Jay Leno’s 1958 Saab 93B sounds like an angry hive of Swedish bees
Some people just like a car that’s quirky and different. Saab people most certainly fit that definition, and Jay Leno is a longtime fan of the brand’s unique appeal. On the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, the denim-clad enthusiast revisits one of the first cars he ever featured on the show—his 1958 Saab 93B.
The first thing you notice are the car’s looks, which are a lot less dramatic and impressive than the American cars of the 1950s. But the Saab 93 is nonetheless handsome in its own way, and its suicide doors, sleek roofline, and simple interior continue to charm today.
Much more strange is what’s going on under the hood. Saabs of this day were known for their wild two-stroke engines, sounding like some kind of high-strung wind-up toy tearing across the pavement. Leno’s 93B uses a 38-hp, three-cylinder, 750cc engine with a single carburetor, powering the front wheels through a four-speed transmission (the original car had a three-speed). In true two-stroke form, the engine requires a mix of oil and gas, and attached to the hood there’s even a slot for a spare quart so there’s plenty on hand for when you need to concoct the mixture when refueling.
Leno points out a few other odd bits on the Saab, including that the engine is out in front of the radiator, and the special shutters that can be closed to help the engine more quickly get up to temperature. But maybe his favorite item under the hood is the generator which—surprise—also acts as the water pump. As he points out, this is something the Swedes clearly mastered, and a British version of this technology would almost certainly result in catastrophe.
Remembering a drive in a 93 owned by a childhood friend’s mom, Leno loves the unique whine of the two-stroke engine and especially enjoys the car’s bizarre “free-wheeling” feature, which disengages the engine from the transmission when you let off the gas. The effect is a kind of continuous momentum you don’t get in other cars that simply engine brake when you’re not on the throttle.
Leno also remarks on how these cars were especially popular among intellectual types—English literature professors at Vermont colleges, he suggests. But these cars were stupendous in the cold weather, both owing to their capable heating systems and excellent handling in the snow (despite a propensity for oversteer). Saabs of this vintage were popular rally cars, and successful ones at that.
Hearing this car run is a stark reminder of how much Saab is missed, following the brand’s slow demise from 2010–12. No doubt a Saab 93 of this quality would be a welcome entrant at any orphan-car show.