NORTHFIELD, MN - The Saab 96 that carried Erik Carlsson and Stuart Turner to victory in the legendary 1960 RAC Rally in Great Britain will return to that country to compete in a revival of the great RAC Rallies of the 1950s, "The Rally of the Tests". Car owner Eric Johnson and Dave Machacek (both of Northfield, Minnesota) will compete in the three-day rally to be held Nov. 30 - Dec. 2, 2001. The Rally of the Tests is organized by the Classic Rally Association.
The story of how Johnson came to own the RAC winning Saab is one of those "car in the barn" stories. He heard from Jim Machacek, a neighbor and Dave's father, about an Estate Sale (in St. Paul, Minnesota) that included several old Saabs. Though there were several examples of Saab Sonetts, a fiberglass sports car built by Saab between 1967 and 1974, it was a faded red Saab 96 sedan that caught Johnson's eye. Plexiglas windows, instruments on the dashboard and racing seat belts indicated that the car had some sort of competition history. Since Johnson was looking for a two-stroke Saab to build into a vintage racer, he bought the car.
During restoration, assisted by Dave Machacek, he came across various indications that the car had been modified to accommodate a large driver. Could it possibly have been for Saab's legendary rally driver, Erik Carlsson? At a Saab Owners National Convention in Wisconsin, Johnson had the opportunity to show photos of the car to Carlsson and to Pelle Rudh, curator of the Saab Car Museum in Trollhattan, who had been the mechanic for the Saab factory rally cars in the early 1960s. Both Carlsson and Rudh agreed that the modifications were consistent with those that would have been made to a factory rally car. But which one might it be?
Through photos and films of the RAC Rally of 1960, Johnson was able to locate the license number of the winning Saab. A cousin in Sweden took that information to the Swedish department of motor vehicle registry and found that the license number had been assigned to the Saab Competitions Department in March 1960, and that it was for the car with the same serial number as Johnson's Estate Sale find.
Johnson completed a restoration on the 96, trying to keep it consistent with what few details he could locate on the RAC winner. In 1997, he and Chuck Andrews drove the famous Saab on the Oslo - North Cape - Trollhattan Tour, ending at the Saab 50th Jubilee celebration in Trollhattan. On the route, Erik Carlsson presented Johnson with the grille badge from the 1960 RAC, indicating his belief that this truly was the same Saab he had driven on the RAC and other rallies in 1960 and 1961.
Now the RAC winner will return to the scene of its greatest triumph, Great Britain, to compete in an event much like the one that helped Carlsson and Turner to achieve their fame on the rally circuits of Europe and the world.
The Rally of the Tests is organized by the Classic Rally Association, headed by Philip Young, a well-known rallyist in his own right. Only 100 entries have been accepted for the Rally of the Tests, and only three are from the United States. None of the other entries has the history of Johnson's RAC Saab. Most are cars that have converted more recently for vintage rallying, and would have been eligible to run the RAC Rally during the 1950s.