Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Swedish Roadster That Should 
Have Inspired The World

Sonett I 1955 - 57

But Somehow...Didn't

Designed in secret on a tiny budget, the Sonett I was lovingly penned by two Saab aircraft engineers that were also racing enthusiasts. 

A combination of new rules and a lack of public interest doomed the little car.....

1957 Sonett I

I have a love for all things Swedish. I have owned nearly every model of Volvo. The main characters in my latest book are Swedish. 

There is a running joke that the Swedish go straight to Heaven, while the French go to Hell.

The Swedes do things differently, and I like that.

The Sonett is an example of Swedish ingenity, and premiered at the Stockholm Motor Show as a resounding success. 

However, when the little racer was shown at the New York Auto Show in 1955, it was totally ignored. A planned production run of 2,000 was abandoned after European racing rules changed and new emission rules came into effect.

Only 6 were ever made.

Sometimes, as you will see, playing by a different set of rules can backfire....

But before we go on, I should tell you that the Saab Sonett has a special place in my heart for an odd reason.

The Sonett was thought up by an aircraft engineer named Rolf Mellde. The 150 lb. aluminum chassis was designed by Sixten Sason. Anyone that knows me and my books will notice that those names may seem familiar, and for good reason.

I truly admired the designers for their vision of this adorable little car, and combined their names to become a main character (Sixten Mellde) in one of my books, that character grew in popularity immensely, and had a fictional daughter that also became a popular character loved by teen girls. Sabine Mellde, whose first name I borrowed from the famous Ring Taxi driver, Sabine Schmitz. Sabine - the real version - is awesomely awesome, as anyone who watches Top Gear or D Motor knows.

The Sonett should have wowed the world, but I think it didn't mainly because of the engine. More on that in a moment. 

There was a Sonett II, but I'm not going to delve into that car, because it's as ugly as a car can be, but was a successful racer. Below is a picture.

Sonett II 1966 - 69

Back to the Sonett I....

If you look up the car's stats, then you can kinda see where it fell short, especially when compared to the Porsche 550 Spyder. The 550 was a giant-killer with a healthy reputation on the track. The Sonett, however was powered by a three-cylinder 750 cc two-stroke, which may have been it's undoing.

If engines aren't your forte, then allow me to explain the 750 cc two-stroke. Basically, it's a Third-World motorcycle engine. 

The Sonett would never been allowed on American roads, because there was no way it would ever meet U.S. emission standards. The old two-strokes are noisy, burn a lot of oil and is not suited for automobiles.

The engine produced 57 horsepower, though, and the Sonett could do 0-to-60 in 12 seconds and had a top speed of 120 mph. 

These are respectable figures, especially for the time. This decent speed was due to the low weight, at about 1,100 lbs. - an example of the aircraft engineering. 

Remember, 1955 was a time when regular cars weighed about a million pounds.

The Sonett had no roof, no interior, and today would be a really fun track car.

Yet for some reason, Saab loved the two-stroke motor, as it has shown up in a lot of their early cars. But then, we all know that Saab never liked to play by the rules.

But they aren't dumb.

This is what Saab was also making in 1955 - the truly remarkable Draken, an extremely advanced fighter that was still in Flygflottilj service as of 2005. So, clearly, the Swedes know their onions.

Saab J35F Draken

I wish the Sonett I had entered production.

I also wish that Saab had also given up on the two-stroke, but they didn't.

Let's say, for arguments sake, the Sonett had been made. It probably would have been a great success - then....and now. 

It would be equivalent to the Bug-Eye Sprite....totally tune-able and a blast in the corners. And a complete thrill to drive....especially if the motor was upgraded to modern standards.

And in case you are wondering, a lot of racing guys are putting Japanese 1000cc 4-stroke motorcycle engines in their Bug-Eye Sprites with unbelievable results. 

I think the same would happen with the Sonett, if it were around today.

I don't know what it is exactly about the Sonett I that I love so much. 

I find it far more appealing than any other European car ever made, even now. It's better looking than the Spyder or the 356, it has more character than any British car....although I will admit that it isn't as drop-dead gorgeous as an old Jag, like the 120.

The only car I can think of that comes close is the 911 Roadster. Still, there's something about the Sonett that just speaks to my heart.

Now, if the Swedes could just figure out how to give me inexpensive furniture that I could assemble at home....

Please, feel free to write
 in and offer your opinion

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