Swedish Rarity: 1969 Saab Sonett V4

063016 Barn Finds - 1969 Saab Sonett - 1

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San Diego, California is the home of this Swedish project car. This is a 1969 Saab Sonett V4 and it’s listed on eBay with an unmet Buy It Now price of $5,600. These are super rare cars so if you’ve been looking for a decent one to restore, you can make an offer, too. You almost can’t go wrong with this car, especially if you plan on doing some of the work yourself, which of course you’d want to do on any restoration project.

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This is a Sonett V4, which is basically a Sonett II with a Ford V4 engine instead of a three-cylinder, two-stroke engine. Saab realized that their two-stroke engine wasn’t competitive in the US market and they needed to come up with something to replace it. The Sonett V4 went into production for the mid-1967 model year after a year and a half of Sonett IIs with the two-stroke engine. I’m a huge fan of three-cylinder engines so I would prefer an earlier Sonett II, but they’re almost impossible to find, with fewer than 300 produced. “The Sonett V4 featured advanced safety features for its day, including a roll bar, three-point seat belts, and high-back bucket seats to protect against whiplash injury.” Those Swedes really touted safety features in their cars.

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This car was painted, unfortunately. And, it wasn’t just repainted, but it was a quick color change from its original red; but it wasn’t the best job of doing so. This car is rare enough that anyone who buys it will most likely want to restore it back to original spec so it’ll be disassembled and restored anyway. Only 1,610 Sonett V4s were made. There is a question as to the age of this car, someone writes in that this is actually a 1968 model from deciphering the VIN. A Sonett V4 is nice to see in any condition, and this one is pretty solid for a 47-year old car. The seller says that the uber-hard-to-find rear glass is broken, but there is a company in Los Angeles that makes a plexiglass reproduction and that may have to do until a glass window can be found.

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Apparently, “most of the rust damage was repaired and the only one I see is the one under the carpet near the pedals (see last photo) – you must lift the carpet to find this.” This is a fiberglass body that’s attached to a metal box chassis and a roll bar. The interior looks pretty complete and in good condition, it’s just dirty. There will be some work to do, but once you have it stripped out to fix that little bit of rust and repaint it back to the original red, you can repair the seats and anything else that needs attention. The column-mounted shifter was unusual for a “sports” type car as was the front wheel drive configuration.

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This is the 1.5L Ford Taunus V4 that Saab sourced for it’s 95 and 96. They had success with it so they redesigned the hood on the Sonett II and renamed the car the Sonett V4. The hood design wasn’t very popular as it was offset to the right to give the driver a better view of the road, but I think that gives it a classic Saab quirkiness and adds even more to the appeal. At 65 horsepower, this engine only had about 5 hp more than the two-stroke, three-cylinder engine did, but it was more refined. It had a top speed of around 100 mph. The seller says that the “engine and transmission look clean and motor turns freely when pushing the car in gear.” I think this would be a great restoration project. It looks mostly complete so you won’t be searching for years and years for parts. And, it’s in solid shape, other than needing a couple of small rust repairs. I would do a nut and bolt restoration on this car because of its rarity. Would you restore this car or would you just get it running and drive it?

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  1. Blah

    It might be rare, but the problem with ‘restoring’ something like this is that it’s painfully ugly.

    I’ll downvote myself on the way out.

    Like 0
    • JohnM

      I gave you an up vote because I agree. It’s like 20 different people designed the body–each was given a square meter to work with and no one was allowed to see anyone else’s work.

      Like 0
    • Mike Williams

      It looked pretty good to me when new in ’72 and sitting on the Dealers lot.

      Like 0
  2. Pete

    I haven’t seen any Saab Sonett in s very long time. Cool project car

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  3. Derek white

    I know of a collection of early Saabs including Sonnets and some racing cars near Ottawa in case anyone is looking for a Saab project. Nothing super valuable but a couple of interesting projects.

    Like 0
    • Bruis

      Derek, I am looking for tons of prjects :) can you get me some more details om the Ottawa collection?

      Like 0
  4. DolphinMember

    Under the Oddball heading—yes, it is that. Quirky is another word that comes to mind.

    I remember when Eric Carlsson drove Saabs in rally competition, but they were 93 sedans IIRC. There were photos of him in the car going around corners at very scary angles, but he often won….and with only three 2-stroke cylinders driving the front wheels.

    Years later rallying changed so much that those Saab 93s seemed about as far as you could get from the 4-WD race car that you needed to be competitive in European rallying.

    In guess the 4-stroke Ford Taunus engine gave the Sonnet another lease on life, but front WD with the engine way out front would give me pause. And if I were to get past that, the quirky body and small size would make me pause again.

    You need to really like quirky to want one, but if you do you will probably have the distinction of owning the only one in town.

    Like 0
  5. D. King

    This is actually later than mine–my VIN was 000686. Loved that car!

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  6. tugdoc

    I remember when Ron Tonkin was hawking these on TV in Portland, Or. He must of had a very hard time selling them as I was sick of seeing them. Doesn’t look any better today. What would I do with it? Let someone else have it or lock the barn door!

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  7. D. King

    Dolphin–they handled just fine. For many years they were ice racers; ours was frequently autocrossed on parking lot courses. For insurance reasons, our club required a short section in reverse. With front tires pumped up, they were absolutely squirrely in reverse, so we wound up just running regular street pressures, and the Sonnet was a killer on the course–at least compared with other sports cars of that time (early ’70s). BTW, there were 7 or 8 of them in the St. Louis area where I lived at the time.

