By on February 18, 2013

I told you that I would report back to the TTAC faithful when something new came up.

Well, for quite a few weeks there has been the usual distribution of dominance when it comes to high mileage cars that are curbed by their owners. 70% to 80% of the vehicles in the Top 25 of trade-ins mileage wise (out of 6000+ a week) were either Ford and Chevy trucks, Honda cars, or Toyota anything.

This week the streak is broken. Thanks to two Saturns which managed to cross the 400k mark.

Both of them are second generation SL models which carried the one car torch for Saturn throughout the 1990’s.

Imagine one cheap car having to hold up an entire mainstream car line and an extensive dealer network. What thought process on the 14th floor justified these types of hare brained decisions is beyond me. But thankfully these Saturns are the perfect beater bait for those folks who are willing to get religion off an asset that has cheap written all over it.

The androgynous rear end of this 2000 Saturn managed to occupy the road side scenery of North Carolina for 432,984 miles. It had zero announcements on the block. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that these cars are historically rather strong on the rattles and vibrations. Not to mention a plasticized interior that helped give rise to the $9995 Saturn deals of which, this Saturn likely qualified for back in the day. Although I would never argue with a new car purchase that yielded just over two cents a mile, it’s hard to understand why GM would let the powertrains on these models amortize for 13 model years.

The R&D rotting of Saturn was a shame because the non-rusting polymer panels on these models coupled with the MC Hammer era engines yielded a low ownership cost equation that was highly competitive for the time. If you looked at a car as a refrigerator like appliance and lived in the rust belt, these models were worthy of consideration. Speaking of which, this 1997 SL2 model from Illinois has managed to rack up 405,766 miles.

It does have a transmission needs service announcement and the gaps in a few places are nearly fist deep. Yep, the panels were resistant to rust. But give them a nice side kick or a 10 mph bump and you could be sure to have the polymer shatter design remain with the car until the very moment it became crusher fodder.

Trying to find an intact replacement fender at a pull-a-part on these vehicles is quite a task. It once took me four months to find one for a 96′ model coupe that I called the Purple People Eater. There is also more than a fair share of powertrain weirdness. The trannies on these models shift hard when they’re older. So hard in fact that any Saturn that isn’t a manual will almost always automatically get the ‘transmission needs service’ or ‘as/is’ announcement.

Such negativity has helped me get a few stellar deals over the years. There was a Saturn sedan, automatic, with only 37k that I managed to buy for only $1500 a few years back. It was only about 10 years old. Then there was another automatic model with 69k that went for only $1800. Both of them had transmission announcements and turned out to be perfectly fine. For a long time you could buy a decade old Saturn with less than 100k miles for only around $2000 wholesale.

When gas shot up over $3.00 a gallon for the first time these vehicles enjoyed a brief resurgence in popularity. Then the sub-prime mortgage crisis made these cheap cars even more coveted. Now that gas is closing in at $4.00, and it’s only February, I can no longer buy them on the cheap. Yesterday’s $2000 wholesale car is now a $3500 plus auction fee purchase that may not even be worth a flip.

These Saturns were never that bad. Nowadays though they’re not really that good for the price at the auctions. Yesterday’s $3000 retail car has become today’s $5500 piece of finance fodder. So if you want boring transportation and find one for a song, do it. Otherwise, if you do very little driving, buy a V8 domestic instead. Those cars are damn cheap these days at the auctions and jaw dropping affordable at the retail lots.

 

 

 

 

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51 Comments on “Monday Mileage Champion: Saturnalia...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    I’ve known several people who loved their Saturns and the Saturn dealership experience. They just felt it was an honest way to buy a car and they always felt they were getting really good value, kind of like Camry loyalists. I have never understood why GM spent so much money to build this brand only to neglect and then destroy it. I wonder if there is a GM/Saturn expert out there with time on his hands…..

