Home » Saturn Could Have Made A ‘Different Kind Of Car’: A Convertible Pickup Truck

Saturn Could Have Made A ‘Different Kind Of Car’: A Convertible Pickup Truck

Saturn Drop Top Truck
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Many Autopians look at badge engineering with the same disdain typically reserved for gaudy Indianapolis 500 pace car replicas or the 1-877 Cars For Kids jingle, but I can’t throw that blanket condemnation on the idea. The rather identical under the skin Firebird and Camaro each have their own personalities; early Mustangs and Cougars have distinct identities. The idea can work.

Of course, for every success there are several epic fails. The Subaru WRX-based “Saabaru” 9-2x was quirky and fun enough to display its Saab badge, but the Trailblazer-with-a-key-on-the-floor 9-7x was every bit the “we need a Saab SUV RIGHT NOW” phone-it-in that it appeared to be.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
Saabs
General Motors/Saab via NetCarShow

The brand Saturn started out as a clean-sheet-of-paper project that shared nothing with any other GM division. Thomas has written extensively about this, but the general story is that while the resulting Saturn S Series wasn’t a better car than Civics and Corollas, it was far better than contemporary Cavaliers. More importantly, the brand pioneered customer service and relationship building ideas like no-haggle pricing and owner’s “reunions” where 28,000 owners showed up in 1994 for a multi-day celebration (good luck finding you blue green SL1 without a plate number there, buddy).

Even the dealerships had unique “launch bays” to send the owner off with a cheer of “I SAY..I SAY..SATURN!!”. Here is hair-tucking “Julie” getting her new beige SL2:

Screenshot 2023 07 31 At 10.54.36 Am

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Today, now-fiftysomething “Julie” has to go through the whole “what would it take you to get you to buy a car today?” shit when she goes to get her latest vehicle (and one of many reasons why fiftysomething me keeps cars for at least a decade to avoid that). Doesn’t that look like a magical place in the ad? Note how they don’t even show full views of the cars themselves in the ad because the car is secondary to the experience.

This launch ceremony was likely done thousands of times at this sad, now-abandoned suburban Chicago dealership:

Dealership
The Bishop

Sadly, when it came time to expand the brand, Saturn had no choice but to offer reskinned and relabeled larger sedans, vans, and SUVs. Again, I’m actually not against such an idea, but only if this so-called “different kind of car company” actually offered different kinds of vehicles (at least the Saturn Sky was a rebadge of a fun and unique car). What if they DID offer such a unique machine? Maybe a convertible pickup truck?

It’s amazing how drop top pickups never caught on. Dodge offered a rare factory (well, ASC modified) convertible of the Dakota from 1989 to 1991, and it sold quite poorly.

1989 Dodge Dakota Convertible 01
Chrysler

During the “mini truck” boom of the early nineties, numerous firms offered kits to slice off your compact pickup’s roof and remount it (you kept the removed roof at home or dropped it in your bed).

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Chevy S10 89

Just the thing to go along with your custom spinning bed. No, this really was a thing. Get out your Vuarnet shades, teal parachute pants, and high top Reeboks:

Screenshot 2023 07 31 At 10.55.02 Am

The love-it-or-hate-it Chevy SSR was a retractable hardtop pickup, but it was really a “pickup” in profile only.

Chevrolet Ssr 2001 1280 01
General Motors via NetCarShow

The “bed” was essentially a large, carpeted trunk, the front foot or two of which was taken up but the top mechanism:

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Screenshot 2023 07 31 At 10.55.14 Am

Interestingly enough, someone actually tried to homebuild a Saturn pickup out of an old Vue. As our Thomas reported, the end result was shockingly appealing for something that we posted to ostensibly laugh at:

Saturn Vue Ute 1 1536x864
Facebook Marketplace via The Autopian

Our Saturn convertible truck needs to be unique compared to other GM brands, so we’ll start with a concept that the General showed but never produced- the Colorado SS concept. This custom version of the new-for-2004 S-10 replacement featured an LS2 V8 and automatic transmission from the ’05 Corvette making about 400 horsepower and 400 pound feet of torque, pretty heady figures for the day. Body modifications, 20 inch wheels, and a covered bed. It’s a two door with an extended cab with forward facing ‘jump’ seats (since you just CAN’T make a four door truck as cool as a “coupe”). It’s rather too bad that they didn’t proceed with this GMC Syclone-for-the-2000s.

