This reviewer never ceases to be amazed at the number of books written by prolific author Graham Robson. Despite Robson’s particular interest being the subject of rallying (a narrow interest, you would think), to date Robson has 130 printed books to his credit, with, so we understand, plenty more to come.

His latest release, “Saab 96 & V4”, is the next in line of the popular “Rally Giants” series of which this is the twelfth subject, the others being the Mk.1 Escort, Peugeot 205 T16, Austin Healey 100/6 & 3000, Lancia Stratos, Audi Quattro, Subaru Impreza, Mini Cooper, Escort RS1800, Lancia Delta, RS Cosworth, Celica GT-Four and Fiat 131 Abarth. Still to come are Ford Focus WRC and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.

In typical Robson style, the subject matter is both comprehensive, accurate and interesting, and “Saab 96 & V4” is no exception. From a sales point of view, this book would not attract the same level of readership in Australia as, say, one on the Subaru Impreza or Ford Escort, given the fact that early Saabs were a rarity on Australian roads in the period that the company was involved in rallying in Europe.

Nevertheless, this latest offering is an enthralling read for anyone who has an interest in rallying’s roots. Robson opens the book with a description of the early Saabs which started rallying in the 1950s with their 92 model. The potential of this early model proved to be more than most people imagined – so the later 96 was a little better, but still ‘boasted’ an underpowered two stroke engine of 841cc, which delivered never more than about 80 horsepower.

Nobody ever expected it to set the world on fire, but it wasn’t long before it started to prove itself on the rally routes of the world. In fact, between 1960 and 1976, Saab achieved near miracles in rallying, first with the front-engined 96 and later with the rear engined V4. Despite the seemingly enormous odds (Saab’s front-wheel-drive 175bhp V4 faced 210bhp Austin Healeys and 250bhp Escorts out on the stages) the diminutive Swedish car was always an outright contender.

Legendary drivers such as Erik Carlsson, Simo Lampinen, Stig Blomqvist, Per Eklund and Pat Moss (sister of Sir Stirling) became masters of this near indestructible little Scandinavian machine whose forte was reliability. It might not ever have been the quickest rally car of the 1950s and ‘60s, but it was undeniably the most reliable. But enough of the history – let’s talk about the book.

At 128 pages, the most recent addition to this series by Veloce printing contains hundreds of period photos in both monochrome and color. The range and clarity of the photos is amazing and show the car in various stages of development, plus provides a nostalgic look at the various models in competition in events like the RAC Rally, the Acropolis, Monte Carlo, 1000 Lakes and so on.

Robson tells of the transition from the two-stroke 96 model which was superseded by the German Ford-built V4 engine. That particular engine was initially a big handicap. Ford Germany could only ever get 105bhp from it, whereas Saab finally eked a reliable and useful 175bhp from the engine. In straight line performance it was never an Escort RS1600 beater, but it was reliable and, in the hands of the big Swede Erik Carlsson, was a dominant factor in period rallying.

If you’re after a read that’s not your typical Escort/Audi/Lancia/Toyota subject, you’ll enjoy this title because it’s something a little out of the ordinary. We enjoyed it and recommend it, and it makes a nice addition to the 11 previous titles of ‘Rally Giants’ which we would assume you already have on your bookshelf.

Saab 96 & V4 by Graham Robson
128 pages, soft bound.
Priced at 27.95.
Available from RallySport Magazine.


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