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Obituary: Erik Carlsson


MR SAAB: Eric Carlsson

MR SAAB: Eric Carlsson

MR SAAB: Eric Carlsson

Erik Carlsson, the burly Swedish driver called "Mr Saab", who has died aged 86, was the first global star of the new post-war sport of rallying; he was considered the most gifted and the fastest-thinking driver of his era, all in an under-powered car.

He made international headlines, won the RAC rally three times, the Monte Carlo rally twice and had 19 international victories in the sport between 1955 and 1970. Sir Stirling Moss once described Carlsson - his brother-in-law - as "the best non-mechanical thing to come out of [the home of Saab] Trollhattan".

Carlsson was noted for his bravery: he rarely used his brakes, in order to maintain speed. In the turtle-shaped Saab 92 and 96 cars, with their relatively puny two-stroke engines of 850cc (no more than a Mini), Carlsson kept the engine revved up. He did not slow for bends and developed techniques of car control using left-foot braking as he drove - a "power-on technique" as he called it.

His appetite for speed led to numerous incidents, not least his propensity for turning the car over and rolling on rally stages.

Erik Carlsson was born on March 5 1929 near Trollhattan, Sweden. Orphaned at a young age, he had a short spell in the Swedish Army Corps after the war and his love of speed was fostered when, as a teenager, he rode a high-powered 1947 British Norton 500 ES2 motorcycle on slippery Swedish roads. In 1948 Erik was working as a navigator for Per Nystrom, a motorcycle dealer in Trollhattan who drove a Volvo in rallies; Nystrom then switched to a Saab 92 which, with its front-wheel drive, was more nimble.

By the early 1950s Carlsson had purchased his own (second-hand) Saab to rally. Despite his physical stature, Carlsson's deft car-handling skills brought success, notably at the 1955 Rikspokalen contest in which he fought off leading names of rallying in his first, spectacular, international-class victory.

Saab's Rolf Mellde recruited Carlsson into the company's nascent rally team and two decades of victories were set. His gaining a place on the Saab rally team led to international success, including his winning the 1962 and 1963 Monte Carlo competitions. Only the East African Safari rally title eluded him.

In 1963 Carlsson married the former showjumper Patricia "Pat" Moss, sister of Sir Stirling Moss, having met her when she was driving MG-supported cars in rallies. Carlsson was a convivial man and a skilled raconteur. His wife died in 2008 and Erik Carlsson, who died on May 27, is survived by their daughter.

Sunday Independent