Saab built the original Sonett, the Saab 94, in the mid 1950s as an experimental competition and concept car. It went off like a cracker, but the competitions they were looking at underwent a slew of rule changes, and the Saab Super Sport (the Sonett 1) never saw mass production.
Most of the sources you read will tell you that Saab began to think again about a two-seater car in the early 1960s and commissioned two prototypes to see how the vehicle might look. What got them thinking, however, was a project by a US-based nuclear physicist, who wanted to build a two-seater sports car of his own with a Saab engine providing the power.
SaabUSA got interested in the project, and Walter Kern’s rolling (not running) prototype, the Quantum Saab, was displayed at the New York motor show of 1962.
Saab also received two prototype proposals, but from much closer to home.
Saab designer Sixten Sason provided a vehicle he called Catherina. It featured a targa roof, long before Porsche’s own targa roof, which could be stored conveniently in the trunk of the car. It also featured a rear profile similar to what Saab buyers would see later on the Saab 99.
The other prototype was codenamed MFI-13, the MFI standing for Malmo FlygIndustri, the copany who built the prototype. It was designed by a gent named Bjorn Karlstrom and ended up being selected as the model destined for production. The MFI-13 designation was changed to “Saab 97″ and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sixten Sason’s Catherina, and the eventual Saab Sonett II
The MFI-13 really took shape in 1964, but it was to be another two years before the first production cars came off the line, and at a slow pace, too: there were only 28 of them built in 1966, and only 258 had been built when the initial run ended in 1967.
Those first units were powered by a 60hp three cylinder, two-stroke engine from the Saab Monte Carlo. The car had a plastic body fabricated by MFI and featured a two-tone black and grey interior with a timber board across the dashboard, which housed instrumentation taken directly, again, from the Monte Carlo. The car weighed in at a meagre 740kg.
Part way though 1967, Saab retired the two-stroke engine in favour of a four-stroke V4 engine sourced from Ford. The engine added 5hp to the car’s output, but it also added 35kg in weight. The result was a car that was omre convenient for the owner to drive (no oil mixing) but is regarded by many as less fun than the more balanced and much rarer two-stroker.
The larger engine, which was also used in the Saab 95 and 96, called for some modifications in the front end of the Sonett. Saab built in a rather pronounced bulge, the grille of which was decorated with a Sonett V4 badge.
The Sonett evolved as the years passed. A glove compartment (with no lid) was added in 1967. The lid was added in 1969. The seats received lumbar cushions and head restraints and a new steerig wheel with an integrated central cushion was also added.
There were many questions asked about the styling, particularly in the US, however almost all of the motoring press agreed that the Saab Sonett II was an engaging drive.
Production ceased in 1969 and the Saab Sonett II, after only 1868 units, made way for the Saab Sonett III.