Ford V4 Powered: 1972 Saab 96

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Quirky drivetrains, odd styling, a rallying background, and a fanbase that seems to love them to the moon and back.  That kind of sums up the Saab 96 in a nutshell, which superseded the company’s 93 in 1960.  The car began as a two-stroke offering, but as the decade progressed changed to a four-stroke engine, which is what this 1972 Saab 96 for sale here on Craigslist packs under the hood.  The car is located in Conowingo, Maryland, about an hour southwest of Philly, with the asking price set at $8,500.  Barn Finds reader Pat L. found this one, and we’d like to thank him for sending it our way!

When Saab made the move from a two to a four-stroke powerplant, a Ford Tarius 4-cylinder engine was summoned.  But it wasn’t your ordinary four-banger, as it used a V-type design, and ended up being one of the very few V4s ever put into an automobile.  Looking at the engine’s placement in the bay area, it’s kind of hard for me to stop staring at how close the block is to the nose, which seems even more eye-catching with the hood latches located up front.  It’s mated to a 4-Speed manual transmission and all claimed to be in good condition mechanically, as the car runs and drives in all gears.  The Saab has also had some recent brake work performed, along with new springs and hoses.

The current owner purchased the car back in 2013 and mentions that the exterior has been repainted, but doesn’t specify if it was prior to his acquisition or under his watch, and no word on what kind of bodywork was done before the respray if any.  There are some minor dents in the body, with the front end showing signs that it bumped something a bit harder than gently, and perhaps a lighter tap in the back too, but overall the car’s finish is stated as being in generally good shape.  We don’t get to see any photos from the underside, but the seller says the undercarriage and chassis appear to be free of rust.

The interior is in original condition with some signs of wear showing, but it’s claimed as serviceable, which seems like a reasonable assessment.  And although there aren’t any pictures provided, an extra dismantled 96 is also available for parts, should the next owner be interested in taking it along.  While the Saab 96 may not be for everyone, it’s kind of cool in its own right, and if you’re looking for something unusual in the under $10k range this one may be worth considering.  What do you think?

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  1. Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

    From the company that built one of the finest and most rugged defense-oriented jets. More than a few of these rolled a few times in some rough country during a rally but then were rolled back onto their wheels and raced on with no serious damage to the occupants!
    A seriously fun car for its day for what it was designed.

    But then came the Jeeps at the POR…

    Like 6
  2. HoA Howard A (retired)Member

    I always thought Saab got the brown end of the import stick. All eyes were on Volvo, and Saab seemed to always live in that shadow. Saab was kind of the “AMC” of European cars, great cars that got little respect. 1st impressions last a lifetime, and the 96, I feel, never outlived it’s smoky, ring-ding past. I’ve had experience with both and the V4 is a completely different car. Again, with all these examples, timing was the key. 1st, one didn’t see many to begin with, and 2nd the ones that were around went cheap. I think the name too, nobody wanted another “Saab” story. A shame, really, and by all rights, should have been a hit. One of the few imports WW2 cusps couldn’t bitxx about, Sweden was neutral in the war, as mentioned, their aeronautics were top notch, and they tried. Saab kind of went the full gamut, from these humble beginnings to some pretty fancy cars. I believe the 99 was really the 1st car Americans embraced, but problems appeared early on( they weren’t supposed to start everytime) and people dropped them off their buyers list pretty fast. Couldn’t compete with Toyota, went through a bunch of owners, only to be ultimately killed by GM, I think. A great find!

    Like 10
    • Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

      Right on the money again, Howard, although I like you thought GM killed it when they started losing market value. You made me think and so reading up on the web, it turns out that GM made a deal with Koenigsegg which fell apart but then Spyker tried to buy it with a CCCP company backing it. GM said no deal and that was the end of the large scale production of Saab other than a short ill-fated attempt at electrics.

      At least it didn’t wind up like Volvo did when Ford was done with it..

      Like 5
      • Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

        Point being that technically you’re right again, Howard!

        Like 2
      • Jack M.

        I can’t recall, reading here after all these years, that Howard ever said that he was wrong!

        Like 4
      • BobinBexley Bob in BexleyMember

        How is it that Volvo wound-up ? Geely bought Volvo from Ford who benefited from Volvo’s brains & now Volvo is a great success story, again.

        Like 0
      • HoA Howard A (retired)Member

        I thought I was wrong once, but was mistaken. I’m sorry you feel that way, and I may be incorrect sometimes, but at least I contribute something to the post, instead of your worthless comments. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anything good from you. What are YOU doing here?

