ERIK CARLSSON started the Scandinavian invasion of international rallying, and in doing so he put the name of Saab on the map, both as a top-class rally car and as a serious production motor car.
Born in 1929 at Trollhattan in Sweden, Carlsson's first love was motor cycling but, after his military service, he graduated to rallying with cars like an Austin A40 and a VW Beetle. In 1953, he took part in his first major event, the Swedish Rally, as co-driver in a Volvo.
This whetted his appetite and, in 1954, he bought a Saab 92 for rallying. The Saab car factory had only been established since 1950, although the company had been building aircraft and other engineering products for many years. Saab was keen to establish its new car, with its then-unconventional specification of a 764 cc, two-cylinder, two-stroke engine and three-speed gearbox, driving the front wheels, and suspension by torsion bars.
Saab found that Swedish rallying, with its accent on forest tracks, was an ideal proving ground. Carlsson began to gain success in Swedish events and the Saab factory offered him support. In 1957, he was invited to join Saab as a test driver and works-supported rally driver.
By then, the Saab 93, with-a three-cylinder, 748 cc, two-stroke engine and coil spring suspension, was in production and the greater power offered by the three-cylinder engine gave Carlsson more opportunity to shine in rallies. He took part in the 1957 Tulip Rally without success, but then went to Finland and won the Finnish 1000 Lakes rally outright.
At the time he shone on rallies which used many miles of rough, unmade roads and was not at home on events like the Tulip, which required long mileages on ordinary roads with only a few special stages to decide the event. By 1958, he was making regular forays abroad, taking second place in the Adriatic rally and winning the Swedish ice racing championship, an event he monopolised for five years. To show that he did not just specialise in forest rallies, he won the 1959 German and Swedish rallies.
It was in 1960 that Carlsson's name became a household name around the world, when he took out the British RAC Rally, to the astonishment of the British rallying fraternity. The dice were loaded in his favour because, after many years of being run as little more than a glorified tour round Britain, the RAC Rally used many miles of Forestry Commission land for the special stages. Despite never having seen the loose-surfaced forest tracks, Carlsson was immediately at home.
He also had the foresight to choose a British navigator, because he knew that his regular co-drivers would not be able to cope with the strict timing and sometimes intricate route-finding of British events. He chose Stuart Turner, then rally cor- respondent of Motoring News, now Competitions Director of Ford of Europe, who took him through the event in impeccable fashion. Carlsson brought a completely new style of rally-driving to Britain, and the British drivers frantically tried to copy his exuberant style. However, it was many years before any British driver was able to compete on equal terms with the hordes of talented Scandinavians who invaded the rally world.
Erik Carlsson with his SAAB 96 at the 1961 Swedish Rally,
victory went to Carl-Magnus Skogh.
Erik “On the Roof” Carlsson at the East African Safari Rally in 1962.
Erik Carlsson at the Monte-Carlo Rally in 1964.
Erik 'On The Roof' Carlsson
Carlsson's hectic driving was not always impeccable, he had a few accidents and earned the un-justified nickname of Erik 'on the roof
' Carlsson, but some of his accidents did have their amusing aspects. On one rally, Carlsson lost control whilst flicking the car through a tricky un-gated level crossing; the car rolled over onto its roof and came to rest right in the middle of the railway line. Carlsson finished up with his ear pressed against the railway line, through which he could hear the distant rumble of a train. He tapped his British co-driver on the shoulder and quietly said 'We go now-train come'.
Sales of Saab cars were leaping quite spectacularly, almost certainly due to the rally victories of the burly Carlsson, who was becoming a genial ambassador both for Saab and his country. He returned to Britain in 1961 and again won the RAC Rally, accompanied by another Englishman, David Stone. He also won the Acropolis rally in Greece and finished fourth on the Monte Carlo Rally in a Saab Wagon. In 1962, he made a determined attack on the European Rally Championship, winning the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally and completing his hat trick in the RAC Rally, again accompanied by an Englishman, this time motoring journalist John Brown.
He also finished second in both the Geneva and Acropolis rallies and third in the Swedish and Finnish 1000 Lakes events. Despite his string of successes, he had to be content with second place in the European Championship. 1963 started well with another out-right win in the Monte Carlo Rally, followed by a good second place in the legendary Liege-Sofia-Liege Rally, which was little more than a thinly disguised road race. He also led the tough East African Safari rally until he hit a stray animal and badly damaged the car. His string of victories in the RAC Rally came to an end in 1963; he finished third, but the winner was fellow countryman Tom Trana in a Volvo.
Also in 1963, Carlsson married Pat Moss, sister of Stirling Moss, and herself a top rally driver. He moved to England to live and found that he had to take the British driving test! Carlsson took third place in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 and followed this up with a victory in the San Remo Rally, chased home by his wife in second place. She had left Ford to join him in the Saab team. The victory in the San Remo event was his last in an international rally, although he finished second in the East African Safari, Geneva, Polish and Liege-Sofia-Liege rallies and also gained a coveted Coupe des Alpes in the Alpine Rally, he gradually gave up serious competition driving.
- 1955 1st in the Rikspokalen in a Saab 92
- 1957 1st in the 1000 Lakes Rally in a Saab 93
- 1959 1st in the Swedish Rally in a Saab 93
- 1959 1st in the German Rally in a Saab 93
- 1960, 1961, 1962 1st in the RAC Rally in a Saab 96
- 1960 2nd in the Akropolis Rally in a Saab 96
- 1961 4th in the Monte Carlo Rally in a Saab 95
- 1961 1st in the Akropolis Rally in a Saab 96
- 1962, 1963, 1st in the Monte Carlo Rally in a Saab 96.
- 1962, 7th in East African Safari Rally in a Saab 96
- 1963 2nd in the Liège-Sofia-Liège Rally in a Saab 96
- 1964 1st in the San Remo Rally (Rally dei Fiori) in a Saab 96 Sport
- 1964 2nd in the Liège-Sofia-Liège Rally in a Saab 96
- 1964 2nd in the East African Safari Rally in a Saab 96
- 1965 2nd in the BP Australian Rally in a Saab 96 Sport
- 1965 2nd in the Akropolis Rally in a Saab 96 Sport
- 1967 1st in the Czech Rally in a Saab 96 V4
- 1969, 3rd in Baja 1000 in a Saab 96 V4
- 1970, 5th in Baja 1000 in a Saab 96 V4