For the first month after I bought it, almost everyone, including those who should know better, have asked me a) why I bought a Saab 96, and b) had I always wanted one?
No, I’d not always wanted one, but my friend John Simister has one and I’ve grown to admire it. Then that TV programme For the Love of Cars restored a Saab 96, and I went down to Coys for a look, pre-auction. And hence I got dragged along a well-trodden path that some will surely recognise.
The Coys car was in great condition, and had had stupid amounts of TV money spent on it. But it also sold for silly money. I missed the initial auction in January, when it went for an unprecedented £8,000. Then the buyer put it back into auction in April where it raised £15k, for charity. Add in Coys buyers fees and that’s almost £18,000. Crazy money.
Meanwhile Mr Simister had got the bit between his teeth and found a Saab 96 on a German website. This one had much to recommend it. It was a very early model, with the original “bull nose” rather than the less pleasing extended bonnet of later cars. And it had an original three-cylinder two-stroke engine, not the Ford V4 of the auction car.
I got in touch with Philip in Sweden who owned it, and his cousin Daniel in Germany who was looking after the car. They send over 80 pictures, half a dozen videos and I was smitten. Enough to book two one-way tickets to Stuttgart with my pal Ralph Morgan.
Mid-June we arrived in Stuttgart, got picked up, ate cake, gave the Saab a once over and a quick drive, then headed off on the 1000km trip back home. It was a great excuse for a road trip in a little car with no safety belts and a top speed of 100kph. Maybe faster, but we were cautious. The Saab has a semi-sporting exhaust, which is very fruity but important on a two-stroke where getting the gases out of the engine as easily as possible releases a few extra horsepower.
The Saab bats along surprisingly well, even though it has only three gears on the steering column-mounted change. At 30mph you can’t help reaching for 4th gear, but after a bit you simply get used to the engine smoothing out as the revs rise.
Then there’s the freewheel. As soon as you lift your foot off the throttle the engine drops back to idle and the Saab 96 simply coasts along until you re-engage drive by accelerating (being careful to avoid a transmission jolt).
The two-stroke side of things means there’s no sump for oil, but instead you simply pour a litre of two-stroke oil into the petrol tank before adding 30 litres of unleaded. It’s a piece of cake.
I am thoroughly enjoying the Saab, and have proved it can knock off hundreds of miles in one go with out any problems. Well only one. On a long downhill stretch, freewheeling, the engine has a tendency to get bored with idling and just stops altogether. We think it may be too much fuel pressure, so it’s getting a fuel regulator as the next step. And a touch of welding on a front upright. It is 55 years old, after all.