Driving a vintage SAAB 96 around Austin, Texas is great. It can also be a chore. But mostly it’s great. Here’s why:
While most people in this yuppie oasis do not care about or like old cars, there is still a large group of people here who love cars, and a smaller particular group that loves old cars. We can loosely categorize these folks as follows:
- People who actually remember seeing SAAB 96 and 95 models when they still existed, and who will ask you at every red light if it’s the one with the 2-stroke (it is not, it’s the V4).
- People who like cars, but who have no idea what a 96 is, but who know what a Saab is, and thus are astonished to find out that a 96 is a Saab
The 2-stroke question is always interesting. It is the second most common question right after “what year is that?” - but it lets you know that whoever is asking knows a bit about old cars.
Most people don’t know what a 2-stroke engine is, let alone that Saab ever put them in cars before 1968. I imagine that most of these people, after the light turns green, turn around and tell their companions about how their dad or aunt or neighbor or teacher used to have the 2-stroke one and would have to dump oil into the gas tank. And how then they would grab a door handle and shake the whole car up to mix the oil - which presumably was very amusing to the eight year old version of the story teller.
Unfortunately, the V4 is just not as amusing. This might be the only car in history where a V4 engine is not the most interesting engine option. It does however sometimes get a laugh at the auto parts store. A v4? Yes an actual V4. Two banks of 2 cylinders in a 60 degree V.
Next is that group of people who are aware of cars, but not necessarily “car people”. A typical example was a lady on a crosswalk, following some friends - “Oh - it’s a Saab!” I heard her exclaim. It’s an interesting car, but they’ve never seen one before. One of the nice things about a car that most people haven’t seen - but was made by a brand they’re familiar with is even those who are not really into cars can appreciate it. When you’re driving something like a Studebaker, or a Citroën - most people aren’t even aware of the company. So even having come across a cool old car, it remains strangely distant, even vaguely unfathomable to the average person. But when you have something like a Subaru 360, SAAB 96, or say Chevrolet Corvair - even the people who have never seen one before instantly recognize the brand. Maybe they drive a modern descendent - whatever it is even non-car-people seem to be fascinated by unheard of automotive relatives.
When I’ve left the car parked, I’ve also seen people taking pictures, or even posing with the car while a friend snaps a shot on an iphone. Some people really love the thing.
Most people though do not. Some simply don’t care about cars of any sort. Then there are those who just want to speed to the next red light at 20mph over the limit, and the slow old car impedes their ability to needlessly endanger themselves and members of the public. And there are those who look at and then pretend to not have seen the thing, as though they just lifted a sofa cushion and witnessed half of a pizza smooshed into the bottom of it. And people in Teslas (of which there are plenty here) sometimes look as though they’ve seen a giant roach skitter across the road. But that’s ok. Because a few days ago while I was waiting to make a right turn, one of Austin’s finest (a bus driver man) actually slowed down the bus, looked at the car, and gave me a thumbs up. And if the bus driver likes your car, then everybody else who doesn’t is just wrong. Period.
It is weird though. Sometimes it seems like it is the greatest annoyance to be constantly asked “what year?” by strangers (and I can see now why so many people have license plate frames with years on them) and other times it seems weird to be out and nobody asks - why has nobody asked yet??? But most of all it is the personal enjoyment one gets from driving a car they love that matters more than whether or not other people like the car. I enjoy driving the old 96 more than any other aspect of owning it - but it does make me happy when I see somebody else has been happy to see the car.
Doodles by the Author. I’m an illustrator always looking for paying illustration jobs. I’m also a devout lover of vintage imports and small cars.