Vintage R&T Road Test: 1972 Saab Sonett III – “…Traces Of Its Kit-Car Origin Still Linger”

The Saab Sonett was never going to be mainstream. For that matter, even Saab sedans were a bit on the edges of the automotive landscape back then, but the cobbled-up Sonett, with its fiberglass body on a Saab 95 chassis, really did have a kit-car feel to it. That only got exacerbated when its little two-stroke engine was replaced by the taller Ford V4. That resulted in a really lumpy look, so the Sonett III tried hard to improve on that, with a long, pointy hood to make the air cleaner bulge look relatively less obvious. And the rest of the body got a bit of modernizing too.

But the result was far from harmonious, and I rather chuckled when I first saw pictures of it. But then the Sonett was more about the driving experience, and it did deliver some of the goods there, although with some compromises.


The 1.7 L Ford V4 ran well, and was quite smooth at speed, thanks to its balance shaft. Performance was nothing exceptional; today we’d consider a 13.4 second 0-60 time as utterly unacceptable in the most modest of cheap sedans. Back then it was about par for the course.

Despite carrying 60% of its weight on the front wheels, the Sonett delivered the goods in the handling department, especially on twisty high-speed sections. That was the result of a well-sorted chassis and the grip of its Pirelli Cinturato radials. The steering was light, quick and neutral, for a FWD car. Unfortunately the clutch and brakes both required ridiculous pedal pressures, given what a light car this was. Although the shifter had migrated from the column to the floor, it was still vague and balky.

The interior quality was very high, and a new opening rear hatch made loading what little luggage would fit back there more ergonomic. Visibility was far from ideal. And the new front end meant that the previous tilt-up front end with superb access to the engine and mechanicals was now gone, leaving only a rather modest opening.

My detailed CC and history of the Sonett is here