Saturns are not rare in junkyards and generally I pass right by them. Exceptions are made for old ones to see if I can beat the astounding 556,016 miles that were racked up on one I found last year and, well, that’s about it. But this one obviously grabbed me on a whole ‘nother level, as I thought my sunglasses had all of a sudden acquired a new superpower.
Saturns (initially, anyway) had as one of their claims to fame their plastic body panels. Besides blessing them with the largest panel gaps in the industry due to the growth and shrinkage of the material depending on temperature, they are also impervious to dents and dings, demonstrated at autoshows across the country in the early 1990s with a bowling ball on a rope that would be let loose on an unsuspecting door. Over and over and over again. I imagine the door eventually came to suspect what was about to come but stoically just sat there and took it. But here we have one that somehow lost all of its plastic panels!
This particular Saturn is an SL1. There was also an SL (without the 1) but that was the total base price-leader model that is rarely seen due to not being available with an automatic transmission. If you know anything at all about the U.S. automobile market, you will know that not offering an automatic means you don’t intend to sell very many cars. It is hard to shift while eating a double cheeseburger and slurping 44oz of something carbonated at the same time, hands have their priorities. No power steering either on the SL, but standard on the SL1.
There was also a fancy SL2 that got a more powerful engine, some extra doo-dads and a higher but still no-haggle sticker price. For 1995 (which was the last year of the initial generation) there were some changes made to all of the sedans as compared to the earlier ones which we can explore too.
At first I thought the obvious, that obviously someone somewhere had been in an accident and needed a new set of panels. Or just wanted to change the color of their car. This is after all a self-serve junkyard. But later I realized that this car has its lot ID stickers on the rear panels, those are applied when the car wanders through the not so pearly gates and don’t get replaced even if the rear quarterpanel is removed. So something likely happened to them before the car got here.
I don’t know why the front bumper is still attached though. It’s plastic too and matches the rest of the body colorwise, the rear bumper conversely is just unpainted plastic on the SL1. Maybe someone didn’t like the way it was peeling a bit.
For those not in the know about Saturns, the upper surfaces (hood, roof, trunklid) are still metal, so just as susceptible to hail, rust, and other damage as any other car.
1995 saw a new version of the SOHC engine, still 1.9liters but now with 100hp@5,000rpm and 115lb-ft@2,400rpm, mainly due to replacing the Throttle Body Injection with Multi Port Fuel Injection. It’s a little hard to see but that label on the front crossmember reminds the under that this isn’t an engine, but rather a Saturn Power Module. The label has all kinds of facts and helpful information as to where stuff is, what the correct spec is, etc.
Two is always better than one so here’s a second shot worthy of another thousand words. You can fill in the blanks. I’m sure someone was a service advisor and has some stories. We’ll look at the odometer in a bit so don’t get ahead of yourself with how these never broke 75k miles or whatever.
The logo was designed in 1987, five years after GM first studied creating a new small-car division and three years before the first ones rolled off the line in Spring Hill, Tennessee. It’s one of the best things about the cars (in my opinion) and has aged pretty well. The color here is Aquamarine, being a 1995 model, this is right when that was a most popular color. It was not available on the more base SL model so that didn’t help the sales of that one either.
See, here’s the back bumper devoid of paint. It’s hard to see but the Saturn name is debossed into the bumper, saving GM the money for another badge back here. They didn’t even get model badging, the SL1 had a body color panel between the tail lights (all gone here) and the SL2 had a wide reflector strip between them.
1995 was the year that Saturn sold its one millionth car, surely there were many balloons and hot dogs at dealerships to commemorate the big event. The second million took another four years, not really generating an impressive angle on the growth charts.
From front to back, let’s get a better look under the skin. Here’s obviously the front fender area. The panels were just bolted on to the inner substructure, in this area not so different than most cars. Surprisingly the wheel well liner is still in place, I wonder how far or how long this car may have driven around like this.
Front door. The door handle operates just fine. The rocker panels are missing on this one as well, also being body color. There’s the safety door beam in the middle, window regulator, speaker and the back of the door card.
Rear door. Not much different except no speaker back here.
And the quarterpanel area with a little bit of corrosion under the rear window. Note that with this design there is no real exterior D-pillar structure, just glass bonded to the inner piece and adjoined by the rear door frame.
See, I told you the door opened fine. Note the passenger airbag, two cupholders and different dash design, all new for 1995. Here we can see that the driver doesn’t even have a door panel, just a flimsy plastic vapor barrier and then an internal door card – it seems that the doors have an outer skin, then an internal panel, then a door card, sort of a three layer sandwich.
The interior is Gray, the only color available with the Aquamarine exterior. The other interior color was….Tan. So thrilling.
Here’s a semi-early example of a radio that sort of looks like it could be easily swapped out but no, the faceplate is an odd size, dooming anyone who dares change it to living with some sort of filler plate that never looks right. Air conditioning was optional but included on this one. The four speed automatic optionally replaced the five speed manual on this one and many others.
Always a good reminder when driving a 1995 Saturn SL1 “Superleggera” without body panels. Hey, does the SL actually stand for Superleggera? Nawww, couldn’t be. If you have an accident though, that legend would be imprinted on your forehead, interesting…
The randomest stuff accumulates in junkyard cars. Here there’s a rather large diameter hoseclamp on the seat and there was an employee name badge from Chick-Fil-A. I think your server was named Rachel. Let’s keep moving, it’s time for the money shot.
190,701 All-American miles! Not terrible even if it’s nowhere near the record. In fact this isn’t uncommon even with the unlamented single cam engine. I guess the ones that met an early demise cycled through here a decade or more ago. 26 years isn’t a bad run for a car that was pretty inexpensive up front. Those gauges, I believe also new for this year, are quite nice, almost Honda-like. The twin-cammer got a 130mph speed and an 8,000rpm tach, the 5,500 rpm redline here is on the meager side.
It doesn’t look terrible at all. Decently designed actually, at least visually. Whoever sits in the middle is screwed though, that center console protrudes awfully far back and that’s a huge hump for a FWD car. Maybe it’s not designed so decently after all.
June of 1995 sounds like a hot and humid month in Tennessee. This must have been the last month or two of production for these first generation sedans, the New! And! Improved! (supposedly) second generation 1996 model would be on sale by September of this same year.
Saturn was an interesting experiment and lots of people loved them to the point of either deciding to go work for a Saturn dealership or promote them while doing their regular job. Or drive from across the country to the assembly plant for annual gatherings! And Saturn used all of that in their advertising. I guess let the happy owners sell the cars. For a while it even seemed to work. Until GM stayed GM and people saw right through it.