that is my parents to a tee.
I love it!
I’ve checked into modern parts availability for these, and it’s not good, which is too bad.
The joy of owning an extinct brand
It’s not often I read an old car review that makes me really sad that I never owned one. I don’t remember seeing any Saabs in Nova Scotia in the 1960’s and 70’s, despite the popularity of Volvo at that time (I had a 544 for several years in university).
I’ve always had a soft spot for what could be characterized as ‘tough little cars’ – there’s an aging Yaris in the local co-op fleet parked near my house, and I have to admit I’ve grown to feel some affection for it. But this early Saab exemplifies the concept. The thought of thrashing that little beast through snow-covered country roads makes me smile.
Quite the pitiful little thing..
Back around 1964 a guy in Johnstown, PA got a Saab franchise. Yeah, in a shot and a beer, coal and steel town, he’s trying to sell a car from Sweden. Back then, we had a Volkswagen dealership, Renault was available from the Oldsmobile dealer, I think the local Buick dealer had an Opel or two on the lot, and Vauxhall had just recently disappeared from the local Pontiac/Cadillac franchise. The Ford dealer may have been able to get you an English Ford if you really wanted one, but I never saw one on his lot.
In twelve months, the poor guy didn’t sell one car. He showed up at the Johnstown auto show with his entire inventory (his shop was just across the river from the Cambria County War Memorial), plugged away like mad the entire weekend (I remember him bouncing on an open door to show how strong the car was built), and only succeeded in having all the attendees look at him like he was a madman.
And they’d walk away to go look at the latest Ford and Chevy. Or, if they really wanted to be a non-conformist in mid-60’s Johnstown, a Beetle.
I always liked the concept of free-wheeling, even for non 2-strokes. Wouldn’t we get better fuel mileage without the engine breaking, even at the expense of brake wear?
No. Every modern car for quite some time totally shuts off the fuel to the injection system when the engine is in reverse load (engine braking). So it’s the best of both worlds: even better engine braking and no fuel consumption (less than if the engine were idling in freewheel mode).
If you have an instant mpg readout, you’ll see that it goes to 999.999 mpg whenever you’re going down a hill or such.
My dad loved these. Flikkema Motors was located in Lansing IL and at that time in a tiny showroom downtown. He bought a Beetle they were selling, but fell in love with the new SAABs they had available. Thanks to raising a big family, he never had the chance to own one. He stopped by Flikkema regularly for years since he had buddies into SAABs as well.
Foreign cars filled my immediate neighborhood. Lots of ex-GIs drove foreign cars back in the 1960s. DAFs, SAABs, Volvos, VWs, Renaults, Wartburgs, Porsches and Triumphs sat next to mom’s Rambler, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Ford wagons. The foreign cars were our dad’s cars back when every dad worked on his rides weekly. (I bet the 1966 Porsche 911 babied by Gene across our street is still around, even though he isn’t.)
“It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow”
“Only seven moving parts”
Holy scripture for a minimalist like me. I worshipped at the shrine of Saabdom for years.
I clearly remember, on a trip to Sweden to pick up my Volvo, (don’t tell anyone), I stood on the streetcorner filming every perky little Saab coming down the highway. Although a lover, I couldn’t yet commit.
But, back in Vermont, those little popcorn popping cars seemed to be the answer to everything OLD MAN WINTER could throw at us rock-ribbed hairshirts. An underground cult of Saab ownership emerged and eventually I joined them.
I never owned a two-stroke, just the v-4s, including the Saab Special model described above and a 95 wagon that I poured my (less than perfect) mechanical arts into.
Like has happened to every true and vulnerable lover, the loved object has a way of getting revenge. Those cars caused me more frustration, exasperation, and outright explosive anger than any other four wheeled vehicles I have ever owned.
But what could you expect from a Mom and Pop car company that turned out cars that you could probably put together on your kitchen table, given the right tools and materials.
I still love them. I still love their human scale; their human foibles. I still hope that Americans will somehow overcome their weak-kneed penchant for style over common sense. But, I’m old enough to know that that is a losing battle.
I even have some parts left over.
Anybody need a radiator? How about a complete rack and pinion steering? Or the brake and clutch pedal assembly? I’ve got em all.
Just include promo code Needymire for a 10% discount.
Is the comment about 3 plugs and 3 points just poetic license? I get the plugs but didn’t these engines have conventional distributors with a single set of points? I actually test drove a 3 cylinder 96 and a Volvo 544 just after I graduated from high school, both white, both $400 I think, as my first car purchase. But I got a motorcycle instead (2 stroke) and didn’t get a car until 2 years later, in 1975.
For about the same dough, a person could buy a V-8 Mustang. Given the tastes of a majority of Americans at the time, the Mustang outsold the SAAB by just a wee bit.
It’s a good thing I never really saw one of these. With my fondness for 2 strokes and small cars I could have been in real trouble, likely trying to corner the market on them by accident.
On the other hand, as much as I like quirky, it may have been to quirky for even myself.
I just watched a video on YouTube with one of these that had sit in a field for many years. It was surrounded by trees that had grown between the front bumper and body. It had also grown around the LF wheel. It had a V4 engine according to the emblem in the fender. I had never seen this car in print until that video, then I see this post. Both in the same week!
Jay Leno has the earlier 93 – I love the sound, which really is like a supercharged hive of bees.
Owned a ’67 3 cyl corn-popper (the truest SAAB) bought used in ’71 from Schwing Motors in Baltimore. Loved it, you had to drive it flat out 90% of the time. When the trans went in ’74 it was traded (for almost nothing) for a new SAAB 99. Have owned 5 SAABs since. The automotive world is certainly the poorer for the loss of SAAB, one of the most unique and innovative manufacturers. We still have 4 in the family.
Thanks for posting that very interesting video. I think Jay did a great presentation explaining the features and idiosyncrasies of the car. An example is the wind up clock that would run about 8 days. So probably no parasitic draw at all from the battery when not running.