Before the strange Saab Sonett sports car reached full production in 1967, Saab’s performance leader was the unconventional GT850 sports sedan. Powered by a three cylinder engine, triple carbureted two stroke engine, its mechanical specifications seem more like competition dirt bike than an automobile.
The GT850 called the “Saab Sport” in Europe made its entry debut into the American market as a 1963 model. It featured front disc brakes, an oil injection system that eliminated the need to pour 2 stroke oil into the fuel tank at every fill-up and a most mighty 841 cc engine that made 57 barrel horse power – fifteen more than the 96 on which the Saab GT750 was based. Saabs had always been front wheel drive cars, and the GT850 had a four speed manual gearbox box with a freewheeling feature that allowed it to coast down hill.
Intended primarily as a rally car rather than a family grocery-mobile, the GT850 featured VDO instruments, including a 120 miles per hour speedometer, along with a wood -rimmed steering wheel. A Halda Speed Pilot rally meter mounted in front of the passenger was a state-of- the -art options highly prized and valued among rallyists.
The two-stroke engine provided very little power below 3000 revolutions per minute (rpm) and its spark plugs were easily fouled. Prudent GT850 owners always carried one or more sets of new pregapped spark plugs, when they set out on a trip or long journey. When theGT850 “came on the pipe” as a two stroke motorcycle enthusiast would refer to it as, it would out-hustle and out-handle nearly all of its larger engined contemporaries including the Triumph TR3s and the MGAs. Its 50-80 miles per hour acceleration was especially strong and under ideal conditions a GT850 could top 100 miles per hour (mph). Not bad for a sporty car that cost only $ 2790 back in 1963.
Under the hood the GT850 is more than remarkable. In all pre-1965 Saabs, the radiator is mounted behind the engine, with the fan directly in front of it. The fan is turned by an overhead shaft that runs from the front of the engine, by the generator belt. Saabs got a longer nose in 1965, and the fan was moved to a conventional North American location. The hood which hinges forward for extra easy access to the engine could be removed in just minutes.
Saab enthusiasts credit the GT870’s rally successes to front wheel drive, light weight, long spring travel and a simple but robust rear suspension with good anti-roll characteristics. The car had a tendency towards overseer and can easily be steered with the throttle. Flat out is the way the GT850 liked it.
It can be more than difficult for the vintage sports car enthusiast to find a GT850 in good condition. Many were used up and worn out, running hard over unpaved roads and mountain passes. If you are fortunate, indeed lucky enough, to find such a car – it is wise to check the exhaust system for restrictive build up of burned -oil deposits. It is an interesting footnote to this more than classic sports car that the very manufacturer of the car .Saab, recommended changing the rear muffler every 18,000 miles and the entire auto exhaust system every 36,000 miles.
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