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Saturn was Roger Smith’s attempt to do an end-run around the entrenched GM bureaucracy (incluyding the UAW) to build an import-fighter. It worked for a while, but once Roger was gone Saturn had nobody to protect it and it was steadily swallowed up and digested by the beast.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Interesting to me, thank you bumpy. Do you know if GM fans consider Roger Smith to be a visionary type who could have saved GM or just another guy marking time until the collapse?

      • 0 avatar

        Thelanie, Roger Smith was notorious for running GM straight into the ground. He spent billions of dollars trying to get robots to do everything, and managed to make GM’s entire workforce loathe both him and the company signing their paychecks.

        In the mean time, the Japanese were treating workers well and they were creating world-class cars, even made in the USA.

        D

      • 0 avatar

        Smith made some big waves, at the expense of product development. He pushed for adding more and more robots to the assembly line to the point that there wasn’t much money left for new product development, which is why the A-cars ran for so long and the B-cars, and the S-trucks, and the G-bodies, and why the W-body was introduced so late into the FWD game.

        He was kind of a visionary, but at the same time spent the company into the some rough times.

        At least thats my understanding of his tenure at GM, some of it is now hazy memories from rags and books.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Thank you David. I think it’s time for me to buy a book on this topic. GM is such a freaking catastrophe. I believe I’m ready to get the bloody details on the decline and fall.

      • 0 avatar
        Gannet

        I worked there at the time, in engineering. Roger was one of the worst CEOs ever, and yes, he ran GM into the ground and also squandered billions. He was a finance guy that thought the whole problem was costs. He was infamously the guy who decided that Every GM product would be FWD. Also the guy that collapsed the divisions into CPC/BOC/T&B. Also the guy that bought EDS and brought Ross Perot on to the board, and later had to pay Ross $743M to resign from the board. Also the guy that bought Hughes Aircraft; it was later almost all sold off. During his tenure GM’s domestic market share fell from 43% to 35%. The beginning of the end.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The Rodger Smith episode goes to show how crucial it is to have an effective (or at least neutral) leader at the helm.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I don’t know if Saturn was an effective way to dodge the UAW, but I do recall reading that a big motivation for Saturn was to get away from the existing dealer body. GM had many dealers with very low customer satisfaction scores, and management didn’t have much leverage to get the dealers to change their ways. GM thought their cars were just fine, but the dealers were doing a poor job of representing the company and a good job of turning off potential buyers. Saturn franchising agreements were written to give GM unprecedented control over the dealer experience. Considering the number of Saturn customers who were loyal due to dealer treatment, I’d say it worked.

        Unfortunately, the lengths that had to be gone to in order to make Saturn its own brand meant that money would not be made. The first generation Saturns cost several billion dollars to bring to market when competitors cost less than 2 billion. IIRC, the figure was 7 billion. Even if the early Saturns had fought it out with the best sellers in their class, they’d still have become obsolete before one dime of profit was earned. GM dealt with this by taking a several billion dollar loss on Saturn one year and then saying they made a few million each year after. You can do the math. The result was a car that was nearly competitive with the Civic of 1991 still on the market against the Civic of 2000 with a reskin that didn’t address what was not quite there almost a decade earlier. The people that spent billions years earlier weren’t there to spend the next 2 billion dollars for the 1996 model year, so Saturn didn’t get a chance to realize the dream of establishing a real import fighting brand. Later Saturns were just regular GM cars from whatever platform was convenient, most with the energy absorbing skins that may or may not have been perceived as an advantage by customers.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      From everybody’s comments, it sure sounds like ol’ Roger didn’t care for GM workers very much, and figured they were a big part of the problem.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        In a lot of ways, he was right about that. However, the accounts I’ve read describe him as a hot-tempered, authoritarian sort who didn’t work well with others. GM did need all those robots, and Saturn was supposed to be an incubator for remaking the rest of the company. Good ideas, poor implementation, and far more cash hemorrhaging than GM could support in the late ’80s. The last one is what got him booted, and came within a whisker of bankrupting GM back in 1992.

