#15 - The Saab 96 Project

Finally, we’re at the fun stuff! Now, instead of me spouting nonsense about theoretical stuff, I get to spout nonsense about practical stuff. I wanted to introduce the muse for my projects, a 1968 Saab 96. My brother and I bought this car a little while back for $4000. I’m pretty sure it was a fair price for the car (neither of us are much more than tire kickers). But to me, it feels like it should be worth way more.

It’s such a great looking car, and it has rally pedigree, winning the famed Rallye Monte Carlo in 1962 and 63.


It’s got a carburetted V4 engine, no power steering, and no anti-lock brakes. You can take a look at the Wikipedia page if you want to get the details, but I’d like to give you a feel for the experience. You climb into the car and close the door with a satisfying, metallic “thunk”. Pull the choke, maybe say a quick prayer to the engine gods, couple pumps of the throttle, and turn the ignition. You should be rewarded with a nice burble (accompanied by a whiff of fuel). You wrap your hands around a rather thin but large steering wheel and reach for the shifter on the column. Feet on the pedals, which are offset a bit to the right, so your body twists slightly.

Things vibrate a lot more than you’re used to. The fuel gauge bounces around by about an eighth of a tank. Next to the fuel gauge is a gaping big hole where the speedometer should be. That had to be taken out for eventual repairs. At anything over a slow crawl, it would optimistically insist you were doing over 120mph. Above the fuel gauge is the temp gauge, which you check constantly. In this car, the engine temperature climbs quickly. You help the engine cooling by pulling the fan knob out to the “high” setting. The temperature lever is already set to heat. A typical summer drive, with windows down, and heat blasting. It’s a very soft ride, seemingly half coming from the seats and half from the suspension itself. But it’s an event every time. It puts a smile on my face and on many that see it on the road.

So what are my plans for it? As I said in my first post, I plan on learning about things that interest me. That means what I work on will probably seem extremely counterintuitive. I should probably spend all of my effort on the rather underpowered, slightly finnicky engine, but I’ve never really been an engine guy. I don’t have any new ideas in that area, so I’d just halfheartedly fumble through a restoration. I want to work on new concepts, not just live in the technological past. I will, of course, try to fix things as they break but probably won’t spend much time or effort or even post about them.

And is there a cohesive vision for the end result? Not really. I’m inspired by modernized classics like this Porsche and this Alfa. I’d also very much like to participate in a rally (or something similar), so I can have real world feedback on things that I build. Motorsport regulations are very restrictive though, so that might turn into rallycross or hillclimbs or something even more grassroots. For now though, it will simply a testbed for ideas and the result will be as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

So in case I end up irreversibly ruining the car, I’ll end with a few more pictures and a mediocre video of my drive on Angeles Crest. Video was shot by taping my phone to the passenger seat.

Drawing exercise #5. If you missed it, here’s why I’m learning to draw.