        Like 3
      • RallyAce

        I was a long time SAAB guy. When they were on their last legs with GM my friendly dealer told me that a major stumbling block with GM trying to sell SAAB was that the 9-3 had a lot of Opel parts in it and they would not let the new buyer use them. That meant a lot of work getting things redesigned and new parts sourced. It also meant that the car would have to be re-certified for sale in the US. My dealer friend had the greatest line for what he said GM was actually selling, he said it was a crate of lug nuts, two boxes of SAAB badges and some windshield wiper blades.

        Like 0
    • luckless pedestrian

      “…cars got little respect”?? You must have slept thru the ’80s – early 90s. The classic 900 3 door turbo was the yuppie ride to have. I had two, took them both to 200K mi until the tin worm took hold… I would own another in a heartbeat. The problem Saab had was they wound up being a one trick pony (9000), highly dependent on mother GM… and had to put up with silly GM marketing putting Saab badges on Subarus and Chevy Trailblazers (although I do currently own a 9-7 Trollblazer as a boat hauler).

      Like 0
  3. bobhess bobhessMember

    After spending 3 years in Norway I can say I’ve seen my share of these cars. The mountains full of snow in Norway, Sweden, and Finland almost required a car like this to get around in the winter, and they did a good job of it. Nice car here.

    Like 10
  4. Evan

    “a Ford Tarius 4-cylinder engine was summoned”

    Spellcheck doesn’t like it, but it’s a Ford TAUNUS engine.

    Like 8
    • That AMC Guy

      The V4 engine was actually developed by Ford for the stillborn Cardinal of the early 1960s. That would really have been something for an American car at the time, 4-cylinder front drive. At the 11th hour Ford decided the Cardinal was not for the American market (the Falcon was cheap to build and selling like hotcakes). So they shipped everything to Germany where the Cardinal morphed into the Taunus.

      Ford used contemporary Saabs as test mules while developing the Cardinal, so in a sense that V4 engine went full circle.

      Like 3
      • angliagt angliagtMember

        Also used in the Corsair – 1700 & 2000.

        Like 3
      • Martin Horrocks

        SAAB also tested the Lancia Fulvia V4 in the search for a replacement for the 2 stroke ringadinga. The Lancia was a better unit than the Ford, but too expensive. What an intriguing prospect – a 96/Fulvia cross.

        The crossover reached fruition in the 80s when Lancia’s Delta was badged as a SAAB 600 for Dwedish buyers.

        Like 1
  5. wuzjeepnowsaab

    Wow if this is as nice irl as it presents in the photos it’s a great price for this. You could buy a project for a few thousand or a ‘survivor’ for 6000 and be way above the entry for this one…again, if it’s as nice in the flesh as the pictures.

    Howard is spot on about GM and SAAB. It’s a ‘defender’s myth’ that GM didn’t kill SAAB…they did. They wanted to get the car made cheaper so they threw Saturn and Cobalt platforms at Saab. They also said they wanted Saab to dial back the over-engineering of their cars…Saab engineers said sure no problem, and did their over-engineering anyway. GM instead, dialed back the money and the management and eventually the company was no longer viable..

    But back to Howard, yes, these were definitely the AMC to Volvo’s Big 3…quirky, marched to their own drummer, made the cars indestructible (I can hear you laughing, but the were bullet-proof if maintained), and developed a rabidly loyal following, of which I count myself among. From the 99 forward, they were engineered to run perfectly in the arctic and at the equator. From the first Saab they were beasts in the snow…put snows on all 4 corners and they were unstoppable. Fun fact…the wuzjeep part of my moniker comes from all the years I drove Full Size Jeeps and completely got away from them the first time I drove my first 900 in the snow.

    Add to that, safety was the kernel that they built the rest of the cars around…I have a folder of images on my computer of wrecked Saabs, 99, 900, and 9000, some that were so bad it makes you hold your breath but the drivers and passengers walked away.

    But…I digress…the featured 96 looks to be a great buy, and yes, GM killed the company

    Like 7
    • NHDave

      “ They wanted to get the car made cheaper so they threw Saturn and Cobalt platforms at Saab.” Not sure which platform you’re referring to. Cobalt was a Chevrolet model, and it did share the GM-engineered Delta platform with the Saturn ION (which launched first). Not aware of that platform being used for a Saab model.

