The car that couldn’t save Saturn
A small, relatively lightweight car with very little luggage capacity and a big, pushrod V-8 wasn’t what the average Saturn customer had in mind when they dropped by the lot to kick tires, but it was exactly what Mallett offered to customers that wanted the ultimate Saturn Sky.
Of all the GM brands in North America at the turn of the century, Saturn was perhaps the least enthusiast oriented, with a business model based on a unique dealer experience with no-haggle pricing and cars that were unique from the rest of the GM lineup. Saturns were built in Spring Hill, Tennessee, on a different platform and with different engines from every other GM brand, at least initially.
Saturn was aimed at taking on imports and getting conquest sales. A buyer cross-shopping a Corolla wouldn’t have much interest in a 900-horsepower drop-top, which explains why there were so few takers when Mallett Performance Cars wedged all-aluminum LS2 and LS7 V-8s where the General had intended only Ecotec four-cylinders to fit. From 400-hp 6.0-liter LS2s all the way to turbocharged, 900-hp LS7s, the V-8 swapped Solstice and Sky were major sleeper cars.
One of the best things about Chevrolet’s small-block V-8 is that it can go just about anywhere. By the time the third generation small-block debuted in the C5 Corvette as the LS1, millions of the first-gen V-8 had been churned out and they had already been stuffed into cars, boats, and just about every other conceivable means of conveyance. While hot-rodders naturally bemoaned the biggest change in Chevrolet’s pushrod V-8 architecture since the small-block’s inception more than 40 years prior, those that looked under the surface knew it would be a boon to horsepower junkies just as the original. It’s such a popular engine for swapping it’s become a cliché. We don’t mind.
By the time the Sky entered production for the 2007 model year, alongside its Kappa platform mate, the Pontiac Solstice, Saturn had given up on its stand-alone platform and engine strategy after two generations of its plastic-paneled and dent-resistant coupes, sedans, and wagons. Saturn’s lineup had been invaded by corporate GM platforms and engines, and it would soon more closely resemble a second coming of 1960s Buick as it rebadged Opel products for North American consumption and sourced vehicles from other GM factories in Germany and North America.
The Sky, based on the concept styling of the Vauxhall VX Lightning, was the sharper of the Kappa twins, as the Solstice took on rounded lines and classic sports car curves. The pair proved to be solid sellers, competing well against the long-reigning champion of the segment, the Mazda Miata, despite bringing along an extra 500 pounds of bulk.
Both Kappa variants were available with 2.4-liter naturally aspirated or 2.0-liter turbocharged engines good for 177 and 260 horsepower, respectively, the latter making for a totally different driving experience but nothing close to the instant pull of a torquey V-8 as offered by Mallett.
A supercharged 427-powered example sold at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale for $33,000 in 2016. That’s less than you’d pay for a more common, yet more capable, Corvette Z06. An LS2-powered version went for $25,500 on Bring a Trailer, also in 2016, about the same price you’d expect to pay for an LS2 C6 today. Not bad for a low-production-run sports car.
The obvious comparison to make is between the Mallett cars and the Shelby Cobra, or perhaps the Sunbeam Tiger. While not a British import, the small drop-top Kappas weren’t meant to handle a V-8 initially, yet by all accounts seem to work quite nicely with a massive boost in power that doesn’t really add a lot of weight. Unlike their classic counterparts, the Mallett cars are far from being high-dollar collectibles, but it is a bit of a surprise that for a brand that had so many ardent fans, the most desirable cars to come out of Saturn weren’t built in their Spring Hill plant and aren’t even powered by their original engines.