Simanaitis Says

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THIS SAAB STORY (NO pun intended) continues with additional tidbits gleaned from an R&T road test of the 850 GT in April 1964, along with some personal links and even a rare bit of automotive regret on my part.

GT 850 Features. “The exterior appearance of the GT 850,” R&T wrote, “is distinguished from the ‘everyday’ 96 only by identification flashes. On assuming the driving position, however, the differences begin to become apparent immediately.”

This and other images from R&T, April 1964.

“First to catch the eye,” R&T noted, “is the well-placed, easy-to-read white-in-black VDO instruments and intelligently arranged warning lamps. The fit and finish of the interior is excellent, typical of the workmanship throughout the car.” 

“The seating package is almost infinitely variable, adjustments being available for up-and-down (by movable blocks) as well as fore-and-aft and lean back. With such variations possible, the Saab will fit drivers of any size, up to and including Erik Carlsson size, in complete comfort.” R&T noted as well an adjustable middle-of-the-back pad on both seats and a headrest on the passenger’s side. (The mid-back feature, passenger headrest, and standard seatbelts were exceptional at the time.)

“The Corgi, used to an Austin-Healey,” R&T recounted, “finds the Saab very roomy.”

More Details. The road test Data Panel is reproduced here to highlight several of the Saab’s details. 

As noted in Part 1, I believe the stains are Merlot, part of my undergraduate education in matters oenological.

What with its 841-cc three-cylinder two-stroke producing a rhing-a-dhing-dhinging 57 hp at 5000, performance of the 850 GT was modest: 0-60 in 21.2 seconds and a top speed of 87 mph. However, the “Rpm @ 2500 ft/min” of piston speed datum suggested an ability to run all day long at this top speed.

R&T reported, “Our test car was, in fact, fractionally slower to 30 mph than the Saab 96 we tested in January 1961 as some low end torque has been sacrificed to achieve greater power. Once underway, however, the increased output of the hotter version shows itself and it is in the fast cruising range that the GT 850 is at its best. There, whether driving on turnpikes or twisting mountain roads, the car is a pleasure to operate.”

Two-stroke Free Wheeling. “As is common for cars with 2-stroke engines,” R&T observes,  “the Saab has a ‘free wheeling’ feature that disengages the engine from the drivetrain when the accelerator is released. This permits gear shifts to be made without using the clutch, a boon in traffic driving, as the small engined car does require frequent gear changing in traffic. Most Saab drivers rarely disengage the free wheeling as the brakes are excellent and the gas mileage is increased appreciably by its use.”  

Saab Handling. R&T wrote, “There is a sure-foottedness about the Saab that has to be experienced to be appreciated, the braking is sure and positive, and the handling can’t be faulted under any condition…. …the GT 850 felt rock-steady at all speeds, the front end going where it was pointed and only beginning to plow when speeds were out of reason for the turn to be taken.”

R&T’s View. “Admittedly, though, the Saab Granturismo 850 is not everybody’s glass of aquavit. If the characteristics of a 2-stroke engine make the owner feel as though he’s driving a popcorn popper, he won’t like it. Nor will he appreciate the messages sent to him through the tugs on the steering if he doesn’t like its front wheel drive. Also, if he insists on a minimum amount of gear shifting, he won’t like it. In addition, even if he does like all these things, he must also convince himself that the additional performance of the GT 850 over a standard Saab 96 is worth the additional $800 the hotter version costs.”

My View. I was living in New England at the time, where Saabs were particularly popular as snow-country upmarket VW alternatives, understeer being much preferred to oversteer. I was working part time at Worcester’s David Clark Company, where I provided trivial support in its supplying spacesuits for NASA’s Gemini Project. It’s difficult to work this nugget into conversation these days, but it can be done. 

One of my David Clark colleagues, an engineer of Swedish heritage, drove a Saab 850 GT and a brief ride had me lusting to stroke its wood-rim steering wheel. Alas, even later when I might have afforded one, others of life’s complications precluded my ever owning an 850 GT.

My Other Saab Link. Years later, I got to know Erik Carlsson through various Saab press trips. I was gratified that he wasn’t scared witless in the passenger seat as a Saab P.R. rep. I recall a funny conversation when Eric told of his getting a commercial license to drive wife Pat’s horsebox. Pat Carlsson, née Moss, ace women rally driver, was also a champion horsewoman, a member of the British Show-Jumping team. Yes, she was Stirling’s kid sister. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022   


  1. Nate
    September 6, 2022

    Pops had the station wagon version, I like it but it had running issues and the dealer’s (Gaston Andre)  Mechanic wrecked it test driving it in Boston . Incredible snow cars ! . A few years later a teacher had a two door version and I remember clutchless down shifts being ‘crunchy’ . He also didn’t know how to make the idling at speed engine recouple so he nearly wrecked it zooming down a snowy hill road in New Hampshire one Winter…. I learned from him and many other ‘adults’ to always listen to a child’s suggestion before deciding if it’s any good or not . -NateLIVE in the world as it is, WORK to make the world as it should be

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