Saab History

Uncovering the Saab Sonett III

The 1970 redesign of the Sonett V4, named the Sonett III,

With the bankruptcy of Saab looming, the iconic car manufacturer’s classic models are becoming highly sought after. One such model is the third-generation Saab Sonett III, which was produced from 1970 to 1974. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic car and its history.

The Saab Sonett: A Brief History

The Saab Sonett was first introduced in 1955 as an open-top roadster with a three-cylinder engine producing 57.5 horsepower. However, only six units were built due to a change in race competition rules and economic and marketing realities.

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The second generation of the Sonett was introduced in 1966 and was designed as a race car. It went up against other European-made roadsters such as the Austin-Healey Sprite and Triumph Spitfire. The U.S. version was powered by the Ford Taunus V4 engine with 65 horsepower. Production lasted until 1970 when the Clean Air Act forced engineering modifications to the engine, which couldn’t be properly adapted to the car’s body style.

The third generation of the Sonett was introduced in 1970 and also came with the Ford engine, but horsepower was down due to new emissions requirements. The biggest change was the new body, which featured a hinged rear-window glass instead of the previous model’s compartment hatch door, a flat hood, and hidden headlamps that were opened and closed manually with a lever.

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1973 Saab Sonett III

It was not quite as fast as the previous version, but it was still used for racing. However, slow sales and the 1973 oil crisis forced Saab to end production in 1974, with a total of 8,368 built.

With Saab likely checking out soon, classic models such as this third generation Sonett will quickly become highly prized collectables. Let’s take a closer look at the 1973 Saab Sonett III, one of the final models produced by Saab before it ceased production.

The 1973 Sonett featured here is owned by a member of the Buckeye Saab Club in Ohio. It appears to be in fairly good condition, but there is still quite a bit of cleaning up to do in the wheel wells and engine bay. For anyone who’s a fan of Saab, owning a Sonett such as this would surely be a great thing. It’s a reminder of what Saab was capable of doing at one point in its history.

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Sonett II owned by a member of the Buckeye Saab Club in Ohio is in not so good condition
Sonett II owned by a member of the Buckeye Saab Club in Ohio is in not so good condition

Design and Features

The 1970 redesign of the Sonett V4, named the Sonett III, was initially undertaken by Sergio Coggiola, but Gunnar A. Sjögren altered it to fit the existing Sonett II chassis without expensive manufacturing-line changes.

The Sonett III featured a hinged rear-window glass, which replaced the Sonett II/V4 rear compartment hatch door. The engine compartment opening evolved into a small front popup panel with the mandate for a “bulge-less” hood. However, this resulted in more limited access than in the Sonett V4, and extensive engine work required the removal of the entire front hood section.

To help adapt the car to US market tastes, the Sonett III featured a floor-mounted shifter instead of the Sonett V4 column-mounted shifter. It also had optional dealer-installed air conditioning. The Sonett III’s hidden headlamps were operated manually using a lever. US safety regulations required new low speed impact proof bumpers after 1972, significantly detracting from its Italian-inspired design. All Sonett III were LHD.

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Performance and Power

The Sonett III used the 1500 cc Ford Taunus V4 engine in the 1970 and 1971 model years, the same as the Sonett V4. However, emission control requirements reduced the available horsepower. The model years 1971 to 1974 of the Sonett III used the 1700 cc Ford V4, but to meet increasingly strict federal regulations, net power output remained the same as the 1500 cc engine, at 65 horsepower.

Still, the Sonett III accelerated from 0–100 km/h (0–62 mph) in 13 seconds and achieved a top speed of 165 km/h (103 mph) due to a higher differential gear ratio (42 teeth on the ring gear and 9 teeth on the pinion gear) than the standard 95/96 transmission (39:8), aided by a drag coefficient of 0.31 cd.

Saab also used the Sonett III for test builds powered by a Rankine cycle steam engine. One of the test cars survived and was at auction in Stockholm in July 2019.

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Production and Sales

Disappointing sales, especially during the 1973 oil crisis, led Saab to end production in 1974. A total of 8,368 Sonett IIIs were manufactured between 1970 and 1974. This makes the Sonett III one of the rarest Saab models, adding to its allure for collectors and classic car enthusiasts.

Conclusion

The 1973 Saab Sonett III is a classic car that has been largely forgotten in recent times, but with Saab likely to close its doors for good, models like the Sonett III will become even more prized. The Sonett III’s Italian-inspired design, floor-mounted shifter, and hidden headlamps are some of the features that make it a unique and sought-after classic car.

Though its horsepower was limited due to federal regulations, the Sonett III still boasted respectable acceleration and top speed figures. The Sonett III’s limited production run and rarity add to its appeal for collectors and classic car enthusiasts alike.

Goran Aničić
the authorGoran Aničić
For over 10 years, Goran Aničić has been passionately focused on Saab automobiles and everything related to them. His initial encounter with Saab cars took place back in 2003 when the first Saab 9-3 and sedan version were introduced. At that moment, he was captivated by the car's Scandinavian design logic and top-notch engineering, and everything that followed stemmed from that first encounter. Later on, through his work at the editorial team of the Serbian automotive magazines "Autostart" and later "AutoBild," he had the opportunity to engage more closely with Saab vehicles. In 2008, he tested the latest Saab cars of that time, such as the Saab 9-3 TTiD Aero and Saab 9-3 Turbo X. In 2010, as the sole blogger from the region, he participated in the Saab 9-5ng presentation in Trollhättan, Sweden. Alongside journalists from around the world, he got a firsthand experience of the pinnacle of technological offerings from Saab at that time. Currently, Goran owns two Saabs: a 2008 Saab 9-3 Vector Sportcombi with a manual transmission, and a Saab 9-3 Aero Griffin Sport Sedan from the last generation, which rolled off the production line in Trollhättan in December 2011.

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