Home » The Pontiac Solstice Uses Parts From A Bunch Of Other Cars. Can You Guess Them?

The Pontiac Solstice Uses Parts From A Bunch Of Other Cars. Can You Guess Them?

2008 Pontiac Solstice
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Yesterday’s Shitbox Showdown was a wonderful reminder that in the 2000s, General Motors offered up a pair of low-slung roadsters meant to be affordable fun for enthusiasts. The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky were two bright spots in a difficult era for the General. In bringing them to market, Pontiac and Saturn robbed the parts bins of their comrades, and you might be surprised by how many parts came from other brands.

Welcome back to Parts Bin Puzzle, the Autopian challenge where we give you a vehicle and you figure out where its bits came from! We haven’t done one of these in a while, so Parts Bin Puzzle has been overdue for a new entry. I’ve been thinking about having all of you run down a gauntlet of RV lighting that I’ve seen at RV shows, but that might be mean. Instead, let’s poke around a GM parts special!

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
2008 Pontiac Solstice Gxp
GM

Before we get to the Solstice, I’ll give you the answers to the last Parts Bin Puzzle, which I published back in November 2022. If you remember, that Parts Bin Puzzle involved guessing the model of the RV used in the movie RV.

Those of you who guessed that the coach was a Forest River Georgetown 359 were correct! I also asked you about the motorhome’s lights. Those came from an 11th-generation Ford F-150.

Columbia Pictures

 

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F 150lights

Now, let’s take a gander at these roadsters!

A Bob Lutz Dream

The Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, and their siblings are a set of vehicles that could have only happened thanks to someone like automotive legend Bob Lutz.

When Lutz joined General Motors in 2001 as product vice chairman, he had some big dreams. The General’s portfolio at the time had some great cars in it–the Chevrolet Corvette was in its fifth generation and the Cadillac CTS was right around the corner–but one of Lutz’s goals was to reinvigorate GM with fun cars. One way Lutz achieved this was by striking a deal with Holden to send us some sweet rear-wheel-drive Australian muscle.

As Hagerty writes, Bob Lutz long sat on a dream to bring an affordable American roadster to market. During his tenure at Ford, this roadster idea became the Ghia Barchetta concept, which would eventually morph into the Mercury Capri. While a top-down coupe, its front-wheel-drive layout didn’t quite hit the mark. Over at Chrysler, Lutz’s roadster dreams were realized in the Dodge Copperhead and the Plymouth Pronto Spyder, neither of which reached production.

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This time, Lutz would see his dream become reality. In 2002, the Solstice concept was revealed at the North American International Auto Show. There, Lutz reportedly boldly proclaimed “the North American market is ripe for an affordable, pure roadster executed to top global standards on perceived quality, both inside and out.”

Pontiac Solstice Concept 2002 1600 01
GM

There was just one pretty big problem. These cars called for a compact front-engine, rear-drive platform. As Car and Driver notes, General Motors last had a platform like that in 1987 and the car that rode on it was the Chevette. General Motors’ engineers rectified that with the Kappa platform. It’s a pretty advanced piece of engineering, with hydroformed frame rails, hydroformed body panels, and a double-walled driveshaft tunnel, not unlike a Corvette.

The end result was something amazing. Production Pontiac Solstices hit the road in 2005, followed by the Saturn Sky in 2006.

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Mercedes Streeter

The Sky differed largely in styling that was inspired by the Vauxhall VX Lightning concept car. The Pontiac and Saturn roadsters would be joined by more siblings with the Daewoo G2X and Opel GT. Spanish automaker Tauro used the Kappa platform as a base for its LS3-powered V8 Spider.

Chuck Mallett of Mallett Performance Cars also found the engine bays of Kappa cars to have plenty of room for the LS2 V8.

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Mecum Auctions

As I’ve written about a few times before, I own a Saturn Sky Red Line. This is the performance version of the roadster, which nets you a slightly more aggressive appearance package, a sport suspension, a limited-slip differential, and oh, a turbocharged four-cylinder making 260 HP and 260 lb-ft torque. I will say that a Mazda Miata has a better interior by a country mile, but these are so fun to look at and just as thrilling to drive. If you want my driving impressions, I wrote about them during my tenure at Jalopnik.

But you’re here to learn about the many parts bins robbed to make the Kappa cars a reality. Indeed, to save on costs, engineers pilfered bits from a surprising number of GM vehicles.