      Like 2
      • wuzjeepnowsaab

        The 9-3 and 9-5 shared many things with the Cobalt and Saturn platforms. GM completely took over after the last of the 9000’s and NG900’s rolled of the line and completely changed the underpinnings of the vehicles. Just like the 9-7 and Trailblazer share platforms and later 9-5’s were moved off the Saturn (they were axed by GM) and onto the Lacrosse platform.

        Like 0
      • NHDave

        The only true “Saturn” platform would have been the original Saturn S-Series platform that generated three body styles and was produced for model years 1991-2002. The new GM-engineered Delta platform launched with the Saturn ION in 2003 and was also used on the Chevrolet Cobalt (Cobalt was a model not a platform). The GM-engineered Epsilon platform was used on several models such as the Pontiac G6, Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Aura, as well as Opel and Vauxhall models. It was elements of the Epsilon platform that were incorporated into Saab models.

        Like 0
  6. Beyfon

    As a Swede, it’s nice to read about how the greedy GM bean counters killed Saab but reality was quite a bit more complex. It’s probably more accurate to say that GM kept Saab alive longer than what made sense.

    Saab’s car business was never profitable. (Well, I think there were 2 or 3 years during their 60 years in business that they didn’t lose money!) They built too few cars, and what they built took far too long time to assemble. Saab cars were owned by the Wallenberg industrial group and were justified in that their volumes helped bringing purchasing costs down for the Scania truck and bus business that were the crown jewel in the group.

    Little known is that there was an agreed merger between Saab and Volvo back in 1974, when Wallenbergs wanted to get out of the car business. It was quickly nixed by the Swedish government on anti-trust grounds as the two companies would have held a too large share of the Swedish car market. They probably also realized that the merger would have killed Saab. Volvo mostly needed more production capacity, and ended up buying DAF instead which seemed like a true disaster but gave them the manufacturing foothold in the Netherlands and Belgium. Saab had hardly lasted much longer than DAF under Volvo.

    So the fact that GM were willing to fund Saab for some 20 years was really more of a surprise to anyone who would look at the numbers. GM tried hard to leverage Saab’s turbo engine technology and to make Saab cars cheaper to build (and obviously killed a lot of the quirkiness in the process!) But ultimately also GM realized that the bleeding couldn’t be stopped and without GM’s deep pockets the business was doomed.

    Like 5
  7. Beyfon

    On GM’s platforms for us Europeans it was really the Opel Vectra that was the basis for the 1994-on Saab 900. But no one complained too much about the earlier Saab 9000 being built on the Fiat Croma platform.
    But yeah, after Saab went bankrupt I bought the last new 9-3 from the local dealer at roughly half price off. It stickered at $36k back in 2011 which was a non-competitive price. You would have got an Audi A4/BMW 320/Volvo S60 and they were all nicer cars for that kind of money. At half price off it wasn’t bad, but its cheap roots were shining through.

    Like 3
  8. Martin Horrocks

    The deal with Spyker actually went through, with government help to support the workforce in Trollhalten, a city very dependent on the SAAB factory.

    Unfortunately, this was an overambitious (to the point of fraudulent) asset grab on behalf of SAAB’s final owners who collapsed the company in short order.

    Like 1
  9. Bob “The ICEMAN”

    SAAB’s of this variety were absolutely spectacular foe ice racing. Pop on a set of snow tires with spikes and those cars were hell on wheels kicking up chipped ice like mini blizzards.

    Like 1
  10. SaabGirl900

    Actually, Howard, Beyfon and WuzJeep, you’re all correct except for one thing. The NewGen 900 and the real 9.3 (the cars built between 1999 and 2002/2003 for the convertible) were indeed based on the Opel Vectra. The fake 9.3s (built after 2003/2004 convertible) were based n the global Epsilion platform that also underpinned the Malibu. I remember seeing the ads for the Malibu touting the fact that the car shared a platform with the Saab and cringed……most people don’t understand what a platform is, so a lot of people bought the Chevy thinking it was a Saab. Couldn’t have been further from a Saab, although the later 9.3s did not do Saab any favours. I have three real 9.3s…..a ’01 Viggen and two five doors; one a 2000 and one a 2002. I saved the 2000 from the crusher and brought the 2002 back to life after she had been neglected badly by her former owner. I have driven every iteration of the “later” 9.3s exported to the US and hated every single one, including the TurboX….they didn’t feel like Saabs and if you had ever spent time behind the wheel of a real Saab, they felt cheap and flimsy. I also have two 99s and five classic 900s, so Saab is very near and dear to me. I’ve tried to find something that approximates a Saab and just can’t. So, I keep my fleet on the road.

