Home » A Daydreaming Designer Imagines If Saab Had Rebooted The Sonett In 1985

A Daydreaming Designer Imagines If Saab Had Rebooted The Sonett In 1985

Topshot Sonett
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For nearly half of a century, the 76 million-strong demographic known as Boomers controlled what kinds of cars appeared on American streets. In fact, despite many of these people having since retired, this large block on the population still wields a tremendous amount of influence on the automotive market.

At a young age, Boomers loved pony cars and muscle machines. Often unable to afford them at the time, they now have the means to drive auction prices of these bog-simple sedans to stratospheric Italian exotic levels, attempting to create the youth they didn’t have. As the seventies dawned, the Volkswagen Beetle (and later the Golf/Rabbit) was often a car of choice for socially conscious (or just plain poor) Boomers, making them flat-out ubiquitous. However, to many Autopians, it is the cars that many people of this age group started to choose later in life that interest us most.

Cadillacs? Forget That

Turning thirty and now flush with cash, many Boomers ignored the tastes of their ‘greatest generation’ parents and spent their sizeable earnings on imports. In the early eighties, these Boomers had far more choices of Euro offerings than we do today. During the rise of the ‘Yuppie’, small bit players in the US market like Alfa Romeo and Peugeot had record years; even Saab had their strongest year ever in 1986. Admittedly, the 46,000 cars Saab sold that year was like a few hours of F-150 production, but at least Boomers dropped some cash on machines that Gen X and Millennial Radwood enthusiasts can own and love surviving examples of today.

Peugeot
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Looking at the vast number of options buyers had from Europe, it’s notable that very few offered any kind of new sports car; the Italians were still peddling versions of their sixties roadsters, the BMW Z1 wasn’t available until late in the decade (never in the US), and the Mercedes SL was a boulevardier.  In fact, the vast majority of these brands hadn’t sold a sports car in many years. Swedish brands had been out of the sports car game for a decade; the last of the lovely Volvo 1800S and ES models was sold in 1973, while Saab built the final Sonett III a year later.

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Sonett Of The Saab

Ah, the Sonett; here’s a machine that is seen as a bit of fringe car even by fans of already-fringe-car Saab. The first Sonett literally started life cobbled together in a barn outside of Troolenhatten as a two seat roadster with an aluminum box chassis inspired by aircraft, and a mightly 750cc two stroke motor. Upon seeing the prototype, the engineer working on the skunkworks project supposedly said “Så nätt den är”- Swedish for “it’s so neat”- thus giving the car the name. Only six of these fiberglass-bodied sports cars were built between 1955 and 1957.

Sonnett1a

Wikimedia (Herranderssvensson)

Saab wasn’t done, though. In 1966, the ‘born from jets’ company came back with the closed fastback Sonett II, initially powered by a two stroke engine but later replaced by a V4 engine from European Fords.

Sonnett2a

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The final Sonett III was a rather dramatic, more angular interpretation of the previous car with a striking wedge shape. A hatchback was added (to replace the Corvette-style fixed glass back) as well as pop-up lights operated by yanking a lever on the dashboard. A popular and coveted option offered for the last Sonett was a set of ‘soccer ball’ design wheels which rank as some of the coolest looking rolling stock ever placed on a vehicle.

Sonnett3a

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Saab Story Of A New Sports Car

While Saab never offered another production sports car for the remainder of their life, they were a few concept cars that hinted at their return. In 1985, Saab exhibited the oddly-titled EV-1 (it wasn’t electric powered). The design featured that smooth, lozenge-shaped, glass-roofed form that most future-thinking show vehicles of the time took on. Based on the platform of a 900 Turbo and a similar size, it was relatively large for a ‘sports coupe’ and never intended for production. I liked the EV-1 concept, but certainly this would have been a stretch to become the ‘Sonett IV’.

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Ev1
Saab via allcarindex and saabblog

 

 

Family Dala

Mechanically, I wanted to use Saab 900 components, though the B-series engine in that car has the transmission mounted below so it’s not the lowest profile thing you can get (note the tall nose height on the EV-1). I think that I would have to develop a smaller transverse engine/transmission setup that could also be used in a lower line of Saabs just above VW Golf size- kind of a Saab 9-2x twenty years early but not based on a Soobie. This little Saab would be named or codenamed Saab Dala, for that dopey little wood Dala Horse toy that is symbol of Sweden. Little luxury brand cars might also have been a decent, undiscovered market for Saab to hit (instead they tried the ‘large luxury’ market with the 9000 and didn’t exactly set the world on fire). Available as a three door and five door hatch, plus a four door notchback and wagon, there would also be turbo-equipped versions with updated interpretations of the famous Inca ‘Darth Vader’ wheels at each corner. I don’t want to design this Dala thing now, but here’s sort of what this little car could look like:

Saab Dala

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Now we have our “guts” to harvest for our “new” Sonett, so let’s build it out.