Your Challenge

Pontiac Solstice 2006 1600 1f

The base engine of the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky is the 2.4-liter GM Ecotec LE5. It makes 177 HP and 173 ft-lb torque in the roadsters. This engine was shared with a very long list of GM vehicles. For this one, you can name just one of those cars. For a hint, one of them is a crossover.

That engine came with a choice of a manual or automatic transmission. You had a choice of a Aisin AR5 five-speed manual or a GM 5L40-E automatic. What other vehicles used these transmissions?

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I’ll give you a hint that one of these transmissions found a home in a pickup truck and the other was also used in a BMW. One fun fact about the transmission: Car and Driver found these cars to be faster with the automatic!

Shifting to just the Solstice for a moment, where did these fog lights come from?

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GM

And what SUV also had these reverse lights?

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Pontiac Solstice Coupe 2009 1600 04
GM

Moving inside, what car also shared this instrument cluster?

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Popping back outside, here’s a trick question. These mirrors do not come from a parts bin, but have a design inspired by what Italian car?

Mirrors
Mercedes Streeter

Somehow, I’m still not done here. For a reversal in how these questions are asked, what parts of the Kappa cars are shared with the Hummer H3?

When you’re finished with your guesses, click the icon below to check out the result. I would recommend not clicking the link until after you guess, or else you may ruin it for yourself.

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2008 Pontiac Solstice

The Kappas still have more borrowed-parts in them, but I won’t overwhelm you. I also want to note that part-sharing is common and not really something to be worried about. Part-sharing allows cars like these to exist, and I’m happy that we get to enjoy them! Though, I would be lying if I said I don’t get a giggle out of the variety of vehicles that gave a part or two to a Kappa car.

It’s been about 13 years since these roadsters were last produced and it’s a shame we don’t have them anymore; I could see these platforms being quite interesting in this era of electrified cars.

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Sturzer
Sturzer
1 year ago

Reverse lights were common with the GMC Envoy. Pretty sure I only know this because my mom had an Envoy when the Solstice came out.

Bach1991
Bach1991
1 year ago

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Last edited 1 year ago by Bach1991
BoneStock
BoneStock
1 year ago

Next do the Maserati Ghibli!

Wil Randolph
Wil Randolph
1 year ago

HHR Engine, Colorado Atlas-4 cylinder Transmission, Cobalt SS gauge pod. Steering wheel was from EVERYTHING including the vette.

I sold these when new. They were amazing, but the complete and total lack of a functional trunk, absolutely killed them. In 06, I had a choice between a leftover GXP and an MBM GTO and went GTO only because it has some general ability to human outside of a sunny day.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago

Quoting yourself almost verbatim from that post at That Other Place is a little bold

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
1 year ago

IIRC when they started this site either Jason or David said they owned their work from the jello picnic. I’m not sure whether that was part of their original arrangement or something negotiated with whatever ownership Gizmodo was under at the time of unionization though.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
1 year ago

All I know is that it has a Chevy Colorado transmission and a Cobalt engine. God bless GM.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
1 year ago

I had the 5L40 auto trans in my Caddy SRX V6. It was mfg by GM Powertrain in Strasbourg France.

Travis Jones
Travis Jones
1 year ago

So while the solstice trans is an AR5 is a very different transmission from what is found in the Colorado/H3. Not only are the gear ratios different, but the tail shaft and shifter are wildly different, However one vehicle did use an almost identical version of the transmission – the Polaris Slingshot.

The BMW 5 series used GM 5L transmissions.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
1 year ago

I remember specifically the 5-speed came from the Canyonardo

Bruce McDougall
Bruce McDougall
1 year ago

I owned a Solstice Coupe, and IIRC the side view mirrors and AC vents came from the Fiat Barchetta. Not GM parts bin stuff, but leftovers from a different manufacturer.

Timothy Arnold
Timothy Arnold
1 year ago

I worked at a supplier on those cars at the time, and the only reason they called it the Kappa platform was because Chevrolet is insanely protective of the Corvette, so they didn’t want them to say they were built on the C5 platform… but they were built on a very lightly modified C5 platform. That’s why Mallett had little trouble fitting an LS in the engine bay. I saw several V8 Solstice test mules at Milford Proving Grounds but I’m pretty sure Chevy vetoed that idea.

My company did the window regulators, and all we did was start with a C5 regulator and change the down stops so the glass sat properly in the seals when down. Otherwise it was identical to the Corvette part.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
1 year ago

Seems super fun, and want to do. Trying to figure out this exciting new commenting system…..

