What is the sound of one piston slapping?
What is the sound of one piston slapping?
Illustration for article titled Engine swap brainstorm: Saab 96

Ever since I first drove this car, my least favorite thing about it has been the Ford V4 engine. It has a throaty idle and is pretty robust so far, but it doesn't have much power and runs out of breath very quickly. As a result I've been pondering an engine swap, but because of the short and narrow engine bay, good options are limited.


Two options that people have done in the past are Ford V6 and Saab turbo-4 swaps. Both of them mess up the car's already front-heavy weight distribution, adding about 100 lb each over the stock 200-lb engine, and require moving things around the engine bay to cram them in. I've accepted the need for fabbing up adapters for the motor mounts and flywheel, but I'd rather not cut into the body in order to fit the new motor. As a result, anything longer than three cylinders and wider than a V engine are out, eliminating all straight 4s and flat engines (VW or Subaru). I'm also in no position to DIY this swap, so I'd have to checkbook the installation, and that means keeping the price of the engine as low as practical. This means finding a junkyard engine, preferably one that isn't crazy rare. As the car itself only weighs 2000 lb, the new engine doesn't have to be very powerful; 100hp would be plenty, and more would be great, so long as the torque doesn't overwhelm the typically fragile Saab transmission

The Criteria

To sum up, the candidate engine must be :

  • no longer than 3 cylinders, and not be horizontally opposed
  • reasonably common in junkyards
  • as close to 200 lb dry as possible or lighter

I've come up with the following candidates:

Mazda rotary (13B or Renesis)

This would be ideal; they're common enough, full of character, and since the Saab already has a longitudinal layout there wouldn't be any transaxle worries. Cost of engine might be high, plus refurb and maintenance.


Mazda K8 V6

This is the tiny V6 found in the MX-3, and is probably pretty rare. I can't find any specs on the weight though, and seeing as it's DOHC it might be a good deal bigger on the outside than the original Ford engine.


Suzuki/Geo turbo 3-cylinder

Rarity might be even more of a problem with this engine.

Yamaha motorcycle V4

Same layout as the stock Ford engine, but modern and more powerful. There must be enough crashed motorcycles around to make this a viable option.


Triumph motorcycle straight-3

Mostly for the lulz. Historical shoutout too, seeing as the Saab straight-4 turbo was developed from a Triumph car engine.


Snowmobile engine

I know that some modern ones have four-stroke engines instead of the two-stroke engines they used to have, but have no idea what's common. Again, a crashed one would make for a tidy donor.


My questions to the Oppo brain trust:

  • Am I missing any candidates?
  • What options do I have in the snowmobile world?

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