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Fancy owning a motorsport legend? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on rally stages and race tracks, and still provide fine drives today
You can’t talk about the V4 without mentioning the original Saab 96. This was the car that helped change the face of international rallying. Yes it had only a three-cylinder, two-stroke, motor of 841cc, but on triple carburettorsErik ‘On the Roof’ Carlsson was a triple winner of the RAC Rally as the sport moved fromdriving tests on Blackpool promenade to rough,tough, special stages in the forests. Carlsson’s wins in 1960, ’61 and ’62 put Saabon the map, but other manufacturers had more power and the Swedish manufacturer was left flagging. Until 1967 when – courtesy of Ford – the V4 arrived to power another string of successes. Designed for the ‘Cardinal’ project, which in the UK produced the Cortina, the 1498cc power unit was destined for Ford Germany’s Taunus model. In original form it was uninspiring, with just 65bhp, but the short length of the Vee configuration made it ideal to slot into the space left by Saab’s outdated three-pot motor, and – like the Saab – the Taunus was front-wheel drive. It was a marriage of convenience. Once the Saab competition guys (the Trolls at Trolhattan, as they were known) got their hands on the engine it grew to 1740cc and an easy 90bhp. By the time the V4 left the rally scene in 1980 it was 1815cc and power in excess of 140bhp was on tap. But the Saab 96 was big and heavy compared with some (like the Mini) and it needed superstars behind the wheel to make it work. In those days, they came from Scandinavia. Stig Blomqvist, and Simo Lampinen, were the guys who made it sing: Simo (who’d won Finland’s 1000 Lakes Rally twice in the two-stroke) was the RAC Rally victor in 1968, and Stig in ’71. Blomqvist was also a three times Swedish Rally winner – and triple national champion – and ’71 1000 Lakes winner in the V4. Per Eklund was another rapid Troll, but he never took an outright WRC victory in the Saab. They were mad, of course! Underpowered compared with an Escort, and with a column gearchange and free-wheel on the final drive to hinder (or help?) progress, left-foot braking and clutchless gearchanges were an essential part of the Saab driver’s modus operandi. The results were often dramatic: one RAC, Blomqvist bent almost every body panel, the service crews bolted new bits on as he raced around the country, and the paint was still wet when the car struggled onto the finish ramp! Mere Englishmen never quite got to grips with the Saab. Jack Tordoff was the most successful,before he discovered the Porsche Carrera RS, photographer Colin Taylor took one on the 1968 London-Sydney, and more recently Andrew Street posted some worthwhile results in the British Historic Rally Championship. Now it’s best described as a quirky competition car only likely to appeal to drivers looking for something different, and with a slightly mad streak!
Saab 96 V4 Summary
Engine: Vee 4 configuration with cast iron block and heads, and three bearing crankshaft. 1498cc.
Power: 65bhp(standard). Rally engines to 140bhp (1815cc, 2x DCOE Weber carbs, race cam, etc) depending upon specification.
Gearbox: Four-speed with free-wheel on final drive. Column gearchange.
Drive: Front wheels.
Suspension: Independent front with wishbones and coil springs. Rear rigid beam axle on trailing arms with coil springs.
Brakes: Front disc, drum rear.
Steering: Rack and pinion.
Claim to fame
Winner on forest stages, especially in ice and snow. Two RAC Rally victories, Three Swedish Rallies, and a sole 1000 Lakes. Great entertainment for spectators.
Stig Blomqvist, Simo Lampinen, Per Eklund, Taipo Raino, Antero Laine, Ola Stromberg, Kenneth Eriksson, Carl Orrenius, Jack Tordoff, Colin Taylor, Andrew Street (Erik Carlsson of course).
Where to buy
Owners clubs web sites list several cars for sale, also specialist dealers (eg: Hagstrom Saab at http://www.hagstromsaab.co.uk) throughout the country.
What to look for
Bodies are good and tough, but any car this age (30 years plus) is bound to suffer from rust, especially floor, rear suspension mounts and air intake box. Body panels are bolt on. V4 engine balance shaft can work loose (expensive!). Gearshift on steering column sometimes stiff, but should be positive. Check the free-wheel system works.
What to pay
Around £800 will net you a fair example, up to £3500 for a mint car. Average appears to be £1500. Ex-rally cars surface from time to time, but beware of ‘fakes’ and silly prices.
Get the right bits and 140bhp is possible. Back in its day, the Saab Sport and Rally department marketed a whole bundle of bits for the car. (Look at: http://www.geocities.com/saabturbo2000/catalogsportrally /catalog.htm). Nowadays the car is eligible for Historic (or Post Historic, depending upon age) rallying. Not competitive alongside Escorts, Porsches, or even Minis, but bloody good fun!
Competitive Rating: 5
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