Home » Let’s Appreciate This Lovely Old Saab 96: Cold Start

Let’s Appreciate This Lovely Old Saab 96: Cold Start

Cs Saabv4

When I was in Copenhagen last week, testing out the new Volkswagen ID.Buzz re-born EV Microbus, I was able to sneak off for a bit and find some interesting automotive Danes lurking about the city. Like this friendly little Scandinavian Viking, a ’70s-era Saab 96. This one was in really lovely shape and the color of what I imagine my liver is. This one is a later one, with big rubber bumpers and rectangular headlamps, which I think are really the only major visually-changing parts on these. Also, look how great those wheels are!

Cs Saab2

Oh man, look what this has: those fantastic push-pull headlight wipers! Ever see these in action? It’s weirdly satisfying. Here, look, this is a video of them on a Saab 99 – a bit newer but essentially the same:

So good. I’d drive through huge mud puddles just for an excuse to use these.

Cs Saab3

The rear of these retains the traditional early-Saab teardrop shape, along with a pair of Hella-made taillights that are like strange brothers to old VW Beetle taillights. I feel like either car could have used the other’s taillights and made them work just fine.

Also, see that V4 badge? These used a Ford of Germany-sourced V4 from the Taunus, which was originally developed as part of American Ford’s Cardinal small-car project. Also, I recently learned that Saab’s testing program for four-stroke engines to replace their two-stroke ones included Volvo’s B18, the air-cooled VW flat-four, Lancia’s V4, the Hillman Imp engine, and the Triumph 1300. Oh, and the Ford V4 they eventually settled on.

Cs Saab Reppeater

One more detail: this indicator repeater with its subtle herringbone pattern and vaguely boat or perhaps fish-like shape. I like it.


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24 Responses

  1. When I was a little kid riding the bus for what seemed like hours on the way to and from school, we passed two sets of automotive oddities that probably influenced my love of weird little cars—one was a pair of Saab 96s (probably early ’70s,) parked next to a barn across the valley from our house, the others were a pair of VW Things that lasted long enough that I went to talk to the owner about selling them when I got older. He wanted more than I thought they were worth (I was an idiot of course.)

    I never found out what happened to the old Saabs, they just disappeared when the owner of the farm died. Would have been fun projects.

  2. This post reminds me of the time a friend gave me a ride in his ’71 SAAB 95 wagon. Olive green and pretty minty. I still remember my young(er) mind being blown when he showed me the Taunus V4 under hood. The ride, as slow as was expected, was certainly an…um, experience.

  3. The only time I’ve actually seen one of these v4s was in a stationary application: an auxiliary generator in a pump room at a university. I geeked out, but it was a blue-collar gathering: “Well, that’s right cute. Could probably power the winch in my rig”. Tough crowd: if it wasn’t an LS or Cummins, they ain’t care.

    I’ve always kinda wanted one of the 2-cycle ones as I have plenty of childhood memories riding in one belonging to close friends, but mostly because of the CarTalk puzzler years ago about racing a Corvette backwards. Claim is that you can push-start one backwards, then theoretically be able to go as fast that direction as you could forward. Would be fun to verify.

  4. That indicator is very fish-like. I see an eye to the left and a chrome tail, the herring bone pattern seals the deal.

    Now I’m hungry for sushi…

  5. Never drove a V4 Saab. I did get to drive a couple of two-stroke threes, and found them delightful and charming. As icing on the cake, I got a memorable ride over some narrow, twisty Swedish gravel roads (“grusvag” for you hipsters) with Erik Carlsson in the Saab Museum’s 96 Monte Carlo Rally car. A truly nice guy, who even in later years enjoyed driving like the proverbial bat out of hell and told wonderful stories, BTW.

    So I tend to have the hots for one of the “triples,” even if mixing oil and fuel sounds like a dicey proposition. Not sure how the trail of blue smoke from the exhaust would sit in today’s world, though.

    1. With a good-quality modern synthetic two-stroke oil there’s not much visible smoke, both because the oil is formulated to minimize this and because it’s possible to use about half as much as was needed with the older oils. I use my ’67 96 regularly as a daily driver and just put 3,980 miles on it earlier this month for the Lemons Rally in California (including the drive from Seattle and back) without, as far as I could tell, giving offense. The exhaust note, on the other hand, is louder than is usual for cars these days…

      1. My family liked Saabs. Had a 93 that eventually broke a piston whle I was driving. Memory of a trip down South with my mom, getting gas somewhere in the mountains, kid watching the pumps running back inside yelling “Ma! Ma! There’s a crazy lady out here pouring oil into her gas tank.” Then a 95 (4-cycle) wagon, then a 96 that I ended up with. Must have been a few years older than this one, no rubber bumpers, headlight wipers, or repeater lights. Great cars, wish I had one today. Loved that 2-cycle sound, like you were driving a chain saw.

