Mr Saab, they called him, and also more affectionately ‘Carlsson on the roof’. The nickname came from a Swedish children’s story about a ‘Karlsson’ character living on top of a building, but rally driver Erik Carlsson earned the tag with his propensity for rolling his Saab on to its roof.
When he wasn’t rolling, however, Carlsson was winning. That never came easy though with his underpowered, two-stroke machines. Carlsson made the most of it by constantly keeping the revs high and seldom ever braking, but when he really needed to slow down he wouldn’t take his right foot off the throttle, instead introducing the left-boot-braking technique into the world of rallying.
Consequently his was a sideways style of driving, very much in the Scandinavian-flick sense, which endeared him to rally fans well beyond his native Sweden.
He started his professional career competing in his first big rally in 1955 behind the wheel of a Saab 92 as a works driver, and throughout his rally years he never steered anything but a Saab. With left-foot braking and his skill on slippery surfaces, Carlsson and his ‘strokers’ won legendary events such as Finland’s 1000 Lakes rally, the RAC Rally, Akropolis, the Safari Rally, and most notably the Monte Carlo Rally in a Saab 96.
Besides winning important rallies, Carlsson’s biggest legacy was his unleashing of Scandinavian rally drivers on to the world map and opening the door to them, as well as establishing Saab as a serious car manufacturer.
But for all his PR duties, Carlsson never lost his adventurous humour, which followed him throughout his career. Once at the notorious Safari Rally he rolled his Saab to avoid a mud pool, and when journalists covering the event raised their eyebrows at the tale he jumped in the car and demonstrated the roll-over right in front of their eyes.
Another time the DKW team protested foolishly at his illegal four-speed gearbox, only to retract their accusations once they realised Carlsson was dipping the clutch in the third, and final, gear just to fool them into thinking he was shifting up.
Mr Saab retired in 1967 to a home life with his wife and rally colleague Pat Moss — the sister of Sir Stirling Moss.
He’s 84 now, but the stroker rally cars received as gifts from Saab for his victories still get a noisy workout around his English country home now and then.