Saab Sonett Overview
The first Saab Sonett appeared in 1956. The objective in producing the Sonett was to create a high performance race car that would be competitive in the international racing circles. The original Sonett idea was scraped as soon as the international car federation began to allow modifications of standard cars. Saabs second attempt at building a sports car came in 1966 with the advent of the Sonett II and would eventually progress to the Sonett III. Production of the Sonett ended in 1974. Their bodies were made out of fiberglass (plastic reinforced with fiber materials) and the overall construction was a unibody design. Saab began engine production with the 2 stroke engine from the Saab 93 and eventually ended up using the Fomoco V4 in the early 1970's. The Sonett design led people to take a second look, with it's sloped front nose, low profile, high-performance look, the car began to attract a different crowd. For the true Saab people, the Sonett made its mark by enticing us with its overall features like: quick starts, tight suspension and general appearance. The Sonett was truly a Saab enthusiast dream and remains that way to many who own them today!
Saab Sonett is the name of a series of automobiles from Saab. Broadly speaking, the mechanics of Sonett models were shared with the equivalent family cars of the same dates. The Sonett I was initially called the "Saab 94". The Sonett II and III were both known as the "'Saab 97". In the 1950s Rolf Mellde suggested that Saab should make a small number of open-top two seater sport cars as racing regulations did not allow Saab to tune their cars as much as was needed to be competitive. Rolf Mellde designed the car himself and in utter secrecy built it in a barn in Ãajaka outside Trollhatten. Only a very limited number of people working on the project knew about it and was done in their spare time. The total cost of the project was 75000 Kronor. The name 'Sonett' is derived from an exclamation in Swedish by Rolf Mellde; not from the sonnet type of poetry. The name was originally suggested for both the Saab 92 and the Saab 93.
On March 16, 1956 the Saab Sonett Super Sport or Saab 94 (later known as Sonett I) was displayed at Stockholm's Bilsalong (motor show). Only 6 were made, the original had a hand crafted body and the others were made in Glassfiber Reinforced Polyester (GRP - "fiberglass") using the original car as a model. It had a three-cylinder 748 cc two-stroke engine giving 57.5 hp (43 KW). The body design was advanced for its time and was based on aluminum boxes. However, racing rules were changed and since Saab was now allowed to race using tuned up standard cars, only six were produced. In September 1996, car number 1 broke the Swedish speed record for cars up to 750 cc with a speed of 159.4 km/h.
In the 1960s Bjorn Karlstram suggested that Saab should develop a new two seater sports car with a two stroke engine, but this time it would be a coupe and not a convertible. Two prototypes were developed, the Saab MFI13 by Malm Flygindustri and the Saab Catherina by Sixten Sason. The MFI13 was the one selected for production. In 1966 the MFI13 was, after some modifications, put into production at ASJ in Arla as the "Saab 97" - that year only 28 units were produced, and a further 230 in 1967. The body was fibreglass bolted to a sheet-steel chassis and lower frame. A roll-bar was fitted. The entire front section hinged forward, to allow clear access to the engine, transmission and front suspension. Access to the rear compartment was via a small hatch in the near-vertical rear panel. The engine was a three-cylinder, two-stroke engine giving 60 hp (45 kW). The Sonett II could do 0 to 100 km/h in 12.5 seconds and had a top speed of 150 km/h.
When Saab started using the Ford Taunus V4 engine in their other models, they also wanted to use it in the Sonett II. The car was redesigned and renamed the Sonett V4, with the 1500 cc Ford V4. A new hood was designed by Gunnar A. Sjgren, with a 'bulge', necessary to fit the higher engine. The bulge was slightly offset to the right, so that it would not obstruct the driver's view. The engine produced 65 hp (48 kW) and the Sonett V4 made 0 to 100 km/h in 12.5 s, with a top speed of 160 km/h.
In total, only 1868 Sonett IIs and V4s were produced.
An interesting side note is that the local SAAB dealership in Czechoslovakia opened in 1962 and run by the race driver Zdenek Treybal. Apart from selling Saab 96 he also managed to sell two Sonett V4s. One to a race driver in Prague. The other to AZPN in Mlad¡ Boleslav in 1968. AZPN used the Sonett as the basis of a prototype for koda Auto called the koda 1100 GT. From the doors and rear it is almost identical with the Sonett, but the front is inspired by Ferrari Dino.
