Good morning! Today is November 2nd, el Día de los Muertos in Mexico and elsewhere, a day when families pay their respects to departed loved ones and celebrate their lives. I thought it fitting, therefore, that we pay our respects to two gone-but-not-forgotten automotive brands. (It is also All Souls Day, but I really didn’t feel like talking about Korean subcompacts.) Continuing with our Interstate theme for the week, today’s choices are both within shouting distance of the ends of Interstate 80.
But before we pay a visit to the dearly departed, let’s finish up with yesterday’s V8s. I had a feeling this one might be close, and I was right.
Just ten votes separating them as of this writing. I’m on Team Mustang, for what it’s worth. A BMW sedan would have to be a good ten or fifteen years older than that before I’d touch it.
Now then: GM’s money troubles, bankruptcy, and subsequent restructuring in the 2000s left a trail of dead nameplates. Oldsmobile went first, then Hummer, Pontiac, Saturn, and Saab all got the axe, though Saab was sold off to Spyker and died a slow death. Opel and Vauxhall were later sold off to PSA (now Stellantis). And poor Holden staggered along, mortally wounded, for another decade, giving GM’s American customers some of its coolest cars in a long time before calling it quits.
Between these marques, there were some great cars, far more interesting than whatever Chevy or Buick crossover dreck GM is churning out now, and nearly all of them better looking than those appalling current-generation full-size pickups. Today, we’re going to take a look at two of them, a Saab and a Pontiac.
Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.3 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Fairfield, CA
Odometer reading: 140,000 miles
Let’s just finally admit it: GM had no business owning Saab. The Swedish automaker not only marched to its own drummer; it invented its own percussion instruments, and sometimes even made up its own time signatures. GM had its wild moments – the Corvair and the Toronado come to mind – but most of the time it put out a steady back-beat you could dance to. To further torture the metaphor: If GM was Phil Collins, Saab was some mutant offspring of Gene Krupa and Neil Peart, on some serious mind-altering substances. GM was out of its depth. A rebadged Subaru and a Chevy SUV with its ignition switch in a weird spot were just no substitute for the twisted genius of the 99 Turbo and the Sonett.
The 9-5 is about halfway along Saab’s transition from “roadgoing jet” to “weird Chevy.”
[Ed note: Oops, Mark got the Saab 9-3 and the Saab 9-5 confused, partially because the seller of the car also seems confused about what this is. It does indeed have the 2.3-turbo engine which, in this form, probably has the 227 horsepower version of the B235R engine. The platform is shared with Saab 9-3 and Saab 900 Next Gen. We regret the error. – MH]
Saab interiors were always a nice place to be, and this one looks like no exception. It’s driver-focused, and distraction-free, especially when you switch the instrument panel to “Night” mode, an idea that should have caught on. The leather is in decent condition, and the weird fragile cupholder that folds out from the dash appears to be intact. It’s a sign that someone was careful with this car.
Outside, it’s pretty clean, except for a decent dent in the right rear door. Ordinarily, I might bemoan the choice of silver when actual colors were available, but Saabs look good in silver. And I love the many varieties of three-spoke wheels Saabs wore over the years, and these are especially cool.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Totowa, NJ
Odometer reading: 93,000 miles
Runs/drives? I assume so, but the ad is a little terse
The Pontiac Vibe traces its roots back to the early 1980s, when GM and Toyota joined forces to form New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. This joint venture built Toyota Corolla-based vehicles in GM’s Fremont, California factory, which were sold as Chevy Novas and later Geo Prizms. After 2002, when the Prizm was discontinued, the NUMMI factory switched to Toyota’s new Matrix wagon, GM switched their version from Chevy to Pontiac, and the Vibe was born.
This base-model Vibe is powered by Toyota’s 1.8 liter 1ZZ-FE engine, coupled to a four-speed automatic. It’s a sturdy enough drivetrain, if not the most inspiring. A higher-horsepower engine, five- and six-speed manuals, and all wheel drive were all options the original buyer of this car didn’t spring for. This is another one of those very terse ads, and we get virtually no information about the car, but I assume that if they mention that it has been equipped with remote start, it must run and drive. Besides, at only 93,000 miles, it should barely be broken in.
The low mileage explains the car’s condition inside and out. It looks practically new. I really wish we had some more information about its history and condition. Too many sellers forget that Craigslist doesn’t charge by the word like the printed classifieds did – you can be as verbose as you like. Give us something to work with!
I really like the Vibe, and I came close to buying a Matrix once. It’s a good size, with lots of room inside and tidy proportions outside. And like the Chevy Nova and Geo Prizm before it, the Vibe flies a bit under the radar in the used car market, and largely avoids the dreaded “Toyota tax.” A Matrix with this few miles, in this condition, would probably cost a grand or two more.
Thousands of car companies have come and gone, of course, and not a few of them were bought, and later axed, by General Motors. Pontiac and Saab are just two of the more recent ones. Neither of these are brilliant cars, but they both have their place in the history books, and either of them would make a better-than-average cheap used car, I think. Which one is for you?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)