    My youngest brother just bought a ’75 164…he’s not a gearhead, but he does like Volvos. I sort of brokered the deal. The differences between the 164 and my 99GL are huge…….driving the 164 reminds me of driving my ’74 Scamp with its recirculating ball steering and rear wheel drive. The 99 has rack and pinion steering and is front drive…….totally different feel. One thing is similar about the two….they are both built like tanks. GM never understood Saab or Saab people…they tried to turn the marque into a Swedish Buick. When that didn’t work out, they made it as difficult as possible for anyone else to purchase the company because of their supposed fear of losing their intellectual property rights.

    I was never a GM fan before, but this dirty business with Saab made me hate GM to the point that if Mary Barra walked up to me and handed me the keys to a brand new Equinox, I’d hand them right back to her with a few salty comments.

    Like 4
  11. Michael Anderson

    I am more familiar with the 2 cycles. But the Citroen trailer and the 300CD in the background could make the trip interesting enough even if you did not buy the car. Worked for a dealer/friend in Philadelphia in the mid 60’s and a customer raced a 4 cycle- if I remember correctly the car ran without a rollbar. He got the ire of a starter at Reading for playing the radio too loud on the grid.

    Like 1
  12. BimmerDudeMember

    I had a 1969 Saab that I bought used in ~1971 at the Chevy dealer in Littleon, NH. It was owned by a local chicken farmer and the dirt/gravel roads were the cause of fist-size rust holes that developed in the tops of the front fenders. Those fenders were easy to remove though, and replacements plentiful then.
    The car was a little larger than a VW but much more comfortable and felt safer than a Bug. And…a heater!
    The design shortfall that killed it for me was the transmission. The bearings got “sticky.” Back then it was literally a shade tree operation to pull out the drive train and swap for a used trans. 6 months later, same problem. There was still a Saab dealer in nearby New Canaan and a senior mechanic that rebuilt my original trans with a box of replacement bearings and all was well…but it was time for me to move on.

    Those bad-bearing units would be hard to diagnose, only started to bind up after 1/2 to 1 hour driving when they heated up, so best of success to the buyer.
    I am still nostalgic though for the free-wheeling, the roll-out window shade at the radiator and a heater about the same size as the engine. Also the power train only had 3 point attachment, it came out with a power-pull in ~1 hour.

    Like 1
  13. Armstrongpsyd Armstrongpsyd

    As a member and obsessive reader of BF, I must say that I often scroll through to read what Howard A (retired) and Bobhess have to say before reading further. They and a few other members add greatly to this site. Scott and Adam and Todd are knowledgeable and witty writers and create great content for guys like me, and amazingly experienced members like Howard and Bob take these write ups and expand on them brilliantly. I always learn something here. Thank you all for adding to the enjoyment of my mornings.

    Like 3
  14. robert stockamp

    I’ve owned a few of these and they’re really good cars.When I lived in Alaska my girlfriend came home crying and said she rolled my car.I looked out the window and it was in the driveway.It landed on the wheels in a snowbank and she drove it home.

    Like 0
  15. Brad chipman

    I had one in Europe in the ’70s. Not much power but smooth running motor and handled well

    Like 0
  16. BruceMember

    Life is funny. Had a two stroke that smoked like mosquito control. mine had a lever under the dash to let the tranny glide without slowdown when you lifted off the gas. it was a strange car for a Maine kid to own but it ran on the same oil/gas as our motorboat and our lawnboy mower. It was not a bad car but in high school so not ‘cool.”

    Like 0
  17. SaabGirl900

    Actually, the new 9.5 was underpinned by the platform that was shared by the Regal and the Opel Insignia. The real 9.3 (the ones built before 2003) were underpinned by the same platform shared by the Vectra. Real 9.3s were upgrades to the NewGen 900. It was the lesser 9.3 (the ones that came after 2002) that shared a platform not with the Cobalt and the Saturn, but with the Chevy Malibu…the Epsilion platform.

    Owning an early (1995) NewGen 900 and three real 9.3s, I can tell you that you can feel the improvements that Saab made….the 9.3s are tighter, handle much better in rotten weather and are a lot lighter on their feet.

    Like 0

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