It is January 2008. I am a freshman in high school. I have successfully just completed my first semester of high school and managed to keep my parents exceptionally busy driving me eight miles from our house into town for a slew of school activities. At this time, my dad started traveling more for work. He would be gone for most of the week, leaving my mom to tend to run the house and take us kids to all the activities that kids do. My mom’s 2005 Ford Taurus was getting many miles driving us kids everywhere kids need to go. Pit stop #1; recently my dad and I mentioned the white Taurus to my mom and she swears she never had a white Taurus. In finding photos for this series, I found a photo of the car. I sent it to my mother and her response “that was a time of my life when I was so busy that I don’t remember much, other than I was really busy.” I guess a white Ford Taurus, while a staple to daily activity for a couple of years, can just be forgotten about like one forgets about what they had for dinner last week.
I mention the Taurus, because this was the car I racked up most of my miles with my learner’s permit. In the winter of 2008, I earned the much coveted Iowa School Driving Permit. Iowa has what is known as the “school permit.” This allows any student who is at least 14 ½ years of age, completes an Iowa-approved driver education course, holds a learner’s permit, has a clean driving record, and lives more than 1 mile from the school they attended, to drive from their home to school by themselves. In the community I grew up in, obtaining your school permit was a very big deal. Everyone counted down the days until freedom was granted to them. If I think backward in time, waiting to obtain my learner’s permit and my school permit, were two monumental moments for me in my adolescent years. I counted the days until I could apply for these items. So at the start of 2008, I was armed with my school permit and ready to start driving to school, only problem was, I did not have a car to drive.
This brings us to where we left off last. My dad had sold my Fiero GT and promised he would have a vehicle for me to drive. He did say I had input on what the vehicle was. This had me excited. However, life got in the way. On January 22nd, 2008, my father’s father passed away. My grandpa Nels was a man who I owe for getting me hooked on cars. When I was maybe five, he came to our house and gave me a 1950 Mercury Coupe matchbox car painted in plum purple. I was hooked. That was the start of an extensive matchbox car collection. My grandpa was also not one to own a vehicle for more than a couple of years. He was constantly driving something different. He was one who liked cars and appreciated a good car story. On a dreary Tuesday morning, he passed away. His funeral was on the other side of the state. My family was going to leave the following morning and make the six-hour drive. Problem was, my dad and I were in the middle of shopping for my next car.
99% of the population would have put car shopping on hold to go to their grandfather’s/father’s funeral. On the evening of our departure, my parents were discussing the travel arrangements for the week that would follow. It was decided that my mom and sisters would leave early in the morning in our 2005 Chrysler Town & County, and my dad and I were going to “quick go look” at a car in the morning, and then follow behind in the Taurus. The next morning, my dad and I headed off to a local used car dealership run by the local Toyota dealership in town. All the non-Toyota cars taken in on trade were brought here. There were two cars that had caught my eye in the local classifieds; a 2000 Ford Mustang V6 with a five-speed manual, and a 2002 Saturn SC2, also with a five-speed manual.
At this point in my life, I did not know how to drive a manual transmission, but my dad’s request was that his kids would all have a manual transmission car as their first vehicle. I liked this request and was eager to learn. I had chosen these two vehicles for two different reasons. I always wanted a Mustang (and still do) and I knew my dad would not let a new driver have a V8 Mustang. The V6 5-speed checked the “I desire this car” box and the “must be a manual” box. The Saturn checked a different box, up to this point, I had never really paid attention to Saturns, but in finding the ad, I did some research and learned the car had a plastic body much like my Fiero and had this nifty third door on the driver’s side. We arrived at the dealership, met with the dealer, and took the Saturn out for a test drive.
At the time, the car was just over six years old, had just over 50,000 miles on it, was a one-owner car, and was exceptionally clean. My dad did the test drive, as I could not drive a stick. He commented that the car was peppy, yet not too powerful for a new driver. If memory serves me correctly, the dealer wanted $6,000 for the car. My dad thought about it, and at the spur of the moment, he asked the dealer what it would be if he traded in the Taurus. The dealer came back, and for a couple of hundred dollars, the “forgettable” Taurus was traded for a “sporty” Saturn. Trading the Taurus off was not a part of the original plan for the day. My dad and I then moved our bags to the trunk of the Saturn and headed off to the NW corner of Iowa.
My dad and I were somewhere between Des Moines and I29 when we realized the wiper blades on the Saturn were shot and were not going to do anything in the heavy snow that was starting to come down. We pulled off at an exit, bought some expensive gas station wiper blades, and before we got back in the car, my dad threw me the keys and said something like “no time to learn than the present.” So I pointed the car west and learned how to drive a manual transmission on the interstate while it snowed. Surprisingly it went well and somewhere north of Omaha, I felt like I could drive this car to school by myself. As we got closer to my grandparent’s home, my dad made the comment that his father would have approved of us buying a vehicle the day after he died. I know it would have made him happy.
At this point, I have written many words about how the Saturn came into our family’s possession, but little words about the car itself. The Saturn was a 2002 SC2, meaning it was the last year of the original “a different kind of car company” vehicle. It was the top trim, so it had the 1.9L DOHC putting out an earth-shattering 124 hp. As far as Saturns go, our car was pretty loaded, as it had power windows, locks, mirrors, keyless entry, a CD player, fog lights, alloy wheels, and a sunroof. Most importantly, it sported the third door that became a standard feature on Saturn coupes in the late 90s. The door quickly transformed this small coupe into a very useful car. With the front door and the back door open, almost any large item could be swallowed into the car with little ease.
