Saab’s 96 was introduced in 1960 and quickly established itself as a successful competition car, winning the 1960, 1961 and 1962 RAC rallies and the 1962 and 1963 Monte Carlo rallies, crewed by Erik Carlsson and Pat Moss.
The combination of front wheel drive, low weight and sturdy build quality helped the unusual Swedish design to overcome more powerful machinery, particularly in slippery conditions.
To celebrate (i.e. sell more road cars!), Saab launched the Monte Carlo 850 edition in with a 57bhp three cylinder two stroke engine fed by a triple Solex carburettor, a four speed gearbox and front disk brakes. Visually it was distinguished by two chrome stripes on the side and Monte Carlo badging, while the interior had unique trim and a wood-rimmed steering wheel.
To make the two stroke engine more usable, an automatic lubrication system was fitted which had a separate tank for the two stroke oil and there was a freewheel system which could be engaged to avoid oil starvation on long downhill stretches.
From 1967, Saab switched to a V4 engine which means that the three cylinder Monte Carlo is a rare beast with fewer than a thousand thought to have been produced. Today it’s highly sought after among Saab enthusiasts and, given its in period achievements in the sport, a prime candidate for historic rallying success.
Following a long period lusting after a Monte Carlo, the current owner finally managed to locate one in the US. Having secured it, he had a fairly lengthy wait before actually setting eyes on the car. At that point he found that although the body and interior were mostly in good condition, it needed some attention to bring it up to scratch.
Having done his research, he turned to renowned specialists Graham McDonald for the engine and Carnetix in Melton Mowberry for the rest and they set about what turned out to be a full engine rebuild and complete refresh of the rest of the car.
The engine had previously been the subject of a rebuild but, after a number of issues were uncovered, it was decided that a new block was needed and so one was sourced from Sweden at a cost of £4,500. New pistons, manifold and Jetex exhaust followed, along with a new radiator, a reconditioned crankshaft and a mechanical fuel pump to replace the non-original electric pump which had been installed. The engine is now said to be like new.
As for the rest of the car, everything required to bring it to peak condition has been attended to. This included a small amount of welding to the driver’s footwell, a rebuilt brake master cylinder, new brake pipes, steering rack gaiters, track rod ends, CV boots, fitting inertia reel seatbelts, wire brushing and undersealing the underside of the car, the list goes on. Literally every part of the car has been inspected and refreshed or renewed as necessary.
Having completed the work, the owner has had some chance to enjoy the car but with a collection of other interesting classics to look after, has decided to let this one go in order to fund the restoration of something else tasty and interesting.
Accompanying the car is a box file of paperwork which contains all the invoices for work carried out in the current ownership, together with the relevant Haynes and Workshop Manuals, a small collection of spares and a fitted car cover.
There’s also a small selection of Saab magazines and owner’s club memorabilia from the US, while the V5 shows the current owner as the first in the UK.
Judging by their condition, the seats look to have been retrimmed at some point but the interior retains a lovely patina with the dashboard in particular transporting you back to the 1950’s the moment you climb aboard.
The headlining has been replaced and so is clean and taut and the only sign of wear on the upholstery is on the driver’s door card where there are a couple of splits at the top and the handle has worn a little.
It all evokes a thought of the drivers enjoying their time behind the wood rimmed steering wheel which, in a nod to the model’s competition heritage, still has a piece of tape in place to mark the straight ahead position.
The dashboard has an original Saab radio installed although as it’s not currently functioning, it’s easy to imagine it being replaced by a tripmeter for rallying purposes. Aside from the radio, the rest of the gauges and switches are fully functional, including the wash/ wipe, which was fixed up during the recent work.
Being a Saab, there are a few interesting design features. Perhaps a sign of its US origin is that the glovebox lid features an early example of cupholders, though maybe not suited to the largest beverage containers of today. Next to the passenger side rear seat is a concealed cubbyhole which is sized for a bottle of two stroke oil which can be used to top up the reservoir under the bonnet. And, of course, being from Sweden, the heater is very effective.
The unusual styling and fabulous condition mean that this is a sharp intake of breath on first sight car. The bodywork is immaculate and, having been subjected to a paint correction process, the paintwork is in prime condition and likewise the chrome work throughout, including the Monte Carlo wheel trims. The spotlights at the front give off a suitably rally-inspired feel at the front while the Saab-embossed period mud flaps at the rear complete the look.
A crawl underneath reveals that the recently applied underseal has full coverage and that the new exhaust is still looking shiny. The new shocks are also visible and the tyres are a matching set all with good tread. In all, it’s hard to see how you could find one in better condition.
Following the extensive work, the engine bay is in pristine condition with all of the refreshed and renewed parts clearly on show. With its mechanical fuel pump, the starting procedure does require some education, needing 4 or five pumps of the accelerator to prime it before firing up.
However the advantage with replacing the electric fuel pump is that tuning is made easier and consequently the engine runs very sweetly, sounding magnificent with its straight through exhaust.
On the road, the column-mounted gearshift takes some getting used to but once you’re accustomed to it then the car be driven in the manner in which it was designed to be, which is to say enthusiastically!
The suspension feels just right for a British B road and gives great grip and the car responds well to a ‘throw it in and sort it out later’ approach to cornering. It’s certainly easy to see why it was so successful at rallying in period.
The brakes are good and strong, with the disks at the front making themselves felt and there are no untoward noises from the suspension or drivetrain. In short, it feels in peak condition.
The three cylinder Monte Carlo is highly prized in the classic Saab community and it’s easy to see why. From the days when competition cars were very closely related to road cars, this charismatic and quirky Swede provides a classic everyday rally bred drive.
Following the thorough approach to renovating this example, it’s hard to see how you could find a better specimen. Every part of the car has been assessed and any issues addressed. You could be a Saab nut looking for a show car, a classic car enthusiast seeking something a little different or a keen competitor searching for something interesting to take historic rallying. Whichever it is, this could be the car for you. If so, then get your bid in now.
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1965 Saab Monte Carlo 850
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