      2. The only thing I have to go by regarding the oil+gas issue was a long-ago neighbor who had a DKW. He was disciplined enough to keep the mixture correct and relatively smoke-free. Unfortunately, his son wasn’t. The DKW was soon replaced by an Opel Kadett….

        Yeah, he was a German.

  6. Least favorite detail is that separate rear fender with its’ cutline looking like the orphaned shutline of the 4-door’s rear doors, on a car that never came in a 4-door model. Every time I see one I wonder why, if Saab wanted detachable rather than leaded-in rear fenders, they didn’t carry the stamping forward to meet the B pillar. Or just make the round-body cars (and 95 wagon derivative) four-doors.

  7. The executive summary of my 96 V4 ownership: Chicks dig ’em, and dogs bark at ’em.

    The one I had for a couple years made it from ‘dragged home/some assembly required’ to marginally driveable around town by the time I finished with it.

    Once running, the dogs on my block would charge the fences when it drove by, and nearly every female friend I had wanted a ride, or more, wanted to buy it.

    However, I couldn’t sell it in good conscience to anyone I knew… Ultimately, I ended up calling the buddy who gave it to me and asked him to re-home it. A week or so later, another Saab nut drove seven hours each way to pick it up; I drove it onto the trailer, and a chapter closed.

    1. I owned a ’73 96 V4 for ~5 years… no, 7 years. I never once had a chick dig it. It was always old dude that would corner me while getting gas, to tel me some girl they dated in college had one or something like that. Lamenting it was a good car, but carrying some tone hinting they were surprised that a guy would own it.

      It was a rusty SOB that I ultimately sold to a guy a few states over that wanted it for it’s clean interior, intact glass, and most importantly, clean VIN tags. He had one he couldn’t register because his vehicle (and thus VIN) was stolen soon after it was originally sold. Apparently he couldn’t clear up the issue of a then ~40 year old car no longer being stolen and getting a clean title.

  8. We had a alfalfa swather with that v4. The engine would run at a single speed and you would control how fast you were moving with a pair of levers each of which was connected to a CVT belt drive transmission for each side of the swather. One of the transmissions was connected to a drive wheel on the left side ant the other to the right and by moving the levers you would steer the swather. The v4 ran at a constant speed because all the other hay cutting machinery had to run at a constant speed.

    Interesting that SAAB considered the Hillman Imp engine. That’s a wonderful engine.

    1. I’ve owned three SAABs with V4 engines, a 95, a 96, and a Sonett. The Ford Industrial side of things used to be a talking point of legendary status in car club circles in that it was supposed to make it relatively easy to get engine parts in the US even after SAAB factory support had ended, simply because there had been so many V4s used here as stationary engines and so forth. The truth of the matter, however, is that for at least the last couple of decades this source has diminished to the point that those owners are instead looking to the automotive side of things for help. The more the merrier, of course, because every bit of demand makes it a little more likely that someone will maintain a supply, I hope.

  9. The Saab 96 V4 is my all-time favorite car. I was brought home the hospital in my parents’ Amber Yellow ‘72. My grandfather was a Saab mechanic so my mom and all her siblings drove Saabs in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. A few years later in 1984 this car died due to an engine fire and sat in the woods behind our house for another decade. I always wanted to fix it up and eventually bought a running/driving parts car had been rolled over for about $250 when I was 14. I used the parts car to teach myself how to drive in the yard. Our old 96 was too far gone (rust) so instead I got a ‘68 95 (wagon) which I drove in high school. In the couple of decades since I’ve owned a number of other V4-powered Saabs including the totally rustfree ‘72 that I’m slowly restoring currently. The burble of that V4 engine is music to my ears! I will never be without a Saab 96 V4.

  10. I held off saying anything for a whole dang day – and i didn’t think i was capable of that level of restraint – ’cause i didn’t want to be needlessly harsh.
    But, no, i’m right.
    That front end is awful. Dreadful. On a different car, probably fine. But Saab gave this car a genuinely beautiful profile and a lovely rear, and then just sort of welded Dr Doom’s face on the front of it.
    It’s a trajesty. It’s an abomnation.

  11. my father had one of these for a year or so, remember pouring oil into the gas tank and thinking that was weird. It really didn’t smoke noticeably more than any other 70s car..
    It was very unreliable though, replaced with a Peugeot 404 which ran without a single issue for well over a decade.

  12. My earliest car memory is of a Saab 96. My grandfather had one just like this, only in a creamy beige color. He would drive me and the neighbor’s little girl to kindergarten in it every day. I mostly remember the rear seat, which had stuffing that we delighted in pulling out of the seat. Sorry, little Saab!

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