Debuting at a Stockholm press conference in February 17, 1960, the new Saab 96 was also known as Project 93C. Based off of its predecessor the 93, it featured an updated tail end that now showcased a 117% larger rear screen, bigger baggage compartment, a wider backseat, brand new fuel tank and larger rear lights. Opening new markets for Saab, the 93 was developed from the old Saab 92 chassis with updates and modernizations. Until January 1980 this model remained on the market and proved to be quite popular. For the Swedish, the Saab 96 was what the Volkswagen Beetle was for the Germans. The 93 gained Saab the world recognition it has today, mainly because of its safety innovations and its motor sport notoriety. The 93 was the first Saab model to officially be imported to the UK. A station wagon (estate version) version was also sold, called the Saab 95.
1965 models received the original 'bull-nose' front section lengthened to make room for a new engine. A leftover featured from the thermosiphon cooling days, the radiator was placed in front of the engine instead of above and behind. In 1968 the front and rear windows were made just a bit bigger. The following year the Saab 99 was introduced. A much more modern, updated model, it was meant to be the replacement for the 96, yet the 96 lived on until 1980. At that time a brand new longer 900 had been introduced in 1979 and would eventually replace the 99 in 1984.
The 96 featured a longitudinally mounted engine layout as initially designed, had a 750 cc 38 hp three-cylinder Saab two-stroke engine. It was increased to 841 cc, 40 hp by 1963. The Sport and Monte Carlo models featured an optional 57 hp version of the engine with oil injection and triple carburetors. An updated cylinder head shuffled additional power and filled crankshaft counterweights offering higher overall compression ratio. In 1964 the 96 was tweaked to 42 hp. Two years later the standard 96 841 cc, 46 hp engine, using pre-mix oil, was introduced with a three throat Solex carburetor. The center carburetor controlled start, idle and low speed functions. This was the same carburetor from the Monte Carlo and Sport models. Reducing carburetor synchronization problems was a common throttle shaft.
The 96V4 was introduced in 1967 with the Ford Taunus V4 engine. It featured a four-stroke 1498 cc V7 engine that was initially developed from the 1962 Ford Taunus 12M. Called 'Operation Kajsa', the project to source a four-stroke engine by Saab, had been tested earlier. Three different engines had been tested between 1962 and 1964 by Kjell Knutsson and Ingvar Andersson under Rolf Mellde, Lloyd Arabella 897 cc and 45 hp, a Morris Mini 848 cc, 33 hp engine and a Lancia Appia engine of 1090 cc and 48 hp. CEO Tryggve Holm didn't agree with Rolf Melldes opinion that Saab needed to switch to a four-stroke engine. Mellde sneakily went behind Holms back and contacted Marc Wallenberg, son of Marcus Wallenberg, Saab's major stockholder and gained his approval. The testing began. The Triumph 1300, Ford V4, Volvo B18, Opel, Volkswagen, Lanci V4 engine and Hillman Imp became the tested engines.
With the testing done in absolute secrecy it was determined that the B18 was definitely the most reliable, but it was closely followed by the Ford V4, which fit much easier in to the 96's engine bay. Informing everyone that he was going to run his father's paint shop and would be taking a leave of absence, Mellde instead went to Desenzano in northern Italy with a 96V4 prototype for testing. Only seven people were privy to the new engine information with a mere five months to go before production. They rented a house west of Kristinehamn to insure absolute secrecy. The company Maskinverktyg AB was started to keep the V4 specific parts shopping on the down low. Saab's ordinary purchase department was in the dark completely which became an issue when Rune Ahlberg cancelled an order for the two-stroke engine and cables, and the purchase department called the supplier and brusquely informed them to keep their deliveries.
During the final week of July before summer holidays, the new engine announcement was given to a few more people. They learned that full-scale production would begin in just four weeks. Absolute secrecy was important so 40 of the ordinary staff were told to report to work to repair a disc brake problem. The secret remained safe until a journalist noticed trucks with 96s with V4 stickers on their front bumpers just a few days before the official introduction.
From 1967 through 1980 the first V4 engines produced 55 hp and 65 hp. The car could accelerate from 0-100 km/h in just 16 seconds. Until 1968 the two-stroke option continued and was dubbed the 'Shrike' in the U.S. at that time. To avoid emission regulations that exempted engines below 50 in³ its displacement was slightly reduced, meanwhile the US V4s had a 1700 cc low compression engine.
The Saab 96 and Saab 95 (its station wagon sister) featured a gear lever mounted on the steering column throughout its production history. This wasn't a very common feature and through the years it became even more and more rare. It was appreciated the most among rally drivers who could change gears speedier with a floor-mounted lever.
Initially the gearbox had three gears with the first unsynchronized. Eventually a four-speed option with synchromesh first gear was available and the three-speed gearbox was deleted. Letting the transmission run faster than the engine, usually when decelerating or descending a long hill, was a 'freewheel' or over-run clutch, which was an innovative feature of the Saab drivetrain. Some of these freewheels were found in various vehicles as an economy measure, but they were necessary in the Saab because of the limited lubrication in the two-stroke engine.
According to its speed a gas-lubricated two-stroke required lubrication, but provides this lubrication according to the amount of its throttle opening. When coasting down a long hill and the engine operates at high RPM and low throttle the lubrication provided may have proved to be inadequate. However with the freewheel, a coasting engine could decrease its speed to idling, therefore requiring only the small lubrication available from the closed, coasting, throttle. Direct injection of oil into the engine from a separate reservoir allowed lubrication to be a function of engine RPM in various higher-performance models and in later two-stroke models and rendered mixing oil and gasoline unnecessary. Until the end of its production Freewheeling was retained in the four-stroke variant. This biggest disadvantage of the freewheel, especially to drivers not used to the Saab, was that it made engine braking unavailable except when, in later models, it could be manually engaged or disengaged by a footwell control.
The rear suspension of the Saab 96 was a trailing U-beam axle with coil springs while the front suspension utilized double wishbones and coil springs. All four wheels used telescopic dampers. The earliest models features drum brakes all around and later models were fitted with front disc brakes.
In numerous international rallies the Saab 96 was driven most notably by Erik Carlsson. His most well known successes were in the 1960, 1961 and 1962 RAC Rallie and first in the '62 and '63 Monte Carlo Rallies. These big victories were what put the Saab 96 in the headlines and helped establish its durability and dependability. Carlsson was also a competitor in the East African Safari Rally. Other rallying names connected with the Saab 96 included Per Eklund, Pat Moss-Carlsson, Ton Trana, Simo Lampinen, Stig Blomqvist and Carl Orrenius.
Setting a brand new speed record for stock body production cars with 750 cc engines at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a 1966 Saab 96 hit 110.113 mph in August of 2011. Alex LaFortune was behind the wheel for this momentous occasion.
The final Saab 96 rolled off the assembly line on January 11, 1980. The cars were constructed by Valmet Automotive in Uuskiaupunki, Finland. The Saab 99 outlived the 96, and both were eventually replaced by the Saab 900, which was introduced the previous year. The same sized Talbot Horizon took it place at the Uusikaupunki plant.
Numerous postage stamps featured the Saab 96 over the years including a Monte-Carlo Rally Saab 96, driven by Erik Carlsson. Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson