Saab 96

There's not been much love for the Saab brand lately in these pages. We were able to drive the last few Saab editions released just before the once noble brand's recent demise. They were adequate cars. But Saabs should have always been so much more than that. It's a real shame. In each postwar decade the Saab brand was responsible for some of the most perennial and innovative cars out there. Saabs were quirky totems of automotive modernism - cars that threw out the restrictive rule books of aesthetic and engineering.

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The high point of the brand's lasting legacy was for us the 96. The car brought together an odd mix of pugnacious presence and the flow of bold lines, which were penned by the iconoclastic and visionary designer Sixten Sason. But as well as its unique aesthetic, safety innovations rolled out in the Saab 96 proved hugely popular with the pan-European public, as did the reliability of the 3 cylinder two stroke that powered the early models. When the Ford V4-driven versions were released the cars reputation grew still further.

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The fact that this odd looking car won the Monte Carlo rally three times hammered home the point that reliability and durability of aspiration as important and saleable as raw power and speed. The run of the Saab 96 lasted from 1960 to 1980 - two decades in which automotive design, performance and car culture in general changed out of all recognition. The fact that the Saab 96 lived through these seismic shifts proves the point - this car as a stone cold classic of European Modernism.

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