(Read Part 1 here)
Since GM’s bankruptcy restructuring, the number of brands in its menagerie has shrunk dramatically. Hummer, Saab and Saturn all went to the same automotive graveyard as Geo and Oldsmobile before them, and their products have become orphans. In turn, those products’ special editions and limited-run models are well down the path to obscurity. Let’s take a look at five of them.
Hummer H3 Tactical
Years produced: 2007
Total production: ?
Certain cars acquire certain images, whether unfairly or not. Who amongst us hasn’t heard the enduring stereotypes of Corvettes being mid-life crisis-mobiles, of the Toyota Prius being owned only by smug greenies, of BMWs being driven by arrogant douchebags that don’t follow road rules. So, too, did the Hummer brand acquire an image for being driven by obnoxious braggarts, contemptuous of the environment and perpetually self-aggrandizing.
Perhaps the brand’s reputation, more so than GM’s financial situation or rising gas prices, was what ultimately did it in. But if you look past the unpalatable image and the hot-pink H2 stretch limousines, you can see where GM was taking the brand: to Jeep’s home turf. The H3 Tactical was one step towards that goal (the rumored, aborted H4 was a more consequential step).
Jeep, after all, had become king of special editions. Remember the Wrangler Tomb Raider? Well, GM wanted to create the same kind of buzz and the Tactical was the H3’s first special edition.
Hummer owners had been stereotyped by some as being all hat and no cattle. The owners took after their vehicles, then. Despite the eco-unfriendly image of the Hummer brand, the H3 was powered by the same milquetoast five-cylinder engine as in the Chevrolet Colorado, producing just 242 hp and 242 ft-lbs. Despite this, EPA-estimated gas mileage was an abysmal 14/18 mpg due to a 4700-pound curb weight.
The Tactical edition was merely an appearance special, with a body-color grille, black brush guard and unique black wheels, among other black accenting. Color choices were limited to gray, black or red. The Tactical edition wasn’t available with the H3’s Adventure off-road suspension package so it was best if your tactics involved the use of roads and other paved surfaces. And it was best if your tactics didn’t involve blending in—why on Earth would GM paint something called “Tactical Edition” bright red?
Years produced: 2009-10
Total production: 2,738
Had Hummer not been sold off by a corporate parent going through bankruptcy proceedings, the H3T might have gone on to have a longer, more fruitful life. Alas, the same fate befell the H3T as it did the Saturn Astra, Pontiac G8 and Pontiac Solstice Coupe.
The Tactical edition had been Hummer’s response to the endless parade of Jeep special editions. The H3T, however, offered something Jeep didn’t, something Jeep hadn’t had for around two decades—a pickup bed.
The H3T had been preceded by the H2 SUT and followed the same formula: take an existing Hummer and give it a pickup bed. A Jeep pickup has been rumored for years but has never come to fruition, although one is tipped to launch next year. Let’s hope Jeep learns from the H3T’s flaws.
Firstly, the H3T was a victim of bad timing. Fuel prices were soaring, the economy was struggling, and GM was in a precarious financial situation. Conventional pickup trucks weathered the storm after a couple of years of reduced – if still exceptionally high – sales figures. One wonders if the H3T would have been so fortunate considering it was much less practical.
Based on the mid-size Chevrolet Colorado pickup, the crew cab-only H3T was 23 inches longer than the H3 SUV and just 18 inches shorter than a crew cab Chevrolet Silverado and around 5 inches narrower. Engines were the same as the regular H3: the 3.7 I5, or a 5.3 V8 in the H3T Alpha with 300 hp and 320 ft-lbs. With a curb weight of 5000 pounds, the I5 was woefully underpowered and not particularly economical. The V8, however, was $6k more and automatic-only.
The H3T, when equipped with the Adventure off-road suspension package, could rock crawl far better than any Silverado thanks to its front and rear-locking differentials and 33-inch off-road tires. Ah, but what if you wanted a truck so you could haul things? This is where the H3T fell down, with a narrow and shallow bed. Payload was utterly unimpressive: 1150 pounds with the base I5, and even less (1015) with the optional V8. That was 200-300 less than a Ford Explorer Sport Trac and, astonishingly, 400-500 pounds less than a Honda Ridgeline. The H3T also failed the 4-by-8 plywood sheet test, while critics were quick to point out getting a quad or dirt bike in the bed – as commonly pictured in Hummer’s marketing materials – proved to be a difficult endeavor due to a high lift-over height.
As an alternative to a H3 for a buyer with additional hauling needs, the H3T made sense. As an alternative to any other pickup truck, it really didn’t. Let’s hope Jeep does a better job.
Geo Storm hatch
Years produced: 1991-92
Total production: ?
Geo was GM’s way of getting import intenders into their showrooms by offering them the small, fuel-efficient cars they desired. Well, one of their ways: Saturn had a similar mission, as did Canada’s Passport and Asuna marques. The execution, however, was very different: Geo was a rag-tag group of imports based on Suzukis, Toyotas and Isuzus.
Isuzu Gemini hatch
The Storm hatch was an Isuzu Gemini hatchback back home in Japan. Although the Storm coupe had a short, four-year run, the hatchback was even shorter-lived.
