Legendary rally driver Erik Carlsson has died. He was 86.
Carlsson’s career began in the 1950s, with his first competitive victory coming in the 1955 Rikspokalen at the wheel of a Saab 92 – a marque to which he would remain loyal. In total, he won twelve rallies for the Swedish manufacturer from 1955-’70, including the RAC Rally in 1960, ’61 and ’62, plus the Rallye Monte-Carlo in ’62 and ’63.
Carlsson married fellow rally driver Pat Moss in London in 1963, and within two years had co-authored The Art and Technique of Driving, featuring his pioneering left-foot-braking technique. In 1969 they had a daughter, Suzy, who followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming successful in the showjumping arena.
As well as being admired for his many victories, Carlsson’s good humour, determination and exuberant driving style quickly made him a firm favourite with fellow competitors and fans. As well as picking up the nickname ‘Mr Saab’ due to his affinity with the manufacturer, he also became synonymous with the phrase ‘Carlsson on the roof’ as a result of his propensity for rolling his cars – in one instance, apparently doing so intentionally to escape a mud pool on the Safari Rally.
On another well-publicised occasion, the Swede reportedly took parts from a spectator’s brand-new Saab 96 to repair his own vehicle, while he was also rumoured to have removed the front wing and door from a support vehicle in order to avoid a points penalty. He and his co-driver then washed the car with petrol to disguise the swap, impressing journalists who thought they had finished in enough time to give their car a rinse!
Support for the Trollhätten native remained strong long after his competitive career came to an end, boosted by appearances and guest drives at a number of historic meetings, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2002.