One Solid Saab: 1966 Saab 96

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This super solid project is a 1966 Saab 96 and it’s in Albany, Oregon. It’s listed on eBay with two days of bidding left and a current bid price of $500, but the reserve isn’t met. There is a Buy It Now price of $3,200 if you have to have it now.

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Saab made the 96 for a couple of decades, up until 1980. This car looks as rust and dent-free as any that I’ve seen, at least for cars that have been sitting in eastern Washington state for 25 years when the previous owner passed away. The seller’s son couldn’t get it started so it sat, and sat, and finally sat some more. The eastern half of Washington gets little rainfall, but they do get their share of snow, so it’s not like an Arizona car. But, if you look at the detail shots you’ll see some surface rust but no rust-through issues or flapping chunks-o-metal that “need replaced”. This is one solid Saab!

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To top off the almost totally rust-free condition of this car, there really aren’t any dents or dings to speak of, just a couple of tiny ones to massage out once you get the mechanicals and interior sorted out. The trunk looks as solid as can be. I’ve always wanted a two-stroke 96, this car looks like a fantastic project.

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Here is where you’ll be spending the majority of your time and money. The interior, while being fairly complete as far as knobs and switches go, will need a lot of work to bring it back to what it used to look like. At least the passenger side door card is there for a pattern for the driver’s side, or, for both sides. The passenger one may be able to be tidied up if you’re not going to do a full restoration. The headliner is all there but will need a thorough cleaning, whereas the seats will need to be totally redone. But, the floors are surprisingly solid with just some surface rust in the crevasses. As with any restoration or refurb, you’ll probably want to put some Dynamat down to help keep the sound transmission. Speaking of transmission, this is the classic Saab 4-speed column-mounted shifter and yes, this car has the free-wheel knob under the dash.

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Here’s the heart of this beast. Saab offered the two-stroke, three-cylinder 841 CC with 38 hp until 1968. This is the engine that I would want, if you’re going to get an unusual car, get the most unusual engine that you can in it. Not that a Ford V4 wasn’t an equally-unusual replacement for the two-stroke, but I love two-stroke engines and being a three-cylinder is a bonus! This car sat for so long and wouldn’t start because it had a cracked distributor cap and once that was replaced it started right up! This is a pre-start photo of the engine and it looks like it would clean up nicely, there’s a lot of Washington dust and dirt on that thing. This looks like a super solid Saab project. Have any of you owned a two-stroke car?

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Comments

  1. Glenn from Wisconsin

    How completely ugly!

    • Tony

      I’m with you Glenn, can’t stand a car that doesn’t have at least a couple of square corners on it somewhere, makes you wonder if the designer couldn’t find a straight ruler when he drew it up so he just stuck with the freehand curved lines.

      • brakeservo

        What modern car has square corners??

  2. john C

    Now Glenn,… Lets be gentle in our critiques !! (-; I had a car like this back in the eighties, and what a lot of fun; easy on the gas, easy to park, easy to work on, easy on long trips with a few admiring stares, the free wheeling in the mountains, ah… and the girls just fell over in excitement in wanting a ride !! ( not that last part…)

  3. Bruce Best

    Glenn I realize that in some ways you are right this is not a beautiful car until you realize how efficient it is, how simple it is to make, and to restore. There is a beauty in simplicity and the early SAABs have that in spades. Everything is simple, and shocking easy for the most part. Especially as compared to the cars of today.

    Personally I like the V-4 engines better as they have more torque and are easier to deal with every day. The transmissions are better and in general the whole car is easier to live with but they are fun and unique enough that everybody that passes you will smile. And be certain almost everybody will be passing you and understanding as they pass why you have that ear to ear grin on your face.

    Volvo may have brought us the well built Swede but SAAB brought us the crazy smart and quirky Swede and that is a wonderful thing also.

  4. DLM

    Amazingly nice body on a very original 96 and pretty much everything is there. The interior shows the result of all the sun, but the interior isn’t that complex and the door PANELS are not a big deal. Great find!

  5. brakeservo

    Back to your original question, yes I’ve had a two-stroke car, and it had a kick starter too! Google 1954 Bond MiniCar Mark C and you’ll probably see photos of my old car. The only car I’ve had that was more weird than my Tatra 603!

  6. scottymac

    Not ugly, chaps, AERODYNAMIC! SAAB was also a manufacturer of aircraft, tale goes airframe engineers played a part in the car’s design.

    Some years back, I came across a tri-power SAAB in a salvage yard. That’s right, the Monte Carlo 850 had a Solex carb for each of the three cylinders. Thinking I’d found something I could make a buck on, I stripped the intake parts. Could hardly give the parts away. My one and only experience with SAABs.

  7. Paul B

    Yes, aerodynamic and beautiful! Very stable on the road. For many years I drove nothing but Saab 95s and 96s and loved them, from the mechanical layout to the curvy lines. I even had a 93F in college. They have the most accurate and true steering of any car I’ve ever owned. Yes, the V4s are easier to live with and more practical — I had one of those and liked it and my folks had a couple — but the 2-stroke is great fun if you know how to drive and maintain it and you don’t live in the mountains where it’s slow going uphill and dangerous going down with free wheeling and drum brakes. You can lock out the free wheeling but the two-stroke won’t last long that way. I had a ’66 just like this, in the same color. This appears to be a Euro-market model sent to the U.S. when Saab over-produced for some other markets in ’66 and dumped the cars in the U.S.. Just what I had. You can tell because of the single-bulb front signal lights and the non-opening rear windows. It probably has just one outside door lock, on the driver’s side. A bottom-rung model for the Netherlands or somewhere. I bought mine in ’74, drove it for more than nine years and parked it when it became too hard to get parts for as my daily driver. I lived to regret that, and eventually sold it on to a young man who restored it. This car is overpriced at its buy-it-now in my opinion simply because of the amount of work it needs and the price of parts. When all is said and done, it’s just a little old Saab and whoever buys it will be underwater if not careful. Not that that’s a problem — I’m underwater on all my cars — but buyer should be aware of this. Two great things here are that the engine runs and there’s almost no rust. Good starting point!