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        Conversely isn’t the Hamtramck GM plant, supposed to be the automation showcase, the one where the robots were famously “painting each other” in the 80s…now one of the the most efficient GM plants?

    • 0 avatar
      Tinker

      I always thought of Roger Smith as a latter-day Robert McNamara, who also had a few good ideas, but was a complete waste of space as SecDef.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Thanks for the knowledge CJ. It almost seems like it could have worked if they would have stayed committed to it. It’s like they jumped from one “brilliant” idea to another, losing money on each one. I really don’t know this, but it just seems like they were looking for magic bullets and shortcuts, instead of just focusing on the basic unglamorous business of making consistently good cars. It’s just an impression and I’m sure it is complicated, but it does piss me off that a great American company fell apart like they did. I’ll bet they chewed up a lot of good people in the process.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Saturns were great cars for people who did not like cars. They were loud, crude, uncomfortable and cheap but if you were oblivious to that they got you from A to B adequately.

    Interestingly, all the people I know who bought and liked them were die hard Democrats. It kind of made sense if you looked at Saturn as the egalitarian car brand: no negotiating, everybody pays the same and gets the same. Product not so good, but you could be confident everybody else got exactly the same product at the same price. Sort of the American Trabant.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      I always thought they were horrifyingly bland and crude as well. I never even considered the political angle you observed. Maybe it really was kind of an American “People’s Car.” I just remember how devoted the owners were to them and how mystified I always was by it. It seems a shame that GM did not build on it though, after all the expense.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      Well toad you have met one now that is not a democrat. I used to be a republican but came to the conclusion that both parties are FOS. When I bought my first Saturn I was recently divorced and bankrupted due to the divorce. The saturn S series was the perfect car for me. Back seats down was almost as useful as a hatch and everything got over 40 mpg freeway trips. One stellar tank got 50 – never repeated that.

      200k was easy but then I bought the Saturn (Opel) Vue. Some of them were ok but some had bugs that could not be exterminated. When the 2002 Vue threw a timing chain at 180k I dumped it, sold the other Vue that was actually probably good, and went to a Nissan Cube. The timing chain was the straw that broke the camels back. All sorts of problems. The Nissan is a better car and I couldn’t care less who likes the “cartoon looks”. My second vehicle is a 91 S 10 with a 4.3 and 700r4 which proves that GM had some stretches that they got it right.

    • 0 avatar
      vwgolf420

      Probably the most *ahem* outspoken ultra-conservative armchair commentator I know–a cousin of my mother–and his equally outspoken wife and basement swelling son all drive Saturns. Father drives a ratty beyond belief first gen SL that he’s owned from the beginning, his wife has a L-Series wagon and son has a second gen SL.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      I’m right-of-center and had a Saturn ION.

      On thing I’ve noticed is that “union friendly” liberals hardly ever drive union made cars.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I can’t confirm how my father voted when he was alive being in the Postal Worker union and all, but this man was anti-Democrat by modern standards (maybe you could’ve called him a “Blue Dog”?). He bought three Saturns (2 SL2s and later an Ion), initially because he only bought GM and for his purposes he could have a new car for the price of something nicer used (Dad was one of those “don’t buy other peoples problems” type person). I know my brother, Mother, and I despise the Ion but Mom drives it now because Dad only had it for two years/20K before his death, plus its paid off. Bro and I drive the SLs, mine has 164K and his 85K. For the record as a card-carrying member of the vast right wing conspiracy, I would gladly buy my 1998 SL2 over again for the $15K it originally cost, its cheap and effective transportation which won’t succumb to rot as quickly as a conventional car, I can actually see out of its greenhouse, and best of all its not a Daewoo.

      Rentonben’s comment about sums it up:

      “On thing I’ve noticed is that “union friendly” liberals hardly ever drive union made cars.”

      I see plenty of “Blue Dog” and “Living Wage bumper sticker” Democrats (esp people who grew up with Kennedy and LBJ) driving these, W-body Chevys, Pre-08 Tauri, and Big Three trucks. But from what I’ve seen the modern Democrat/Communist wouldn’t be caught dead in something UAW, f***ing hypocrites.