In the 1970s the Sonett design started to feel a bit outdated. In the USA, the motoring press railed against its appearance while extolling its handling characteristics. For their new design, to be called the Sonett III, Saab called in Sergio Coggiola. It was important that the middle section would be unaltered, but Coggiola ignored that and made a significantly wider car. The Coggiola design was altered by Gunnar A. Sgren to fit the middle section. The hinged rear window glass itself became the hatch to the rear luggage compartment, improving the access. The engine compartment, however, was accessed via a small, matt-black panel in the top of the front section. For extensive work, the entire front section had to be unbolted and removed. Coggiola's name did not appear on the new car, perhaps because his proposed design had been altered so much. Due to demands from the US market, the Sonett III had a floor shifter instead of the column shifter as used in previous models. It also came with optional dealer installed air conditioning, also a request from the US market.
In 'quirky' Saab fashion, the retractable headlamps were swiveled by means of a system of manually operated levers. In 1973, the car received the Saab self-repairing bumpers (fenders).
The Sonett III had the type indicator '97' in the chassis number and used the same Ford V4 engine as before, with 1500 cc in 1970 and 1971, and a 1700 cc in later versions (in order to handle the new US emissions controls. Both engine types gave 65 hp (48 kW). The Sonett III made 0-100 km/h in 13 s and due to a 'longer' differential gear ratio, had a top speed of 165 km/h. The drag factor was 0.31. Production was ended in 1974 due to stricter automobile emissions control in the USA. A total of 10,219 Saab 97 (Sonett II and III) were made.
Sonett IV - The Future?
The Sonett IV was planned to be a 2+2 sports car with a 2.0L turbocharged engine, but the project never got very far.
In March 2004 the head of General Motors in Europe, Bob Lutz, stated that he wanted a new Saab Sonett. This time based on the Pontiac Solstice. Another possible platform that was mentioned was the Subaru B9 Scrambler. Most people seem to think, however, that the most likely choice is the new GM Delta platform. The designer will probably be Michael Mauer and it's said that the roadster was designed when he worked at SAAB, before he went to Porsche in July 2004.
On April 6, 2004 AutoWeek wrote that a new Saab will be based on the GM Kappa platform, but that it would be difficult to adapt to front wheel drive. The go ahead has already been given to Saturn's Kappa car, based on the Curve concept created by the Saab advanced design team in Gothenburg, Sweden. A Saab source says "that we're exploring a Sonett-inspired two-seater should be no surprise". It is likely it will be revealed on the 2005 Frankfurt auto show.
Svante Kinell at the marketing department at Saab told Auto Week in an interview that a front-wheel-drive, two seater powered by a 250 hp V6 is planned. A concept may be shown at the Geneva auto show in March 2006. At the launch of the face-lifted 9-5 in Spain, Svante Kinell told Automotive News Europe "We will show an interesting concept in Geneva that will have the DNA of our Sonett sports car that we sold in the mid-'60s". If the concept is received well at various US car shows it will go into production.There has also been speculation regarding if the concept car Saab Aero-X may go into production under the "Sonett" name. Click here to view info about the Saab AERO-X.
Sonett V Prototype
Despite its name, the Sonett V prototype (possibly Sonett IV prototype) was supposedly designed and built during the early production of the Sonett III. It is rumored to have been constructed by hand over a production 1970's Sonett III chassis by none other than Sergio Coggiola. Many claim it was shown at the 1971 Las Vegas International Auto Show. Other sources claim it to be a custom car job by a Saab enthusiast more recently. Its wider body and more exotic lines suggest this to be closer to Coggiola's original design for the Sonett III. As Coggiola is believed to have departed from Saab before producing the V, the car could be classified as a custom Saab rather than a prototype. Due to the uncertainty of its history, there is still some debate.
Functionally, the Sonett V is believed to be very similar to the production Sonett III. Information is scarce and details unclear, but it likely contains a somewhat modified version of the production Ford Taunus V4 engine. 90 hp engine output has been mentioned along with a top speed of 120 miles per hour. Both numbers are possible; several modified Sonett IIIs have attained this level or more of performance. The widened body in the front and rear and 4 bolt wheel hubs also indicate possible suspension modifications.
The Sonett V's history is as vague as the rest of the car's details. Its journey from Sweden to the US is so far a mystery (assuming it was built there), and even its current owner is not known.
The earliest mention of the Sonett V on the internet appears to be a classified ad from a California owner. Though the description of the car was somewhat inaccurate, mentioning an inline engine rather than a V4, there is no reason to believe this ad to have been a hoax. Following this is a long period of inactivity until a more recent owner placed the car up for sale in mid-2004. This time it was described as belonging to a member of the Yesteryear Car Club of Shelton, Washington. After several months, it was listed on eBay by the same owner. Rumors of the eBay bidder backing out have been circulated, but no solid information on the car's current whereabouts has surfaced.