    Tugdoc–I bought mine from the Saab dealer in St. Louis as a used car. The first owner took offense to the car in its original white factory finish. In order to sell the car, the dealer had this brand new car painted Ford Fairlane gold. Ugly x 2! I bought it in this horrible gold color when it was about 2 years old. A year or so later the car was rear ended in rush hour traffic, and pushed into the car ahead. The damage was about $750, and besides one broken tail light, it was all fiberglass damage. I took advantage of the insurance settlement, and had the car painted burnt orange. It looked great–wish I had photos in those nondigital days. Regretfully sold it when we moved to Houston because the dealer I called there didn’t even know what a Sonett was!

    Like 0
  8. Mike Williams

    I believe the Ford V4 in these is the same engine used in the 1962 Mustang I Concept Car

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  9. QB3

    I had a Sonett III with the v4. I think these series 1 cars originally came with a 3 cylinder 2 stroke but I am no expert on the topic. With all that said this car is a kick in the pants to drive and a pain in the ass to work on. I have never driven a car so fast in a foot of snow than this. I had over sized valves and ported heads with 5 angle grind. This v4 is basically half of a ford 289. Short stroke screamer for a push rod engine.

    Like 0
  10. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    How come the Thumbs up/Thumbs down option doesn’t work for me?

    Like 1
  11. Bruce Best

    I have driven one just like this and at the time I had a 1969 Lotus Europa and I could run rings around it without any problem. They did not corner as fast, nor excellerate as quickly but in a very strange way they were just as much fun. They were much easier to get into, however the fixed glass rear window made the rear luggage shelf just about useless.

    But for fun to drive, there is something about Saabs of this era that had that nailed. Not perfect and had the kind of looks that only a mother could love and then only if she was blind. That being said the fiberglass body and the very simple frame makes these one of the easiest restoration projects you can ask for. Take the time and do it right and you will have something unique, and very fun to drive.

    As for the looks, as bad as they are they grow on you and they bring in a huge amount of sympathy from others. I think they fall into the so ugly they are lovable category. I hope it finds a good owner that will bring it totally up to speed.

    Like 0
  12. billy de Hulst

    We had a 96 V4, which I bought for $400 back around 1970. It was a lovable car. Darkish red, scuffed on a couple of corners and a dent small in the left rear.

    The interior was next to perfect and had been detailed by the seller.
    zmechanically I couldn’t find a fault in any department. It was a very good car… got used fo go camping in the mountains on my bonsai expedition. Came back with loads of little trees stuffed snugly in the boot (Trunk to Y’all) and lots more lashed to the big roof rack. It was almost as if the car enjoyed being put to the test of endurance in VERY RUGGED country. The only cheat from stock was the 16 inch wheels we had adapted to run tall rubber giving us better ground clearance with messing with the suspension.
    Of all the cars which have owned me, the red SAAB is right there in the top ten.

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  13. Eric Dashman

    The only problem is the crazy price for a project car. Last year I walked on a 74 model in Burlington, NC with a $1500 price tag in similar condition, and it had perfect glass all around. Too much rust in boot, rockers, and floors.

    Their appearance is a matter of taste obviously, but when I had my 1966 Saab 96 with the 3 cylinder 2 cycle engine, I’d go to the dealer to get the Saab oil. I also lusted after the Sonnett (pronounced Soh nay, I believe) sitting on the dealer’s floor, as did Mike Williams above. They handle really well, but the seated position is a little weird…sort of like the Porsche 914….flat floor, legs straight out. The 4 on the tree was pretty neat, but a long shift throw. No speed-shifting on these.

    Like 0
    • D. King

      Just a minor point, Eric–it’s spelled Sonett. BTW, the name has no relation to Shakespeare’s works, as many appear to think.

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      • JW Williams

        Sonett means something like “so neat” in Swedish.

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  14. Paul B

    I have only driven a Sonett two-stroke but it was an absolute kick and really handled quite well. I was a Saab fanatic at the time and had a two-stroke sedan myself. The V4 Sonett I imagine would not handle quite as well but would still be a lot of fun. Despite its relative rarity I think this example in its condition is overpriced by at least half. I guess we’ll see what the market says. Lacking side marker lights, this does appear to be a 1968 model, whether it was sold as that or not.

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  15. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    Have driven both versions but preferred the response of the two-stroke, if only it had been a V6, that would have been perfect. A two-stroke V8 even nicer but overkill.

    Like 0
  16. Calle Carlquist

    Actually, some 10 230 cars in all were produced with the V4, but only 258 with the 3-cylinder 2-stroke.

    Like 0
  17. Harris Byerley

    Gosh! Woulda, coulda, shoulda! Kept my 69 4 cyl Sonett……I loved the car, just panicked, when it needed front wheel drive repair, had been shimmed to maximum allowance! Only paid $1600, for it in 1970, off used lot, in Illinois. Dealer couldn’t tell me anything about the car! I got stopped by the police a few times, LOL just because they wanted to ask about the car! Again! Gosh! Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Sigh!

    Like 1
    • Deborah King

      I know the feeling. I had a lot of fun with mine, but sold it only because we moved to Houston in 1975 and the dealer said he’d never seen one. I was afraid of parts scarcity in those pre-internet days. I don’t know they had common parts with other Saabs. I’d buy one again, except that I’ve got a garage full of Porsches of various ages, and no space.

      Like 1

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