Erik Carlsson, 1929-2015


We were saddened to hear of the death of Erik Carlsson – one of rallying’s all-time greats – today. Here we re-post Richard Heseltine’s 2010 feature with ‘Mr Saab’

You have to feel for the kid, although judging by the age of the photo he’s probably in his fifties by now. “They were mad Saab fans from Belgium,” recalls rally deity Erik Carlsson, surveying the sepia-tinged image of a beaming couple. “I remember them because they had named their son Carlsson. It was his first name.” He dispatches this anecdote without additional comment, save for a “ja, ja” delivered in his wonderful sing-song Swedish lilt. This isn’t even the strangest case of fan fervour he’s ever encountered, but for a legion of the marque faithful Carlsson is a god. The title of his biography is Mr Saab, after all.

Few drivers spend their entire career with one make. It’s rarer still that they’re employed by that same manufacturer as they enter their ninth decade. Straining to get comfortable in his armchair, photograph albums stacked high at his side, he still looks much the same as he did in his heyday. The hair is thinner, his eyes magnified slightly behind thick-framed glasses, but his broad shoulders and wide girth render him instantly recognisable. Carlsson is a bulwark of a man, his size at odds with the cars he drove: with one exception, he only ever rallied Saabs. “I tried a Volkswagen Beetle once but I didn’t like it. The clutch broke,” he says dismissively.

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