      • 0 avatar
        James Courteau

        Before you get your undies in a bunch, I tried to give the Chevy Sonic a fair shot, but the dealer manager said “you’re not worth my time”. The salesman then held my keys hostage until I agreed to consider a more expensive car. You can thank crappy American car dealers for putting one more lefty in a Japanese car.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Good customer service is a result of the profit motive, which should be rejected by someone that wants equal outcomes. Don’t complain about the hell that you’re complicit in sentencing everyone else to.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      We still own (and absolutely love) a Saturn Vue AWD – the one with a 250 HP Honda engine and transmission. Just shy of 100K miles at this point, trouble free. My wife says I can take it away from her when I pry it from her cold, dead fingers. The only part of the design that was really lacking was the specification of too-small, GM bin front brakes – an issue I fixed with EBC cross-drilled rotors and Greenstuff pads.

      By the way, we own it because I wanted her in a Honda and she demanded that the vehicle be made in the US by UAW workers. We both got what we wanted (Honda drivetrain and Springhill, Tennessee, respectively)!

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      But at the same time, the Saturn was a very lightweight automobile, with great handling and a decent if loud twin-cam engine. Sort of Honda like driving joy there. The first gen SC2 was a nice coupe. All stuff the cranky old men pine for around here.

    • 0 avatar
      Carl Kolchak

      I have to disagree with you on the Democrat thing. I’m slightly to the right of Rush and have owned 2 SC2s. 1st one loved but totalled, 2nd one, a piece of junk. The other 3 owners I know personally are a Die-Hard Republican, a worker at a major Bible College and a Catholic priest.
      I think Saturn appealed to some people as the anti-Honda experience (at least the Chicago Area). No “Market Value Adjustment”, no “Appearance package” and decent sales people. After the SL/SC, Saturn became just another lousy GM brand (see the ION). Shame it had to go that way.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Libertarian here and I owned 5 at various times. The first a 92 SL that I had when I joined the Navy. It was solid transportation and gave me 205k or so. Had 36k when I got it. The next was a 96 SL1 I got after gas first started going up. I didnt have it too long…I dont remember why but it had nothing to do with the car. Then we got an ion-1. Didnt have it too long but I remember being able to trade it in and break even due to the whole zero percent thing. At the same time I inherited my mothers high mileage SW1. It went on to 300k + to include tough time in upstate NY. I sold it to a fried up there where it was stolen and recovered in Syracuse with no damage except the motor missing. Weird. The Ion was traded in on an 02 Vue AWDv6 with all the bells and whistles. It was a constant source of headaches I remember needing to do the thermostat and taking it to the dealer when I found this required pulling the intake. The quoted me 700 bucks and tried there darndest to get me to buy a new one. They did it for 500 due to my “customer loyalty” but the next week the blower quit. Then the ECU went out. I had it fixed and dumped it for my wife’s current Tucson.

      I liked the original cars. They were actually powerful and handled well in the beginning. And all those “cheap” materials looked just the same 200k miles after it rolled off the lot when those softer civic bits were curling up and fading. I wish I had gotten an SC2 at some point. Come to think of it, I havent seen one in some time. Perhaps one will show up in the Junkyard column.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    “Otherwise, if you do very little driving, buy a V8 domestic instead. Those cars are damn cheap these days at the auctions and jaw dropping affordable at the retail lots.”

    Definitely. I was at an auction a few weeks ago and watched a 91k mile 2001 Grand Marquis, no rust, no announcements dealer maintained stall out bidding at $1500.

    Considering the service one could get out of a clean low mile Panther as compared to any car in that price range, a few MPG difference is more than worth it. In mixed driving, I usually average 20 MPG in those cars. 25-27 on the highway is easily attained.

