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Somebody Needs To Explain What 1971 Saab Was Thinking With This Bizarre Wagon Seat Arrangement


One thing I love about old car brochures are diagrammatic pictures showing the flexible interior configurations of their cars, demonstrating how people and cargo can best be hauled via folding or unfolding seats and platforms. Usually, these are all pretty sensible, and show interior configurations you’d absolutely choose to use, depending on if you had to carry six people or just two and a sedated llama. A brochure for a 1971 Saab I came across, however, has shown me something genuinely baffling. Let’s explore it.

First, in case you’re sadly unfamiliar with the sort of diagrams I’m talking about here’s a couple of other examples, both from Renault, because for some reason the French automaker always set out to provide the most visual details for the crap that could be hauled around:

Most carmakers’ brochures just used flat colored blocks to show the various seating or cargo areas, but not Renault! The company wanted you to know you could haul ornate dressers or variously colored suitcases or birdcages or houseplants or sacks or even miniature horses.

The diagram that I want to consider today, though, was for a 1971 Saab 95. The 95 was the wagon version of the Saab 93 and later 96 coupé, and was introduced in 1959 with Saab’s DKW-inspired 841cc inline-three-cylinder two-stroke engine, but switching in 1967 to a V4 provided by Ford of Germany.

The thing to keep in mind about the Saab 95 is that it was never a big car by any standard, yet it was capable of carrying seven people, thanks to the jump seats at the rear.

Of course, the kind of people you could stick in those jump seats are probably the young, not-fully-grown kind, as there really wasn’t that much room back there:

Sure, those little Swedes look comfortable, legs happily nestled in that lower bay that held the seat when folded, but a full-grown Swede, all tall and blonde, would likely have found this a bit cramped. Here’s another picture of the jump seat area, minus the young Swedes, from a ’71 that showed up on Bring a Trailer:

Saab 95 rear jump seats

Even with that in mind, the Saab 95 represented a real packaging triumph, and Saab was wise to highlight this in its brochures with this comprehensive diagram:

Okay, so we have four main configurations: basic wagon (five seating positions, rear cargo area), cargo-hauler (two seating positions, rear seat folded flat to make long cargo platform), then people-hauler (seven seating positions, cargo area taken up by people in rear jump seats), and then the one I want to discuss in detail — the Paradox: four seating positions (two up front, two in jump seat) with a cargo area in between.

So, my fundamental question: Who the hell wants this? I mean, look at it:

Close up of the diagram with the middle seats down

Nothing about this arrangement makes any sense. The 95 was a two-door, so that green cargo area there would be really, really difficult to access; you’d have to either get out and fold the front seat forward, or get the people out of the back and fold down the jump seat, then crawl inside to the folded back seat to get whatever the hell you have in there. Nothing is convenient here!

Some issues with having only the middle seats down

Why, exactly, would one choose this arrangement over the normal wagon layout? That basic layout gives more room for people and cargo, and gives better access to the cargo area, too. The only advantage I can possibly think of is that in this case, all passengers have direct access to a door of some kind, but that rear hatch doesn’t have an internal release accessible from the rear area, so someone would still have to get out of the car to free whoever is in the back.

Are there any contexts where this setup makes sense? Maybe you’re the driver, and you have such overwhelming contempt for your passengers that the only way you can stomach driving them is to get them as far away from you as possible, facing the opposite way?

Maybe you need an inaccessible cargo area in the middle because you have a rabid Pitboodle mix stuck in the middle there and you can’t risk it getting free?

Really, I can’t figure this one out. I suppose it may just exist solely because it’s possible to do it, so they’re going to show it, dammit, whether it makes any sense or not. I get that.

I’m also open to your suggestions; what could this layout be ideal for? Safe transport of a Gorgon head without the risk of turning to stone? Mobile priestly confessionals? I have no idea. You tell me!

