Swedish two-stroke

star of the 1960s

Saab 96

SO much has been said about modern petrol-powered cars with three cylinder engines that you begin to think that it is a new idea.

Some of the technology is but three-cylinder power was a star of the show way back in the 1960s with the Saab 96.

A product of the now defunct but highly innovative Swedish Saab company, the 96 could trace its lineage back to the 92 model of 1945.

The 96 featured a tear-drop style body and the definitive version had a two-stroke three pot engine.

Those early Saabs drove the rear wheels via a three-speed gearbox and a lever freewheel arrangement.

The wraps came off the 96 in 1960 as Saab embarked on a new decade of development.

As first designed, it had a 841cc, 38bhp two-stroke engine. By 1965 this was increased to 40bhp.

For the sporty fans there was a 57bhp version with triple carburettors.

There was a full-pressure lubrication system which eliminated the old two-stroke problem of mixing lubricant with the fuel.

In 1968 the old philosophy of small engines was dropped and the Ford Taunus V4 engine was adopted which gave the carmuch better performance.

Four-stroke engines had been tested before, between 1962 and 1964 and BMC Lloyd and Lancia engines had been under the spotlight.

The Ford V4 was significantly easier to fit into the engine bay of the 96 and the whole project was carried out under a veil of secrecy at the Saab plant. It was blown wide open when a sharp-eyed journalist noticed a lorryload of 96s with V4 badges.

The 96's freewheel system allowed the transmission to run faster than the engine, such as when decelerating, or descending a long hill.

Although freewheels had been provided in other cars before as an economy measure, they were required in the Saab because of the limited lubrication in the two-stroke engine.

Freewheeling was retained in the four-stroke variant, until the end of production and the Saab 99 took over.

The 96 also a had a tremendous career in motor sport, especially in the hands of the late rally legend Eric Carlsson.


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