The Saturn O/Zone Redline could take on a very Saturn-like nose to replace the signals-above-the-headlights face of the stock Colorado truck. Still, the drivetrain and cosmetic changes are secondary to the special roof mechanism.

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Unlike the Chevy SSR, I want this to be a real, functional pickup truck with limited compromises. First, the ‘targa’ section electrically slides back over the extended cab area. This way you can get open air riding for all four passengers:

188400 2a

Next, the rear roof section can lower itself down over the extend cab area. This could be done by the key remote as well:

188400 3

Once the rear section of the roof is lowered, the ‘targa’ section is level with the bed cover. This means that you can still put cargo under the collapsed roof, but the rear jump seats are no longer usable, rendering this a two seat full convertible. This idea was explored half a century ago when Lee Iacocca wanted to revitalize the idea of a ‘two seat’ Thunderbird. By the sixites, all T-Birds had back seats, so a fiberglass cover was offered as an option to temporarily block off the rear passenger compartment for a ‘sporty’ look:

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Tbird
Board Arrow Auctions

Within around sixty seconds, the whole thing can be returned to its original closed state, and at no time does it affect the covered (or uncovered) bed.

188400 1

The O/Zone truck would be a way that Saturn could offer a car vehicle shared with other brands, but unique enough to fit the ‘Different Kind Of Car’ theme. I do seriously doubt that ‘Julie’ would want a dark purple 400 horsepower truck with a roof that opens from the key fob, but if she did the launch bay at her freindly Saturn dealership could provide it.

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Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
10 months ago

This looks awesome, but there is a flaw, and it’s a fatal one: The roof needs to be as wide as the top of the body to drop into place like that. And that happening is rare indeed, even on really boxy vehicles. Most car greenhouses narrow as they move towards their roofs (rooves?). I suspect this Saturn would be the same.

Otherwise, someone needs to build one of these. I nominate someone other than me.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
10 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

“Most car greenhouses narrow as they move towards their roofs…”

The fancy term for this, borrowed from naval architecture, is tumblehome.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
10 months ago

I can’t believe how much I want this.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago

A cool idea torpedoed by the roadster pickup last being successful in the early 1930s. I love the idea of Saturn as the skunk works division but I feel like true innovation would have been a Citroën XM clone with the Honda V6 out of the Vue Redline.

Merl Lewis
Merl Lewis
10 months ago

GM did ultimately make a v8 Colorado. Starting in 2009 you could get a 300 hp 5.3

Church
Church
10 months ago

Shut up and take my money, Saturn! Oh, wait…

Drew
Drew
10 months ago

This looks like exactly what I would want. I could still throw a couple passengers in the back seats for short trips, unlike the SSR. I have always kind of wanted an SSR, but never enough to deal with its various shortcomings. You get the utility of a large-trunked roadster with the efficiency of a full-size pickup.

Last edited 10 months ago by Drew
Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
10 months ago

a dark purple 400 horsepower truck with a roof that opens from the key fob

yes please!

Cuzn Ed
Cuzn Ed
10 months ago

As my mom would say, “You ain’t right.”
…I like that about you, Bishop.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago

A Saturn with 400 hp — what could go wrong?
I’ll have to send this to the former gf responsible for me becoming familiar with Saturns as she liked the idea of the Baja.

