Simanaitis Says

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SAAB 850 GT—SWEDISH STYLE MOTORIZED PART 1

IN NEAR-TERM MEMORY, SAAB is a defunct subsidiary of GM. But this legendary Swedish marque used to be a great deal more. As one example, it made the cover of R&T, April 1964, which contained a road test of the Saab 850 GT. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits gleaned from the road test, together with my usual Internet sleuthing and even a note of personal regret.

R&T, April 1964, wrote, “Saab, to those who follow rallying, is a name that conjures up a vision of Erik Carlsson gently caroming off a snow bank as he speeds down a mountain toward the finish of the Monte Carlo Rally. It also suggests the rhing-a-dhing-dhing of a class HM racing car in the pit before a road race. To many Europeans, as well as many Americans, it signifies dead-reliable transportation that is also something more than just transportation.” 

This and following images from R&T, April 1964. I attribute the stains to Merlot.

An Anti-Beetle with Swedish Style. Consider: The Volkswagen Beetle was an economical four-seater powered by an air-cooled four-stroke flat-four mounted in the rear driving those wheels. The Saab was likewise an economical four-seater. But its water-cooled three-cylinder’s front-mounted two-stroke drove the front wheels. Whereas the Beetle exuded Germanic practicality, the Saab exhibited Swedish style. 

The Saab was “the world’s only car engineered to aircraft standards,” an ad claim underwritten by the company’s origin as Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget. First building foreign aircraft under license in 1937, the firm has a noteworthy history. For example, see “Saab 21—Where’s my Prop?” Saab AB continues today as a Swedish aerospace and defense firm. SimanaitisSays recounts this heritage in “Show Cars I’ve Driven—More or Less.”

A Monte Carlo Backstory. Begun in 1911, the Monte Carlo Rally has run annually but for wartime and 1957 (the latter cancelled because of Suez-crisis fuel restrictions). Each winter, cars assemble from various starting points throughout Europe and rally to Monaco, with snow and icy roads only part of the challenge.

This ad, appearing in the same April 1964 R&T as the road test, celebrated “For the third year in a row, Erik Carlsson brought his red 5-passenger SAAB home first in class. Close behind in another SAAB, Pat Moss Carlsson, his wife, finished first among all woman drivers and won the Women’s Trophy for the fourth time.” And, yes, Pat was Stirling’s kid sister. 

Indeed, Carlsson’s Saab finished third overall of 299 entries and had won overall in 1962 and 1963. However….

In the same R&T, and appearing directly across from the Saab 850 GT road test lead, was a Ford Falcon ad celebrating its second place overall in the 1964 Monte Carlo. And, in full disclosure, top honors that year went to Paddy Hopkirk’s Morris Mini Cooper.

Saab 850 GT Technicalities. Like its standard Saab 96 variant, the 850 GT had a two-stroke engine, sensible for Scandinavian conditions because, as R&T noted, two-strokes have “easier starting in cold weather (lower cranking effort required) and… positive lubrication from the first kickover, which results in long cylinder bore life, as well as speedy warm up.” 

“The choice of a water-cooled engine,” R&T continued, “was an obvious one because of an effective passenger compartment heater in the cold Swedish winter.” 

Take that, Beetle proponents. 

The 850 had “slightly altered port timing,” R&T observed, “which, in a 2-cycle engine, is like giving it a different cam and valve timing.” 

“Somewhere below the three Solex carburetors there is an engine,” reported R&T, April 1964. 

It also had “a separate oil tank that does away with the necessity for mixing lubricating oil with the gasoline [hitherto, a two-stroke bother]. With this separate oil tank, which is mounted next to the engine, 3 liters of oil are carried, enough for over 1000 mi of driving.”

Tomorrow in Part 2 we’ll get behind the Saab 850 GT’s stylish wood-rim steering wheel and see what she’ll do with her rhing-a-dhing-dhing. I’ll also share a personal regret. ds   

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

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