1964 Saab 96 – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

The Swedes have never been ones to follow formulas, and have instead always been keen to go their own way. To try something different, to think outside of the box. If you need evidence of this, all you need to do is look at the cars. Volvo, the country’s most well known vehicle maker, has been forging forward for years with new ideas, bold designs and a dogged determination to put safety first, which in turn has shaped the rest of the automotive world. Then you have, or should say had, Saab. Saab was a bonkers law unto itself that built the cars it wanted to. It cared not for focus groups or listening to others. Instead, it just did what it wanted. For that, we will always applaud it. A brilliant company that was taken from us too soon. But rather than mourn the passing of this great company, we should instead celebrate it by buying and driving their cars of old. Cars like this 1964 Saab 96, for example. 

What is it? 

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The car we have here is a 1964 Saab 96. A slick, full-bodied saloon full of charm. In the UK, in 1964, the offers were traditionally boxy and formulaic. Not the Saab though. It was a glorious collection of curves that ignited something in the people who bought it. Sadly for Saab, those people were rare at the time. However, in 1964, someone did indeed order a brand new 96 in UK specification. That alone makes this car rare – most are left-hand drive imports. The UK’s roads, with their rain and their winter salt were too aggressive for these cars to survive. However, survive is what this one has done. It needs work, of course, but it’s a running and driving car that you could have as a rolling restoration. 

Still powered by the original 841cc two-stroke engine, this car is a bit rough around the edges, but is wonderfully original. The ‘putt putt’ engine noise is part of the charm, as is the intoxicating (if you’re of the disposition to appreciate such smells) odour of the fuel and oil mix. Later Ford V4 powered cars were arguably more usable, but they weren’t nearly as charming. Nor were they as attractive. The V4 meant a new face to better accommodate it. Lost was the domed grille and round lights still present on this one. 

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Why is it a project? 

The good thing here is that this is a project in the midst of the work. As such, it’s now at the stage of needing the visuals sorting. Everything else has been done. The current owner has fitted a new fuel tank, has done some of the structural welding, it’s got new brakes, a new brake master cylinder, five new Uniroyal tyres, temp gauge sender and new Gaz shocks. It’s on the button and ready to drive. It just doesn’t look too hot. However, while there is some rust in the panels, they all bolt on and off with ease. And here’s where it gets even better – the seller has already acquired all the panels you’ll need. Winner. It just needs stripping down, then fit the new panels and throw some fresh paint on it. That could well be all you need to do. This car could be show-ready for the second half of 2021. 

Why though, you may be wondering, is the vendor selling this 96? Well, he’s found a 93B which is now taking priority, and as such the 96 needs to go. So no sinister motives to worry about. 

Five things to look for: 

1) Engine

The car is on the button, running and driving. However, it still pays to check the engine. Two-stroke engine is naturally a bit smokey, so don’t worry about that. Instead, look for leaks, noises and any overheating issues. 

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2) Rust

Rust was a major killer of these cars. Just look at the wing with the hole in it as proof. The vendor states that some welding has been done, in particular to the front suspension supports. But is the welder needed anywhere else? What about the sills, the boot and the rear end? 

3) Suspension

This should be fine, as the seller states he’s put a new Gaz shock on there, but still check it all. The ride of a 96 is key to it being enjoyable. Check the rear in particular, mountings, top plates, so on and so forth. 

4) Panels

Supplying panels with the car is a good thing, but only if they’re panels you can use. Given the transparency in the advert, we’re confident they should be spot on. However, it costs nothing to check them over. 

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5) Electrics

Old cars and electrical systems are often a source of great pain and frustration. Check the wiring as best you can, look for any breaks, any poor repairs and any signs of things shorting out/getting hot. Do a systems check and make sure everything works. 

What should you do with it? 

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You could sort the body out, restore it and enjoy it as Saab had intended. This would of course involve taking it to shows and being the envy of everyone, because you have a proper UK Saab 96. If the standard life isn’t for you, what about some sort of rally replica? The 96 was a formidable force on the stages, so it would be a fitting tribute to make one look like a rally machine of old. Or of course, you could just buy it, restore the body and then enjoy it for yourself. And enjoy it you will. The Saab 96 is a belting little car. 

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