Erik and Gunnar wave to the admiring locals from their trusty Saab 96 during the East African Safari Rally.
We’re spectating on a rally special stage. The Monte Carlo, Britain’s RAC, the Acropolis in Greece. Anywhere, it doesn’t matter which. We’re halfway up a gentle roadside embankment stamping our almost numb feet and rubbing shoulders with dozens of other rally fans, waiting. It’s dark, cold, the bottle of whiskey comes around once and we never see it again. Then, pleasantly vibed, the group we’re with goes dead quiet. Because way off in the distance is the unmistakable buzz of a two-stroke, 3-cylinder Saab 96 writhing its way through our stage.
Erik Carlsson. His six lights slice through the darkness this way and that as he sets up the car to take a sharp left-hander below us and to the right. We can just see the silhouette of the little plum red car from our hillside vantage point as it heels over alarmingly onto its two outside wheels. It seems to lurch too far over, starts to roll, the tiny 95 hp two-stroke engine still revving at precisely the same number of rpm like a hoard of crazed mosquitoes as the quirky little car rolls through a 360-degree arc and then thumps back on to all fours, its front wheels scrabbling for terra firma and acceleration. Those revs are still singing the same, uninterrupted high pitch buzz, when Erik and his Saab are off again without missing a beat. Almost as if rolling the car at that point was part of Carlsson’s strategy for taking the corner. And, of course, it was. As it was on countless other corners.
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