Saab's original Sonett is likely the most sough-after car ever to be produced by the zany Swedish firm. With only 6 made, the Sonett was a beautifully designed roadster designed to set speed records for its displacement class. The cars succeeded in grabbing several records, thanks to 2-stroke engines that made big power out of tiny displacement. While you're not likely to ever see a Sonett outside of a museum, Saab kept the great name alive for a couple of subsequent sports cars, the Sonetts II and III.
The Sonett II was made from 1967-1969, and was first offered with a 2-stroke engine very similar to that of its spiritual predecessor. The engine could put out about 70hp, an impressive number for such a light car, and an even more impressive number for an engine displacing just 841cc. Early Sonetts had a Solex carburetor for each of their three cylinders.
Not everyone recognized the benefits of 2-stroke power, and Saab owners didn't enjoy needing to add oil to their gas every time they filled up. This prompted Saab to make the switch to a more conventional 4-stroke engine for 1968. The new engine, sourced from Ford, was almost as offbeat as the old. As a V4, it had an odd design compared to the vast majority of other four cylinders, which were inline.
The engines weren't the only components of the Sonett II that made buyers scratch their heads. With a column-mounted shifter, changing gears in these Saabs was not a typically sporting experience. Though the shifter worked well, it seemed out of place in a low-slung sports coupe with exotic looks. Perhaps the strangest things about the gearbox, though, was that it directed power to the front wheels.
Front-wheel-drive is overlooked today as a common, mundane feature. Plenty of sports cars have had this drive layout, and some of the best handling cars of today are pulled along by their leading wheels. But in 1967, front-wheel-drive was still an oddball. It was considered a great feature for trekking through tough conditions in more robust cars like Saab's own 96, but its virtues had never been instilled in a proper sports car before.
While it may not seem to make any sense to call the Sonett II a proper sports car in the first place, the little Saab did manage to meet all the requirements of a sporting auto. It was tiny. It was quick. It was noisy. And, most importantly, it handled. Saab proved with its Sonett II that front-wheel-drive could be incorporated into a machine with engaging driving dynamics and an enthusiastic personality.
For as good of a car as the Sonett II was, it just didn't click with the car-buying public. In the U.S., Saab was a relatively unknown company at the time of their sports car's introduction, and most people were weary of buying such an odd car. The Sonett II's high price ensured that potential buyers could take their money elsewhere for a car of at least equivalent performance but with more pedigree and prestige. This meant slow sales for Saab. Only 229 Sonett IIs were built with the 2-stroke 3-cylinder for 1967. Over the next couple of years, sales improved dramatically with 1,868 V4-powered cars produced.
Even after the huge production spike, though, the Sonett II had unimpressive sales figures. The production run of barely 2,000 units prevented the Sonett-series from generating much profit for its parent company until the Sonett III was introduced. While that car did eventually catch on more than the II, it only did so by compromising with more conventional styling, a more practical interior, and a floor-mounted shifter. The Sonett II established its own following, though, and today they are worth substantially more than their more common replacements. Information for this article was supplied in part by www.saabhistory.com, an excellent site and great resource for Saab enthusiasts. By Evan Acuña