What I have not mentioned yet, is the Saturn was to be shared with my next youngest sister. Since there are 375 days separating me from her birthday, my sister was going to be driving not far after I started. I was okay with sharing the car, as I was going to get the car to myself for the first year! That first year taught me a lot about driving. In that first year I learned the following: how to rock a car when it gets stuck in the snow, what happens when you leave a sunroof open in the rain, how to not roll backward when stopped at a hill in a manual transmission, what happens when you try to start a car in third gear, stall it in traffic and get flustered, and experiencing what happens when you try to stop quickly in rain in a car that does not have ABS.
After my sister got her learner’s permit, the Saturn soon had to be shared. My sister and I have always gotten along very well, but for a span of about 12 months, sharing the Saturn proved to strain our relationship. We would ride together to school, but often would argue in the driveway over who got to drive. We would also argue over who got to keep the keys during school. Eventually, I got smart and let my sister keep the keys, and I put the nifty “valet” key that came with the car, in my wallet. My parents took notice, and as my sister and I started doing different high school activities, they realized sharing the Saturn was not going to be a long-term answer.
This is where my car ownership story gets a little confusing. I got a different vehicle, which will be my next COAL, but that did not mean I was done with the Saturn. As I moved on, it stayed in the family. My sister proceeded to drive the car through high school and then through college. It served her six (mechanically) trouble-free, but very hard years. It soon became a magnet for bodywork. In my sister’s ownership, it hit a deer, was hit while parked at the high school, got stuck in a touchless car wash and had the front bumper damaged, got hit at a gas station while my sister was getting gas, my sister hit another car, got a dumpster set on the hood in a parking lot (as my sister claims), and my sister’s friend’s sister side swiped it at her friend’s house the day my parent’s picked it up from the body shop. Not to mention, the car went into many ditches on gravel roads of Johnston and Cedar county due to inclement weather and my sister driving too fast on gravel. The car was a tank. It only ever suffered cosmetic damage and never once gave my sister any mechanical grief. After six hard years, the car was handed down to my youngest sister as her first car. The Saturn did what it did best, and taught a new driver what it was like to have your own car. My sister then proceeded to drive the Saturn for another two years. In her ownership, it hit a second deer and managed to slide into the ditch one or two times. My dad lost count of how many different bumpers, fenders, and headlights were put on the car.
All during this time, life moved forward. I graduated high school, went off to college, graduated college, and then moved four states away. Whenever I would come home, I would try to get some behind-the-wheel time in the Saturn. You see, most people would just see a cheap, beat-up compact car, but to me, the Saturn was too loveable. Almost like an old friend who you do not see often, but when you do, your friendship would pick up right back where it left off. Which leads to Round 2.
In the fall of 2018, my dad called me one day and asked if I wanted to buy the Saturn from him. My older sister had recently bought a different car, and my younger sister was going to get her old car as an upgrade from the Saturn. At this point in time, the Saturn had 138,000 miles on it, but they were hard miles from us kids. It had various battle wounds from all the years of abuse but was still a good car. He said if I did not want it, it was going on Craigslist, A deal was stuck and a few weeks later the Saturn was sitting in my driveway in Michigan.
At this point in my life, I was single and had two other cars in my driveway. What was I going to do with the Saturn? It soon became my everyday car. I drove it to work, used it for errands, and with the third door, managed to pick up bulky items, like a full set of 19 in rims with tires on them. I loved every minute of it. It was not new, fast, or sexy, but it was reliable, and if pushed, the DOHC and the manual proved driving a slow car fast was enjoyable. I found myself driving it more than my other vehicles, which were much more interesting than an old Saturn.
Pit stop #2: I must take a quick stop to mention the durability of these Saturns. This car did most of its driving on gravel roads. Gravel roads are not easy miles on a vehicle. They like to wear suspension parts and test how well a car, more specifically, the interior will hold up from rattles and squeaks. After 10 years of gravel driving, the Saturn’s interior was rattle and squeak-free. The only complaint was the sunroof motor would vibrate in the headliner and be very annoying. During this time, the car also gained weight from all the limestone gravel dust that would collect under the vehicle in hard-to-clean places.
But all good things must come to an end. In the spring of 2019, I was presented with an opportunity to inherit a vehicle from a family member(future COAL). I still had my other two cars and decided four cars and being single was not a good recipe. I decided to part with the Saturn. I sold it to a friend, who then drove it for a couple of years. Much like myself, he found the car charming. To this day, my sister and I still talk about the car fondly. We view the vehicle as a dear friend. Someone who went through a lot with us in our formative years. I could write many more paragraphs about the Saturn, but I will not bore you with all those memories that mean more to my sister and me than to anyone else. My dad jokes that if GM still made the original Saturn, he would go buy one. I would be next in line behind him, as the original Saturns proved to be really good cars.
Please step inside my time machine, as we much go back to January 2009 so I can fill you in on what came next. Much like the Fiero, it needed some special love to be roadworthy.