Here’s a long-overdue public service announcement: One of the most soulful automobiles ever made can be purchased for a song. It’s called the Saab Sonett, and I’m confused about why we’re not all champing at the bit to own one.
For reasons unknown, I had an epiphany yesterday when I came across a Bring a Trailer listing for a 1974 Saab Sonett. What struck me was that the gorgeous orange, manual, V4 engine-equipped (oh yeah, you read that right—four cylinders in a vee configuration!) exotic sports car shown below only sold for the paltry sum of $6,000. That’s not a lot for borderline automotive perfection.
I know, that’s a pretty bold statement, but just hear me out. First, we can probably all agree that this machine looks amazing. It has a long hood, a pointy snout with popup headlights, cool “driving lights” behind the grille, a fastback profile, classy aluminum wheels, and a fun hood bulge to clear the air cleaner. You can thank legendary Italian designer Sergio Coggiola for the Sonett’s incredible shape.
That air cleaner sits atop an amazing engine whose engine configuration is usually muttered by people who don’t know much about cars and are trying to explain to their auto parts clerk that the engine they need an air filter for is not the six. I am, of course, talking about the V-4.
It’s a rare beast to find in any car, really, but Saab liked it because it was nice and compact. It helps, of course, that it was fairly small at only 1.7-liters.
The engine was originally developed for Ford’s “Cardinal” front-engine, front-wheel drive economy car that never actually went on sale in the U.S., but that did evolve int the Ford Taunus sold in Europe.
In the Saab Sonett III, the motor made 73 ponies, which—when sent through a four-speed manual and to the front wheels, got the car to 60 mph in 11 seconds according to Saab’s 1973 advertising.
Yes, I know the vinyl record in your brain just scratched, and the sweet, sensual Swedish music stopped as you read “front wheels” and “to 60 mph in 11 seconds.” But despite Wrong Wheel Drive and relatively leisurely acceleration, the thing had soul. Especially because of its exhaust sound:
More importantly, look at this shock tower cross-brace that doubles as a coolant reservoir. How fun is that?:
In the Saab Sonett, we’ve got a gorgeous, exotic, technically interesting, manual transmission vehicle, and yet, pricing for these incredible machines remains modest. Just check out Bring a Trailer, an auction site that usually sells cars for far too many dollars, and you’ll find nice examples going for five to six large. It’s baffling!
The Sonett III didn’t sell much better; despite more aggressive advertising, some 8,368 were made. The Sonett had always been an outsider in the sports car market; the warty little oddball with FWD in a world dominated by MG, Triumph, Porsche and such. And after Datsun’s revolutionary 240Z appeared in 1971, the sports car world was forever “restructured.” The Z car offered three times the horsepower (and styling) for less money; by 1974, it was all over. A sonnet has 14 lines; the Sonett only made it to through (year) nine.
Horsepower. Who needs it? And rear-drive? Who needs it when you have so little horsepower? Plus, look at the bright side of that weak engine: If you want more grunt, you can just modify the V4!
Actually, I bet Saab Sonett parts availability is pretty poor. Okay, I’ll abandon my thesis. But I still think Sonetts are cool.