At a roadside filling station just outside Nairobi, a car pulls up at the pumps and out clambers a burly figure in singlet and shorts, asking the African attendant to “Fill it up, please.” The attendant’s wide eyes open wider with recognition and his remark to those around him causes ours to open with astonishment. “It’s nice to see Mr. Carlsson back in Kenya.”
The time was Easter, 1976, and that attendant could not have seen Erik Carlsson for several years, yet it took just a few seconds for him to recognise the features of a man who changed the face of rallying, became legendary in his early thirties and set standards of rallying driving which everyone has since striven to achieve, and are still striving. His wife, Pat Moss-Carlsson, another capable driver who used to put most males to shame, must have amassed a greater combined collection of Ladies’ and Outright Winner’s trophies than any other person. She, too, didn’t pass unrecognised by that Kenyan filling station attendant who beamed a second smile of welcome as soon as she alighted from the car with their little daughter.
Erik Carlsson last drove in a rally ten years ago when he took the V4-engined Saab 96 to its first event outside Sweden, Hungary’s Vltava Rally. He has driven since in the Baja off-road races in Lower California, and finished second in 1967 against powerful opposition in special, purpose-built cars. He was in a Saab, of course, for he has always remained faithful to the Trollhattan-built cars. He bought his first in 1952 (now a proud and driveable exhibit at Saab’s fine collection of historic vehicles) and later used the two-stroke f.w.d. cars to win the RAC Rally three times in succession.
In 1956 Carlsson became a Saab works driver and when he stopped driving remained on the company’s payroll as a public relations executive dealing with special events. For a time he and his family lived in the South of France, but they returned to Britain in 1975 and now live in Hertfordshire, where the Moss family grew up. He commutes regularly between Britain and Sweden and makes frequent visits to countries all over the world, but will return even for just a day between trips since he likes to spend as much time with his family as possible.
Carlsson’s amazing memory, sharp wit in several languages, easy, friendly manner and his ability to make either senior director or apprentice mechanic feel like the most important man in the world, make him an unquestionably fine ambassador for his company. The star quality which set him apart as a driver is still there and we applaud a company which recognises it and continues to let it be put to good use.—G.P.