Saab Enthusiast Converts 1970 SAAB 96 To Electric Power

Posted on 07. Jun, 2009 by in 2000-2009


Photo Credit: (Blaine T. Shahan/Sunday News)

Another Saab Enthusiast by the name of Brandon Hollinger of Pennsylvania, has converted his Saab to 100% Electric Power on his 1970 Saab 96 according to the Lancaster Times.

This a huge accomplishment and very inspiring, now being added to the ranks of Mark Ward with his former 1995 900 NG EV, Christen Johanssen with his 1972 SAAB 96 EV, Duke University’s 1972 Saab Sonett III EV and Walter Kern and his 1974 Saab Sonett III EV.

Are there other Saab EV projects in the works, if so please contact Saab History to tell us about it. Way to Go Brandon!

I encourage you to read his piece below, with a nice video in addition to the photos directly on the article.

This past winter, Brandon Hollinger decided to save on gas by removing the fuel tank from his 1970 Saab.

He also went ahead and pulled the engine.

In their places went a 9-inch electric motor and 16 six-volt lead-acid batteries.

Brandon Hollinger’s electric Saab

The result: a plump-fendered classic that whisks quietly down the street, turning heads, sparking questions.

It’s the reaction Hollinger had been hoping for.

He wants people to know that electrics are six times more efficient than gasoline-powered cars.

He wants them to know that electrics accelerate snappily and can handle easily the day-to-day driving needs of the average motorist.

He wants to un-kill the electric car.

In fact, he said, it was the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that set him on his quest.

The film convinced him that Detroit was dragging its feet launching new-generation electrics. So he decided to construct one himself.

There was one hitch.

The 35-year-old Lancaster man is a professional musician, not a Tappet brother [of the column, “Car Talk]. He was vaguely interested in mechanical stuff. But he’d never read a schematic in his life.

Nevertheless, about nine months ago, he dived into electric vehicle research.

This past January, he rigged a space heater in the cinder-block garage out back and picked up a wrench.

In April, he twisted the Saab’s ignition key for the first time and nothing blew up.

For the past six weeks, he said, he’s been grinning like a kid while commuting to his job at the American Music Theatre and driving to visit family in Elizabethtown.

The vehicle can travel 60 mph and go about 60 miles on an overnight charge, Hollinger said.

He said he hopes the story of the Saab will inspire others to start similar projects.

Meanwhile, he’s getting to know his rehabilitated car, logging data in a small notebook tucked at the base of his seat.

Because, Hollinger said, “I feel like a test pilot, you know.”

Positive terminal
The first crude electric carriage puttered down a Scottish pike in the 1830s.

By 1906, said Peter Cleaveland of the Valley Forge-based Eastern Electric Vehicle Club, electrics greatly outnumbered gas-powered cars on American roads.

But lighter vehicles fueled by cheap petroleum soon predominated.

Today, about a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions come from the transportation sector; private cars and sport-utility vehicles spew out much of it.

Cleaveland described designing a homebuilt car in the early 1980s, during “the first spurt of interest in electric since the old days.”

He never got his roadster on the highway, he said.

In the 1990s, automakers introduced promising electric models, such as the General Motors EV1, but then scrapped them.

Critics contend that Big Auto and Big Oil, fearing lost profits from transportation industry monopolies, axed the trend.

Agree or not, said Joel Anstrom, director of the Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicle Research Laboratory at Penn State, but there’s renewed interest in alternative fuel vehicles.

Plug-in gas-electric hybrids are especially big, Anstrom added.

Electric car technology is also resurgent thanks to improvements in lithium and nickel-metal hydride batteries.

Still, Anstrom said, most backyard mechanics choose standard lead-acid batteries hooked up in series.

The direct-current power packs aren’t perfect.

They’re heavy — a typical array adds 700 to 1,000 pounds to a car — and they must be replaced every three years or so to the tune of several thousand dollars, Anstrom said.

On the plus side, the scientist added, that kind of battery is made of readily available materials. “It’s low cost” compared to an advanced-chemistry battery. “It’s recyclable. It’s safe. … It’s a good application if they have a short commute.”

According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Department of Energy, American drivers average 32.9 miles per day.

Greg, a Philadelphia-area chemist, travels 34 miles a day in the 21-year-old Chevrolet pickup he and his family converted last year.

It’s a more mindful journey, said Greg, who asked that his last name not be used.

If he thinks he’ll need to drive around more after work, he’ll recharge in the parking garage.

“You need to watch the water level” in the batteries and make sure the system is shielded from rain and snow, he added — and forgo some creature comforts.

The batteries power the accessories indirectly, Greg said, so he heats conservatively and cracks the windows when it’s hot out.

“It would just kill the range of the vehicle if you hooked up an air conditioner.”

Greg nevertheless remains enthusiastic about electrics.

“I can still remember the look on my son’s face when I hit the accelerator and the car moved,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, we did it.’ ”

With 500 million passenger vehicles on the road worldwide, the potential for conversions seems great.

So far, though, only 10,000 drivers around the globe have made the switch, estimates Bob Batson, the founder of Electric Vehicles of America.

Four-dollars-per-gallon gasoline drove up interest last year, said Batson, whose Wolfeboro, N.H. company has been selling electric car components and coaching do-it-yourselfers such as Greg and Hollinger for 20 years.