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56 Responses

  1. It’s like the Powell Homer, Homer Simpson’s car he designed for his brother’s company. Not a separate bubble for the kids, but close enough?

    Besides, a friend’s parents had matching blue and tan Chevy Caprice wagons growing up. Jump seat was used in any and all opportunities.

    1. Growing up we had an 85 Custom Cruiser and the way back was where it was at I know we took several road trips configured this way. Of course the Olds was four doors so the central cargo area was pretty easy to access.

    1. I’m pretty happy with my two-stroke ’67 96. I’ve owned a few V4 SAABs, too, and they’re perfectly fine cars but the two-stroke engine is just more compelling, even with its generally shorter intervals between rebuilds.

  2. When I was very little my father had a Saab wagon. I ALWAYS wanted to be in the back back. It was a pain for them to let me in or out, so I didn’t usually get to unless there were extra adults. When I got my way though…

      1. Re-reading the same crap over and over on that site was definitely a grind.

        But I live for you not caring if you’ve written it before and want to just bring it all to life again. We love you guys for your quirks, embrace them, always, even if they’ve been embraced before.

  3. “…but that rear hatch doesn’t have an internal release accessible from the rear area…”

    I used to own a 95 and as I recall it did have an internal release handle for the rear hatch.

    As for the odd configuration of a central luggage space, my guess is you’re correct that it’s a combination of (1) showing that everyone can have direct access to a door and (2) simply illustrating all possible configurations for the sake of completeness. Also, for seats without headrests (earlier front seats and all rear-facing seats) it wouldn’t be too much trouble to lift small items directly into and out of that central area without moving the seats themselves.

  4. Had one of these as my wedding car (the P1800ES we booked broke down the morning of, and I was then offered to buy it, which I would if I wasn’t already saving for a new home). I can’t remember much about the seating configuration. I was far too high from the fumes in the cabin.

  5. So, there were never any days where Otto was being a bit of a pill and you wanted his seat as far from you as possible?

    You already acknowledged the dog scenario which I think is a legitimate option and your “contempt for the passenger” scenario.

    I’ll also add that maybe a kid loooves the “tail gunner seat” and will complain about sitting in the normal back seat.

    The center cargo area means on road trips you could put snacks and an ice chest in the middle area where they can be reached from the front passenger seat or the very back seat.

    I don’t find this arrangement useless at all. Although it involves having the use of a back door it’s not infrequent in my Suburban to lay the second row seat back flat and put storage containers there for temporary transport so I don’t have to remove my gear from the cargo area.

  6. Tail gunner. Sure, the rear gun configuration isn’t shown there, since they didn’t offer it from the factory. Popular aftermarket modification among drivers who become murderous about tailgaters.

  7. When I was a kid, my two younger brothers and I rode around in the back seat of my folks’ Datsun 310GX coupe. My youngest brother always, ALWAYS got motion sick–like, on every ride–leading to having to clean up puke out of the carpet and off the fabric seat covers. This seems like a great way to (1) induce extra motion sickness in the back-seat passengers, while (2) confining the mess to an easily cleaned metal-floored bin.

  8. I think the fact that this is a 2-door is the key to the answer. You’re on a long trip. You load up the luggage in the middle, and put all the passengers as close to the doors as possible with the rear passengers next to the tailgate. When you stop for gas and a pee, nobody’s climbing around the front seats to get out.

  9. I have twin 4 1/2 year old boys and there are days that I long for this kind of third-row arrangement in my wife’s Sorrento.

    They don’t seem to argue as much when they’re in the back of my 900, but perhaps I just can’t hear them as much over the wind noise…

  10. Put the cooler in the middle, so the driver and rear seat passenger can both easily reach for sandwiches and soda. Or empty soda bottles, for relieving oneself (just make sure to put those in the second empty cooler next to the main cooler that has the bottles with soda in them)

  11. 100%, getting your dumb wiener kids as far away from you as possible. It’s a single step down from a separate soundproof bubble dome with optional restraints and muzzles. Your kids can go all “Lord of the Flies” in the back while you remain blissfully unaware with piles of luggage between you and whatever the hell they’re doing back there.