    So I would say if you do a lot of highway driving, you can’t go wrong with one of these.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I agree old BOF RWD iron is a bargain at the moment. Trouble for me is I live in a area that is extremely steep and poorly salted in the winters, so I’m very concerned about a Panther as a year round ride.

  • avatar
    NN

    My 90 year old grandmother has a 1996 SL1 with about 40k on the odometer. It goes to and from church and the grocery store, that’s it. It’s crude and basic but she bought it new and it has served her reliably with extremely low maintenance needs for 17 years now. She always got a kick out of how nicely the people at the dealership treated her. I’ve also seen and driven some of the stick shift versions with high mileage and they seem to be some of the most reliable American small cars of that era. Never refined by any means but at least durable and low maintenance. in today’s world, Saturn could have been an American Dacia/Skoda, a low cost brand that does well in rough times by presenting honest value and decent cars.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      My mother owed not one, but two Saturn SC (the sporty, coupe version, with the 3rd door like an RX8), both survived past 100K easily. She loved them and the dealership due to their simple, honest nature. She now drives a Sonata, but I always thought the logical next step was a Scion TC. The Sonata is very nice but mom thinks its too big. The concept behind Saturn was brilliant, but being a GM thing it was doomed to fail sadly.

  • avatar

    I once read that the valve seats were not hardened on these cars.
    Maybe some of them work harden?

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    These were the epitome of cheap and cheerful. About two years back, I got a Crown-Vic-shaped impression in the doors of my car at a local watering hole known for being a tiki bar on a lake, complete with bikini-clad servers, and, in particular, no view of the parking lot from inside. It took a while to get the new doors and the paint fixed, so I got my “free rental” — one of these Saturn L’s with 240k on the odometer.

    The biggest discovery I made was the transmission sport switch. The car made this horrible droning noise in “standard” transmission mode, but I found (by accidentally hitting it with my knee) a sport button on the side of the transmission that really did make the transmission more responsive, the acceleration snappier, and the drone subsided to a gentle hum.

    I wouldn’t drive one every day, but there’s cheap-thrills fun to driving one of these cars at 80+ mph.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I think a good many forget the buy-in for a franchisee started at $5 million. No bricks, parts or flooring – hell, no signs, just the fee. Their motives are obvious, the neglect baffling.

  • avatar
    Ian

    Funny, I have a purple 1999 SL1 that I have also nick named “The Purple People Eater.” It’s going on 210k right now with the only “major” issues being a cracked radiator and a leaking water pump. Otherwise it’s been fantastically reliable. It’s definitely crude, but it gets around just fine. The (auto) tranny is shifting rougher but, as long as you’re gentle, it doesn’t seem too bad.

    I do have to get it smoged soon (CA) and I am slightly concerned I’ll have to throw money at it to pass.

  • avatar
    red60r

    The blue car in the first photo could be my wife’s former ride, a ’97 version. Interesting that the only metal body piece in the picture is rusty. Our Saturn was kept for 7 low-mileage years in Boulder, during which it needed two fuel injectors and was on its way to needing a water pump before 40K. An OEM tire failed outright. The heater never put out enough heat due to a consistently low engine temperature, although the dealer said it was up to spec — I suspect the low engine temp was to leave headroom for an inadequate cooling system. The A/C was marginal in hot weather. Yes, it got the job done, but the Forester that replaced it has taken a lot more abuse and always does the job properly in all weather.

  • avatar

    The GF has a 98 SL1 with about 200,000 miles on it, and a persistent oil leak. I swear I will throttle the engineer that thought it was a great idea to use RTV instead of gaskets for everything but the head gasket!

    Everytime I’ve had to take something off the belt end of the engine, something breaks, last time was the water pump pulley bolts, wound up just buying a new pulley after bending the old up trying to remove it from the water pump, time before that was the mount for the idler pulley that broke off the cover.

    I’ve had to replace a rocker arm (I dunno one one of those breaks, not like she hot rods the 100hp SOHC), replaced all the tranmission solenoids, a quarter panel from a hit-n-run, a headliner and a power window motor before a rain storm. The A/C is merely adequate for the Texas summer, but it’ll get a consistent 26mpg in town with her driving it, and approaching 40 on the highway.

