Earlier today, our Thomas Hundal wrote a retrospective on the Saturn S-Series and how it was an innovative car, but ultimately a dead end. It’s such a shame because it seemed General Motors had something really special on its hands. Saturn as a brand made buyers feel like family, workers feel like a real part of the company, and the cars had a few tricks that made them stand out.
Seriously, in an era where getting bodywork repaired can cost as much as some new cars, I bet the plastic panels of an old Saturn would be welcome. Plastic panels were one thing that made Smart stand out during its short existence here in America. And in these days of crazy dealership markups, just walking into a dealership knowing you’ll be paying a set price would also likely be welcome. Saturn of the 1990s was something special that we might not see again, and that’s sad.
Our piece made a number of readers come out of the woodwork and tell their own experience with Saturn, and it seems that for many, the experience of buying, owning, and living with a Saturn was memorable. Normally, we would nominate a funny comment or two, but today, we’re giving nominations to two comments that tugged at our hearts.
Anchor recalls a time when they worked at a Saturn dealership that kept binders full of photos of Saturns leaving with happy owners:
I spent two years out of tech school working for Saturn, I think the biggest issue was going to badge engineering instead of spending money on the S Series, Saturn customers specifically don’t want a Cavalier, so making them buy one just sends them out the door.
We used to get the announcement over the intercom when there was a delivery so we could all go cheer the new owner on as they pulled out of the bay. They would get a picture taken with their car and we would put it into a photo album that was there, I think we had 5 binders when I left, you could watch peoples kids grow up as they came back every few years to buy new ones. One of our salesman had a series of photos he always went back to where you saw Dad buy a 92, then a 96, then bought his daughter a 2001 as her first car and she was in every picture. It was honestly something special.
We hired one of our parts guys because he would buy wrecked and broken S cars and spend time with us buying new parts to flip them. He used to do 15-20 cars a year.
Jb996 also has fond Saturn memories:
These cars have a special place in my heart. I drove a 2000 Saturn SL1 from 2002 until 2016, putting about 260k on it, driving across the country about 4 times. Manual windows, no power steering, 5-speed manual. It took me from a single guy in college, to a married guy with two kids and a commute. I sold it in 2016 to a guy, and in my mind it’s still going strong.
I had no issues with it aside from general maintenance, a new clutch at 200k, and a valve cover gasket at 220k. Fuel economy was amazing at 40+mpg.
They were great cars.
And it was 5 billion well spent. Look at production quality pre-1990 and then post-2000. Competition from Japanese imports drove quality competition, but internal competition from Saturn showed GM that their workforce actually COULD take pride in their work and could actually produce a quality product. It’s too bad that the Dealership experience didn’t stick.
I will join them. I learned how to drive manual transmission in a gold Saturn SC1 coupe. That car had the kind of honest simplicity you rarely find in cars today. You knew what you were getting into when you got behind the wheel. It’s a car that got you from point A to point B in style while just sipping on fuel as you drive there. My favorite memories about that car were the great visibility, the large, crisp instrument cluster, and the attractive coupe body. My family has similar experiences with Saturn; the brand and its cars were just so easy to live with.
It’s a shame the concept of Saturn didn’t last. Were Japanese cars better? Maybe, but every day, I still look at those old Saturns fondly. Occasionally, I even consider buying an old one. Have a great evening, everyone!