The Flying Car: 1973 Saab 96

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Thanks reader Jim S for sending us a tip on another very cool car for sale on eBay, a 1973 Saab 96. The Saab company began life as an airplane manufacturer. It’s earliest cars were designed by aeronautical engineers and designers, and their cars showed the influence.

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The Saab 96 was manufactured from 1960 to 1980. Early cars were powered by a two stroke engine, but in 1967 Saab switched over to a small (1700 cc) V-4 made by Ford in Europe.

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These Saabs were unusual in this era, as they were front wheel drive cars, a big selling point in snowy parts of the country, where they were most popular in the sixties and seventies. In fact, the Saab 96 for sale here on eBay is located in Bow, New Hampshire.

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These cars are really fun to drive. They were very popular as rally cars in the late sixties and early seventies. In fact I learned to drive stick shift on an earlier model named the “Monte Carlo 850” after the famed Monte Carlo rally that driver Erik Carlssen won in 1962 and 1963.

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The seller admits that he bought the car sight unseen two years ago. It has been advertised as rust free, but that turns out not to be the case. The seller’s explanation about how rusty the car might be is not all that clear, so any potential buyer ought to have the car inspected closely before bidding, it would seem. The claim is made that all it needs is proper paint prep, but that really does seem unlikely for a car of this vintage that has spent most of its life in rust prone New England.

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This Saab has been driven a total of only 99,000 miles, the seller says the interior is in great condition, the engine runs strong, transmission is quiet and shifts perfectly, the free wheel feature works great, the tires are excellent, and the headliner needs attention. The seller started to do some paint prep but says he is too busy with other projects to continue that effort. Again, I’d say a close body inspection is needed.

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The car actually does look pretty good, but with no information provided about the floors, frame and inner body, I’d think only a local buyer would be likely to take a chance on this car. If you’re at all interested in these cars, the VSAAB website is well worth a visit.

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Comments

  1. Roger Owen

    One of the major rust trouble spot for these cars is usually the bottom of the firewall / bulkhead where the floor attaches. There’s a shelf where debris and water can collect – leading to serious structural rust. It’s a difficult area to get to without engine and gearbox removal. I’d be concerned that this car might have this problem – there appears to be a foil fabric cover at the cabin floor join – which is where the problem might lie – on the other side.

    It might just have been put there as a heat deflector / noise suppressor? But, I would try to check this area carefully.

    Russian steel was used in some constructions and it was prone to ‘viening’, leading to rust developing under the paint coat.

    Despite this – they are great little cars and terrific fun to drive. They really come into their own in snow!

    Mechanically quite strong – some issues reported with the cologne engine balance shaft – not a problem I ever had with the 3 that I owned.

    I did experience overheating and fuel evaporation problems with one car that I never got to the bottom of.

  2. Roger Owen

    Not sure about 1700cc, the ones I owned were all 1500cc.

  3. RH FACTOR

    I had four 99’s in the 70’s but I’m also familiar with these and worked on a bunch. Really nice ride for a small car , fairly peppy and the free wheeling is fun once you get used to it. They rusted badly. Not so for the 99’s. Strange. One thing on the 99’s, which was a bit of an enigma was that every one of them had a lousy heater. I tried everything. Best solution was to completely block off the radiator with cardboard. Only then would the cars get to operating temp and supply some heat. Fun cars all, but expensive to maintain and they broke fairly often. Loved them all, in spite of their faults!!!! RH FACTOR

    • BTG88

      Under the hood of my 1980 99 GLi, there was a lever that would be turned to either summer or winter. I drove my through the most severe winters upstate NY could dish out and was always toasty warm. Saabs have always been known for their good heaters. After 250,000 fault-free miles, the road salt got too much for it, but engine and tranny were still running perfectly.

  4. Doug

    Great car to experience primitive front wheel drive in. My ’68 is a blast. The first motor used after the two stroke was a 1500cc ford v4. The 1700cc came a few years later. Some will say the transmissions are weak points and others will say keep them full of oil and they last just fine. Guessing this one did not spend its life in New Hampshire or there would be much more visible rust.

  5. Matt Tritt

    I owned both a 68 96 2-stroke and a 72 95 wagon with the Taunus V-4. I remember having it smogged when I first bought it (the wagon) and having the tech run it 3 times through the tests. When I asked him how bad it was, he told me that it was the cleanest burning car he’d ever checked, and that was with only a crankcase rebreather! It got great MPG, climbed the Sierras in high gear, carried 5 passengers and luggage and drove like a sportscar. Funny thing was that it always sounded like it was running on 3 cylinders because of the odd firing sequencing of the V4; like a V8 missing half the cylinders. Loved that car and can’t remember just why I sold it.

    • Brakeservo

      I had a sports car with the 2.3 liter 6 cylinder version of that Ford Cologne engine, when revved it sounded more like a vintage Ferrari V12 than anything else that wasn’t a Ferrari V12! Was, uh , a bit slower though. . .
      .

  6. Alan (Michigan )

    Ice raced a 96 with a Ford 2.6 V6 for power. Column shift. Great fun!

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