    It’s been a decent appliance for her, despite the peeling paint off the doors from the carwash, and general neglect she gives it.

  • avatar
    tuckerdawg

    +1 on the V8 domestics I am seeing all sorts turn up on CL for cheap, relatively well maintained, and in decent shape. Of course commuting any more than 15 miles roundtrip makes this a non starter.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    When the wife’s Camry was totalled after a young lady ran a red light in 1996 I started shopping for a used station wagon . My first choice was a Corolla wagon with a 5 speed but after looking for quite a while I settled on a 1994 Saturn wagon with a stick and the smaller engine , with 65K miles . It was an odd wine color – I liked the color but it wasn’t everybody’s taste . My mother in law hated the car due to the color and the cheap level of equipment – it didn’t even have power windows – and after a while gave my wife her car . Shortly after I wrecked my car and the Saturn became my car . By then I had a job involving my driving the Saturn quite a bit at work doing local deliveries , often hundreds of miles a day . It was ideal for this as I was getting paid for mileage . The ergonomics sucked , the front seats were awful- thinly padded and uncomfortable- the worst of ANY car I ever owned , even sixties cars with bench seats and it was quite the rattletrap . The plastic body had some drawbacks – some giant panel gaps and as mentioned above a small hit on the front bumper broke an inch wide piece of plastic a couple of feet back on the fender . It was reliable though- main problems were the ignition switch failing , so I had it hot-wired ; a housing for IIRC the water pump falling apart and destroying the clutch , and some pollution part failing and causing the odometer to work erratically for a couple of years , which I dealt with by using the tach to guesstimate my speed . At 5 years old it was hit from behind at low speeds and totalled out . At that time the odometer showed over 275k miles but what with the frequently non-working odometer it was really way over 300k miles . The other guy’s insurance paid me $3700 for the car , more than generous . Between that and the thousands of dollars I received for mileage at work it was by far my best automotive deal financially . And I would have to say that , the time or two I had any work done at the dealership , they actually were impressive , the only good dealership experiences I ever remember having .

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    In the interest of full disclosure, I worked
    for Saturn from 1991 to 1999. I can’t speak to GM and UAW leadership’s hatred of the brand and everything it stood for… I was much too low on the totem pole to really know. It was a constant source of frustration for those on the front lines of the company who really felt we were on some sort of mission. The employees I knew at the company really wanted it to succeed and many had given up a lot of money and seniority at GM to leave and join Saturn. Remember, Saturn was set up as a subsidiary of GM rather than as another division, so pay, benefits, and seniority were much different… And not in a good way.

    As for the cars, I think the general stereotypes about their crudeness have become greater than the reality. In their day, they were light weight, efficient, and had great handling. They were noisier than the contemporaty Corolla but I always found them sweeter to drive than the Neon and certainly the Cavaliers of the day. Those body panels were great at shrugging off dings and minor hits but did little for sound insulation and the resulting body gaps always seemed to draw negative comments from the press, though customers didn’t mind. There was even a Saturn racing team that did well but when they won their class championship Saturn marketers had nothing to say about it, which I suppose is very traditional GM think.

    When I started at Saturn I was driving a new GLI 16-valve. No hatred to VW fans, it was a fun car, but my replacement SL2 felt like a Cadillac on the freeway compared to the noisy high-revving VW. At least I could hear the crappy Delco radio at speed… I couldn’t say the same thing about the VW.

    I am surprised to see a single-cam Saturn in the high mileage section, though a twin-cam car with a manual transmission was a really reliable combination and my preferred ride in the day. I had a particular soft spot for this combo in an SW2 wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll give that at cruise it’s a quiet car, or at least the well used 98 SL1 example I routinely deal with, but it thrums like a motorboat on acceleration, and while it starts off strong, the SOHC 1.9 runs out steam around 40mph, and acceleration is leisurely on out to about 80 or so before I let off.