  8. Steven C

    Great find, cool solid car. Love SAAB’s! Just brought my first one home 2 days ago, base model 1986 900 2 door hatch, my current project. Gonna get a 96 some day.

  9. kman

    I get it, some of you can find the beauty in this car. However, I agree with Glen, it’s UGLY!

  10. Howard A Member

    Looks aside, this Saab turned the tables for many. It was the 1st time we experienced FWD, and it’s superior winter handling. ( plus, Saab’s do great donuts) I too would shy away from the ring-ding, a 4 cycle is just more civilized, The Saab I rode in, a 2 cycle, with 4 people had a hard time getting into 4th gear, not to mention, the smoke screen, while no big deal in the 70’s, is now considered offensive, and it really is. Keep the 2 cycles for boat motors or snowmobiles, but not the best choice for the road. Older Saab’s like this were great cars.

  11. Eric Dashman

    When I graduated college in 1969, my parents gave me a graduation gift of $300 (all we could afford) and with another $300 of my own, I bought my first car for $600…a 1966 Saab 96 2-cycle 3 cylinder gray model. It had about 60K miles on it. I got my 2-cycle oil from the local Saab dealer and the cans were a lot smaller than our US quart cans…I’m guessing 1/2 liter. I drove that car all over New England and New York/New Jersey. Many of the comments above are pretty accurate, but one point was missed…it was an extremely well-engineered car and built with a high degree of quality. The fit and finish was excellent. It was fun to do donuts in the snow with it, and the front drum brakes without power assist were a challenge in stopping the car. The engine ran well but was without much power, unlike the 850 Monte Carlos that won all of those rallies. I rather liked the 4 speed on the column. Reverse was an interesting challenge (pull the shifter out towards the right door, back towards you and then down). The free wheel took some getting used to, as did the understeer if you braked going into a turn. As one of the early FWD cars in the US (I’m not counting the Cords for this conversation), you learned to brake in advance of the turn and accelerate into it. An interesting feature was that the rear seat folded flat and was open to the trunk/boot, and you could carry 8′ studs and other longer stuff pretty easily. It was definitely a fun car.

    It came to the end of its life on Route 80 around Patterson, NJ. I was working in Newton, NJ at a school for emotionally disturbed kids while living in the Bronx off Pelham Parkway. 80 hadn’t been completed so the trip was a sequence of Rte 46 and I-80 changes. I got gas in Newton and the attendant failed to completely empty the oil can into the gas tank (at least that’s my debriefing for what came later). In NJ, then and now, there are no self-service stations. They all have attendants to fill your tank. At 70 mph, with the free-wheel engaged, thank goodness, I heard a rattling and then nothing under the pedal. The engine had seized and the rattling was the ball or roller bearings from the crankshaft. The free-wheel saved my feet and ankles. I wasn’t very well-versed in mechanics at the time and my dad and brothers towed the car home, leaving it in our backyard for a few years until I took it to a closed junkyard and left it there…one of the many mistakes of my life. The towing home was an experience of its own and my brothers and I still laugh about it. Pop had a tow cable that was about 8 feet long and attached to the bumpers of both cars. I drove the Saab while he pulled it…at 50-55 mph with my heart in my throat the entire way until a cop at a tollbooth mercifully ended my travail by telling Pop it was illegal on the highway. We got off and drove home much more slowly, thank the lord!

  12. Rick

    Someone explain to me the freewheeling concept on these cars. I’ve read about it but still can’t grasp how or why it’s needed…

    See lots of these at the Carlisle, PA show in May. Even a few race prepped cars…. Love hearing those sewing machine engines rev up and down the hills.

  13. brakeservo

    A two-stroke has no oil sump, it is lubricated with oil mixed with gas. If you coast for a long period of time with the engine spinning in gear and the throttle closed, it’s getting no lubrication, hence the need for freewheeling – although as we know, that can allow a car to go way too fast without engine braking!

    • Graham

      This unfortunately is a myth, the freewheel device was fitted to overcome the problem with 2 strokes firing on the overrun and causing drive train snatch and thus a jerky ride. Some DKW’s were manufactured without freewheeling gearboxes and who ever heard of a 2 stroke motorcycle with a freewheel?

  14. Doug

    Thank you, I enjoyed reading the article. Years ago, I had a 1967 Saab 96 with a three-cylindered, free-wheeling two-stroker. Among other things, that car could perform amazingly well on roads covered in DEEP snow and perhaps no other front-wheel drive car has ever been made which could match such performance. For instance, the bottom side of the car, the belly side, was almost completely flat and smooth, allowing the car to slide over snow like a toboggan or a sled. The later addition of the V-4 engine was a compromise and a mistake, adding power but altering the balance and handling of the car especially on slippery, snow-covered roads. The two-stroker was just right.

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