The render looks good, Bishop. And, personally, I think the concept is sound.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
10 months ago

It’s not terrible. Even as a hard-top, I would drive this thing.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
10 months ago

Another winner for The Bishop. Just wish car companies were still willing to offer more uncommon designs for those of us on the fringes.

I bet the convertible Dodge Dakota commands higher prices today than other contemporary Dakotas.

Zerosignal
Zerosignal
10 months ago

I don’t know if I trust early 2000s GM with all the moving parts to make that convertible work.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
10 months ago
Reply to  Zerosignal

What do you mean, the Pontiac G6 hardtop converti–oh…

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
10 months ago

“VUE” would actually be an appropriate name for the convertible…

Given the timing of the Colorado + Saturn’s lineup changes, if Saturn were to offer a non-polymer-paneled, shared truck, I think the nose would have been less like the 2002-05 VUE. By 2004, Saturn’s design language was moving away from the the look with no grille between the headlights – the original Sky concept and the Curve concepts sort of signaled it (although those were more Seat-like). We’ll ignore the Relay just like GM preferred us to do, but maybe something more like the Outlook front.

Knowing GM it would have had the Colorado’s lights still, but perhaps they’d let Saturn be different and borrow from the global variants like the original Isuzu D-Max.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
10 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

If they stamped the Saturn brand name in the tailgate like they did the rear bumpers, they’d have been ahead of that trend in pickups today too.

Scott
Scott
10 months ago

Your convertible Saturn pickup looks great Bishop! Just like that Vue someone took a Sawzall to. Something about the gently rounded and unassuming snoot of those Saturns lends itself to a lot of different looks.

I bet Julie’s still cute, even all these years later. 😉

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Julie started a multinational injection moulding business that made, among other esoteric items, both OEM and aftermarket wine bottle glovebox inserts. The long hours led to a crippling addiction to freebase cocaine, and Julie was eventually arrested for manufacturing nearly invisible drug smuggling compartments for GM vehicles. She picked GM due to its extensive badge engineering, which cut down her R&D and quality control time by 70%. Her suppliers and runners loved this as they were able to use a wide variety of different, interchangeable, and mostly anonymous vehicles for their smuggling activities. She used her Saturn as a test bed, and her frequent trips across the border tipped off the feds, who soon raided the third factory she had recently opened in rural New Mexico with some state and local incentives for job creation.

After serving a 13-year sentence, Julie is now a motivational speaker earning 6 figures per TED talk about entrepreneurship, addiction, and running import/export businesses. She remembers where she comes from and drives a beige Aztek.

Last edited 10 months ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
V10omous
V10omous
10 months ago

 the 1-877 Cars For Kids jingle,

I promise I’ll go back and read the article, but I have to jump down here to say it’s Kars not Cars.

K
A
R
S

KARS for kids

Anyways, carry on.

Outofstep
Outofstep
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

That’s what I was about to do. I was also going to curse him for getting it stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

I still have ABBA’s greatest hits lodged in my brain from a viewing of Mama Mia last week, and I will not have you dislodging them with this filth.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

There is no jingle that I loathe more than cars for kids. I REFUSE to spell cars with a K.
I also wonder why people think it is clever to replace a ‘c’ with a ‘k’ but never the reverse.

Motorhead Mike
Motorhead Mike
10 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

The only exception to this is when referring to a Kissel.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
10 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

I’m open to another exception for Kookie.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

What if you’re Scottish, is it OK to spell clan with a k?

Chris D
Chris D
10 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

They are fraudsters at Kars for Kids. 29 years begging for donations and they have yet to give even ONE CAR to a kid!

(It’s actually a “charity” in New Jersey that supports kids going to a summer camp in the Catskills, and every now and then gives away coats and backpacks. They have processed over 40,000 car donations, and happily accept boats and real estate as well. Methinks they need a thorough audit.)

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris D

You misunderstood. K-A-R-S for Kids. Kids Ain’t Receivin’ Shit.

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