      My biggest complaint with the GF’s SL1 is the lack of comfort for anyone over 6 feet, it’s not terribly comfortable seating wise, but again, it’s a quiet and well mannered highway cruiser but not an all-day cruiser like my Explorer is. It’s just at low speeds where the big four cylinder vibration comes into action.

      Interior quality….. well lets just say that even my decidedly disco-era tacky ’77 Chevelle’s interior comes up to a higher quality standard compared to the 21 year newer example, It’s functional and serviceable, but feels cheap and looks cheap even amongst the acres of green plastic in the Chevy, vs the beige Saturn.

      According to the forums, the SOHC is the mileage champ, the DOHC is the hot-rod. GF and I carravaned her SL1 and my 00 Contour from San Antonio once. Both automatics, both base four cylinder engines. I got a high of 37mpg, and she beat me with a 41mpg return. The extra 25hp of the Contour could up and leave that little gold bug though.

      I was excited for the new division when it came out, and I nearly bought an SC2 in 99.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I owned two of the coupes (original and 2nd gen), thought the styling was great and the handling also. Got sideswiped by a semi on I-70 in Ohio, spun wildly, luckily the hiway cable barrier saved me from crossing over. Shredded the body but the steel exoskeleton was largely intact.

    Bought a coupe with a blown motor on CL for 150 bucks, put all the panels on my car, the one bent rear corner I pulled out via a rachet puller hooked to a tree. 300 dollar MAACO paint job, and it looked pretty good.

    Still going strong at 200k when I sold it.

  • avatar
    technivore

    I am on my second of these, an ’00 stripper SL with only 115k miles on it. My first car was a ’97 SL that I actually lucked into a power steering assembly with, ended up selling that one in 2005 when I bought a Forester. Then the wife and I moved to the suburbs (of Chicago) and needed a 2nd car so I picked up my current one from a broke grad student for $1700. I’ve since replaced the clutch, brakes, and starter but other than that it’s annoyingly reliable. I take a perverse sort of pride in driving such a basic automobile — it literally has power nothing, no power steering, windows, locks or anything — but in the tiny streets of the old inner-ring suburb where I live it’s perfect for squeezing past hulking minivans and doing horrible things to the 5 speed manual tranny. I’ll probably pass it on pretty soon, having received a request from a friend of the family to buy it from me, and we need something with a third row that’ll likely end up being a Mazda5. But as much as I despise its cheap loud plasticky interior and coffee grinder-sounding engine, I can’t deny that it’s fun to throw around because of its light weight and you absolutely can’t beat it for reliability and fuel efficiency (I regularly get 40mpg highway).

  • avatar
    agent534

    I’m driving a 2000 SL1 with 240miles. 1 engine swap. I get at least 36 mpg, and it doesn’t look bad.
    The sohc has a problem with cracking the head in a spot where the oil will get into the coolant, but water wont get in the oil. By the time my first engine died to it, I pulled a coolant line and straight oil came out. I think the engine I have now is doing the same, oil disappears but there are no leaks, no smoke.Engines are $250 at the yard, so its quite possible I’d throw another in if it needs it

  • avatar
    Acd

    GM never made money with Saturn but their dealers did and managed to show a glimpse into the future of automotive retailing.

    Unlike the rest of the GM brands Saturn dealers had large territories and didn’t canabalize each other by cutting their price by $50 to get a deal. By sticking to a one price model customers got a less confrontational buying experience that for many made up for the unexceptional car they were buying. Saturn gave consumers transparency into the buying process before the internet armed them with information.

    When Saturn became just another rebadged GM car being sold with cheap lease deals and gobs of cash on the hood the one price model had pretty much been thrown away and along with that the buying experience that made Saturn different.

    Like much that has happened with GM in the past 40 years Saturn was a big idea that was done in by poor execution and lack of long term commitment. Roger Smith thought this car was a game changer but those who followed him obviously did not share his vision based on the lack of investment in Saturn after he left and it was left to wither on the vine.

