Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 26th October 2018

Swedish car manufacturer Saab produced some beautiful vehicles while it was active, such as the Saab 900. Another striking motor was the Saab Sonett, which started life as a small prototype and evolved into a sleek race car that held its own against other roadsters like the Triumph Spitfire and Austin Healey Sprite. We’re looking into the history of the Sonett to see how it was designed.

How neat it is

The idea for the Sonett came about through a collaboration between Saab engineer Rolf Mellde, Lars Olov Olsson, Olle Lindkvist and Gotta Svensson. They developed a two-seat roadster prototype in the 1950s in a barn near Trollhattan. Due to the limited budget of 75,000 Swedish kronor, the car became known as the Sonett, a name derived from a Swedish phrase that translated as ‘how neat it is.’

The Sonett I debuted in 1956 and it featured a three-cylinder 748 cc two-stroke engine that propelled it to a top speed of 120 mph. The car had the potential to be a successful race vehicle, but competition rules changed. Modified production cars were permitted into race classes that Saab had intended for the purpose-built Sonett, so marketing viability faded.

Mainstream production

During the 1960s, a car illustrator called Bjorn Karlstrom suggested two prototypes be built, which became the Saab MFI13 and Saab Catherina. After being modified, the MFI13 turned into the Sonett II in 1966. The motor came with a Ford Taunus V4 engine and fibreglass body. The original engine was replaced because it had become uncompetitive in mainstream markets.

The car was designed for the track, competing in Sports Car Club of America races. It competed against vehicles like the MG Midget, Triumph TR5 and early AC Cobra, proving its worth. The Sonett II found a niche market in the US, thanks to its racing reputation.

A redesign came in 1970 and the Sonett III was introduced. The new design featured hinged rear-window glass, floor-mounted shifter and pop up headlights. Emission controls led to a reduction in horsepower, but the car could still move quickly.

Production of the Sonett ended in 1974. The car remains one of Saab’s most unique offerings and many have been preserved by museums and collectors.

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