Small Car Saturday

First…except for the two-day surge in views that occurred in April, 2019 when Bill James tweeted the main link to this blog, yesterday had the highest number of views and visitors for a single day. Thanks, please keep reading and please tell your friends. Speaking of friends: Bill, you are always welcome to tweet the main link to this blog or to any post. 🙂


Not sure why this topic came to me, it certainly didn’t appear in a dream, but I have always had a thing for small, “cute” cars. If I continue this as a feature, the parade of such vehicles will not be in any order and some of those cars have already appeared in this blog. From Saab Planet, a picture of a 1974 Saab Sonett III:


See the source image


The Sonett I (One, not “eye”) was basically a prototype built between 1955 and 1957 with a grand total of six cars produced. In 1966, Saab introduced the Sonett II and then the next year began fitting these cars with a V-4 engine built by Ford.

V-4 engines have been used in motorcycles, but have rarely been used in cars. The most notable exception was Lancia’s use of a V-4 engine in various iterations from 1922 to 1976. I think these very small engines, while being less practical in terms of casting and head design, have advantages in deployment. Their small blocks can be deployed in either a front mid-engine design, leaving the possibility of the desirable long hood, short deck design or they could be deployed behind the driver or even over the rear wheels.

Saab used these engines to replace the two-stroke motors it had been using. Two-stroke motors need to have oil mixed with the fuel and don’t offer much low-end torque.

The Sonett III was introduced in 1970. The car sat on a tiny 85-inch wheelbase. For reference, the shortest wheelbase for any Corvette, which is not a big car, was 96 inches for the C4 (1984-1996). The Sonett III was just 150 inches, 12 1/2 feet, in length. The sleek body was aerodynamically efficient with a drag coefficient of just .31. About 8,400 of the Sonett III were produced through 1974. The 1.7 liter/104 cubic-inch V-4 produced 75 HP/93 LB-FT of torque. Of course, these cars only weighed 1,800 pounds.

I think these cars look fantastic. Without modern safety systems I don’t know how safe I would feel driving one, though.

What do you think of the Sonett III? What are some of your favorite small cars, if any?






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16 thoughts on “Small Car Saturday

  1. I have always liked the Sonnets. The Ford V4 engine is 1/2 of the 289, and is a very strong little engine. Sonnet I is quite a unique car. I know a person who vintage races one.


  2. Showing my ignorance, I’ve never heard of the Sonnet, much less seen one. The only small car I “lusted after” was a friend’s Buick Opel GT, one of the earlier models. It must have been a ’68 or ’69, IIRC.


  3. Re new car safety features: my first car was a 1970s Toyota Corolla bought in 1984. It moved me routinely back and forth between DC and Baltimore, moved my belongings into my first big boy apartment, and drove two nurses home to VA from DC and me back home to suburban MD in a fierce snowstorm. It did not have airbags, backup cameras, antilock brakes, or radar/sonar. And not once did I have an accident. Driver skill is probably the #1 preventer of accidents. But I would not go back.


      1. If it is not too painful, how did you lose “The Goat”? If I remember, it was due to another driver.


      2. Coming home from my summer job the Goat was rear-ended by a POS woman who claimed her brakes failed, but I’m sure she wasn’t paying attention.

        It was the second time in three months the car had been hit; the first time the car was parked. The second accident caused a lot of damage so after fighting with the insurance company for months they agreed to pay us a decent amount of money and they let us keep the car, which we sold as is to a retired FBI agent.


      3. I have long been a proponent of a way to make EVERY driver a more careful driver; move the driver out to where the front bumper is. I promise by doing this it would make your old granny seem like a speed demon.

        JK (maybe)

        I ride motorcycles. A lot. It MAKES you become more aware of traffic, and what that idiot in the next lane is likely to do next. I can almost predict what they are going to do, before they themselves know what they’re going to do, just from over 50 years of riding (46 of those years riding on the road).

        My favorite small car? 83-87 Dodge Shelby Charger. I own 2 at the moment, bought my 86 new, and love them.


  4. Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and I’ll be 55. And I’m still going to be doing this S…

    All small cars conversations begin and end with one word.


  5. I learned to drive the city streets of Tucson, AZ on a Cushman Eagle motor scooter at the age of 14 in 1961. I instantaneously learned to drive on the offense to avoid the idiot drivers who were not looking for little ole me. Sixty years later I still drive on the offense. Defensive driving puts you in situations that result in accidents. While in the USAF I rode a Honda 500 Four motorcycle and never had a case of road rash or put it down because of some inattentive driver.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently said that mini cars have the highest death rate of any vehicle type. If you have to buy and drive a very small car do not get a four-door model as they are the most dangerous.

    Small, cute cars are fun to look at and admire. I once considered buying a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, but this college student was strapped for the cash. It is not a “small” car, but it would be considered small by today’s standards. British sports cars of the 1960’s like the Austin Healey Sprite fit your definition in this post.


    1. Thanks, Philip. Remembering that I have lived my life more in my head than in the real world, my “discussion” of small cars is more academic and theoretical than real. I did mention that I probably would not feel safe in a Saab Sonett III.


  6. I have a meme from the Internet that shows a Smart Car, the little two seat nothing of a “car” with the front ripped off. The words attached say: I hit a deer. Deer laughed and walked off. I will always drive something substantial for a vehicle. If you want a copy of the meme, request and I will email. I consider the Smart Car to be a worthless nothing that is not even suitable for a grocery hauler as there is no space for the groceries for even one meal.


    1. Not a big fan of the so-called Smart Car, either, as I consider it to be poorly styled and not as efficient as it should have been given the weight and 3-cylinder engine. Aerodynamics matter even for a small car.


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