By on June 2, 2014

10 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinEven though the Saturn S-Series has been one of the most common vehicle types in American self-service wrecking yards for at least the past decade, I’ve always walked right past the SCs and SLs when I’m looking for vehicles to photograph for this series. The rise and fall of the Saturn marque is a fascinating story, and the S-Series spent much of the 1990s being driven by fanatically devoted owners who appreciated the distinctly un-GM-like experience of buying their cars. The SC2 has been one of the quicker and more reliable cars in 24 Hours of LeMons racing as well, but even that wasn’t enough to make me raise my camera when I passed a whole row of the things at U-Wrench-It. It took this red ’97, with its metalflake flame job peeking through the snow at a Denver yard this winter, to give us a Saturn Junkyard Find.
15 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Someone loved this car, but then it got wrecked hard enough to render it not worth fixing.
16 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPerhaps King Credit has an in-house staff of flame painters, who apply flames to any vaguely sporty car that shows up in their inventory.
03 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe flames are executed very nicely, with clean edges, gold pinstriping, and generous application of metalflake.
07 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI didn’t feel like freezing my fingers to lift the hood and verify that the twin-cam engine was there, but I’m assuming that nobody would bother to paint such beautiful flames on a lowly SC1.
13 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThough I’d also say the same thing about an automatic car, and so perhaps I’m wrong and this car is a single-cam SC1. It has been crushed by now, so we’ll never know.
14 - 1997 Saturn SC2 Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAbout 10,000 miles per year during the course of its life, so this car’s owners got their money’s worth before the big crash.

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28 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1997 Saturn SC2, With Rare Badass Flame Job Option...”

  • avatar

    Perhaps there is a Saturn geek among the B&B who is able to pick up a clue from the photographs that will clear up the SC1/SC2 mystery. The red line on the tach or something like that. The rest of us can only wonder.

    • 0 avatar

      The internet suggests that for this generation:
      * Mirrors/Door handles – SC1 had black, SC2 had paint-matched.
      * Tach – SC1 redlined at 5500, SC2 at 6500
      * Speedometer – SC1 tops at 110, SC2 at 130

      Based on that (and ignoring the mirrors/handles since the car might have had a full re-spray along with the flamework?) I’d say it’s pretty sure to be an SC2.

      • 0 avatar

        Nice work, the only detail I picked up on was the “2” level painted mirrors. I might also argue 1.9 DOHC would still be on the road 15 years in as so many of the SOHCs are off the road at this point.

        • 0 avatar
          Nicholas Weaver

          The SOHC was probably more reliable than the DOHC. Our SC1 (95, owned since new) went off to the crusher last years with 200k miles after failing smog, but was otherwise solid reliable.

          For 95-98, the SC series was every bit as good or even better then the comparable Civrolla. Pitty GM never kept up, and instead gave us the excretable ion…

          • 0 avatar

            I’ve heard recently about SL1 head cracking issues, but I have never owned a “1” to confirm or deny. I seldom see the SC but I see gen 2 and 3 SL2s frequently (which is by their painted bumpers).

      • 0 avatar
        I've got a Jaaaaag

        The front bucket seats were different. The SC1 had 1 piece seat backs and SC2 had the adjustable headrests.

        The SC1 was not available with factory fog lights as this one is.

        On a side note this was a pretty heavily optioned car, the power windows and locks in 1997 also included keyless entry. Rear Disc Brakes means it had ABS (no ABS meant you got drums in the rear) IIRC these options added about $3000 to the cost of the car.

        (Yes I was a Saturn nut I bought 2 of them new a 1995 SL1 and a 1997 SC1 after a Nissan Pathfinder sandwiched me between it and an F150. Both Airbags deployed, destroyed hood trunk and fenders meant totaled even for a 2 year old car. I drove the SC1 for 9 years.)

      • 0 avatar

        And the fog lights. you can still see those little buggers under there.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to work at a Saturn dealer in the early aughts and learned to spot some cues. The sc1/sl1 had simpler 1 piece seats without an adjustable headrest and 100 hp single cam motors. The twin cams had the more deluxe seats with their 124 hp mills. Another fun fact is that 97 was the lone year the twin cam S cars had rear disc brakes with drum brakes being the norm for all other configurations/model year S cars.