    Only just before the bankrupcy did GM even try to get serious about giving Saturn some competitive products. By then it was too late and the brand became an expense that needed to be cut to save the rest of the corporation.

    Empty Saturn showrooms then provided a way for dealers who were being forced to upgrade to move into better facilities at a lower cost than building new.

  • avatar
    Igoaround940

    I have to put my two cents in. I bought my 1994 Saturn SL2 5 years ago for $1,100.00. It was clean, and in good shape. Everything worked except for the odometer which still reads 129500 miles. I have no idea when it broke and I have put quite a bit of miles on it myself as a Realtor. I must admit it was humbling to come down from a luxury car to a plastic economy car but, I could no longer afford to keep making excused for my Volvo. What I needed was reliable transport while I figured out what my next import car would be. Well, gosh darn it if the little thing hasn’t won my heart. I kept waiting for buyer’s remorse that never came. The little champ is an awesome gas saver which keeps getting roughly 31 mpg, it asks for nothing except routine maintenance. Sure, there are guys out there who swoon over muscle cars and dream of exotics but for me there is nothing better than a reliable car. At the rate my Saturn keeps soldiering on, they will have to pry the keys out of my cold, dead hands!

  • avatar
    SixDucks

    Had a coworker with a late-90’s SL. Car had over 360,000 miles before the odometer gave up. About the only problem he had with it was he had to replace the driver’s seat a couple of time. Just wore the seat out. I figure the car did break the 400,000 mark before he finally retired it. They would vibrate pretty bad when the motor mounts went.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    When Grandma needed to replace a well-worn 1988 Cutlass Calais in the summer of 1997, the Saturn dealer was her first choice. A basic, gold SL1 with crank windows (but power locks) won her over before she even drove it. Compared to the velour-interior, soft-surfaced Olds, the SL’s interior was oddly-contoured and harsh at every touch point. Selling points: Excellent outward visibility, super-simple controls, and the promise of a good relationship with the dealer. The SL served her well over the years, was easily repaired after a couple of fender-benders, and was handed down to my Great Aunt in the summer of 2009. Auntie promptly turned too short and caught the leading edge of the right front door on a small concrete parking lot bollard. This twisted the door frame out and away from the body (plastic skin barely cracked)and severely twisted the door hinge attachment points. Geez…duct tape was employed to keep out the rain. Within months, Auntie coasted through a red light, was tagged directly in the left front wheel, whereby important mechanical stuff began to ooze its lifelbood. Structural components were also torn, though the outer plastic skin was still fully attached! Dammit. Just…dammit. We had hoped to keep the car in the family.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    Well that explains the occasional harsh shift into reverse on my 97 SL2 that we got as a hand me down from Grandma.After over 10 years of driving it, I’ve never loved it but never hated it either since it does a good job of getting us around.

  • avatar
    conswirloo

    I had a 1996 purple SC1, in Atlanta, so Steve might have acquired mine after its last owner. Bought it new and they gave me $1000 off because it was purple and had been on the lot for a year. I also had to deal with the quarter panel, as one frozen morning, a county water repair contractor pulled a u-turn in our cul-de-sac and bonked the saturn with his truck. Dent proof, for a fact. That purple quarter panel shattered, not a dent in sight.

    When I bought the car they lead me to believe that the body panels were molded in color, and you just order it and pop it on. When I took it to the dealership they said I was insane and they didn’t do body work anyway, and pointed me to a shop that wanted $1700 to fix it. I threw $70 at someone on ebay, and had a replacement body panel and turn signal assembly that took 30 minutes for my non-mechanical self to install. It was not purple however, so I then had a mostly purple car.

    I sold it to a friend for $1200 in 2002 or 2003 and he painted that silver panel purple and then blue on top and it looked ok from about 200 yards out. He learned about a year later that you apparently have to change the oil in a saturn occasionally and did something horrific to the engine I think.


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