The job typically takes 80 to 150 hours and costs $3,000 to $10,000, said Batson, who noted that his company has converted gas vehicles of all stripes, including the Batmobile at Six Flags amusement park in New Jersey.

“Anything that is internal combustion can be made electric, usually,” he said.

Customers include high schools — even a middle school group once built an electric, Batson said — hobbyists and people motivated to clean up the environment.

“Brandon [Hollinger] is probably a pretty good case of a guy with zero [automotive] background,” Batson said, “and that’s not unusual for us.”

Getting off oil
Hollinger, who plays sax, clarinet and flute on cruise ships, had sound environmental chops.

He said he “took a turn, maybe a decade ago, down the sustainability route.”

Though his other car’s a Saab 900 turbo gas-burner, he’s long focused on riding recumbent bikes.

He does laundry on weekends, when electrical demand is low. In summer, he creates hot water by channeling his plumbing through piping on the roof

“Getting off oil became a priority,” he said. The small, aerodynamic, four-speed Saab 96 became the solution. (Coincidentally, Hollinger noted, the revamped coupe generates 96 volts.)

“This is the car [model] that made a lot of history at Monte Carlo” road rallies, Hollinger said. “Saabs were already a little different and that’s what attracted me.”

He acquired two of the vehicles, a 1970 keeper from Nevada, and a 1968 junker he cannibalized for parts.

Though you can hire someone to do the conversion, he said, he opted to perform it himself for about $10,000.

A “board of directors” made up of Batson and other mentors encountered on the Internet eased the process, he said.

With the aid of his brother, Brad, and a block-and-tackle, Hollinger hoisted out the engine.

He had the empty compartment professionally painted, the better to demonstrate the conversion.

“I anticipated popping the hood 1,000 times,” he said, doing it again behind his house last week.

Along with the batteries, the compartment contained a vacuum pump for the brakes and a speed control tied to the original throttle linkage. A converter that Hollinger said works like “a giant dimmer switch” varies the juice to the motor.

He switches on the headlights and wipers by twiddling a few knobs on a temporary plywood dashboard.

Electrics are “100 times less complicated” than internal combustion engines, Hollinger said.

Change the brushes at about 80,000 miles, he added, and “the motor should outlast the car, or you, maybe.”

There’s no old oil to drain or alternator or air filter to replace. There’s no fuel pump, radiator, fan belt, carburetor, valves, injectors, catalytic converters, head gaskets or timing belts.

There’s no exhaust system because there are no emissions.

Hollinger climbed into the Saab and accelerated smartly on a loop through the city.

The converter whined to life then fell still.

Besides tire humming and the creakings of the vintage frame, the vehicle cruised soundlessly.

Hollinger cranked the skinny 1968 steering wheel to the left and headed down Charlotte Street. A construction worker eyed the gray-and-white vehicle curiously.

Hollinger said he’s been getting plenty of looks and “Man is that quiet!” comments.

“People love to ask, ‘Are you exchanging an exhaust pipe for a smokestack?’ ”

Well, no.

Even if you receive your current from a coal-fired plant, he said, electric cars use energy much more efficiently than conventional ones.

Nor would converting most of the American fleet to electric strain the grid, Hollinger said. The secret is recharging at night, when much of the power that utilities produce goes untapped.

Hollinger still has much refurbishing to do, including fixing up the body and cabin interior and fashioning a secure fitting for the plug, which pokes out of the former fuel tank port.

Still, he said, he’s pleased with the way the experiment is turning out.

“Gas stations are becoming a distant memory,” he noted. Charging the car every three days has added about $10 to his monthly utility bill.

“I like when people ask how long it takes me to charge and I say ‘three seconds.’ ”

That’s the time needed to unwind the car’s power cord and stick the plug in a socket. Then, Hollinger said, he turns in for the night.

For more information on gas/electric conversions, visit

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

No Responses to “Saab Enthusiast Converts 1970 SAAB 96 To Electric Power”

  1. Electric Car Guy

    08. Jun, 2009

    Can’t wait to see all the pure electric cars on the street. We have been replying on fossil fuel for far too long. It’s time for a change.


    Reply to this comment
  2. Erwin

    08. Jun, 2009

    People are getting things done on their own. I bet there’s going to be a revolution once critical mass is reached. Whether its hydorgen or electric its not going away anymore.


    Reply to this comment
  3. Ryan

    08. Jun, 2009

    Will & Erwin,

    Thanks, I can’t wait to see more people launching these initiatives, faster than the automotive industry can no doubt!



    Reply to this comment
  4. socko

    04. Jan, 2011

    Hey all,

    I now have a website with documentation on this conversion and a second one I’ve started.

    Thanks for reading,

    Reply to this comment
  5. Don Bauer

    08. Jun, 2011

    Hey World,
    The EV revolution is coming!! If I had not seen the transformation of the Saab EV and the Miata EV with my own eyes I would not have believed it. Brandon Hollinger has those honorable qualities of American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit to break the bonds of our hydrocarbon dependency. I heartily support and encourage his relentless never-say-die attitude and I’m looking forward to seeing the conversion of the London taxi from its diesel engine to electric power. Good luck, dude!

    Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply

Production Concept