Last revised: 26-1-2009

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Car of the Month - April 2004

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Saab Sonett II - sport coupe body - model year 1967

Though Swedish car manufacturer Saab is best known for its distinctive saloon cars it also has offered some sports car models. These were all named Sonett, which roughly translates to "very cute" and was an apt description for these nimble little cars. The first Sonett model (type 94) appeared in 1956 and was a small open sports car intended for use in competition. It had a barchetta-style body and a 3-cylinder 2-stroke engine displacing 748 cc which produced 57.5 hp. Only 6 of these cars were made due to a change in racing regulations and Saab as a consequence decided to divert its racing efforts to tuned saloon cars and abandoned the series production plans for the model 94 Sonett.
In Sweden however the interest in a Saab sports car remained and some different prototypes followed, often conceived by enthusiasts outside the Saab concern. One of these efforts was the MFI 13 from 1965, a compact sports coupe with modern looks and a speedy performance. Since it outclassed the prototype Saab was working on, Saab adopted this design and reworked it into the model 97 which was presented in 1966 as the Sonett II. It had a 2-seater plastic body mounted on the underpinnings of the Saab 96 Monte Carlo saloon and featured a 2-stroke 841 cc 3-cylinder engine fitted with 3 carburetors, good for 60 hp @ 5200 rpm. Thanks to its lightweight construction it was a lively car, topping 170 kph and accelerating from 0 to 100 kph in about 12.5 seconds. Downside to this was that the car needed a lot of shifting its 4-speed gearbox to keep it going fast.
The Sonett II wasn't much of a commercial success, only 28 of them left the factory in 1966 followed by 230 of the 2-stroke engined version in 1967. On the picture above you see one of these rare 2-stroke 1967 models. During 1967 the 2-stroke engine in the Sonett II was replaced by the Ford V4 4-cylinder 4-stroke engine which also replaced the 2-stroke engine of the 96 saloon. The car was renamed into Sonett II V4 and was a much more comfortable car to drive, though it was also less sporty because of the increased weight in the front and the relatively low-revving engine. The increased height of the engine necessitated an unbecoming bulge in the hood. This engine change didn't really boost sales, at 69 of them sold in 1967, 900 in 1968 and 640 in 1969, its last year.
More commercial success was enjoyed by the Sonett III model which was introduced in 1970. It was basically a Sonett II which was restyled by Italian Sergio Coggiola and slightly bigger and more luxurious. In 1971 its 1.5 liter V4 engine was enlarged to 1.7 liter with a lower compression to comply to emission regulations, and the Sonett III was sold 8,300 times until the end in 1974. The majority of these were shipped in the USA. They must have been quite a contrast to the big and heavy muscle cars which were popular over there at the time.
Unfortunately there was no Sonett IV. There were plans for a turbo-charged successor to the Sonett III, a 2+2 this time, but these were abandoned because of Saab's limited financial resources and Saab has concentrated on saloon cars ever since.

Despite the limited production of the Sonett II it's not very valuable these days, though it's quite hard to find one. It may look a bit odd and the 2-stroke version may need some getting used too but it is an interesting car for Saab enthusiasts and those who like attention at car shows (lots of questions guaranteed). It certainly deserves to be kept on the road and remembered.
You can find more comprehensive info on Saab history and all produced Saab models on the very informative Saab Museum website.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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