Why Do People Love SAABs?


I used to wonder why some people loved SAABs. Surely it couldn’t just be because the ignition was situated between the seats. Curiosity eventually got the best of me so I started reading all I could about the Swedish manufacturer. Well, it turns out that SAAB was an innovator who enjoyed a long and successful history in motorsport. There are very few books that document their racing pedigree, but I found a good one.


The book is Saab 96 & V4 by Graham Robson and it covers the development of the cars and the people behind them. It is part of a series called Rally Giants, so it shares a format with the other books. That means that the sections jump around a bit. For example, there is a section on the cars, a section on the people, and another on race results. That means that you have to keep track of dates to figure out where you are in the timeline. Everything is well organized though so it is more of a nitpick then a problem.


All the different models of two-stroke 96s had always confused me. Sport, Monte Carlo, 850 GT… But this book cleared that all up in a paragraph. It also helped me form a deep appreciation for the pre-GM cars and the people who built and drove them. The 96 was an amazing rally competitor and in the hand’s of talented drivers, it was able to beat much more powerful and sophisticated machines. SAAB truly was a David taking on Goliaths.


So, if you want to learn more about SAAB or would just like to know why anyone would ever want to drive one, we recommend this book. You can pick it on Amazon. Just be careful because you may start lusting for a 96 of your own. I for one have been on craigslist a lot more since reading it.

So, anyone out there with a 96 they would like to get rid of?



  1. Don Andreina

    These things are so darned cute, and so frigging tough. I love how the original design was based on an aerofoil profile. Hope you find a 96, Jesse

    • luciano stefanini

      Thank you for starting this site and all the updates. I would like to hear from Mr Don Andreina about his search for the classic car of his dreams. I am here in Southern California. Thanks Luciano

      • Don Andreina

        Maserati A6G-2000 or A6G/54 with Zagato body; doesn’t need to be a double bubble, but preferably with simple grille and no bumpers. The search begins by marrying a rich widow. Until then, I must content myself with this most edifying website to feed my dreams.

  2. scot

    ~ i’ve been reading about an extremely innovative and energetic fellow in Fort Dodge, Iowa named Tom Donney, who seems to me to be the SAAB saver (or savior). have a look at his site and his accomplishments.
    . you will see some incredible stuff.

  3. Rich Truesdell

    I’m with Jesse, there’s something oddly compelling about Saabs, even though I’ve never owned one. Would love a 900 convertible myself.

    I covered the Saab saga as things wound down, wrote about it, and assembled a start-to-finish gallery of images of the cars from Trollhättan from 1947 to 2010. I think it’s one of the most comprehensive collection of Saab images in one place (many from the GM media archives) on the web. Included are some are some very rare factory photos.

    You can take a look at the photos at http://bit.ly/SaabGallery

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for sharing Rich. That is a nice collection of photos.

  4. Jamie Wallhauser

    It really is a shame about Saab as there following has always been so loyal. I was certified in Saab sales in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s and it was clear they were in trouble at that time. The first issue was build quality — during sales demonstrations car parts would either come off in our hands (seat controls) or literally fly through the air when released (rear headrests on the convertible). I was also certified Audi and it was clear that Audi was achieving what Saab could not and this was even discussed at Saab headquarters in Atlanta. Expanding sales from a loyal core to the mainstream with outdated engines proved to be impossible for this quirky little company and the rest is history. With all that being said I am poised to obtain my first Saab, a ’99 Convertible just like the ones I was demonstrating — with a dedicated base of mechanics in my area and prices well under $5K the car is a good “cheap wheels” buy and they are generally very reliable. I’ll send you a photo when I get it!!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Please keep us updated Jamie!