Arriving a year after the coupe in 1991, the hatchback featured cute, quirky Kammback styling. It appeared to harken back to the Volvo P1800 in that it was a more practical, wagon-esque companion to a popular coupe. The Storm was no hot hatch, however: the hatch was available only with the Storm’s less-powerful engine, a fuel-injected 1.6 four with 95 hp and 97 ft-lbs, while the coupe had a cooking GSi variant with 35 more horses. Both engines were noisy, but only the GSi’s 1.8 was fast.
Photo courtesy of Mr Choppers
The Storm hatch appealed to buyers seeking a more practical option than the coupe. Indeed, headroom was improved by 4.3 inches, making the rear seat a more tolerable place to be even if legroom was unchanged. Those rear side windows also popped out or could be removed altogether, making for an airier cabin. But the Storm was still a smallish (163.4 inch long), three-door hatchback. Many buyers in the market for a small, sporty runabout may have preferred the coupe’s rakish styling, and the coupe also had a hatchback. Those seeking a practical, efficient compact might have preferred the five-door Prizm, which undercut the Storm hatch on price. The Storm hatch, therefore, occupied a very small niche. Its arrival didn’t boost sales and it was booted from the Geo lineup after just two model years.
Saab 9-7X Aero
Years produced: 2008-09
Total production: ~500-600
Ah, Saab. Manufacturers of efficient, compact, front-wheel-drive hatchbacks purchased by New England professors. Producers of smartly styled convertibles purchased by the young and upwardly mobile. Sellers of… body-on-frame, LS2-powered, Ohio-built muscle SUVs?!
Yes, indeed. We’ve covered before the stories of the Saab 9-2x and 9-7X, hastily rebadged Saabs sourced from the GM extended family. The latter was the more tone-deaf of the two, the first SUV to wear the Saab badge.
It’s not that having a Saab SUV was a bad business decision – Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini are launching SUVs soon, after all – but the 9-7X was simply a heavily massaged GMT-360 mid-size SUV. Yes, it was the best GMT-360 but it was supposed to do battle with vastly more modern and refined German and Japanese crossovers.
Sales never amounted to much, unsurprisingly. Perhaps to spur interest in the 9-7X line, GM decided to Saab-ify the TrailBlazer SS. This hot muscle truck had become easily the most memorable member of the TrailBlazer family thanks to its aggressive styling tweaks and its 6.0 LS2 V8, which pumped out 395 hp and 400 ft-lbs. This engine was brought over mostly unchanged to the 9-7X – detuned only slightly by 5 hp and 5 ft-lbs – and the flagship Aero designation was dusted off, even though past Aeros had used much smaller, turbocharged engines.
Other than polished 20-inch wheels and a 1-inch lower ride height, the Aero didn’t look much different from a regular 9-7X. This made these trucks terrific sleepers, something helped by the paint job—you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was charcoal. The LS2 could haul 4800 pounds of Made-in-Ohio truck to 60 mph in under 6 seconds. The gas station shortly followed, with the mandatory four-speed automatic and aforementioned hefty curb weight resulting in a dismal 12/16 mpg.
Ah, but who cares? At $49k, the 9-7X Aero blew the doors off of any other luxury SUV or crossover at that price point and handled surprisingly well for a body-on-frame truck with a live rear axle. Besides, nobody was paying $49k for these with all the incentives around at the time. The only fly in the ointment was the 9-7X cost around $10k more than a TrailBlazer SS but, while still inferior to rival luxury SUVs, the 9-7X’s interior was vastly better than that of the Chevy and the features list was longer.
Today, these Aeros are mostly forgotten. If you see one for cheap, buy it, if only so you can say you own a LS2-powered Saab.
Saturn SL Homecoming
Years produced: 1994, 1999
Total production: 3500 (1994), 4000 (1999)
Saturn was marketed as a different kind of car company, with a separate retail network from the rest of GM, no-haggle pricing, and a dedicated factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Another way Saturn stood out from other GM divisions – and other car companies – was its homecoming event in 1994. To commemorate this weekend picnic/concert/reunion/PR goldmine, Saturn introduced a commemorative Homecoming Edition of the SL2 sedan.
Homecoming Editions wore unique pearl opalescent paint and leather-and-cloth seats. Other niceties included a leather-wrapped steering wheel, alloy wheels and fog lamps, plus the usual equipment found on the top-spec SL2 trim and its option packages.
44,000 Saturn owners and employees – some from as far as Taiwan – made the trip in 1994 to Spring Hill. Saturn may have been unprofitable but they had fostered tremendous loyalty from their owners, as well as their salaried ‘retailers’ (salespeople) and workers. At the Homecoming, Saturn workers all wore jerseys with a ‘2’ on the back—because the owners were “number one”. Hokey, yes, but how many other car companies could get 44,000 people to show up in one place and pay admission? In the middle of summer, no less!
It stood to reason that Saturn would throw a follow-up event, which they did in 1999. Once again, there was a commemorative S-Series and once again, it was a loaded SL2 sedan with unique paint (now “Gold Green”) and cloth-and-leather seating. Unlike the first SL2 Homecoming, which came equipped with a five-speed manual, the ’99 model had the four-speed automatic as standard. There were also special badges and a unique gauge cluster.
Saturn needed larger vehicles to give their loyal customers something to move to but, as GM furnished the brand accordingly, Saturn’s vehicles became less unique. Although retailers held events and the Spring Hill factory remained open for tours, there would be no more Homecomings after 1999.
In the following (and final) instalments of this series, we’ll be looking at some obscure Chryslers and Jeeps. Stay tuned.