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1961 Saab 96: The Corn Popper Project

1961 Saab 96

Who can forget the distinctive sound of the Saab 96? It’s often called the “corn popper” with its two stroke engine. Saab built the 96 for 20 years, from 1960 until 1980. Until 1966, the engine was a 3 cylinder 2 stroke with 38 HP. The 2 stroke engine was replaced by a 4 stroke, 4 cylinder Ford engine. In the early 2 stroke version, oil had to be added to the gasoline like a chainsaw. The clutch was freewheeling, so downshifting did not slow your Saab. If the engine was revved with the throttle closed there was not enough lubrication and would self destruct, hence the freewheeling design. The suspension was advanced for the time and they did very well in rallies. The Saab 96 even holds the land speed record for it’s class, 750cc stock body cars, set just a few years ago at over 110 mph. A red example recently sold on eBay for $2,900, making this green (and primer) one listed on craigslist in Fresno, CA for $800 seem like a steal! It runs and drives with a bit of rust and needs paint. Wouldn’t it be a fun driver?

And here are some photos of the red example just for reference. As you can see, it looks to be in better visual condition and the photos are better. But seeing as the green example already runs and is only $800, it looks to actually be the better deal.


  1. grant

    Huh. 800 bucks for a driver is a steal on anything, any day.

  2. Barry T

    Can a two stroke pass state emissions testing? Or is grandfathered in?

  3. Howard A Member

    Hmm, thanks David. Never knew why Saab had that free-wheeling device. Makes sense. My parents, back in the 60’s had friends in Franklin, Mass. and they had 2 Saabs. A 96 like these, and a wagon with a V-4. I was just a kid, and the 96 wasn’t running, so my brother and I changed the plugs, got it running, and drove it around their (big) yard. I remember, it fogged the area with smoke, and I think it had a 4 speed on the column. Our friends took us for a ride on the road, and with 4 people, it was pretty gutless, and again, had the “James Bond smoke screen” out back.
    The hey day of the 2 cycle engine is long over ( even snowmobiles and outboard motors are 4 cycle now), so I’d ditch the 2 cycle, and you’d have a nice car.

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Yes, the 4-speed column shift!

      Mazda rotary motors have found their way into these bodies… Adds significantly to the fun factor, without altering the sound all that much. :-)

  4. jim s

    still for sale. i think there is more in parts then the asking price. interesting find.

  5. Tundra/BMW Guy

    If there is still a competition for “BF Worst Ad Pictures Taken” then I think these need to be entered. I cannot fathom, with today’s, heck even yesterday’s, technology how you could possibly take that bad of a set of pictures?!?!?!?! Now, granted, your subject matter is not helping much but……………..
    As for the car, I think it would make for a great “Farm Beater”! It looks aerodynamic enough to fly short distances while driving through the fields!

  6. Peter Atherton

    I owned several 93’s back in the early ’60’s.Many people forgot to add oil to the gas while filling up,so the engines were seized pretty quickly.I discovered that a brand new engine, in a factory crate, cost only $175,and took a mere hour or so to install.I managed to make a few dollars reselling them as they were quite popular in New England at the time; port of entry then was Hingham,Mass.My last one had been a SCCA racer, with a highly tweaked engine that required more oil, and on a cold winter day it would fog up an entire neighbor hood on startup .Needless to say,I wasn’t too popular…I still miss those cars, as they were so simple to work on, and fun to drive; the engine had only seven moving parts!

    Like 2

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