My heart started pumping when I heard that Erik Carlsson was to attend the start of XIV Rallye Monte Carlo Historique, Reims, last Friday. Although my dad had many fine cars it was the rallying success of the Saab cars in the Sixties and Seventies that inspired my interest in motoring. So much so that in the Seventies I bought two classic Saabs.
Carlsson is supporting the centenary celebrations of the Monte Carlo Rally by backing a team competing in this weekend's XIVth Monte Carlo Historique rally in an exact replica of the car that took him to victory back in 1963.
The classic Saab 96 has been created by German vintage car magazine Oldtimer Markt and is driven by chief editor Peter Steinfurth and navigator Thorsten Loeber. They started at Reims on Friday in a car that recreates the original in every detail, right down to the 283 entry number Erik used that year. He was on hand to wave them off.
The exploits of Erik 'On the Roof' Carlsson helped put Saab on the automotive map in the 1960s. He is a double winner of the Monte Carlo Rally in 1962 and 1963 and took a hat-trick of RAC Rally victories in 1960-62. Now 82 years old, Erik was born in Trollhättan, Sweden, the home town of Saab, and was a works driver for the company throughout his career. Today, he is still employed as a roving ambassador for Saab.
Erik Carlsson was married to Pat Moss (1934-2008), who was also a successful rally driver with several wins in the Monte Carlo Rally ladies class, She was the younger sister of racing driver Sir Stirling Moss.
Erik's 'David and Goliath' battles against larger, more powerful cars are now legendary in the annals of international rallying. With small two-stroke engines, 748 or 841 cc, the first Saabs lacked power for competition use and To overcome this disadvantage Erik developed a special driving technique.
It was necessary to keep the engine revving at all times, so he used left foot braking while keeping his right foot hard on the accelerator pedal. This allowed him to make the most of his car's light weight and maneuverability while cornering.
Things have got a lot more advanced since then and I hope that the spirit of the original Saabs is being captured by the company that took Saab back from General Motors early last year.