The cars we loved.

1970-1974 Saab Sonnet III: The Third Time is the Charm

When thinking of sports cars, Saab is usually not the first company that comes to mind. The company seemed troubled by this impression and made it its mission to produce a sportscar to booster its image beyond that of efficent practically. The Sonnet had been around in some form since the late 1950’s when Saab’s designers built a small sports car almost on their free time in an attempt to get the development of one rolling. By the late 60’s there had been two generation of cars called Sonnet. The name derived from a Swedish exclamation and not from a type of poetry (as ad might have suggested) might have seemed an odd choice if it were not that a new Sonnet would be prepaired mostly to cater to American tastes.
The Sonnet II was an interesting car, from a technical point of view. The front wheel drive car featured advance production techniques like a fibreglass body bolted to a sheet metal chassis for light weight and regidity. It’s biggest problem was it’s odd looks were quirky handling. Saab tried to address these issues by enlisting the help of Italian design house Coggrola with the next update. The wave that was becomoing an Italian sourced design rennasance was sweeping Europe, while the Sweeds kept much of their design in house and within national boarders. This time the new Saab Sonnet III released in 1970 would have styling touches that would make it more appealing to Europe and most importantly America.


Saab Sonett III Interior

Saab Sonett III Interior

The revamping worked. Still small but no so quirky looking, the new Sonnet III was a bit wider but still smaller than most anything on the road in America by the early 70’s. The biggest styling enhancement was the switch to pop up headlights. The mechanically lever operaterd lights gave the Sonnet a sleek appearance. The low drag coeficcent of 0.31 was almost unheard of for the time and rivals many contemporary cars of today. Despite the improvements, the Sonnet was still a compromise. It’s tall windscreen from the 99 dictated a tall greenhouse that when combined with the big wheels gave the car a kind of childs go cart stance. The added headroom was a necessary feature of the small spartan interior which came only in tan nylon courdury with vinyl trim, reguardless of which of the six exterior colors were chosen. Because of the long hang over up front, the engine bay was confined to a small area accessable by a cover under the hood. The back had recived a significant update with a large flat glass hinged hatch. Previous models had a kind of three sided glass hatch. The new design was reminicent of Nissan’s popular 240Z.

Saab Sonett III Engine

Saab Sonett III Engine

There was no confusing Z car performance with the Sonet. The Sonnet III had a only a 1.7 l Ford four cylinder to propell it. With up to 68 hp, the car could manage to get up to 60 from a stop in 13 seconds and go on to 103 mph. At less than 2000 lb, the Sonnett was very tossible, much like the Opel GT, it’s biggest competior. Also like the Opel, a floor mounted shifter and solid beam rear axle was more in line with American tastes. Thanks to light weight and a four speed manual transmission, the Sonnet was able to acheve an average fuel consumption of 26mpg. Unfortunatly it’s emissions controls would have been too expensive to update to the new regulations that were coming. In an attempt to prepare for strict safety rules after 1972, new black rubber bumpers marred the original Italian inspired design. Now a bit less attractive than before and facing new EPA regulations and a oil crisis in 1973, Saab decided to pull the plugg on the slow selling Sonnet and get back to what it did best: produce family sedans. Less than 10,000 Sonnet IIIs were built in total. Few survive today, but like other Saabs, they enjoy a strongly devoted if not small fan base.

In 2004, while under the ownership of GM, Bob Lutz suggested that there could be a new Sonnett. It would be based on the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky platform. It never happened, much much of the concept transferred to the Saab AERO-X concept car. Today Saab is completly free of GM’s control, so It might be interesting to see if another car bears the Sonet name, now that words sporty and Saab are closer to being sonommious than ever before in the minds of the public.

1970 Saab Sonett III

1970 Saab Sonett III


1970 Saab Sonett III

1970 Saab Sonett III


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This entry was posted on February 13, 2011 by in 70's Cars, Saab and tagged , , .
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