Saab Sonnet III; photo by Wikipedia user Liftarn. Click image to enlarge
By Bill Vance
Aeroplan Aktieblaget AB (Swedish Airplane Company) of Trollhattan, Sweden, known by its acronym, SAAB, began building airplanes in 1937. It prospered during the Second World War but with peace looming and the anticipated demand for military airplanes diminishing, Saab decided to enter the automobile business with a Swedish “people’s car.”
Saab showed its first Saab 92 (Saab, like Porsche, identified models by project numbers) prototype in 1947. It was a small, two-door, five-passenger, fastback sedan that drew on aircraft technology with its unit construction and an aerodynamic profile shaped like an airplane wing. For expediency, Saab used a pre-war German DKW transversely-mounted, two-cylinder, two-stroke, water-cooled engine driving the front wheels. Development continued and production began on a refined version in late 1949.
1966 Saab Sonnet; photo by Wikipedia user Liftarn. Click image to enlarge
The Saab 92 turned out to be a rugged, roadworthy car that excelled in rallying and soon established a loyal following. With an eye to the American market, Saab began experimenting with a sports car based on the 92’s sturdy mechanicals.
In the mid-1950s Saab developed a small, fibreglass-bodied, 499-kg (1,100 lb) roadster which it called the Sonett (“so neat” in Swedish). Saabs now had a three-cylinder, longitudinally positioned engine, and with the little 748-cc triple tuned to 57 horsepower it gave excellent performance. Sports Cars Illustrated (11/’56) reported zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 12 seconds and top speed of 161 km/h (100 mph).
In spite of its potential, only a handful of Sonetts were produced before Saab abandoned the project. But American dealers still wanted a sports car, and although it took them a decade, Saab finally obliged with the 1966 Saab Sonett II, a fibreglass-bodied two-seater coupe again based on sedan components. It was powered by an 841-cc high performance version of the three-cylinder, two-stroke engine, and some 500 were built during 1966 and ’67.
The Sonett II was rather stubby at just 3,759 mm (148 in.) long with a 2,159 mm (85 in.) wheelbase, a tapered nose, low grille, big wrapover rear window and abruptly chopped off tail. Trunk access was through a small drop-down rear door or by folding the seats.