  5. paul

    While I never owned a 96 I did have a friend with a 2 stroke, freewheeling Saab, it was a fun car, when BF posted that wonderful pale green one a few weeks back I have to say it pushed a lot of buttons. I do wonder how those 2 strokers handle the new fuels? I did however own an 89, 900, that was quite an impressive car for what it was, a sedan that handled twisty roads quite well & was as tight as they come even at 120,000 it felt like a new car with not a rattle & even the cloth seats & carpets had 0 wear.

  6. Al T

    The ignition in the console was a later change. All the early SAABS ( ie. Models 92, 92B, 93, 93f, 95, 96 etc. up to the end of the 95/96 production run in the late 70’s) had the ignition either in the dash or on the steering column. I believe the ignition in the console was introduced with the Model 99 in the early 70’s. For me the Model 99 was the beginning of the end of the classic SAABS. I still own a ’60 93f 2 stroker and have had upwards of 20 2 strokes and V4s pass through my hands. Vintage Saabs rule!

    • paul

      I am sure the 99 was quite a stretch from those early cars but the 99 introduced modern Turbo charging with intercoolers & it was this innovation that transformed the technology, I have a decade older Corvair turbo with out this feature & I have to let the car idle for 2 minutes after driving it to allow the oil to cool down & circulate through turbo.

  7. Jim P.

    I’ve owned many classic cars i.e. Studebakers, Citroens., a 427 Corvette, a turbo Porsche. Motorcycles, too. All lots of fun. But for some odd reason I’ve settled in on classic Saabs. I currently own a ’56 92B and ’65 Monte Carlo. Love those 2 strokes! Also have a ’59 Duett. Love those Swedes!

    • Al Tirella


      By any chance were you at the SOC convention in Albany, NY a couple of weeks ago. I was there vending tons of V4 parts in an effort to raise enough cash to start my ’60 93f restoration. It was a great couple of days with excellent weather. I sold more than I expected but barely made a dent in the V4 inventory. Have body parts that would fit your ’65.

      Al T

    • Al Tirella


      My other Swede is a ’68 1800 S.

      Al T

  8. Gene M

    I like my ’71 96 so much I’d like to keep it in my pocket. I’m also very keen on a ’06 9-3 Aero V6 and the ’98 9000CSE (4 turbo, of course). The latter is from the aforesaid Tom Donney and the 96 has also spent some time with him. I equate his place to some of the country’s great automotive shrines. No kidding.

  9. Bud

    I had a 1966 Model 95 (Station wagon) in the mid 70’s. Fun car for no apparent reason but I just loved driving it. 4 speed on the column, freewheeling and 2 stroke engine. It felt pretty much indestructible.

    • Al Tirella


      Except for the unibody construction prone to rust if you weren’t diligent and the occasional tempermental tranny, they were pretty much indestructible.

      Al T

  10. Paul B

    Love these cars, first drove and bought one as a teenager in the 1960s and had to have more. It was a used ’65 Monte Carlo 850, the first of a long line of 2-strokes and V4s for my family and me. There was something intangibly special about these cars. They had unique looks that sprang from real thinking, they were cute as can be in their own way, they had tons of personality from the engine note to the handling, and with some modest care, they were very tough. You could really fall in love with a SAAB, including the David/Goliath aspect, in ways I’ve never experienced with a Volvo, Peugeot or anything else short of a Panhard (I own a ’60 Panhard today). I will say you had to be a bit mechanically sympatico to own one: there were lots of strong points, but the weak points could stop you cold if you didn’t know about them and keep after them. It was a car of another age, and the total reliability of the Japanese cars that came along in the mid to late 60s caught SAAB, and other European makers, a bit by surprise I think and relegated them to very minor status in the market. I would own another nice 93, 96, or Sonett II in a heartbeat today if I could.

  11. Dan Farrell

    I had an early 99 the first year they had electronic fuel injection, loved driving the car and didn’t even mind that it didn’t have a radio. The fuel injection broke on a ski trip to Mammoth Ca. Lots of Saab guys in Mammoth but no one could work on the electronic fuel injection. Took the Greyhound home to the L.A. area, 400 miles away. Got the car home and the part needed was on a ship in the harbor, but there was a dock workers strike at the time and no one was unloading ships. Took a month to get the car back and it was never the same afterward. That is the first of two Saab or sob stories in my life, both were very expensive.

