Mr. Saab’s Wild Ride: 1964 Saab 96 Sport Replica

By Jeff Bennett

Motorsports has been amply blessed with numerous heroic, brave drivers.  Most of them you have heard of, such as Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Ayrton Senna, and Juan Manuel Fangio.  However, there was a driver born in Sweden who was just as brave and talented as the men listed above.  The type of racing he excelled at was called rallying, and his name was Eric “On The Roof” Carlsson.  He got the nickname, based on a character in a popular children’s book in Sweden, because his insane style of driving left him on his roof a number of times.  His weapon of choice was a Saab, much like the 1964 Saab 96 Sport replica found on EBay and located in Northbrook, Illinois.  This little two stroke giant killer has a buy it now price of $30,000, but the bidding has only passed $8,000 as of this writing.

Rallying is a type of racing where the cars race in stages from one set point to another in multiple stages.  Their times for each stage are either added together, or the driver is to arrive at each stage in a set amount of time.  This kind of racing was and is popular in Europe, with the most famous rally being the Monte Carlo Rallye.

Eric Carlsson, who was a very large fellow to be a racer, took to this type of competition like a proverbial duck to water.  He ended up being a rally driver for Saab, although they were almost always underpowered and outclassed by the competition.  This didn’t slow Carlsson down a bit.  He knew that the underpowered Saabs would lose too much speed if he slowed down for corners, so he just went through the corners wide open.  His trick was using his left foot to brake while under power, kicking the rear end out to kind of steer through the corners.  I guess the best way to describe it would be going through corners sideways, like they do at dirt tracks here in the United States, but with a front wheel drive, two cycle car that sounded like an enormous, angry chainsaw on crack.  He ended up winning 19 international rallies, including the Monte Carlo Rallye twice.  When asked about his outlandish driving style when driving in the Alps, Carlsson replied that: “They have deep ditches in the Alps.”  How do you win against a guy like that?

This particular Saab was built up to be a modified replica of a Saab rally car of the era by the owner of a Saab restoration shop.  He wanted a safe car to enjoy while participating in vintage car rallies and events.  The 850 cc engine was sourced from a long nose Saab, and has received modifications that allow it to keep up with modern traffic just fine.  The only drawback would be that the exhaust, never quiet on one of these, is a little less restrictive and a bit louder than normal.  Being that these cars are two stroke rather than four stroke, the owner must mix oil with the gasoline.  This is something that you must be careful to do, as many Saab engines were fried by American motorists who forgot to perform this ritual.

The interior of this car is in excellent condition, and the former owner installed some vintage rally timing equipment and a light for map reading.  The seats have been modified for seat belts and the addition of head rests.  The owner comments that the materials inside are in excellent condition, and the seats do look like a very comfortable place to be scared to death in.

On the dash is a plaque from what appears to be the 2012 Monte Carlo Vintage Rallye that has been signed by Eric Carlsson himself.  After his rallying days were over, Carlsson became a sort of unofficial brand ambassador for Saab, and appeared at numerous corporate events and vintage car gatherings.  He was a legend to Saab fans everywhere, and he became a national hero in Sweden.  His nickname by this time had changed to “Mr. Saab.”  Unfortunately, Carlsson died in 2015 at the age of 86.

Fortunately, his legend lives on in these quirky little underdogs.  These Saabs were underpowered, ungainly, and were the most unlikely of racecars.  Eric Carlsson didn’t let their underdog status stop him from using them to become one of the winningest race car drivers ever.  Smokey Yunick, when commenting on what makes a good racecar driver, said that a good racecar driver will refuse to lose.  While I doubt Smokey ever met “On The Roof” Carlsson, I am sure he would have wanted to have him as one of his drivers.  That win or crash doing it attitude is what separates good drivers from great drivers.

