Car Catcher: This 1972 Saab Sonett III Is the Alternative Swedish Sports Car

By the time this 1972 Saab Sonett III debuted, Saab had ditched its old two-stroke motors of yore and switched to a Ford-sourced 1.7-liter V4. While the engine only produced around 65 horsepower, the Sonett was still a spirited driver thanks in no small part to its under-2000 pound curb weight. Hagerty values a No. 2 example at just under $11,000. Find this Sonett III on offer from Bring a Trailer with six days left and the bidding currently at $9000. 

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Powar UltraDork
10/11/19 8:15 a.m.

I'd love to have one of these that actually drives. I've had 2 over the years, yet I've never even been a passenger in one.

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Digital Editor
10/11/19 9:13 a.m.

I used to HAAATE these things when I was younger. Now? I want one so badly. Don't you still have one?

Powar UltraDork
10/11/19 9:20 a.m.
Jordan Rimpela said:

I used to HAAATE these things when I was younger. Now? I want one so badly. Don't you still have one?

Not any more. The closest thing that I still have is the '72 95V4. There's another member here with an excellent build thread for one though.

MadMac New Reader
3/25/20 7:23 a.m.

Where I saw a Sonett III for sale is lost to time, probably Auto Trader when it was printed on paper before the Internet. I was aware of the model from reading about it in car magazines.  It had  the lowest drag coefficient for a production automobile claimed one, .31.  This one had a few problems but I convinced my grandfather to partner with me on it.  He would provide the $1400 to buy it, I would fix it up, then sell it and we would split the profits.  At age 30, one would think that I would know better.


Concealed headlights or pop-up headlights were a thing in the 1970s.  They allowed designers to create stylish low-slung sports cars and still meet the draconian NHTSA minimum headlight height requirement when deployed.  The passenger side headlight on this Sonett drooped, giving it a cockeyed appearance.  Saab chose a simple mechanical arrangement.  The driver pulled a lever under the dash linked to a tube that traversed the front end and raised both headlights.  Removing the tube and clamping it in a vise, a propane hand torch heated the pipe glowing red.  Applying best guess twisting to the link restored the original factory height.


The headlight was not the only thing drooping.  The passenger side front corner was low.  The spring was sagging and needed to be refreshed.  There was a company not far from me in Houston that made and rebuilt springs.  I bought spring compressors, which I still have, removed the spring and took it to the shop.  The correct height was an uneducated guess but it worked.


The biggest problem was in the FWD transaxle.  Early iterations of the Sonett had the same two-stroke, three cylinder engine used by the Saab 96.  To prevent them from going ring-a-ding-ding and belching blue smoke when coasting down a hill, the transaxle had a freewheel.  The Sonett III had a four-stroke V4 engine used in the more robust RWD German Ford Taunus.  Engine braking from the tourky 4-stroke inevitably broke the freewheel which resulted in disconcerting mechanical clanking noises emanating from the bowels of the machine.  Replacing the freewheel would merely result in another broken freewheel.  The workaround was to weld it up so it could no longer freewheel.  But to do this the engine and transaxle had to be pulled.  


It had a small hood for routine service, but for a frontal lobotomy the entire fiberglass front end had to be removed.  A rented engine hoist which my wife operated did the heavy lifting while I guided out the engine and transaxle as one unit.  I separated the transaxle, a combination transmission and differential, which was surprisingly small, and took it to Star Motors, a Mercedes, Volvo and Saab dealer.  The mechanic was familiar with the problem and welded it up for me.   After lowering everything back into place, there were a few needle bearings stuck to my greasy hand.  There was no way I was going through all that again.  There were still twenty some-odd needles in the bearing.  That would probably be enough.


The previous owner was a smoker and the little car had an odor that could make a person gag.  The carpet was small enough to fit in a washing machine and that got rid of most of the smell.  It shrank a little but not enough to worry about.


The silhouette of the Sonett and orange color was very similar to a Datsun 240Z.  So much so, people would ask me if it was a Z.  Around that same time, 7 Up had a campaign advertising their caffeine free drink as The Uncola.  I bought a vanity license plate (they cost extra) that read THE UNZ.  No one got it.  They would look at it and say, the unce?  Then when I tried to sell it I discovered it could not have a vanity plate.  So I had to buy a standard license plate.


The car sold for $1700.  I spent $160 for parts and repairs.  The "profits" was $140.  When I gave my grandfather his $70 he tried to decline it.  I prevailed when I told him he had to take it because we might want to do this again some time.  We never did, though.

spitfirebill MegaDork
3/27/20 8:17 a.m.

I've loved the little Sonetts ever since I saw one in Hotltanta in 1971.   I looked for one several years ago to use as my DD, but came up dry.  

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/27/20 3:36 p.m.

A dude at my school had one--this was late '80s. It was done up like a race car--roll bar, I think. Yellow paint. Maybe it had mags. It looked like it could go a million miles per hour. My '82 Accord was likely quicker, but he definitely had the cool factor. 

Woody MegaDork
3/28/20 12:14 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

They all came with roll bars from the factory.


Woody MegaDork
3/28/20 12:14 a.m.

Why was that in boldface?

jimbbski SuperDork
3/31/20 5:05 p.m.

My nephew worked at a Saab dealer for a time and one day a friend of the dealer brought in one for the dealer to sell on consignment. Well my nephew just had to have that car so I borrowed him the cash. It was only $1700 bucks so no big deal.  It was the V4 model.

He drove it for a about a month when the trans broke, or at least he though so. It must have been the free wheel thingy that let go. Anyway he tore it apart and there is set for about 4 years while he went off to school.  When he came back he has no interest in doing anything with it so I contacted a fellow racer who ran one in "vintage" and asked if he was interested in the "parts".

He ended up taking the car and gave my nephew $400 which my nephew gave to me to replay the loan.

Hey, wait a minute!  He still owes me for the balance and interest! Doubt I'll ever get it at this point, it's been 20 years. 

Seeing this article again does not help my desire to own one. 

wspohn Dork
4/10/20 11:37 a.m.

Never really found the styling on these that attractive. 

My experience with the Taunus V4 engines is limited to briefly owning one in a sports racer originally built for a Porsche 356 driveline. They had replaced that with a V4 somehow mated to a VW transaxle.  Fortunately came to my senses and sold it on to someone even crazier than me who thought he could make something of it.  Was certainly a compact engine, though.

tr8todd SuperDork
4/12/20 9:34 a.m.

I had a orange 74 years ago.  Fun little car.  My wife drove it a lot.  It reminded me of a poor mans TVR.  A friend of mine had to have it, so I sold it to him.  Unfortunately, he parked it in his parents garage and I don't think it has moved since.  That was over 20 years ago.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
4/12/20 11:11 a.m.
Woody said:

Why was that in boldface?

If you get the cursor too close to the ':' you'll get caught in the boldface setting. Happens to be from time to time if I'm typing on my tablet.

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