Saab Sonett III

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Saab Sonett III

1970 - 1974
1698 cc
65 bhp at 4700 rpm
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
165 km/h / 103 mph
Number Built:
5 star
Saab Sonett III
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5

Sergio Coggiola

One of the rarest of Saab's is the Sonett III - an exceptionally good looking car that featured an aerodynamic shape that looks modern today - not bad for a car first released in 1970. The styling of the Sonett III was by former Ghia designer (who by 1970 was working as an independent designer) Sergio Coggiola. There was considerable input, however, from Gunnar Sjogren who made sure the design would be able to fit existing Saab chassis and avoid otherwise expensive manufacturing-line changes.

Coggiola's design was executed in GRP-laminate (aka fibreglass), with steel bracing and an all-welded steel chassis. In terms of sheer performance the main feature was the drag coefficient - and that figure was impressive - an incredible 0.31. We have looked back on the many car reviews we have done on 1970s cars - and for any contemporary vehicles the Sonata III only just fell short of the Lotus Europa, which was at the time hailed as the world's slipperiest road car by quite a long chalk.

A Lightweight Missile

That meant that the tiny 1700cc V4 engine could pull (yes, the Sonett III was front-wheel-drive) the lightweight missile to some pretty startling performance figures. It weighed in at just 1805 lb dry weight at the kerb. But this mastery of aerodynamics became a little more understandable when you remembered that Saab was one of Europe's largest builders of jet aircraft. Of course we all know that these days, after seeing countless Saab television commercials reminding us, but we are not so sure buyers in the early 1970s were quite as well educated.

Like the earlier Sonett models the Sonett III was intended primarily for the American market. From the purely mechanical aspect, the Sonett III is based on standard components from the SAAB 96 V4. Engine, steering, springs, brakes, suspension, etc, were all standard items, modified to suit the special requirements of a sports car. For example, a double exhaust system was fitted to give a better ground clearance. The steel chassis framework was also standard, but with alterations to suit the new body, which was made of 3 mm thick plastic with glass fibre reinforcement.

Saab Safety and Strength

Like all Saabs, the Sonett III had strong steel reinforcement (effectively, a roll-bar) in the windscreen pillars. To ensure that they were able to keep their correct shape and be stable and free from rattles, the doors had rigid steel frames and were hung on strong vertical pillars. The doors were also made extra wide, to ease entry and exit. Between the roof and the box-like cross-member behind the seats was a tubular steel second roll-bar. The fuel tank was located behind the cross-member.

The smooth frontal contours of the Sonett disguised not only the bonnet itself but also the fully retractable headlamps. There was room for two extra headlamps behind the grille, and the necessary terminals and fixing points for these were included as standard. The headlights came on automatically when the lamps were swung up. And like the Opel GT, the Sonett III's hidden headlamps were operated manually using a lever.

Behind the Wheel

There is also an air intake which provided direct fresh air for the occupants of the car through swivelling nozzles in the outer corners of the instrument panel. Fresh air could also be taken in through the normal heating and ventilating unit, and the Sonett also had extra ventilation windows which earlier models lacked. Interior trim was kept in various shades of brown to tone in with any of the exterior colours, which were blue, red, green and yellow. The seats, with built-in headrests, were upholstered in a type of corduroy, which was self-ventilating. For proper support in the small of the back, the backrests had movable cushions which could easily be unbuttoned if not required. A stubby gear-lever was floor-mounted between the seats. The handbrake was there, too, readily accessible.

The floors were carpeted, both in the passenger compartment and in the luggage space. The boot has a capacity of about seven cu ft (200 litres). Access was through a large flat back window which could be fully opened. Three easy-to-read round instrument dials were counted in the matt black panel. The result is one very sweet motor car, and a car that reflected the Swedish devotion to beauty in design and excellence in engineering. US safety regulations required new bumpers after 1972, significantly detracting from its Italian-inspired design.

While the 1970 and 1971 model years initially had the same 1500cc Ford V4 engine as the Sonett V4, emission control requirements reduced the available horsepower. The model years 1971 to 1974 of the Sonett III used the 1700cc Ford V4, but to meet increasingly strict Federal regulations, net power output remained the same as the 1500 cc engine, at 65 horsepower (48 kW). Still, the Sonett III accelerated from 0-100 km/h (0-63 mph) in 13 seconds, and - 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) - achieved a top speed of 165 km/h (103 mph), aided by a low 0.31 drag coefficient.

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.

1972 SAAB Sonett III Quick Specifications

ENGINE: Cylinders - four, in vee, Bore and stroke90 mm (3.54 in.) x 66.8 mm (2.63 in.), Cubic capacity - 1698cc (103.6 cu in.), Compression ratio - 8.0:1, Valves - overhead, Power - 65 SAE bhp at 4700 rpm Torque - .85 lb/ft at 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Type - manual, Clutch - SDP, Gear lever location - floor console; Overall Ratio: mph per 1000 rpm, 1st 16.2, 2nd 9.7, 3rd 6.0, 4th 3.9 18.1, Reverse 14.8, Final drive 4.67
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR: Construction - all-steel chassis; Suspension front: coils & double acting tele shockers. Suspension rear - coils & double acting tele shockers; Steering type - rack & pinion, Turns 1 to 1 - 2.7, Brakes type - disc front/drum rear; Dimensions - 10.5 in./8.0 in.; Friction area - 255 sq in.
DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase- 84.6 in.; Track front - 48.5 in. Track rear- 48.5 in.; Length - 159.5 in. Width - 59.1 in.; Height- 47 in.
TYRES: Size - 155-SR15
Saab Sonett III
Saab Sonett III
Saab Sonett III
Saab Sonett III

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Also see:

The History of SAAB (USA Edition)
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