Junkyard Find: 1996 Saturn SC2

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The Saturn Division spent the first half of the 1990s printing money for The General with its no-haggle pricing policy and plastic-bodied cars that only rusted in areas you couldn't see easily, and all those cars were based on a single platform: the S Series. Today's Junkyard Find is an example of the sporty coupe version of the first-generation Saturn S, found in a Denver-area boneyard recently.

The sedan and wagon versions of the S Series, the SL and SW, had been facelifted for the 1996 model year, but the first-generation SC with its pop-up headlights and smooth sides held on for one last year.

As we all know, the 2000s didn't work out so well for Saturn, with the aging S Series replaced by the Opel Vectra-derived L Series and then by a bunch of machinery few were able to distinguish from other GM products. After 2010, Saturn was dead, its demise overshadowed by Pontiac's death and its legacy not even as strong as Geo's.

But we're not here to mourn Saturn. We're here to praise this SC2 for staying on the road for close to three decades and well over 250,000 miles.

This being a top-trim-level SC2, it has a twin-cam engine and a nicer interior than the SC1.

The defective hood-latch mechanism prevented me from shooting engine photos, a common problem on GM cars of this era, but we can assume that the original 1.9-liter DOHC engine and its 124 horsepower/122 pound-foot engine was still there. The transmission is the base five-speed manual; the optional automatic added $830 to the price (about $1,658 in 2024 dollars).

The (no-haggle) MSRP for this car was $13,295, or about $25,557 after inflation. That year, American car shoppers could buy a new 1996 Honda Civic DX coupe with five-speed manual for just $11,720 ($23,411 now), but that car had a mere 98 horsepower.

The Civic's Integra sibling had three more horses than the SC2, but its price tag started at a daunting $15,460 ($30,882 today).

Of course, the '96 Integra came with air conditioning and power windows as standard equipment. This car has neither. The $14,200 ($26,365 now) Chevy Cavalier Z24 coupe and its 150hp Quad 4 probably stole more sales from the SC2 than any Honda product ever did, anyway.

When the left-side mirror got broken off, this car's owner fixed it with fiberglass.

The drawback to the plastic body panels was their tendency to break, especially after a decade or two of service.

Oldsmobile was gone after 2004, not long after Geo had to endure having its final two models torn away and handed to Chevrolet in 1997 and 1998. Pontiac production continued a bit longer than Saturn production, but both were dead and buried by the end of 2010. At least they outlived Isuzu by a bit here, though Saab held on for a bit longer. And, hey, Opel and Vauxhall remained in the GM Empire until fairly recently.

You couldn't even find used Saturns in 1996, because nobody wanted to sell them (some suspension of disbelief required, though the Cult of Saturn was still in effect at that time).

Jet pilots prefer the SC2 flight simulator.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

1996 Saturn SC2 in Colorado wrecking yard.

[Images: The author]

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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2 of 43 comments
  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 EngineerfromBaja_1990 on Mar 05, 2024

    I never owned an S-Series but I can recall my previous 2003 Saturn Vue with the Ecotec and 5spd manual had pretty much the same instrument cluster and steering wheel with a few touch ups here and there like the switch from analog to digital odometer

  • Her65763625 Her65763625 on Mar 07, 2024

    The Saturn L-series did not replace the S-series. The L was a larger car, for Saturn customers who outgrew their S-series. The S-series was replaced eventually by the Saturn Ion.

  • Wjtinfwb Job cuts and EV's... is that a winning strategy? You're locked in to substantial labor expense after the UAW agreement signed a few months ago. And EV's ain't exactly flying off the shelves en masse. Get the new Charger out already, it's been teased more than the Bronco and Supra were combined. Get a real Hybrid option out for the RAM trucks and big Jeeps that consumers will buy. Consider bringing back a Gen 3 Hemi with an aluminum block, direct injection and perhaps a Hybrid option to counter the Toyota debacle and get a jump on GM. Dump the Hornet and build Dodge a version of the Jeep Compass they can actually sell. A Dodge with Alfa bones isn't compelling to either brands fans. Fix the Durango's oil cooler problems to avoid alienating police departments nationwide. Do you want every cop in the US driving an Explorer? Freshen up the Pacifica and get Chrysler a cool sedan or wagon that can create a buzz like the 300 did more than a decade ago. And fix your dealers, they are by a large jackasses. Plenty of opportunity for improvement.
  • 3-On-The-Tree True that’s the worst beat down in history.
  • Jalop1991 Tesla has made getting repairs a real headache for some owners, as the automaker hasn’t allowed them to get work done at third-party shops. That policy has led owners to seek  class-action status against the company,So, move next to the airport then complain about the noise.Got it.
  • Jalop1991 One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign companyNational Lampoon, May 1981.
  • ChristianWimmer This W126 example looks very nicely maintained and very clean inside and out. Definitely owned with love and respect. I can see Bill from Curious Cars selling this thing! My father drove a second hand bare bones facelifted 1985 Mercedes 300SE W126 back in the day until the early 2000s which eventually got passed down to me. The previous owner had only paid extra for a sunroof and automatic transmission. It had black cloth seats, no A/C, manual windows, no cruise control and those ugly plastic hubcaps which were so common on 1980s Mercedes’. I drove the 300SE for about seven years and enjoyed the comfort and pretty low running costs: reliable and also relatively fuel efficient. If you drove it normally you could get it to sip 9 L / 100 km. Motor oil consumption was pretty high as it got older needing a top up with 1 L of oil every 1,500-2,000 km, but this was apparently normal on the 3.0 inline-6. A comfortable long-distance cruiser and it even “handled” pretty nicely when you attempted to drive it in a 50% sporty manner on some backroads. After the free-for-all parking lot it usually parked on got demolished and parking such a huge barge became a problem, I ended up selling it to a local classic car club which still own it to this day and display it at classic car shows. Great memories of that car. 420SE/SEL and the 560SE/SEL are nice but the thirsty motors are something of a turn off.