1971 Saab Sonett III
4-cyl. 1698cc/65hp 1bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
In the mid-1950s, Roll Mellde designed a Sonett sports car for Saab. The odd name had nothing to do with Shakespeare; the Swedish “Sa natt den ar” reportedly loosely translates to “How cool is that?” Sixten Sason worked on the aluminum sub-frame and floor, and six fiberglass bodied roadsters were built in 1956 and 1957.
U.S. dealers clamored for more, but racing rule changes canceled the project. It was revived in 1967 as the effective Sonett II coupe, with a tilt-nose and an 841-cc, three-cylinder, two-stroke engine. That motor was dropped in order to pass U.S. emissions after just 258 cars were built, and a German-built 1500-cc Ford V4 was substituted. The cars were quite competitive in the U.S., but dealers felt the car would sell even better if it had a facelift.
In 1970, Sergio Coggiola designed the Sonett III, extending the fiberglass body by five inches and streamlining it. He had to use the original floorpan, so Gunnar Sjogren adapted the design to fit. Much better looking, the Sonett III traded advantages and disadvantages with the Sonett II. On the plus side, the rear window now opened up as a hatch. On the minus side, the II’s tilt nose was replaced by a small trap door for engine access, requiring the entire nose to be removed for any major work to be completed.
Over four years, just over 8,000 Sonett IIIs were built. The engine was bumped to 1700 cc in 1971, but emissions regulations kept power at about the same 65 hp. The cars were quite slippery, though, with a low 0.31 cd, and 103 mph was possible with 0-60 mph coming in about 12 seconds. The cars came in some wild colors – lime green, golf yellow, orange, and purple, and the “soccer ball” alloy wheels are handsome. Pop-up headlights were mechanically operated, and a rollbar was incorporated in the design. Black bumpers were fitted for the 1973 and 1974 model years, but do not detract from the overall appearance.
It is estimated that half of Sonett III production survives today, although rust in the floorplan is an issue to be mindful of. As a fiberglass car, electrical grounds can be problematic and wiper motors are impossible to replace without removing the nose. The principal single issue though, revolves around the gearbox’s freewheel gear, which isn’t up to the V4 engine’s torque and can leave one with a “box full of neutrals.” The freewheel was essential for the two-stroke motor, since when the throttle was closed, oil was no longer reaching the cylinders, but it is better removed.
Sonett fans are quite passionate about the cars and many good examples exist. They are quite rewarding to drive, once you’ve adapted to the foibles, and the original ceramic glass-pack mufflers deliver a unique crackle.