Oh hey, edited!

Last edited 1 year ago by Jalop Gold
MP81
MP81
1 year ago

The cluster is definitely shared with the Cobalt.

Source: me, staring at mine since 2008

Jack Swansey
Jack Swansey
1 year ago

Wow I got more than I thought I would

TurboCruiser
TurboCruiser
1 year ago

Man that Solstice Coup was sweet. It’s a shame they never got around to a coup version of the Sky before both brands got the axe.

Isis
Isis
1 year ago

Same rear differential as the 2004-2007 CTS-V

Bearddevil
Bearddevil
1 year ago

The parts-binning that stood out for me the most and also made me never want to buy one of these is the steering wheel. Too big, too bland, felt awful, and there wasn’t room under it for my legs.

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 year ago
Reply to  Bearddevil

I agree that the steering wheel on these always seemed too big. One of the oddest parts binning of steering wheels that I experienced from GM was on my 2004 Saturn Vue. If you bought the 4 cylinder, you got the standard plasticky Saturn wheel. If you got the V6 (sourced from Honda along with the transmission), you got the leather wrapped steering wheel sourced from a Cadillac CTS (but without radio controls).

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Yep. I remember the J35-equipped Vue having a version of the Cadillac three-spoke…which wasn’t just used on the CTS, but also the pre-refresh Sigma STS and SRX, along with the XLR. Moreover, the cruise buttons were relocated to the bottom spoke, so GM at least had to spring for a new bezel to make that happen. Likely, it was for a symmetrical look, since the Vue didn’t have audio controls or a provision for them; I’m surprised they cared.

(My Bonus Mom has a 2006 STS-V, and her car has that same wheel).

And then in 2006, all versions of the Vue got the contemporary corporate three-spoke (which was eventually used by everything from the Cobalt to the Corvette)…and that carried over to the redesigned 2008 Vue (itself a rebadged Opel).

What I thought was particularly interesting about almost all of the GM wheels from this era was that they all had circular badges; that way the company could use the same airbag covers across brands, without regard to badge shapes.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyree

The 2008 VUE steering wheel was definitely more Opel than GMNA. I don’t think anything else used that wheel here, and Captiva Sport stuck with it too when Chevy put it into fleet use. However the 3-row Captiva that we didn’t get here had a 4-spoke GMNA wheel such as seen in the facelifted first-gen Equinox, even when badged as a Daewoo in its home market of development. Speaking of the Equinox, the Pontiac Torrent also used the 3-spoke wheel on launch rather than the homely wheel of the original 2004 Malibu/2005 Equinox and the G6 launched with.

That said the VUE was an interesting mishmash of global GM – it used the Black Tie radio and HVAC rather than the more button-heavy Opel center stack.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
1 year ago
Reply to  Bearddevil

Yeah, GM had a huge-steering-wheel fetish for a few years there. I think the unit they used on the W and U bodies was supplied by Greyhound.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago
Reply to  Bearddevil

Yeah, this application was a bit smaller diameter but still large; many GM steering wheels at the time felt like tillers from a ship making the car feel bigger than it was. Aesthetically this one was a vast improvement over some of the other steering wheels in GM’s stable then, even if bland.

OTOH the “Black Tie” radio they were also throwing in everything worked pretty well for the time.

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago

You mean this one? Yes.

Since it was a basic double-DIN radio (although one that played the warning chimes and turn signal sounds), GM put it in just about everything non-Cadillac. Even “captive import” cars that largely had nothing to do with the rest of GM, like the 9-3, 9-5 and Aveo/G3…got this radio. It was pretty good; I agree.

Thankfully, they had versions of it with different LCD colors, for the different brands’ interior lighting schemes. I also found it interesting that GM bothered making versions with different faceplate colors, to go with some cars’ interior color palettes

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyree

Yep – it was a little less impressive in its most base form as in the VUE and ION and I assume the Cobalt too – with microwave oven digits for the display and just numbered presets, and I think it didn’t play MP3-file CDs – but still kept the aux port which was still important at the time.

The Daewoo-based models like the Aveo/G3 were interesting as they had the same design with a slightly different layout, I guess something to make it work with the Daewoo electrics – the CD slot and preset buttons were flipped among other little changes. Even the Epica, Captiva, etc. used that variant.

