Saab Monte Carlo takes record at Bonneville Speed Week

This is pretty exciting stuff for a Saab nut. I’m always keen to see how people run their older Saabs and it always puts a smile on my face when I see something like this.

My first correspondence with Bertil Sollenskog was last year (2010), when he had a failed first attempt at Bonneville. He had some mechanical issues last year that couldn’t be sorted out at the flats themselves, so he brought the car home to fight another day. He wasn’t discouraged, however. Having been told that it usually takes at least two failed attempts before people can get close to a record, Bertil vowed to himself that the second time would be charm.

And so it was.

Bertil is an expat Swede living in the US and he runs his own engine-building company, preparing competition engines for various VW and Toyota racing formulas.

He saw a Saab Monte Carlo for sale 4 or 5 years ago, bought it, and has been playing with it ever since. After helping out a friend at Bonneville Speed Week in 2007, Bertil got the speed bug and decided it was time to make the Monte Carlo sing for its supper.

Last year’s run might have failed to produce a record, but it did a lot to teach Bertil about the harsh conditions on the flats and how well prepared you need to be in order to have a realistic chance of setting a record there. Consequently, Bertil took a team of five along to the flats this year, as well as two engines.

I’ll let him take up the story:

About 400 cars and 100 motorcycles come to Speedweek every year, representing many different classes. My 1966 Saab Monte Carlo is entered in class JPRO, which means it has to be stock on the outside and modified for safety on the inside. Engine tuning is “free”, but all basic engine parts must be from the Saab family.

The engine is 750 cc, water-cooled, 3 cylinder and 2 stroke. It is now tuned to 97 hp at 6500 rpm. (The standard is 52 hp at 4500rpm.)

The salt flats are unique, with temperatures up to 110 F, humidity down to 11% and altitude of 4500 ft. This makes it difficult to adjust the fuel mixture properly ahead of the time trials! Luckily there is up to 2 hours wait between runs, which allows for adjusting.

After many runs, never breaking 100 mph, the first engine melted a piston. The second engine was installed and modifications were made on the car (i.e. lowering the ride height).

After several more runs and tweaking, the Saab averaged 107.5mph on two runs with a flying start. The previous record of 103.9 mph was broken! I thought the engine could produce more, so we kept on trying. Ultimately, we reached 110 mph, our final record for 2011 Speedweek.

Bertil already has plans for a return with a faster car next year. The engine is strong enough, but gearbox and suspension modifications are in the works.

Note – the salt flat photos below are from this year, but the engine and interior photos are from 2010 and the engine is his ‘street’ engine with three downdraft carbs. The engine used at the flats has three side-draft carbs and delivers 20hp more than the street engine.

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  1. Bertil made it sound so easy to break the weather.  Changing an engine in 111 degreee (Farenheit) weather is tough work.  Congratulations to his team for the record.  It’s nice to see another Saab in the record books.

  2. Congratulations Bertil & Co! That’s a good looking racing car you’ve got there. Especially pic 4 in this set with the salty racer would look nice as a wallpaper Would like to see and hear it moving as well. Nice to see Saabs used in any kind of racing.

    1. Yep.  I’m hoping to catch with Tom for a chat about it soon.  We missed each other last night by minutes.  Sounds like another great story, though.