The Saab 96 was essentially the 2nd revision of their first production car, the 92. Built from 1960 to 1980, the 96 was Saab’s first car exported in significant numbers, and it served to cement Saab’s reputation as a maker of safe, economic, fun-to-drive cars. School teachers, engineers and architects loved the 96 and found its practical, quirky nature very appealing.
Like its predecessors, the 96 was equipped with a rorty, smoke-belching screamer of a two-stroke engine, specifically an 840cc three cylinder, which was later superseded by a Ford-sourced, four-stroke V4. Though fittingly unconventional, the Ford-sourced four was quite gruff and reluctant to rev—though it did retain Saab’s traditional and super-cool freewheeling feature, originally fitted to their two–stroke cars to ensure adequate lubrication during deceleration.
The 96 racked up win after win in international rally racing, frequently with the legendary Erik Carlsson behind the wheel. Carlsson piloted the little teardrop-shaped cars to first place victories at the 1960, 1961 and 1962 RAC rallies, as well as the 1962 and 1963 Monte Carlo events. Erik’s 1962 RAC victory came in thanks to a rear suspension component which he surreptitiously “borrowed” from a spectator’s car after the same piece fitted to his race car was damaged—the owner was reportedly furious when he turned up to drive home and found his car immobile, but the two later became good friends.
We love the 96 for all its engineering madness, its idiosyncratic style, and most of all, its wailing, off-beat, two-stroke, three-cylinder soundtrack. As you know, Saab was lost to history last year, the fault of decades of inept and neglectful GM management, changing marketplace dynamics, and the ever increasing sanitization of modern cars. We miss them like crazy.