There is something about those buzzy, plastic, oil burning, Saturn S-Series. They are terrible. But, I find them amazing in just as many ways as I find them awful.
GM, you were on the right track with Saturn. You built an honest competitor to the Japanese imports. Observing the 1992 SL2 once in my proprietorship I could see where the designers and engineer’s ideas on how to beat Honda and Toyota were approved for production. A lot of the S-Series makes sense. The curved front and rear glass all but eliminates blind spots, the turn signals and wiper controls are surprisingly ergonomic. The space frame design and lost foam casting process for the engine block made the handling and fuel economy extremely competitive. The plastic body panels hold up extremely well so even a crusher bound S-Series can look presentable. Try finding a 200,000 mile Civic as dent and rust free as an equal mileage S-Series, I bet it would be quite a challenge.
I find the miles these S-Series can accumulate to be astounding. When I look at the mileage of crusher bound vehicles, besides Cold War era European vehicles and most body on frame domestics, I encounter the most jaw dropping odometer numbers in these blown out S-Series.
I was having a conversation with one of my good friends concerning the S-Series the other day. He told me “It’s like they built it to succeed in the used market, not the new market…” which I think sums up the S-Series quite well. He then went on to describe his most memorable moment in an S-Series. A time when he was a passenger in the back of his friend’s SL1 whom mistakenly identified an unmarked roundabout and proceeded to go the wrong way into oncoming traffic. He swerved to avoid an oncoming car thus jetting the SL1 into a curb. This obliterated the entire front end, rendering the car completely totaled. Then the airbags went off.
Unfortunately for Saturn, this new kid on the block was given a cold shoulder by the older and more influential brands of GM. When I take notice of the following S-Series model years, I find it painfully clear where a lot of those ‘Yes’ decisions and ideas of improvement from the early days turned into countless replies from the high-ups of: “No, I think it’s just fine.”
I once purchased a 1992 Saturn SL2 in response to acquiring a new job and the desire to find a car more substantial than my base model 92’ Tercel I was driving at the time. I purchased it from a fellow on craigslist for $1150. When I was initially looking over the car for consideration I noticed the faded Texas inspection stickers on the windshield. Also, the lack of rust on any of the suspension components led me to believe this car moved to the Midwest not too long ago. With 190,000 miles on the odometer I was very surprised of the SL2s excellent condition. The interior was immaculate; no stains on any of the carpets, even all of the plastic interior bits still had that fresh dull look before years of wear gives everything plastic the hand touches a shiny smooth surface. Almost as if the original owner wore cotton gloves every time he drove this SL2.
The charm of this well thought out vehicle soon buzzed and rattled its way into a complete annoyance. I found interstate driving to be a punishment due to the short ratio five speed, horrid engine vibrations (even with new mounts) and compact size. The SL2 was nice around town and for small trips but I never felt comfortable driving it. I found it fatiguing. Road trips, an endearing pastime of mine, were out of the question. I then understood how a bird feels with its wings clipped.
Perfect the first words my brother said when he saw my SL2 were “This is the exact type of car I’ve been looking for.” My brother, battle weary from seven years of 3rd generation F-body ownership, was trying to simplify his transportation. He wanted something he didn’t have to constantly worry about. He was to the point where any car that wasn’t going to snap its transmission linkage in rural Indiana during the middle of winter or stall out and have to get towed from the Indianapolis International Airport arrival zone, or stall out once again in the middle of rural Indiana during a crucial college booze run would be a suitable replacement for his current ride.
I owned the SL2 for just a few months before I sold it to my brother. I didn’t sink much money into it so I agreed to sell it to him for the price I bought it for. This purchase made the acquisition of a 1991 Volvo 740 possible. A vehicle I am thoroughly enjoying to drive.
I find myself conflicted on what opinion I should carry of the Saturn S-Series. On one side I think about all of the faults of that car. I think about when I commuted in that SL2 and how terrible mornings were. To wake up to the infinite interior vibrations during my drive to work was dreadful. I never want to experience a commute to work with sub-zero temperatures in an S-Series ever again. Along these lines of thoughts I think the S-Series is junk and should be forgotten forever.
On the other hand, I think of my brother. When he owned that Camaro he was tense, you could see it in his attitude and voice. He owned a 1992 Z28 25th Anniversary Edition, a beautiful vehicle he was very proud of. But to have pride in a sports car, as any car enthusiast can describe, can weary the soul. Concerns of scratches, dents, idiotic drivers and all other forms of wear and tear are equal to and sometimes greater than the joy received from actually driving the car.
This may sound strange, maybe it is an observation only a brother can notice about his brother, but I have noticed a change in my older sibling. In the past, traffic jams and clueless drivers enraged him. Every time it snowed, he cursed. His temper was always short. But when he purchased that SL2 from me and after a couple months of driving it, no longer did I hear of complaints of terrible travels. Less and less now do I hear about some idiotic driver who got in his way or cut him off. He approaches strangers with a smile and less a frown these days.
You can almost see a change in the way he laughs and what he laughs at. I hear less of his critical and snide remarks about the fallacies of humanity. More often we now share chuckles about the mysteries of everyday life. He is a friendlier guy now.
There really is something about those Saturn S-Series.
Related: 1992 Saturn CC: GM’s Deadly Sin #4