  • avatar

    Ah, memories. The first car I bought was a 2001 SW2.

    It was a wagon, a stick-shift, the price was fair and the purchase process was easy – all the things I wanted out of my first car.

    38 miles to the gallon, dent-proof, rust-proof bodywork… I even loved the center-console window switches – I could adjust them without taking my main “steering” hand off of the wheel. I got 78,000 miles out of mine in 4 years before somebody doughnutted their way into my lane during a snowstorm and killed it.

  • avatar

    Ahh Saturn. My sister had a 95 Sedan, in white over beige cloth. It had the most rubbish interior of any car I’ve ever been in, which includes the 97 Daewoo Lanos I owned while in Korea.

    One time I saw a similar vintage Sedan, in pearl white with leather, alloys, and a sunroof! I was in shock, as I didn’t know they could be so highly optioned, and I felt like this was rare.

  • avatar

    I never really liked Saturn’s products, I rode in a couple of them and they sounded as if they were about to explode.

    Although their story is very interesting.

  • avatar

    I always kinda liked the SC.

    There’s still plenty of SLs and SCs with high mileage and 5 speeds on Craigslist round here, like so.

    That’s 90s Honda Civic mileage right there! I know that for a fact, my neighbor got a ’97 Civic up to 245,000 miles and still managed to sell it for $1800.

  • avatar

    Aside from my namesake Firehawk i also have a 97 SC2 stick. I bought it in 08 with 36k miles on it and today it only has 58k. It’s been super reliable and a pleasure to drive. It’s great on gas great in the snow handles competently and is reasonably quick. I’ve managed to top 40MPG highway with it and with clear headlights and clean silver paint the car still looks nearly new.

    I was lucky to get a nearly fully loaded model with alloys, sunroof, full black leather etc. the only missing option was the ABS/Traction control. I can’t see myself ever giving this car up as long as it keeps going like it has. 17 years and going strong!

  • avatar

    Fellow down the block from me owns a SC1 with 285,000 miles. A seat spring gave up last week and ripped his suit jacket. He uses it to go to school everyday.
    He just brought more duct tape and patched the seat. Starts everyday and never left him stranded since he brought it new.

  • avatar

    Don’t understand why people don’t remove those dealer stickers from the low-rent car dealers. I know it’s vain, but if you don’t have to, why advertise to the world that you are (probably) getting pounded with a ridiculous interest rate from a buy here pay here or similar.

  • avatar

    This vehicle is probably the handiwork of an undocumented immigrant, who probably doesn’t care about what the low-rent car dealer sticker conveys to the Jones in the next town over. They do this in my area all the time, usually with a fourth generation GM F-body or a later model J-body, though I’ve seen the treatment applied to oddball cars like this.

  • avatar

    I worked at a Saturn dealer in 1999. When sales were slow (and that was nearly all the time), they GM would make us pick through old service records and cold call current owners. Though it was not an authoritative survey, I would also look at what they came in for so I would have a thin excuse to hold a conversation. Over and over I saw records for failed ECU or transmission computers to the tune of about $700 each time it happened. I had quite a few uncomfortable conversations with owners who were still furious about an expensive repair outside of warranty and I was the a-hole who had the balls to ask them if they wanted to come in and buy another.
    The worst part is this is when the L-series/Opel Vectra landed and we were supposed to push that turd on everyone to upsell them.
    Bad times, it’s a shame that Saturn was pissed away to nothing despite all the good will that (most) owners had for the brand. The business about people in the factory waving and smiling for the cameras wasn’t BS. On a plant tour, they all did it when the tour train came through. Maybe they were forced to, maybe not, but it didn’t feel fake when they let us talk to a few people on the line.

