Some cars just delight you as soon as they come into view. At the 2023 Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional, one car spreading delight far and wide was Andy Boorman’s Saab 96.
All 96s are a treat for the eyes, the Saab’s unusual teardrop shape impossible to mistake for any other car. And they’re arguably at their best as early V4s like Boorman’s example. In fact, as we’ll get onto, his is one of the earliest V4s around.
But one reason for the delight was that trailing behind this 1966 Saab was ‘The Pod’ – a compact caravan whose roofline features surprisingly similar contours to that of its tow car. And despite originating from the mid-twenty-teens, it has enough of a classic look to seem right at home behind the Swedish classic. It has us wondering what other car and caravan combinations might look perfect together…
Let’s start with the car, though, as Boorman explains its status as a V4-engined model from 1966.
“People think the V4s started in 1967, but Saab made 200 of them in 1966, and this is the only one in the UK. In the summer of 1966, Saab took 200 two-strokes, removed their engines, and replaced them with V4s – and these are the cars that were launched to the press.”
The car does have the longer front that denotes the V4 models, as well as the grille design that arrived at the same time, but Boorman notes how there are clues under the bonnet as to the car’s halfway-house status – such as the hammer-assisted recess to provide clearance for the alternator.
Switching from the 96’s original two-stroke to the Ford-sourced 1.5-litre V4 four-stroke brought with it all the improvements you’d expect in period, such as more power and torque, cleaner and quieter running, and easier maintenance for the average driver, though as Boorman admits, “nothing really beats the handling of the two-stroke, as it’s so much lighter. But I’d have the V4 all day long; it’s more reliable and you can go where you want with it.
Boorman has owned the V4 for around 27 years. He restored it, including three attempts to get the car painted – finally opting to do it himself – and uses it as often as possible. As the attached caravan suggests, it’s not simply babied over local journeys, either. “We did the Isle of Wight last year… albeit not with the caravan attached… and we’ve just done the North Coast 500.”
That’s all the more impressive when you consider there are seven other Saabs vying for Boorman’s driving attention, too, including second- and third-generation Sonnets and a Saab 9000 Aero. “The 9000 Aero is the car that does everything. You can use it as a wedding car, it’s a racing car, you can go down to the tip in it… mine is making about 350bhp.”
The 96 isn’t making quite that, though apparently even with The Pod attached it gets along quite nicely with its 64 horses. With the caravan weighing in at only 300 kilos or thereabouts, there’s not really a lot to drag. “But without the caravan attached,” he says, “it really whips along.” And 96s are practical, too, though Boorman probably wouldn’t fill his car with nine people, as happened once with his dad’s car back in the late 1960s…
Even without the caravan, and even without the unique aspect of being such an early V4, this Saab 96 was what you might call one of the more exceptional stand-outs at the Festival of the Unexceptional. But we’ll forgive it that many times over, because in a show where almost every car raises a smile, the 96 created bigger grins than most.