Erik Carlsson, rallying’s first superstar, died on May 27. He was 86. As large in size as he was in stature, the Swede’s generous proportions were at odds with the tiny cars he pedalled so rapidly. Save for one outing in a VW Beetle, he drove only Saabs over the better part of two decades.
Nevertheless, his rise to greatness began on two wheels. In 1947, the teenager acquired a Norton and enjoyed success in hill trials. Five years later, he made his debut as a driver in his native Trollhättan aboard a second-hand Saab 92. His take-no-prisoners style was immediately evident: after cresting a hill, the car went backwards through a hedge and into the garden of a grocer’s shop. Unbowed, he went on to win his class.
His career would go on to encompass a hat-trick of victories on the RAC Rally in 1960-62 and back-to-back triumphs on the Monte Carlo Rally (1962-63). Nevertheless, he cited his proudest achievement as being second places on the gruelling Liège-Sofia-Liège Rally.
He retired in 1967, but returned two years later and finished third in the Baja 1000. Much goodwill illuminated his post-rally career as an ambassador for Saab, Carlsson having made the UK his home following his marriage to Pat Moss in 1963. Richard Heseltine