  12. I have a 72′ 95 I daily, we call it swamp thing. It’s a fantastic car. Very practical car as long as your moving small children and shoe boxes. When the rear hatch is closed anybody sitting in the rear facing seat who is over 4 ft will be tasting tempered glass.
    Also that seat is directly over the gas tank. As in it folds up and onto of the gas tank which is normally covered by the rear seat back when it is folded down.
    The saab 95 and 96 all have flat belly pans so when you jack the car up there is almost nothing to fiddle with, it’s all on top. No brake lines fuel lines etc. It’s all run through the interior of the car.

  13. Echoing what everyone else said about the kids – we actually did this in a Chrysler Town & Country we used to have with Sto-n-Go seating. We stowed the middle seats, leaving a big flat area in the middle and put the kids all the way in the back. It allowed us to put whatever we wanted them to have access to in the middle (Snacks, toys, etc) and it gave us that valuable buffer zone so we didn’t have to hear them screaming and they didn’t have to listen to our music.

  14. Came here to say this. As kids we called it the biggity-back. You at the front seat, the back seat and the biggity back. It was a more coveted position in the car than the backseat, which was always relegated to children in normal cars

  15. I can think of two:

    1. Tailgating. Tailgate seats are still a factory option on modern Land Rovers.

    2. Drive-in movies. For a more open air experience without worrying about some flimsy soft top – this would be great for movies.

  16. I can offer an unusual perspective…I make custom cakes on the side, a business which often requires me to transport the darn things without someone to hold them for me. But, a three tier wedding cake would be brutally heavy to hold anyway. I rarely have more than one person in the car with me, but if I did, this Saab would be perfect. The thing about cakes is that you can do all the interior structure and such properly but putting them in a car opens up a whole new mess of things to go wrong. In my experience, cakes arrive happier when they get to sit in the middle of the car, away from the suspension and closer to the calmer center. In addition, they need a flat, usually level surface to ride on, which appears to be the case for the center row here. And on top of that, putting cakes in the center of the car also offers better coverage from the sun and better breezes from the a/c (if 1971 so provided) to keep the frosting composed. Typically, hauling a cake properly comes at the expense of most of your back seat and passenger capacity. Saab found an excellent solution for this with this quirky seating option and didn’t even realize it!

    (and I’m probably the only person who saw it this way)

    1. As one who frequently rides a city bus on midwest roads, I can tell you that between the axles is better than behind the rear one if you have motion sickness issues. (I don’t have a problem unless reading a long automotive article…..)

  17. My family had one of these when I was a kid. Don’t remember what year, or whether it was an older 2-cycle or the 4-cycle, they owned several Saabs in succession (93A or B, 95, 96). This one ended up with major front-end damage, and sat in the barn for years, until some neighbor bought it. The jump seat was definitely a kid seat (not much legroom), but I’m pretty sure there was a door release (in the inconvenient place you’d expect, at the bottom where the latch was. I don’t think it ever even occurred to anyone to run with passengers fore and aft, and cargo amidships.

    Saab billed itself as exceptionally safe. I’m not sure how using the kids sitting over the gas tank to absorb energy in a rear-end collision fitted into that, maybe they just said it was safe to drive.

  18. Kids love the way back. I have a friend with a Tesla Model S with the jump seats. Our kids will literally fight each other for the chance to sit backwards. We’ve learned to announce ahead of time who gets to ride in them to cut down on the whining and bloodshed.

  19. Believe it or not, this was a tool my Mom used on all her cars (where applicable). Especially on long road trips. Back in the 1960s fast food was rare outside of good sized cities. Folks would carry pre made food on trips in coolers. It was easier for my Mom to put kids in the rear seats, food in the center. With 5 kids she wanted total control over access to the food, but that’s another story for another time.

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