This car is an excellent reminder of that time in racing.  Built by a Saab expert, the car is likely a better version of a Saab rally car than the ones that were raced.  The body is straight and rust free, the engine has been worked over to provide more power, and safety modifications to the interior have been made in case you ever end up on your roof.  The owner mentions that most of the Saabs of this era found in the United States are being sent back to Europe for restoration.  Admittedly, the market for a car such as this is small here in the United States.  However, it would be a terrible shame if this car ended up being shipped off to Europe.  It is probably one of the best examples of this particular model Saab left in the United States.  These cars have a funky style all their own, and they can be quite the car in the hands of a talented driver.


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  1. RayT Member

    Thirty years ago, I spent a couple of days in Trollhattan, Sweden, listening to Erik telling stories about his rallying days. For a spectacular finish, he had the Monte Carlo Rallye-winning 96 — a replica, but of course very accurate — brought out of the Saab Museum for a demonstration. After some highway driving, he turned onto a local grusvag (gravel road) he used to practice on, and gave me a taste what it must have been like for his navigators back in the day. I only got 15 or 20 minutes; they had to sit there for days on end.

    It’s hardly news to say his car-control ability was phenomenal. It was hard to believe a relatively inexpensive production-line car could do what he made this one do. To put it mildly, I’ll never forget that ride….

    I have to say that if you laid out the specification for a great race driver, you’d get Erik. He wasn’t just an incredible talent; he was first and foremost a gentleman, friendly, modest and enthusiastic.

    If I had space to write a couple thousand words about Erik and the Saab 96, I’d still just be scratching the surface. He was a giant, and not just physically.

  2. ROAR

    that looks like a 750 monte carlo i sold to a fellow in the flyovers, he wanted to set the bonneville record with it.
    they came with three carbs so could be highly tuned, needless to say being designed by saab aircraft they are very aerodynamic.

  3. Sam

    Jeff, great writeup! I truly enjoy Barn Finds.

    The attached Saab was a paticipant in this year’s Great Race…stopover in Franklin, IN.

    • sir mike

      Nice but a later V4 Saab….

  4. Howard A Member

    1st, the angry chainsaw on crack,,,would be the V8 powered ( Chevy, I believe) “Big Gus” at the “Yoopers Tourist Trap”.
    While 2 cycles, for me, are ok in several things, cars( or trucks, for that matter) are not one of them. And that fan pulley dangerously close to the grill. I bet more than one Saab owner came out to find their grill damaged and pulley/belt damage. Don’t get me wrong, these are my favorite Saabs, a wagon especially, but lose the ring-ding-a-ling.

  5. 86 Vette Convertible

    Back in my High School days (60’s), we had a teacher that has a very similar looking White Saab. It was one of those ‘unique’ things for a Midwest farming community, the one and only Saab probably within 100+ miles. You could always hear her coming due to the unique sound it generated and the way she drove it. We’d kid her about ‘that thing’ but AFAIK it never let her down.

    I’ve never seen one rallied, but I imagine it would be a sight to see having seen how Mrs. O handled hers.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Neil

    Luckily for me – I have a real Saab Sport sat in my garage awaiting restoration. Not so luckily the bases of the A pillars are rotted out needing expensive structural repairs. One day… If I ever find a job again 🙂
    On the topic of mixing the oil with the fuel – a real sport had a premix system – oil went in a reservoir on the drivers (US) side of the car and was delivered into the fuel system by a pump that delivered a measured dose. Noticeably absent in the replica for sale.

  7. Bruce Best

    I have only ridden in the later V-4 four cycle versions of this car but it was surprisingly comfortable if strange looking and while they were under powers as others have commented they were light enough to have excellent traction thru corners. If you were brave enough and you knew what you were doing you could not beat anybody except a kid with a wagon in acceleration but point to point they were really quicker than you might expect. And a hell of a lot of fun.

  8. Jerry

    Not mentioned yet is that Erik Carlsson was married to Pat Moss, another accomplished (female) rally driver who ran works Big Healeys amongst several other cars. Indeed sister to Sir Stirling Moss and unfortunately also gone unlike her brother.

  9. Bill McCoskey

    In 1963 SAAB USA brought one of the 3 Carlsson rallye cars to America, a 850 Monte Carlo GT, with 3 carbs, disc brakes & oil injection. It toured the US from one SAAB dealership to the next, for display in the showrooms. When the car finally made it to San Francisco, The SAAB dealer there sold it. It was bought by one of my father’s fraternity brothers and close friend. He drove it as his everyday car until about 1970 when he moved to Maryland, to work for the Federal government.