Back 4 The Attack

The original Sonett was a tiny car which larger American drivers might have a tough time fitting into, so a ‘new’ fourth generation 1985 Sonett would have to be larger. I was envisioning something around the same dimensions as the concurrent VW Scirocco; a small back seat would have to be part of the formula.

The sedan’s beam axle would be replaced by an independent layout, maybe something similar to the front or a simple trailing arm setup. Inevitably, despite the new mechanicals, space would still be tight under the hood. Things like the battery and even the washer bottle would go in back to give more room up front.

Aesthetically, if you tried to morph the rounded EV-1 into the shorter, more angular Sonett III and stopped about halfway through the process, the result would be the concept I have here for Sonett IV.

Img20230507 18071943 Fixed
Saab (via Car Throttle) and Shapeways

 

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What looks like a typical Saab nose is shrunken in height; the visible ‘headlights’ are really driving and parking lights, while the real headlamps pop up out of the low-profile nose (electrically in the case of this Sonett). The needed hood bulge actually fits the look of the earlier cars, and a mono wiper sweeps the steeply raked windshield. Saab did much with ‘aero-shaped’ wheels, which would likely be offered as a choice but I’m sure as shit going with an updated soccer ball design for the version you see here, thank you. Another nod to Saab ‘aero’ are an interpretation of the side glass on the EV-1 that curves into the roof. The EV-1 has tiny Delorean/Countach side windows with tiny ‘toll booth’ openings; the Sonett IV has a similar system but much larger openings. Flush door handles also enhance the wind-cheating look.

I’ve always found that those all-glass-roof big-expanse-of-black ‘bubble top’ cars lacked a certain character so the Sonett IV has a grey band (matching the rocker panels) going over the back of the roof with a shape that forms quarter windows to call to mind the 1970-74 car and a glass bubble rear backlight that echos the 1966-69 model. Nobody was into ‘retro’ yet back then, but you wanted to at least have some vestigial details to tie into the forebearers.

Img20230507 18082642 4
wikimedia/Aero Icarus

 

In back, it might look as if I forgot to add taillights to the Sonett’s kamm tail, but in fact the lights are located behind the glass at the base of the hatch window, high off of the ground in the low car with Saab’s eye towards safety. There’s a small reflector strip that wraps around to the sides of the car above the bumper. The other safety trick is that the rear wiper parks in a recession in the body below the hatch; when it sweeps over the glass it wipes clean the taillights as well (likely an industry first). What look like dual exhaust pipes from a distance are really twin high intensity backup lights on the right-hand set.  Very sneaky!

Hope You Like Circles

The interior of the Sonett would likely be an exercise in traditional functionality as on the 900 and 9000, but I just couldn’t do that. What I’m giving you is admittedly a bit bonkers. I took the ‘aircraft inspired’ thing to an abstract level. The steering wheel is attached at two points to a big ‘pie pan’ looking thing that sits back slightly and houses a full complement of vacuum fluorescent digital gauges; press releases might call it ‘fighter plane’ style but it’s really more like what Formula 1 cars do. This obviously turns and adjusts up and down with the whole wheel; switches for lights, signals, and wipers are mounted to the outside of the pie pan. There’s more circles for the gear lever base, signature floor mounted ignition key, and then a giant circle in the dash center. This big round cylinder has a perimeter of air vents surrounding climate controls above and below DIN sized audio controls (unlike Pontiac and others with custom radio switches, the Saab lets you upgrade easily). Typically ultra-comfy Saab seats have donut holes in the headrests to help average-height drivers see through it. How many circles? All of them.

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Img20230509 18064742

It’s doubtful that any Saab product would be a big seller, but the Sonett IV would be in a rather unique market position around 1985. A Boomer rising the corporate ladder looking for something sportier and faster than a similarly priced Audi Coupe (and couldn’t pop for a rare UR Quattro) wouldn’t have any other front-wheel-spinning choices. Of course, for a few bucks less they could have purchased a Scirocco or a Fuego, and if they were willing to go rear drive they could have tried a Supra, an RX-7, a Starion, a 300ZX Turbo, or an Alfa GTV 6/2.5. A few more bucks than the Saab would have bought a Porsche 944 or more upright BMW e30.

Good Lord, look at the fun level of those car choices: is it any wonder we’re often still hating on Boomers?

