Home » Don’t Call It A Kammback: 1969 Saab Sonett vs 1977 AMC Gremlin

Don’t Call It A Kammback: 1969 Saab Sonett vs 1977 AMC Gremlin

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All right class, settle down. Timmy, sit up straight. Bobby, put that away until recess. I hope you all had a good holiday break, and behaved yourselves for the substitute. Welcome back to a new year of Shitbox Showdown!

Before we get started, I want to take a moment to thank some people. First, huge thanks to Thomas for holding down the fort for me with such enthusiasm and flair. I really appreciate it. Second, thank you all so much for the outpouring of condolences and support about my dad. It means more than you can possibly know. And finally, because I haven’t had a chance to do so, huge thanks to all our newly-minted supporting members! Together, we are showing that a site like this can be a community, not a commodity, and I am proud and honored to be a part of it.

Now let’s talk cars.

Thomas’s sports cars from Friday seemed like a no-brainer to me; I’ve never driven an RX-8, but I have spent some quality time behind the wheel of a Boxster, and it’s the clear choice to me, especially with the scary engine bits taken care of. But let’s see what you all thought:

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It seems we are in agreement. I do love the idea of a rotary, but make mine an RX3 or 4.

Today’s cars were unashamedly chosen just to be able to make that LL Cool J pun in the headline. I’ve been sitting on that for about three weeks now, just itching to use it. A Kammback, for those of you who have never come across the term before, is a car design that ends abruptly at the rear. The idea, as far as my high-school-physics understanding goes, is to reduce aerodynamic drag by creating a wake in the air behind the car. It also can make for some bizarre styling, as you’ll see in our choices below. Note that one of the cars is for sale on Bring A Trailer, so the price shown might not be current. And I’d advise you to turn on your ad-blocker before clicking on the other one – sorry.

1969 Saab Sonett V4 – currently $1,188

Saab 3

Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead-valve V4, 4 speed manual, FWD

Location: Terminal Island, CA

Odometer reading: 15,000 miles, actual mileage unknown

Runs/drives? Starts and runs, but not drivable

Perennial weird-kid Saab isn’t really known for small sports cars, but for a while, they built a really cool one. The Sonett, originally introduced in the ’50s as a roadster that looked a little like a Porsche 550 Spyder, was designed for racing, but later morphed into a fastback road car. The Sonett shared mechanicals with more family-friendly Saabs: early Sonetts used their two-stroke three-cylinder engine, while later cars such as this one were powered by a V4 engine. This engine came from the Taunus, which sounds like a creature from Narnia, but was actually a family sedan built by Ford of Germany.

Saab 1

This Sonett’s four-banger will start and run, but only off an external fuel source; apparently the car has been sitting and the fuel tank and lines haven’t been cleaned out yet. But hey, starting with an even marginally-running project is a leg up. Sending power to the front wheels is a four-speed stick equipped with a column-mounted shifter.

Saab 2

Overall, its condition isn’t stellar, but it isn’t terrible either. This looks to me like the sort of car you could mechanically refresh and enjoy as-is without cringing every time someone parks too close. The interior is intact and isn’t frightening. The red paint covers up quite a few bumps and bruises in the fiberglass bodywork, but you can’t see them from the driver’s seat.

Saab 4

The only drawback I see is the crowds of lookie-loos it would be sure to draw everywhere you parked it. Questions like “What is that?” and “How fast does it go?” could get tiresome after a while. But in a land of silver crossovers, why not stand out a little?

1977 AMC Gremlin Levi’s Edition – $2,000

Gremlin 4

Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead-cam inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: Parkers Prairie, MN

Odometer reading: 65,000 miles, actual mileage unknown

Runs/drives? Um… no.

The story behind the AMC Gremlin’s styling involves Dick Teague, a clay model, a jilted lover, and a cheese slicer. Or at least I wish it did; the actual story is probably far less interesting. However it happened, while Chrysler was busy capturing imports and Ford did a joint venture with Weber Grills, AMC took a Gordian-knot approach to the subcompact problem and simply lopped a foot off the ass end of an existing car. It worked, at least stylistically; the Gremlin still looks cool.

Gremlin 2

This Gremlin is a Levi’s Edition, with interior fabric made to look like denim jeans; they couldn’t use real denim because of fire-safety regulations, apparently. My aunt had one of these when I was young, and I still remember how cool I thought the little red tags on the seats were. Those tags, along with most of the upholstery, appear to be gone on this Gremlin. Be prepared to hit up an upholstery shop.

Gremlin 1

Very early base-model Gremlins had a fixed rear window that didn’t open. This car has an opening back window, and fortunately it’s intact; I can’t imagine trying to track down replacement glass for something like this. You’ll have a hard enough time dealing with the sheetmetal, which is rusty, dented, and just plain ugly. And I don’t know where new taillights or a grille are going to come from. Best fire up the 3D printer, I suppose.