    He never got around to putting the SAAB 850 Monte Carlo thru the tough Maryland vehicle inspection, and it remained in the garage until about 1990. My dad mentioned the car to me, and I got very interested, fast! Went to look at it, confirmed it was one of the Rallye cars [still had the Halda Speed Pilot on the dashboard]. I asked how much he wanted for the car, and he simply gave it to me.

    Did the expected fuel system cleanout, brake repairs [it had disc brakes up front!], belts/hoses, new tires, etc. That little bug was a blast to drive, as long as you kept the engine speed up in the power range. Local gear heads with Mustangs & Camaros would laugh at the little SAAB, but when I would challenge them to a race up a winding 2-lane road, there was no catching me & the SAAB

    Sadly, in 1996 My restoration shop was struck by lightning, and the SAAB was one of the casualties of the resulting fire, it was 100% destroyed.

    • sir mike

      The story was great till the end…then it brought tears to my eyes.

  10. Ken

    A really nice looking early 96. I had a long nose, last year, two stroke 96 as my first car that I did up in a very similar fashion to this car. The brakes & wheels are the standard 96 version with 5 lug bolts. The Sport/GT850/MC850 had 4 bolt wheels and used a fixed twin piston brake caliper on the front. From what little of rear seat that can be seen, it appears to have the Sport/GT version with thin removable cushions with nifty storage bins under them that were perfect for the two stroke oil bottles and other small stuff. Front seats aren’t the reclining Sport/GT/MC ones, which had an adjustable head rest only on passenger seat. But the lower portion has been shaped like those and the pattern used to cover the seats front and rear matches that of the Sport seats. The listing mentions the 850 has been warmer over a bit. It would be interesting to know if it has the GT750 crankshaft fitted. That was essentially the Sport/GT/MC850 hotter crank but without oil injection. I had one of those 750 cranks rebuilt by David Baugher (who does outstanding stroker engine stuff) and it really help wake my stock 820 cc 96 that was one of the last year emissions era cars.

  11. David Miraglia

    always loved Saab quirkiness. the 96 is no exception

  12. Bob C.

    I remember hearing these driving down the street. Kinda sounded like, Waaaahhhhh dididididididi!

  13. Wayne

    Great stories! There are many US rally stories about early Saabs. From 2 guys so big (driver and navigator) that they almost had to have outside help closing the doors! To after rolling on a stage. Having to wrap the car in duct tape to keep the doors closed! (after the second roll of the night) To one of the last early Pro-Rally Saabs run by 2 gals. (Called Team T**Ts!) I remember one of them ripping off her sweat shirt to handle a liquid emergency!
    I never got to drive one of the early Saabs. I had a 99 for a company car for awhile. And I hated it. It “drove” to big. My regular cars at the time were a Scirocco and a Honda Civic. So that may have had something to do with it.

  14. Nevis Beeman

    2012 I was out there hiking the AT, and befriended this other hiker…..after about
    150 miles of hiking together we discovered we had both owned a Saab 96 in our youth, his was a round nose two stroke (like this)that he drove coast to coast apparently ! (Mine was a ’67 V4 that I drove all over Britain)
    We spent the next 400 miles of the AT sharing old time Saab stories and memories….other hikers thought were oddest eccentrics they’d ever come across ! But hey…we were just a couple of old Saab nuts !

  15. Guggie 13

    I had several of these growing up, finally bought a new 1967 with the 2 stroke , it was called a Saab special it came with disc brakes , oil injection and had 3 carbs , 4 speed on the tree ,and radial tires , neat little car . my brother rolled it and it caught on fire ,end of my Saab. Bought a Ford Cortina GT after that , that’s another story .

  16. RS

    Back in the 60’s my grade school teacher had one of these. In winter he drove on a old rural road near my home to feed the pheasants wintering there… while on other days my old man was out there with his shotgun, hunting them. 🙂


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