Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor
While the automotive world has largely come around to Saab‘s way of thinking today – front-wheel drive; safety-engineered bodies; efficient, small-displacement engines (later turbocharged) – this was not the case in 1974, when the small Swedish automaker’s downsized, two-model lineup represented a unique proposition in motoring.
The long-serving 96 two-door sedan and 95 two-door wagon, in their final years powered by a Ford of Germany-sourced V-4 engine, were retired from our market after the 1973 model year, leaving the stylish, fiberglass-bodied Sonett III two-seat sports car and the innovative Sixten Sason-designed 99, in compact two- and four-door sedan forms (the Björn Envall-designed “WagonBack” -aka Combi Coupe- three-door hatch variant wouldn’t arrive until later in the year). That 99 remained powered by a Bosch fuel-injected version of the Triumph-derived SOHC slant-four engine.
1974 would be the final year for the shockingly aerodynamic (0.31 Cd from a 1970 design!) Sonett III, a car that wore the famous “Soccer Ball” light-alloy wheels made in five-lug style.
Those premium wheels were also made in a similar, four-lug style for the 99 EMS, the sportiest 99 variant offered between late 1972 and the arrival of the iconic, game-changing 99 Turbo of 1978.
Saab Cars USA’s 1974 model year brochure emphasized the unique engineering that the brand’s reputation was built on, and pointed out its special features, including the 99’s self-repairing, impact-absorbing 5 mph/2.5 mph bumpers, safety cage construction, a dual-diagonal braking system, and an electrically heated driver’s seat, as well as the Sonett III’s built-in roll bars and standard adjustable lumbar seat cushions.
New 99 features included seats with integral headrests, optional power steering -available with an automatic transmission- and wider tires, along with that soon-to-be-revealed new body style, which would become a huge part of the marque’s character.
Regardless of its logical, in-your-face advertising, Saab didn’t sell many of its cars in the USA, 45 years ago; collectively, imports of the Sonett III (priced at $4,898, about $25,510 in today’s dollars) and 99 range (priced from $4,448 to $5,248, or $23,165-$27,335) amounted to 13,590 sales.
Do you think those Saabs -either their parts, or as a whole- represented what a 1974 car should have been, or was this automaker just marching to the beat of a different drummer?
Click on the thumbnail images below to enlarge.