Behold! The Holy Grail of Saabs

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Marc Vernon, 57, of Naperville, Ill., creator and host of the Car Guys Report podcast, on his 1980

Saab

96 Jubileum, as told to A.J. Baime.

I got into Saabs when I was in high school. I just loved the shape of the Saab 96. Some people say that the 96 is the car that put Saab on the map internationally. It debuted in 1960, and was the first Saab imported into the U.S. in any numbers. It also built Saab a reputation for rally racing victories. Built in Sweden, the 96 first caught on in the U.S. because it was great in the snow—front-wheel drive, good heater. Saab was small and never had any huge budget, so the company kept building the 96 for 20 years.

I bought my first 96 after my freshman year in college, and up to about 2014 I had owned 10 Saabs. Still, I had not owned a 96 since the 1980s. I was building my car collection, so I decided to hunt for a 96. But not just any 96. At the end of the 20-year production run, Saab built the last 300 96s all in the same color scheme—light blue with a light blue interior, and these 10-spoke wheels. The company named these 96 ‘Jubileum,’ which means jubilee in Swedish.


Photos: A Saab Worth Celebrating

Marc Vernon shows off his 1980 Saab 96 Jubileum.

Marc Vernon searched the globe for a 1980 Saab 96 Jubileum. He found this one in northern Sweden, and bought it for $14,000.

Taylor Glascock for The Wall Street Journal

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Not a lot of 96s still existed in 2014. It was never a high-priced car or a collector car. People who owned them drove the heck out of them, then got rid of them. So trying to find a 96 was going to be hard. Trying to find one of the last 300 built was going to be harder. Trying to find one of the last 300 built that was in good condition and was for sale? It was like finding a needle in a haystack.

During the summer of 2014, I came across a Swedish website with car classified ads. Everything was in Swedish, and looking through it, I found a 96 Jubileum for sale. I thought, “Oh my God. I can’t believe it.” I emailed the owner and about two weeks later, he got back to me. He said he had sold the car. But he had another one—perhaps the finest 96 Jubileum in Sweden, he told me. He sent me some pictures. This, for me, was the holy grail.

The process took about 10 months, from finding the car, having it shipped from northern Sweden to southern Sweden, shipped across the ocean, etc. I paid $14,000, which I thought was a fair price. When I got it out on the road, it all came back to me. I had not driven a Saab 96 since the late 1980s. This was a car basically designed in 1960. It is narrow. There is not a lot of sound insulation. But it is a blast to drive. My 96 is Euro-spec, so it has a kilometers per hour speedometer and Swedish stickers on the dashboard.

Sadly, Saab no longer builds cars. At one point it was purchased by General Motors, and the last Saab built was a 2014 model. So my 96 is an orphan car, which to me, makes it all the more special. You can never buy a new Saab. And the 96 is the car that, in my opinion, made the brand in the first place.

Write to A.J. Baime at myride@wsj.com

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