  • avatar

    My God, it’s full of stars

  • avatar

    Got a 2006 Saturn Ion Quad Coupe traded in this week. About 100,000 miles on it, but just rough inside and out. Not sure if it’s GM’s fault, but this car is depressing and unloved. Cigarette burns everywhere in the interior, the front suspension seems destroyed, right mirror hanging by the wires, scuff along the right quarter panel and bumper. No rust at least, yay plastic body panels! I figure it needs about $2000 in recon, and for a car that retails at $4500 on a good day, not worth it. Auction ho!

    • 0 avatar

      Canada is probably different from a pricing standpoint but even 45 seems high. Feels like 3 and change for a unloved car in poor condition and under recall from its mfg.

      • 0 avatar

        In this condition you couldn’t retail it for more than a grand or a grand and a half, I think. Picked up the car as part of a package deal from the sister dealership, overpaid doesn’t even begin to describe this one.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Mine was a 1994 station wagon with the SOHC , bought for the wife , 2 years old at the time , with 60k miles . Agree with above comments about the horrible interior – honestly the least comfortable front seats of any car I ever owned , including sixties cars with bench seats .Throw in constant rattling from the plastic body and Eastern bloc levels of interior fittings . On the other hand it was pretty reliable , for a while used daily by my wife and myself as a commuter car , as we worked different shifts, and both of us were commuting about 50 or more miles a day . Due to that , attained extremely high mileage , with over 275k miles on it when it was rear ended and totalled out . In reality it had more like 300k miles , as for 2 years the odometer/ speedo worked only about half the time .Luckily it had a 5 speed and I could guesstimate how fast I was going using the tach .A crappy disposable car , but still feel a bit nostalgic about it and have often thought about buying another one as a second car .

  • avatar

    My 1996 SC2 is still going strong at 337K miles, and the mods from Saturn Performance Systems in the late 90s have made it a very fun yet cheap to run commuter for 18 years. At 217K I had a friend rebuild the engine(and the clutch replaced for the first time!), the car was that good and worth keeping. Still is, and he tells me “that car pays you to drive it at this point”. All the advantages PhilMills stated above were true for me, and I can get 40mpg if I keep it at 55 (that rarely happens, though).

    I much prefer the first gen SC designs to what came later, and the memories of being treated well by sales and service at the dealerships remain evergreen. The memories of what GM did to Saturn later are something most of us satisfied S series owners prefer not to think about.

    The “lack of refinement” and NVH some people complain about in the S series are advantages to those of us who value a basically sound car design that communicates what is going on very honestly, unfiltered with no computer trickery obscuring things. The visibility of the 1991-1996 SC1 and SC2 is the best of any car I’ve ever sat in. And the SC2 trim level interiors were nice enough for the cost, I’m a slim 5 11 and the seats hold me very well. Ergonomics in the cockpit are great, at least for my arms and legs. I guess a lot of S series are headed for the scrap yards these days, but unlike the dreaded Ion, most of them will be missed.

  • avatar

    Ha, late last year I picked up an automatic ’98 SW1 with under 27k (not a typo – under 27,000) original miles. Little old lady, garage kept, never driven in bad weather, you all know the story. The little wagon still had it’s original tires, belt, battery – I think even the wiper blades were original.

    Replaced all the stuff above, new motor mount, changed the fluids, plugs, wires – and it runs like a new example of the genre. With luck and some care it will last my son for many years and he’ll be tired of driving it long before its service life is over.

    It’s a tiny, noisy economy car with cheap seats, excellent visibility, and a surprisingly responsive chassis. Too bad it’s a slushbox.

    • 0 avatar

      I recently acquired an SL2 sedan myself with 30, also with original everything. Consider changing the trans fluid prior to 50, mine looks/smells pretty good but I often remind myself its over 12 years old.

  • avatar

    Yeah I had a 95 Saturn SL1 when I was in college. Bought certified pre-owned from a Saturn dealer. One of the less reliable cars I’ve owned. Never left me stranded but constantly had puddly stuff crapping out on it. Still, the dent/rust proof body was the bomb up in the snow-belt, and I got 32 mpg in it, with an automatic and driving it like I stole it.

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