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Sporty And Stylish: 1971 Saab Sonett III

Certain auto brands conjure different images. Saab, in particular, is one that recalls small rounded, quirky two-cycle, compact cars or more mature 900, 9-3 and 9-5 sedans, coupes and convertibles. Unfortunately, today Saab doesn’t conjure much of any thought since overlord GM’s bankruptcy ten years. But there was a time when Saab included a sporting variety in their line-up, courtesy of the Sonett two-seater. I haven’t thought about a Sonett in years so here’s an opportunity to check out a 1971 example, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and available, here on craigslist for $11,500. Thanks to Pat L. for this tip!

The Sonett was produced in three different series, first between 1955 and 1957; then the Sonett II spanning 1966 through 1969, and finally, the Sonett III, offered from 1970 until 1974. In spite of the Sonett III’s Italian inspired design, courtesy of Sergio Coggiola of Ghia fame, it only managed to muster about 8K copies. U.S. safety standards, emission control mandates and the ’73 oil embargo all conspired to eliminate this rather non-standard Saab.

A car’s styling is usually subjective; sure, some are a universal hit or an uncontested dog, but most operate in that huge swath of in-between territory. This Sonett III is in sharp, visual condition but the styling of the rear third, as in the quarter panel from behind the doors, just looks a bit short and throws off the overall balance and flow. Nevertheless, the red finish is still rich and the body panels align well, and that is the continual exterior trait of this Saab – even though there are some pronounced angles, it all hangs together well.  The front end is perhaps the most unique styling cue of this car with its headlights cloaked behind three, horizontal chrome bars. I can’t think of another car possessing a similar styling feature. My initial thought was that this Sonett is missing its front bumper but images found of other ’70-’72 Sonetts show the same as this subject.

Under the hood is a Ford sourced, Taunus, 65 HP, 1.7 liter, V4 engine, operating through a four-speed manual transaxle. The seller claims, “runs excellent”. He further adds that this Sonett has “ALL NEW TIRES, EXHAUST, WATERPUMP, HOSES, WIRING. ALL LIGHTS WORK, HORN, HEATER, WIPERS WORK”. While presenting a sporting appearance, straight-line performance was not at the top of the Sonett’s checklist. Reports from the era place 0-62 MPH times at about the 13-second range; while adequate, not exactly spirited.

The interior of this Saab presents well with its mix of tan upholstery and black vinyl dash covering. There are no signs of excessive wear, rips, cracks or tears. There appears to be a trio of auxiliary gauges, now perched on the transaxle hump, they look like an aftermarket add on. Of concern is the gaggle of wires spied hanging beneath the dash. There may be no issue, but that sight is a bit of a red flag as it can indicate electrical gremlins.

This Sonett shows quite well and it is described as a good runner. It may not be the easiest automobile for parts sourcing but the new owner will be in a rarified territory at the local car show. The likelihood of encountering another is pretty slim, would you agree?


  1. MattR Member

    I like the Sonetts. This looks like a nice one. I’ve been a fan of the old Saab’s like this and the two-strokes for their uniqueness. Another tragic story of a car manufacturer losing their soul when they sold out to a competitor. My father had a late 80’s 9000 Turbo with stick. That was a great car.

    Like 4
  2. Steve

    I had a Sonnet back in 1985, it was a fun car with plenty of power to weight ratio, transmission doesn’t shift buttery smooth like today’s cars, but they do shift fine if you use a little finesse.
    Great back roads car for sure.

    Like 3
  3. Poppapork

    Did SAAB ever offered the two stroke version of this car in the States? I would prefer the famous DKW engine over the Ford v4 in a very light sportscar.

    Was there ever any car offered with a gasoline two stroke in the states?

  4. Stephen Miklos

    A nice looking survivor. I remember when i was young driving one. It was blue nice looking not at all quick. Looking at this one lts great on the outside . The seats look really good but… Rat’s nest under the steering column and the wiring under the radio next to the extra gauges. That can be a big turn off to a buyer. 🤦They need to clean that up if they want to sell it quickly. 😄

    Like 1
  5. JoeNYWF64

    Odd how far forward the motor is.
    Rockauto does not list headlamp or aux one – thought they were 7 inchers. Nope.
    I think the bumper may be missing. Or optional.

    • luckylugnut

      Not sure it could be called a “bumper” but there appears to at least a piece of decorative vinyl/rubber missing across the front.
      Otherwise, compared to photos on the internet this one seems pretty complete.
      But IMHO, I think the price is pretty optimistic when I compare to marketplaces like eBay where these have to be practically mint condition to even come close to 5 digit bids.

    • jeff51 Member

      The engine is forward because it is front wheel drive. Early V4’s had a column shift 4 speed.

      Like 1
  6. Fred Seelig

    I think those are fog lights behind the grill. It appears that it has flip-up headlights to the sides of the hood.

    Like 3
  7. Guggie 13

    My neighbor has a Saab sonett just like this one , He has a blast driving it around town , his other cas is a Nash metropolation . I have owened several Saabs , but never a Sonett always liked them .

    Like 1
  8. John

    I had two of these. First version in the late sixties used the two stroke three cylinder engine. Styling was a little different. Then SAAB put the Ford V-4 into the two stroke designed car and the result was an ungainly front hood to clear the taller V-4. These cars had no bumpers, just rub strips.
    Then in 1970 they restyled the car to the one you see here. From 1970 through 1972 the cars still did not have bumpers, only rubber foam “bumperettes.” For 1973 and ’74 they adoped larger bumpers to comply with the new federal standards. You really have to inspect these for rust. They rust in structural areas, especially in the right and left sides of the firewall where the doors mount.

    Like 3
  9. JolietJake Member

    WOW…2 Sonetts in about a month here on Barnfinds! I owned one in the late 70’s. When you are sitting so low in a go-cart type vehicle, 65 feels like 95mph. Mine (an orange 74 ) had the ugly large black rubber bumpers that ruined the looks of so many 70’s sportscars! The add-on headlites are a GREAT idea, as the pop-ups freeze in the winter months, and you end up avoiding the stress cracks that the pop-ups get around their periphery. In very good shape!

    Like 1
  10. Duans

    Over the years I have owned the following SAABS, 1963 96 two stroke,
    Kids drove it to high school Nd collage, then I got it back ,sold it five years later
    Bought a new .96 oil injected two stoke in 67 and put 140,000 miles on it
    And sold it for $1500. Bought 2. More used 96 models an gave them to my kids. Also bought a used 74 sonnet. In 1978 and still have it, the mileage
    Is 99;600 at the present time, did a mechanical rebuild last year. Never had
    Any major problems with any of them except for spark plugs on the
    Two strokes, repairs were brakes and tires due to the free wheeling feature.
    GM did a number on them is why I will never consider any GM product.

    Like 2
  11. SubGothius

    That dashboard isn’t vinyl-covered; it’s a hard surface with a lovely black wrinkle finish, which just completes the overall aircrafty vibe I’ve always liked about this dash design.

  12. chrlsful

    I’d disagree w/Jim on ‘the lines’, like the sail plain area, space in frnt of rear wheel, angle of transom. May B just cuz I’m close to 70 y/o and what they were in the day? Still like the looks (cept may B the chrome hatch hinges, soccer ball wheels?). Crinkle dash is like the Abarth prts back then to make it ‘sporty’. And I love these 1700 cc motors, just cuz their odd ball. Would luv to tinker, optimize – any way to get 4 Kehiens on there?

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