Speaking of the faceplates, you might remember this too – at the time GM got dinged a lot for not having integrated dash layouts like many competitors, cheapening the interior look. I would have thought maybe leaving off the faceplate on the radio and creating a single faceplate that flow through and integrate the center stack to integrate the radio and HVAC controls might have done the trick on the cheap, but then that wouldn’t be as cheap as how they did leave it.

Astrass
Astrass
1 year ago
Reply to  Bearddevil

GM steering wheels from this era were pretty interchangable. For example, I believe that the Chevy Cobalt steering wheel was the exact same one that was used in this era of Corvette. That’s less of a complement for the Cobalt than it is an insult to the Corvette; I used to work for a Chevy dealer and those things had cheap, awful interiors.

Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago
Reply to  Astrass

Well–as I posted above–the main thing that made them interchangeable was that all the wheels had circular badges. That way, GM could use the same airbag covers across brands, without regard to the badge shape. They didn’t have to make special concessions, for example, because the GMC logo was an irregularly-shaped wordmark/logotype, while the Saturn logo was square. By encasing them both in a circle, they could use the same part. The only brand that didn’t look dorky was Buick, since its badge was already circular.

But yes, they did have several corporate steering wheel designs by 2008 or so:

The large-truck/SUV 4-spoke (Lambdas, GMT900s, Large Vans)– Interestingly, for the Lambdas’ 2013 facelift, GM would remove the encircled badge and do individual airbag covers for each brand’s variant—- Enclave (same as before)—- Traverse—- Acadia—- Acadia DenaliThe large-car 4-spoke (W-Bodies other than Grand Prix, G-bodies)– The SUV version of this shared the same core, but had different surrounds and was modeled to look like the large-truck one, with a smaller diameter (Equinox, XL7)The three-spoke (Vue, Torrent, Aura, Malibu, G5, G6 Cobalt, HHR, Corvette, Solstice, Sky, etc)The Cadillac 3-spoke (STS, SRX, XLR, CTS)The alternate 3-spoke (U-bodies)– The Grand Prix used a version with a slightly reshaped airbag coverThe midsize-truck 4-spoke (Colorado, H3/T, Canyon, i-Series)The old truck 4-spoke (GMT800s, GMT3xxs)
Ad then they still had several models that didn’t use one of those wheels, all of which were captive-import models built outside of GM North America or GM altogether:

Aveo, G3G8— Interestingly, the G8’s steering wheel and interior in general previewed where GM would move globally in its next era of design, under the Global A electrical architectureAstraVibe9-3, 9-5

Last edited 1 year ago by Kyree
Kyree
Kyree
1 year ago
Reply to  Astrass

Well–as I posted above–the main thing that made them interchangeable was that all the wheels had circular badges. That way, GM could use the same airbag covers across brands, without regard to the badge shape. They didn’t have to make special concessions, for example, because the GMC logo was an irregularly-shaped wordmark/logotype, while the Saturn logo was square. By encasing them both in a circle, they could use the same part. The only brand that didn’t look dorky was Buick, since its badge was already circular.

But yes, they did have several corporate steering wheel designs by 2008 or so:

Ad then they still had several models that didn’t use one of those wheels, all of which were captive-import models built outside of GM North America or GM altogether:

  • Aveo, G3
  • G8
  • >> Interestingly, the G8’s steering wheel and interior in general previewed where GM would move globally in its next era of design, under the Global A electrical architecture
  • Astra
  • Vibe
  • 9-3, 9-5
3WiperB
3WiperB
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyree

There’s just something special about a website where we can get off on a GM steering wheel tangent with this much detail. Seriously… it’s kind of awesome.

OldDrunkenSailor
OldDrunkenSailor
1 year ago
Reply to  Bearddevil

IMO the worst part of the steering wheel is that it made it into the Corvette too. Embarrassing.

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 year ago

Bonus… the reverse light on the Sky was used later on the 1st Gen Chevy Volt.

Paul B
Paul B
1 year ago

Even though it was a parts bin special, kudos to the design team as they did a great job integrating the parts into the design that everything looked like it belonged there.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 year ago

If I remember correctly, the fuel tank or something about the rear suspension that necessitated the tank location, came from a Cadillac, which is the reason there’s virtually no space in the trunk.

Bruce McDougall
Bruce McDougall
1 year ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

The hump in the trunk, aka the “Mayan temple” was indeed clearance for the fuel tank and evaporator canister. But I don’t know if it was caddy sourced.

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