Junkyard Gem: 1973 Saab 95

When the Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget began selling cars in addition to their lineup of military aircraft in 1949, the very first model was a goofy-looking machine with a DKW-derived two-stroke two-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. The 92 begat the 93 in 1955, and the 93 led to the 96 (sedan) and 95 (wagon) for 1960. A small but fanatical subset of American car shoppers with a taste for weird European machinery and good snow performance (including the novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who was a Saab dealer in the late 1950s and early 1960s) loved the Saab 95/96, and discarded examples show up in our junkyards to this day. Here’s one of those cars, found in a San Francisco Bay Area car graveyard recently.

There’s a lot of the old 1950 Saab 92 in the general layout of the 95, but the smokey, chainsaw-sounding two-stroke engines got the axe after 1968. In its place went a Ford-designed V4 four-stroker. The engine and transaxle from this one are long gone, and some junkyard jokester dropped in a cylinder head out of a modern straight-five engine in their place.

The original V4 would have displaced 1.7 liters and was rated at 65 horsepower and 85 pound-feet.

The transmission was a four-speed manual with the shifter mounted on the steering column, called a “four-on-the-tree” rig by Americans (the three-speed version was far more commonplace here).

By 1973, the less-weird Saab 99 had been on sale in North America for a few years, and so the 95/96 was on its last model year here (sales in Sweden continued through 1978). The 99-based Saab 900 first showed up on our shores as a 1979 model … but traces of the original 92 lingered even in those cars.

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The MSRP for this car was $3,095, or about $22,362 in 2023 dollars. The 99 started at $3,395 ($24,529 after inflation) for 1973.

Meanwhile, your Chevrolet dealer had new ’73 Vega wagons for $2,323, while Ford offered ’73 Pinto wagons for as little as $2,319 ($16,784 and $16,755 in today’s money).

Dodge dealers had the Mitsubishi-built Colt wagon for $2,477 ($17,897 now) that year, while Toyota sold the Corona longroof for $2,688 ($19,421 today). All those cheaper rivals were rear-drive machines, though; If you wanted a new front-drive U.S.-market wagon for the 1973 model year, your choices were limited to the Saab 95, the Citroën DS (which had a daunting MSRP of $4,890, or $35,981 in today’s money), the Renault 12, the Fiat 128 and the Subaru Leone (the front-wheel-drive Volkswagen Dasher and Datsun F-10 wagons debuted here as 1974 models). 

The floor in this car was cut out, seemingly long before it arrived here. This car has the look of one that was bought for parts by a Saab restorer and then ditched.

Worth restoring? Not really.

These Saab drivers had to begin driving on the right side of Swedish roads six years after this commercial.

You don’t put the horse behind the cart, do you?

When you’re on a crowded Stockholm streetcar, your best move is to whip out a dial phone from under your coat and order a new Saab 95.