Saab Sonett III
With all the news and hope of the survival and success of Saab and the upcoming release of their new 9-5, I'd like to pay tribute to the Saab that I hold dear and true. From my high school days of wanting a true "image" sports car, as well as getting away from all the same cars my friends had, I chased after the Saab Sonnet III more than once.
Its styling has been called Italian-inspired, and for good reason. These cars were, and still are, stunningly beautiful to the eyes. What other car could wear this shade of lime green and get away with it? In fact, the color and the car seem to compliment each other, in my opinion. This is the Euro version; after 1972, we got some really nasty bumpers on them (The last image here has the larger bumpers).
"Sonnet" comes from the Italian word sonetto, meaning "little song" or "little sound." But more accurately, "Sonett" is a Swedish slang expression, "Så nätt den är," translated as "how neat it is", or more literally, "so neat they are." Thank you, Wikipedia.
I keep talking about cars I wanted back in ye olden days. Obviously, there were very few sporty cars I didn't want back then! But as somebody much wiser than me said, "If you'd kept all the cars you had, you would have been a millionaire," to which one would respond, "No, If I were a millionaire, I would have kept every car I ever had."
Only six Sonett Is were made between 1955 and '57; two are in the United States. They were to be put into mass production, but economic circumstances dictated otherwise. It had a 748cc two-stroke engine with 57.5 horsepower and was fairly deft for the time. In 1996, a Sonett I set a speed record of 99 mph in the Under-750cc Class. These cars are now considered prototypes of the Sonett II.
The Sonett II and Sonett V4 were essentially the same car, save for the engine. The Sonett II had another two-stroke plant, but in 1967 it failed US emissions. So Ford's Taunus V-4 was fitted, necessitating the name change. A few quirks of these cars included a column-mounted four-speed shifter, front-wheel drive, and a freewheeling clutch.
But the fiberglass car's front-end had to be redesigned for the new engine because of the 1970 Clear Air Act, and that created the styling of the 1970 Sonett III. And while they were at it, Saab moved the shifter moved to the floor, a hinged piece of glass became the rear hatch, and dealers could finally install air conditioning for us sweltering Americans.
Only 8,368 Sonett IIIs were made, but they were surprisingly plentiful as used cars in the mid- to late-1970s. Virtually all of these cars were imported to America, so it was common to pick up a local (Nashville) used-car sales publication and find one or two. I had no fear of limited parts availability, no more so than a TR6 or MGB, even with this car's semi-exotic engine.
Which, by the way, was a V-4 with 55 horsepower. The 1970 and '71 Sonetts had a 1.5-liter engine, the same as the Sonett V4, and the 1972-74s had the 1.7-liter mill. But both engines had the same now-relatively measly power, due to the 1.7-liter being choked with emissions controls.
Yet that was still enough to get the car up to speed quickly for the time, and to exceed the 100-mph mark. Zero to 60 took about 11 seconds--not bad for a small sports car built during the Nixon years.
To say that the Sonett's interior rivaled or surpassed any supercar of its time would be an understatement. Few real sports cars could match or improve on what this car offered. Even as small as the car was, the interior looked open, elegant, and uncrowded.
Full gauges (yay!), sculpted bucket seats (look at those lumbar supports!), and a nearly flat floor, thanks to the front wheel drive, added to its exotic looks.
Also inside was a lever to manually open the flip-up headlights. This system was very similar to the one on the original Opel GT.
My bud Shawn told me about another unique Sonett III option, the "soccer ball" wheels. Designed in-house by Saab, but built by NAI, they have been called a "Swedish fashion statement." The jury is out on whether Pelé would be happy kicking one around. These first appeared on 1971 Sonetts.
Unlike British sports cars, the Sonett III was not killed by pollution controls, large bumpers, or raised driving heights. The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo slowed sales, and the car never recovered. Production of this suave Swedish sports car ended in 1974.
I lusted for a Sonett III in high school, and I lust for one now. If I saw one for sale at a car show in good condition, I probably should run. I just might have the checkbook with me.
The green Sonett III image is from Storm.OldCarManualProject.com. The blue Sonett photo and the interior shot are from MotorTrend.com, as is the Sonett II/V4 image. Our Sonett I photo is from Wikipedia. The Sonett III engine image is from Wikimedia.org. The final Sonett III image is from Hemmings. Some Saab "soccer ball" wheel information was also from Hemmings.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)