eBay Find of the Week: Orphaned-brand Saturn is still out of this world
In the context of collector cars, Saturn doesn’t come up very often. The GM brand’s first cars hit the market for the 1990 model year, so early examples are certainly old enough to meet almost any such definition. But are any Saturns worth a second look?
In this example, we have a sporty, top-of-the line SC2 two-door model in seemingly low-mile and all-original one-owner condition. Yes, a five-speed manual might add some allure, but when is the last time you saw an SC2 in such fine shape?
Saturn was General Motors’ skunkworks. The thought was to get away from the entrenched politics of the larger corporation, develop a new factory with different operating partnership alongside the United Auto Workers union, a different kind of retail network, and a different type of car. GM wanted to prove that an American company could compete with imported brands in the small-car arena.
Saturn was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of GM (as opposed to a marketing division), with a new factory in Spring Hill, Tenn., an innovative UAW agreement, and dealers that owned entire city-wide marketing areas. (Instead of three dealers competing with each other, the thinking went, it was Saturn against the import competition.) It also championed no-haggle sales practices, as well as widely lauded marketing efforts aided by the homespun drawl of Hal Riney and Partners advertising agency. All told, the company had demand exceeding supply for the first few years of its existence.
The cars themselves offered innovations. Like polymer side body panels that didn’t dent. And engine and transmission made on site and not shared with other GM brands. The twin-cam model for sale in the U.S. generated 124 horsepower, and the car was fairly lightweight at 2,400-odd pounds, making for decent performance in its day. The SC2 even saw some success in SCCA racing by a factory-backed team.
Alas, those engineering and marketing expenses also meant that profits were slim to non-existent. This was compounded by the fact that Saturn didn’t offer another larger vehicle option for more than 10 years after the launch of the SL/SC/SW platform. The company didn’t do a wholesale redesign of its small-car platform during that decade, either, save for a re-skin in 1996.
GM absorbed Saturn into its corporate structure as a division in the early 2000s. Its later models did away with the polymer panels, and in some cases were rebadged versions of other GM products. Saturn closed as a part of the General Motors bankruptcy in 2009, joining Pontiac in the annals of orphan brand history. Early cars, like this SC2, however, represented a lot of excitement and hope. Preserved examples are still out there, meaning somewhere in the ether, the excitement endures.