Thursday June 21, 2018
You could almost always detect the arrival of an early Saab 96 long before it came into view. Firstly, there was that engine note – a succession of popping noises – and then there was the unmistakable aroma of the two-stroke engine. But this multi-faceted car – both family transport and rally champion – was never one to embrace convention for its own sake; it was much too good for that. This truly superb sales film explains why people really needed a 96 in their lives, even if having strangulated English accents over Swedish scenery does appear to be slightly odd.
The 96 was also the first Saab to be officially sold in the UK, for prior to that 1960 British motorists could only read about the 92 and the 93 in The Motor or Autocar. At a time when the Mini was still regarded with some trepidation by some conventional-minded drivers, a front-wheel drive ‘foreign car’ with distinctive coachwork and a three-cylinder engine was not to be considered lightly. After all, £885 2s 6d was a steep price for a small saloon but those who did make the decision to ‘Go Swift, Go Safe, Go Saab’ took delivery of one of the best mass-produced cars of its generation. The interior was practical without being Spartan and the specification included a volcanic heater, a clock, adjustable front seat backrests, and a removable rear backrest for extra boot space. Another nice touch was the side-window demisters at a time when many Britons used open quarter lights to clear the screen.
On the road, the precision of the gear change was an object lesson on how to create the ideal steering column shift and as Motor Sport put it ‘On the road the Saab 96 lives up to the promise of those who have taken the trouble to examine it in the garage or showroom’. For those who needed extra carrying capacity for luggage and/or humans there was also the 95 with its three rows of seats – and it proved a revelation for those drivers who had previously associated small estate cars with van-like handling. According to the wildly enthusiastic narrator of this commercial the 95 could also provide you with ‘a first-class hotel room’, which was a slight exaggeration although you could not deny that the Saab station wagon possessed a certain flair.
Of course, the 96 and 95 had their idiosyncrasies, such as the freewheel control for the transmission and the need to mix oil with petrol to lubricate the power plant. But these were all part of the joys of Saab ownership and if all the positive attributes were not enough in themselves to induce a sense of awe – or at least envy - in your neighbours there was the fact that the 96 owner was driving a world-renowned competition champion. The footage of Erik Carlsson driving a Saab to victory in the RAC Rally of 1960, 1961 and 1962 plus the Monte Carlo Rally of 1962 (a first from a Swedish driver) and 1963 reinforced the impression that here was a vehicle that would keep going when other rivals would have quietly disintegrated - See Video Below. Incidentally, another of the many attractions of this ATV documentary is the footage of the ITV news team’s Vauxhall PA.
The two-stroke 96 ceased production fifty years ago, but the later V4 engine model was made until as recently as 1980. The bullet-shaped Saab was the car that established the marque’s image in this country, and after glimpsing this PR footage, who would not want own ‘The ‘Swedish car with aircraft quality’.