Find of the Week: 1973 Saab Sonett III

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Most casual car enthusiasts might most easily call to mind the 1980s Saab 900 model as the car that cemented Saab’s reputation for unique car designs. But the Swedish brand had made it clear years before that it wasn’t interested in playing in the same sandbox as other mainstream automakers.

Among other quirks, Saab was probably the last mainstream automaker to use two-stroke gasoline engines, like those that powered the 95 and 96 models of the 1960s, as well early versions of this sports car, the Sonett.

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While the name looks like a creatively spelled variant of sonnet – a type of poem – the name was apparently derived from the Swedish phrase, “så nätt den är,” (roughly pronounced “so net den air”) which translates roughly as “so pretty it is.”

Arguably, the first- and second-generation Sonetts were prettier than this third-gen model; the original was developed in the 1950s as a homologated race car, but was cancelled after European racing rules changed and rendered the car economically unfeasible.

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The Sonett name made a comeback in the mid-1960s when the Sonett II was launched, powered by a two-stroke similar to that in the 95 and 96. But tightening US emissions standards made that engine unviable, and it was replaced in 1967 by another unique engine – a V4 borrowed from the Ford Taunus.

That’s the engine Saab stuck with for the Sonett III, introduced in 1970 wearing the less-elegant styling shared with the 1973 model we found for sale in Bolton, Ontario.

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Right off the bat, we were drawn to this car’s colour, which the seller says is called “Sun-Burnt Orange.” To be included with the car are the Canadian-spec bumpers, which are currently not installed as the seller says they prefer the sleeker look of the way the car was sold in Europe.

While early Sonett IIIs had a 1.5L version of the Ford V4, this later model has a 1.7L variant that made a modest 55 or 65 hp, depending on who you ask. We’re not sure the engine would be any treat to work on given the tiny hood opening, though.

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A four-speed manual transmission sounds conventional for its time, but was made notably less so by the inclusion of a freewheeling function that disconnected the engine from the transmission any time the car coasted, a nod to saving fuel.

Our seller also says this car’s pop-up headlights are mechanically operated, presumably by the lever-looking thing labelled “lights” left of the steering wheel.

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The ad also says this car is one of just 2,500 built for the 1973 model year, the penultimate year of production; the Sonett III was discontinued after 1974.

US-based Saab Sonett ads on Saabnet.com suggest our Ontario seller’s asking price is only a bit optimistic, though low mileage (55,555 km), new tires around the 15-inch “soccer ball” wheels, a rebuilt engine and apparently all-original interior that looks to be in very good shape are strong selling points for our latest Find of the Week.

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Chris Chase

Chris Chase

As a child, Chris spent much of his time playing with toy cars in his parents’ basement; when his mother would tell him to go play outside, he made car sounds while riding his bicycle or dug roads for his toys in the flower garden. Now he gets to indulge his obsession playing with real cars that make their own cool noises, and gets paid for it.
  • camaro_mang

    looks pretty cool.