Gremlin 3

We don’t get any underhood shots, but the “2 Liter” badging on the fenders tells me that this car has the heart of a Porsche. No, really – AMC added a four-cylinder to the Gremlin’s engine lineup in 1977, a VW/Audi unit also used in the Porsche 924. This car has been sitting in a field in Minnesota for who knows how long, so it’s safe to assume the little VW engine doesn’t run. The combination of the two-liter engine and the Levi’s package probably makes this a fairly rare Gremlin, but it is not a project for the faint of heart.

I know these are both a bit frightening, but I feel like Thomas was being too easy on you all recently. I wanted to start the year off with some really scary stuff, so we have nowhere to go but up. So what’ll it be?


(Image credits: Saab – Bring A Trailer, Gremlin – Dan’s Old Cars)

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70 Responses

  1. Yikes, while my vote almost certainly would remain the same if the Gremlin wasn’t so rotten, it definitely is making its best attempt to return to the earth. I don’t know much about Sonnets, but it looks like a lot of fun, although you might have to shoehorn me into it…

  2. Definitely the Sonett for me. This is the prettier pre-wedge design with better aerodynamics than the Sonett III that came after it. Bone stock, this car had a drag coefficient of 0.29 and weighed under 1,600 lbs. It could do 0-60 mph in about 12 seconds with its 60 horsepower 2-stroke 1.5L V4 engine, topping out at over 100 mph. The Sonett III was not as slippery, scoring a 0.31.

    My main gripes are front wheel drive and column shifted transmission.

    I once had the opportunity to buy a converted-to-electric example of this car, but didn’t have the money and was already working on an EV conversion project. It was only $2,000, so whoever snapped it up got a damned good deal, IMO.

    Overall, the car lives up to its Swedish namesake, because it sure is neat.

    1. I always thought the Sonnet III was the pretty one, looks like a scaled down Italian exotic. I did not know the V-4 had a better drag coefficient. The early two stroke cars without the hood bulge did look a lot better (as did the early IIIs without the battering ram bumpers.

      1. Wish I could edit, the Sonett II/V4 certainly has the purist unique factor appeal of the two, and is the easy choice here. It will, however, sell for near 10x the BAT price listed in the article.

  3. The 2.0 engine referenced as used in the Gremmy was actually an Audi unit initially used in the first Audi 100 series; later the engine was used in the VW LT series of trucks.

    The 924 used the Audi block/lower end, with a Porsche contrived cylinder head…

  4. Like Mark I have fond memories of gremlins, and so wanted a Levi’s edition, back when I was(10) too young to drive!
    However it’s a new year, and time to make new memories , so it’s the sonett it may be a Saab story, but it’s better than the faded (like jeans) memories of what might have been.

  5. The one thing which makes that gremlin interesting is rotten away, no thanks. I think if someone gave it to me i still wouldn’t touch it.

    And a V4 sounds like fun, I’m in Europe what do I need a V8 for?

  6. I’ve wanted a Sonett since seeing one (surprisingly) cruising one of the back streets in the small town where I grew up. It was a liberal arts college town, so it was probably driven by one of the quirky profs.

    Since that time I’ve owned a Gremlin and there’s no way I want another, and especially one that is returning to the earth!

  7. In a small town, somewhere in New South Wales Australia, a man looks wistfully at pictures of a 1977 Levi’s edition AMC Gremlin and begins plotting revenge…

  8. I was happy to vote for the Saab on account of the condition. If the maintenance isn’t major and bidding finishes under $10k, something like this is a steal.

  9. I’m not into either of these, but the Gremlin has found its appropriate final resting place whereas the Sonnett is a fairly easy project that will at least be cool when done. I’d be terrified to drive it on a freeway though.

  10. Provided bidding on the Sonnet doesn’t breach five figures, that would be my choice all day long. Even if it does go that high, you might still come out ahead, compared with the cost of getting the Gremlin on the road. The Sonnet looks close to being a fun little weekend car. Go through the fuel system, brakes, make sure all the lights work and it’s got good tires, and you’re set.

  11. Normally I wouldn’t pick a front wheel drive car over a rear wheel drive, but that four speed column mounted shifter is just too much to resist.

    As a plus, you get a German V4 over a German I4. Saab all the way.

  12. Allegedly, the real story of the Gremlin is that Dick Teague sketched it out on an air sickness bag on a cross-country flight, an ignominious start to what actually became American Motors’ most successful passenger car. Also, they launched it to the public on April Fools day, which just had to be intentional trolling on their part

  13. Hard pass on both vehicles. Gremlin personally does ZERO for me and having already been to Sonett hell would never go that route again (30+ years ago, Rust, Rot, Nothing sporty but the styling).

  14. That Gremlin is roached; it has rust holes in the tops of the fenders. Sure it’s a rare edition but the unique interior is trashed and it’s a lousy engine.
    Rare and crappy is still crappy.

    1. Yeah, in mint condition, Gremlins aren’t completely worthless, but they’re certainly not worth anywhere near what body, paint, and interior would cost on that, and you’d still be left with the VW 4-cylinder instead of the straight 6.

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