 

1985 Saab Sonett IV

Base Price: $20,800
As Shown: $22,700
Standard Equipment:
Air Conditioning
Power windows, locks, and mirrors
Digital instrumentation
Rear window wipe/wash
AM/FM Stereo Cassette with four speakers
Optional Equipment Shown on Photo Car:
‘Fotball’ Alloy Rims and 225/50R 16 Pirelli P7 tires
Leather seating surfaces
Metallic titanium finish rocker panels and roof bar

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Drivetrain:
1985cc DOHC 16 valve 4 cylinder, 165BHP
5 speed manual transmission

Chassis:
McPherson strut independent front suspension- coil springs
Double wishbone independent rear suspension- coil springs
anti roll bars front and rear
Front disc/rear disc
Rack and pinion steering

Performance:
0-60:  6.8 seconds
Top speed: 131 MPH

 

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Henry Tucker
Henry Tucker
18 days ago

Instead of a new Sonett, in 1985 they brought out the 900 Aero (SPG in North America) to be the Saab sports car. By this point they only had two cars for sale: the 900 and the 90, which is a 99 and 900 pasted together. So unfortunately their budget for a new sport model was more in line with an aerodynamic body kit (the first SPG) rather than an entirely new sport coupe. (Saab was also coming out with the 9000 at the same time, so I guess finances were even tighter.) But still I wish they had soldiered on with the Sonett like they did with the 99/900.

Last edited 18 days ago by Henry Tucker
zeppelopod
zeppelopod
18 days ago

“Sonnet IV”

‘O Dala, would that she were real, for I
Would see her equine flanks birth Bishop’s schemes
Such progeny would haunt Autopian dreams,
Sweet lingonberry of the Radwood eye.

Still! Born from jets, thy brethren onward fly
Upon the gryphon wings of Bondo seams
While thou art relegated to these memes
I pine for wedgy silhouettes and sigh

And even used, with Swedish leather torn
Away from shitbox thee I wouldst not flee
But rather, taking in mine hand the key
In aeronautic cockpit twist the fob.

Your vacuum gauges brighter than the morn
Go! Sing, sweet four, imaginary Saab.

iambic pentameter b*tches

Maymar
Maymar
19 days ago

Jag känner behovet, behovet av Sonnet.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
19 days ago

That rendering looks like Mark Hamill should be driving it in Corvette Summer

Misaniovent
Misaniovent
19 days ago

In related news, I just saw this Sonett with a WRX engine in it at Carlisle.

93773R
93773R
19 days ago

A barn outside of Trollhättan and nätt is more like small/petitte than neat as in clean and orderly.

Nice article, I learned about new for me SAAB things.

Goof
Goof
19 days ago

There’s a plum-colored Sonnet III in great shape that I see every now and then at shows.

The license plate? SONEAT

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
19 days ago

I really dig this! Shame Saab never had the means to build a MkIV Sonnett in the 80’s.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
20 days ago

You did say all the circles, but the one at the leading edge of the seat bottom keeps jumping out at me. Just a whimsy, I assume, as there’s no rationale given?

mr.choppers
mr.choppers
20 days ago

Glad you included the EV-1, but don’t forget Leif Mellberg’s Saab Speedster!

andehans
andehans
20 days ago

Wow, the interior! Growing up and reading the Swedish “Bilsport” magazine in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a huge fan of Leif Mellberg’s SAAB creations. Maybe his finest work was the 9000-based Mayo P1 from ’91, which would made a quite a nice Sonett!
https://www.bilsport.se/artikel/den-svenska-superbilen-fran-1991

JDE
JDE
20 days ago

take the Hyundai N74 and give is a Saab Sourced motor, engine or whatever and bam, you could have a New Sonnet pretty quickly.

Garland
Garland
20 days ago

Deep dish soccer balls are now something I desperately need to see in the real world.

eggsalad
eggsalad
20 days ago

You’ve managed to merge a Subaru SVX front end with a late C3 Corvette rear end. Well done!

If GM cared, I envision a SAAB Sonett V shooting brake based on the Solstice/Sky

Kosmokenny
Kosmokenny
20 days ago

Thats a Volvo 480 with a BBL

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
20 days ago

I could also see Saab cheaping out and just paying Reliant to reskin the SS1 Scimitar, but that never would have worked for US exports

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
20 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

It would depend on both how desperate they felt they needed a sports car, and how cheaply they wanted it done, I was just thinking of how Rover Group commissioner some new MG roadster prototypes from Reliant around that time, which were basically that. Fortunately, Rover came to their senses and decided to just pull the 30 year old MGB tooling out of storage instead

mdharrell
mdharrell
20 days ago

I can’t take credit for the verse but as the former owner of a ’69 Sonett V4 I do have to say:

The one-N Sonett,
He’s a Swede.
The two-N sonnet,
Verse you read.
And I would bet
An Easter bonnet
There ain’t no
Two-N, two-T sonnett.

(Apologies to Ogden Nash.)

mdharrell
mdharrell
20 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Thanks for changing it throughout the text. I suppose it would be a pain to do anything about the figures.

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