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1963 Saab 95
by John Matras

Get the nomenclature right:  The current Saab 9-5 SportCombi, the Swedish companys luxury wagon, is a nine-five, as is the sedan. But the wagon introduced in 1959 was the 95, pronounced ninety-five. It was a version of the Saab 93 sedan.  The engineers running Saab were straightforward in naming their models, simply using the in-house project number for public consumption. Since 94 had been used for the Saab Sport (often called the Sonett I), the wagon was the 95.  It was just what one could expect from the pragmatic Saab management, along with cargo space-saving lever action rear shocks and a bigger engine for the heavier loads expected for a wagon.

On the other hand, before 1959 the only Saabs with tailfins were aircraft.  The 95 had petitebut very sincerefins, as would every 95 until the model was discontinued after 1978. Saab, founded just before World War II to build military aircraft, began building cars postwar with an aeronautical engineers sensibility for form derived from function.  Decorative fins were an anomaly for the wagon, which packaged an extraordinary amount of practicality into a car no longer than the sedan.

The Saab 95 could carry seven passengers or up to 1120 pounds of cargo plus the driver, could cruise at 70 mph, and got 30 mpg on the lowest-octane fuel.  The tradeoff was a car that looked funny, sounded funny, and required a can of oil be dumped into its fuel tank at every fill up.  Yes, like the 93, the 95 had a three-cylinder two-stroke engine.  The triple was cantilevered ahead of the front axle line with the radiator actually behind the engine.  An 841 cc engine replaced the sedans 748 cc motor, adding a valuable five horsepower to the smaller engines 33.  For torque amplification, the engineers put a four-speed gearbox in place of the sedans three ratios.

The sedan didnt get these changes, and howls from the press and the public would at first fall on deaf engineers who determined that the 93 had sufficient ratios and power as it was, thank you very much.  The 96 sedan arrived in 1960 and had the new drivetrain.

The 95 carried two in the font buckets, three on the second-row bench, and two facing rearward in back.  The rearmost seat, accessed via the liftgate, was more suited for children than adults, though there was legroom in a footwell in the floor.  The spare tire was moved to a pocket under the middle-row bench.  The seat cushions for the rearmost seats were thin foam pads backed by steel panels that, when folded in the proper order, formed a flat floor for cargo.

The 95 pictured belongs to Bruce Turk of Walden, N.Y., who with his wife Lori owns half a dozen Saabs, more or less, depending on the moment, plus a garage full of parts and oodles of Saab automobilia and literature.  Turk is the second owner of this 63 example originally owned by an area Saab dealer who retired to Arizona.  The original owner repainted the car; it is well-maintained but otherwise unrestored.

The safety-minded Swedes installed seatbelts in the 95, but they were only shoulder belts, to restrain the torso.  The white plastic steering wheel is skinny but has a large diameter for parking leverage.  An American-style speedometer, a read band that creeps across a horizontal slot, dominates the instrument panel, though there are also temperature and fuel gauges, an ammeter and clock.  Theres no tach.

Starting from cold, the two-stroke runs well but power delivery is soggy.  It warms quickly but even with a full quorum of horsepower, the 95 was hardly blazing even by contemporary standards.  One test clocked 0 to 60 mph in 35 seconds.  The triple is smooth and runs with a mechanical whine; the characteristic popcorn exhaust on closed throttle doesnt reach the cabin.

The 95 keeps up with traffic, though driving it is a matter of momentum conservation and timely use of the column-mounted shifter.  Plan corners in advance; the chassis settles under power and the front wheels really do pull the car through a curve.  Theres not enough torque for torque steer to be a problem.

The bull-nose styling of the 63 was replaced with the more aerodynamic long-nose design from the 96 in 1965, and the Ford-built four-stroke V4 was phased in in 1967.  The 95 stayed on the American market through 1973, though it lasted another five years in Europe.  It took another twenty years for Saab to rediscover the wagon, with the introduction of the Saab 9-5 wagon in 1999.  Thats now the Saab 9-5 SportCombi. But the Saab 95 started it all.

Copyright 2018, John Matras Media LLC and

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