  12. Brendan Gerrity

    I’ve driven Saabs all my life. Never a 96, but a ’80 99, ’84 900S, 88 9000t, 94 900t convertible, and today – an ’01 9-3 Viggen Convertible and a ’91 900 SPG. No cars look like them, they drive very well, do many things well, and I have had no issues beyond regular maintenance in the 100,000s of miles I’ve driven. The latest news is that the production line will re-start in early 2014 producing Saabs once again in Trollhatten – with both gasoline powered cars (possibly with BMW-sourced engines) and electric/hybrids.

  13. Gene M

    My fondest wish is that Tom and Bill would do a full-blown coffee table book with personal bios and many cheerful, and not so cheerful, facts about every thing in their Saab world. I’ll do the photography but hurry up. I’m 83. Tom–if you’re watching– I still plan to give 10 million to your museum when I win the lottery.
    Problem: I still haven’t bought a lottery ticket. Good luck in SD.

  14. Ben Barthelme

    ….just the pure dependability, like VW make these Swedes as sharp as their steel….

  15. scottski

    I’ve owned two: a ’77 99 EMS and an ’86 900S.

    The latter was a mess, slathered with every bell-and-whistle luxury demanded for the time… and torched wiring, under the hood.

    That EMS, though….

    With a fresh set of wide Pirellis and a good stereo on Virginia’s Skyline Drive… that car sang.

  16. Mark

    I owned two 96’s, a 95 and two Sonett III’s. The V4 95 & 96’s were great fun to think about driving, but the actual driving experience leaves plenty to be desired. They don’t handle all that great, they lack power and the transmissions were not all that durable. They look cool, but a two door 99 with CIS fuel injection has much more power and handles better (though far more complex). I still love looking at them, but I’m fine with someone else owning them!

    Good luck with the search, Jesse.

  17. Telly Black

    My second car was a red ’67 SAAB 96 with the V-4. It had the funkiest column shifter I’ve ever seen: 1st gear was back and up, 2nd was back and down, 3rd was forward and up, and 4th was forward and down. Reverse was shifter in neutral – pull shifter out – pull shifter back – and then pull shifter down. It also had a “coast mode” that unlocked the drivetrain while declerating. Fun car!

  18. tom donney

    I love Saabs cause they want you to drive them! U become part of the car! Most cars just need some one to turn the key and steer the wheel. Not a Saab….they need a driver! They are just plain fun to drive! The best Saab is the one you are in now! Worst?? The one you cant have yet! thanks to all

  19. Paul B

    You just said it Tom! They demand to be driven! You can spend more, but you won’t find anything more fun automotive. Hope to meet you someday. Saabs I have owned and loved include ’65 Monte Carlo sunroof; ’60 93F in black; ’66 96 2-stroke standard in pale blue; ’67 and ’68 Shrikes; ’67 95 2-stroke; ’70 96V4 beater which I drove cross country and back with a friend back in ’79. Loved them all. My dad and mom had a ’68 96V4 Deluxe and a ’72 96V4. We used to campaign the ’68 in local autocrosses and did pretty well considering.

  20. Paul B

    Oh yeah, I forgot the red ’65 96 4-speed and the Navy blue ’65 96 3-speed, that last one a delightful car I built up for a friend out of various parts off ’65-’68 models. The best of everything.

  21. Peter Brookes-Tee

    Saw Carlson make the 2 strokers fly in the East African Rally. Incredible.

  22. Mark Wisniewski

    My first SAAB was a 78 EMS. After almost 27 years of driving them, there is nothing else
    I’d rather have, except maybe a 66 Corvair Coupe.

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