Saab Sonett II (1966)

Saab Sonett II

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 Åsaka outside Trollhättan. 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; "Så nätt den är", not from the sonnet type of poetry. The name was originally suggested for both the Saab 92 and the Saab 93.

Sonett I

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 aluminium 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.

Sonett II

In the 1960s Björn Karlström 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 Malmö 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 Arlöv 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. Sjögren, 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 (Automobilové Závody Narodni Podnik) in Mladá Boleslav in 1968. AZPN used the Sonett as the basis of a prototype for Škoda Auto called the Škoda 1100 GT. From the doors and rear it is almost identical with the Sonett, but the front is inspired by Ferrari Dino.

Sonett III

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. Sjögren 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 pop-up headlights were operated by means of manually operated levers. In 1973, the car received the Saab self-repairing bumpers.

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 coefficient 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.

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