Ironic that this should happen just a few hours after NEVS’s positive news……. but it’s turned into a sad day for Trollhattan and Saab fans in general.
It’s with great sadness that I report today on the passing of a Saab legend, perhaps the biggest Saab legend of all – Mr Erik Carlsson. Erik passed away in his adopted England today after a short illness. He was surrounded by family.
“Mr Saab” was born in Trollhattan, Sweden, in March 1929 and the story of his life is inextricably bound to the city and the car company that was based there.
Erik drove his first rally victory in a Saab in 1955 when the company was less than 10 years old. That was a two-cylinder Saab 92 and he went on to experience rally success with the Saab 93, Saab 95 and the Saab 96 with both two-stroke and V4 engines.
Saab fans will be well aware of his successes. While Erik won various events between 1955 and 1959, it was his winning of the RAC Rally of 1960, the first year of the Saab 96, that cemented both he and Saab on the motorsport map. Erik’s legend goes hand-in-hand with the Saab 96, which he took to first place in the famous Monte Carlo Rally in 1962 and 1963. He also won the RAC Rally two more times in 1961 and 1962. The 1000 Lakes Rally, the Acropolis Rally, the Swedish Rally, the San Remo Rally, the Czech Rally – all of them have Erik Carlsson’s name in their history books under “Winner” and many more have him as being placed on the podium.
Erik even drove the heavier Saab 95 estate vehicle at Monte Carlo, finishing in 4th position in 1961. I’m not sure that a two-door, 7-seat station wagon has ever been so close to glory, either before or since!
After his retirement from rallying, Erik became Saab’s most prominent ambassador. The amount of frequent flyer miles he would have accumulated travelling for Saab to events around the world would have broken most airline computers, I’m sure.
It must be said, however, that Erik’s days as an ambassador for the company took shape even when he was still rallying. When accepting victory trophies in his Saab 96, Erik always insisted that the car was cleaned before it was presented. He and his co-driver would always show up in dress suits rather than racing suits to accept the trophy. Presentation was paramount.
Erik famously promoted the Saab 900 at events around the world, driving it at speed over a large blade that would puncture the front tyre. At the time of the puncture, Erik would raise his hands out from the sunroof to show how well balanced the Saab was even under pressure.
Erik’s longevity as a Saab ambassador – a role he played well into his Eighties – can be attributed to his personal charm. Erik loved the role and he played it well. He had a cheeky smile, plenty of stories to tell and a willingness to engage anyone in conversation. And so prominent was Erik as an identity at Saab that they released three Carlsson edition vehicles in his honour – a Saab 900, a Saab 9000 and a Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan.
There would barely be a Saab fan that’s travelled to a prominent Saab event that didn’t get a handshake, a photograph or an autograph from the great man. He had time for everyone, even in his later years.
I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon with Mr Saab back in 2012. The day was organised by mutual good friends Mike and Hilary, who have spent a lot of time with the great man in the last 20 years. I encourage you to read that story as it says a lot about him outside of the spotlight.
That day taught me a lot about Erik Carlsson. It showed me the way he cared for the company, talking about it in an educated fashion like a man who still had his finger on the pulse, even in his advanced years and at such a distance. It showed me the way he loved his RAC replica Saab 96 (see video, below), which he drove with such exuberance on the day. More than that, though, it showed me his warmth as a man. He was deeply charming, extremely generous with his time and compliments, and he loved his family deeply.
Erik Carlsson married Pat Moss, the sister of Sir Sterling Moss, in 1963 and like his heritage from Trollhattan, this partnership shaped the rest of his life. Pat Moss was an accomplished driver in her own right and they wrote a book about the art of driving together. The couple settled in England, where Pat indulged her other passion – horses – which she passed on to their daughter Susie. Erik still lived just down the road from his daughter right up until his passing.
Erik Carlsson lived a full life, passing away at the age of 86. It was a life worth celebrating, a life to be remembered with fondness.
He was, and always will be remembered as Mr Saab.
Vale Erik Carlsson.