Saturn: A cornerstone of my childhood that will never return

By Colin Wood
Feb 11, 2024 | Saturn, Nostalgia | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Colin Wood

Long ago, before the turn of the century (21st not 20th), there existed a car company that very well could have been the best in the world. While the company was not killed off until 2009, it’s pretty obvious that its glory days were the ‘90s. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Saturn, an experimental branch of General Motors that didn’t survive the recession of the late ‘00s.

Some of my earliest memories took place in the backseat of my family’s maroon 1993 Saturn SL. Everywhere my family went, that Saturn went. It was the first real car my parents bought as a family car.

Before that, my mom drove around in a Chevrolet Astro van (it only had the two windows on the back and no rear seats) and my dad drove a 1980 Toyota Celica which, unfortunately, met its end after hitting a patch of ice on a New Jersey on-ramp.

My favorite part of that Saturn, though, was the Yakima bike rack that my dad had fitted to the car. Cycling has always been one of my father’s biggest passions, and so it was a practical choice for him. You have to remember that this was the late 1990s/early 2000s, where that sort of thing wasn’t as cool as it is now. (Most people at the time were still trying to get their cars to look like Brian’s Eclipse from The Fast and the Furious–underglow and all.)

I vividly remember the trips we took to the Saturn dealership to get the car worked on. The best part was that we would make a day trip out of it because it was about 30 miles away from our house. Of course, I was still pretty young and I didn’t know much about cars, but I still had fun looking at all the vehicles for sale on the lot. I would give anything to be able to go to that Saturn dealership again.

The last time that I recall going to the Saturn dealer was pretty close to the time when they closed. I distinctly remember seeing posters of the Saturn Sky throughout the dealership and the brand-new Saturn Astras out on the lot. At that time I was just starting to get the point of cars, and the Saturn Sky sure did look awesome.

And then, it was all taken away. Saturn died.

Essentially, General Motors wasn’t doing too well with the economic recession and decided to slim down its portfolio to just Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC, leaving the fates of Saab, Hummer, Pontiac, and Saturn up in the air. Attempts to sell the brands met with varying degrees of success, with Saturn’s being one of the deals that, perhaps not surprisingly, fell through.

Regardless, Saturn will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a shame that I still can’t buy a new Saturn today. I’m not quite as mad at General Motors as I used to be, but I still wish something had worked out, as improbable as that would have been. For now, all I can do is hope that Saturn will rise out of the ashes by someone crazy enough to get it going again.

But that is most certainly unlikely.

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L5wolvesf Dork
6/28/23 9:19 a.m.

In case you are homesick


wae PowerDork
6/28/23 9:35 a.m.

First new car I ever bought was a 1997 SL2 with the 5 speed in a beautiful dark blue.  They did a thing where your car would be inside the dealership for delivery, they'd take your picture, and then you'd drive it out of the building.  Pretty neat experience overall.  I loved that little car and occassionally miss it.  It wasn't particularly good at any one thing, but I enjoyed driving it.  I did wind up having to have a motor put in it when it was only about 4 or 5 years old with 130ishk miles on it.  But I hadn't really developed my mechanical empathy at that time and I suspect it had more to do with how it was owned than how it was built. 

I know they wanted to move up-market and do what all the cool kids were doing, but they really just lost the script when they became just another re-badge of GM products.

TJL (Forum Supporter)
TJL (Forum Supporter) Dork
6/28/23 11:00 a.m.

I was always impressed by their NEW sales technique. My whole fam went to the saturn dealership in daytona sometime mid 90's. Of course we expected to he assaulted by the sales goons as soon as we parked. 

Instead, a single sales guy greeted us on the lot, he says his obligated schpiel, whatever welcome to saturn, etc.  After greeting us quickly, he says my name is Rudy, take a look around the lot, let me know if you need anything, i'll be inside" and off he went inside to let us just do our thing.  We were all dumbfounded and majorly impressed. Close to 30 years later im still impressed. 
and we bought a green SL2. Good car but mom put some crazy mileage on it in the first year, like 50k+ miles and i dont think the car was real happy about that. We needed more room anyways so it got traded on a big baller ford aerostar! It was actually our 2nd aerostar. 

bluebarchetta Reader
6/28/23 11:12 a.m.

Love the S-series.  When my wife's Accord rusted to the ground in 1998, we bought her a '95 SL1.  Then my dad lost enough vision that my mom had to start driving more and wanted a Saturn like my wife's.  So we sold Mom the '95 SL1 cheap and bought my wife a brand-new '01 SL2, complete with the picture-taking experience wae described.  Then my wife got pregnant, so I sold my Miata and bought a '98 Sl2 5-speed, which was an absolutely great car.  Then my mom decided she wanted a coupe, so she bought a '99 SC1, but still loved the '95 SL1 too much to sell it.  Which is how we ended up with FOUR S-series for three drivers for a while.

My son is 20 and he has fond memories of being driven everywhere in Saturns.  The first car he ever got to drive was the '01 SL2.  All our Saturns got sold off at one point or another, except Mom's '99 SC1, which she crashed last year.  Naturally she had to have another S-series.  We found her a nice '01 SC2 90 miles away.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
6/28/23 11:38 a.m.

Glad my family wasn't the only one that had good experiences with Saturn. I was too young to really get it, but I remember both my parents going on about how nice it was that Saturn didn't do the typical (at least back then) car-buying song and dance.

The main desk in the lobby always had donut holes (the really cheap ones, probably from Wal-Mart), and I was always allowed one while we waited.

Side note: If you look hard enough at the lead photo, you might be able to see me sitting in the driver-side rear seat. My dad is behind the wheel, my mom is the person waving and my brother is seated behind my mom.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/28/23 1:46 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

That photo rules on so many levels. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/28/23 1:47 p.m.

And JG had a Saturn, too. Rather fast E Stock car at the time. 

Lateralgforce New Reader
6/28/23 5:31 p.m.

My first from-a-dealership, with-a-car-payment car was a 1995 SL2 that looked nearly identical to the car above, except for body color bumpers. It got stiffer lowering springs and struts, sticky tires, ceramic brake pads, a cone air intake and a custom exhaust. It took on daily driver duty, went to car shows, got a thrashing in STS autocross, a few HPDEs and even some runs down the local 1/4 mile. I had a blast with that car.

And I wasn't the only one. I met a bunch of cool people doing similar things and formed great friendships. I met a woman who ran a mean Saturn drag car with a ram air intake. I met a guy who campaigned his Saturn in One Lap of America.  I knew a guy that took one to rallycross school. I was just talking to one of my old Saturn buddies about the time we campaigned a white 1994 SL2 in the $2004 GRM challenge. For me, before the answer was always "Miata" it was always "Saturn S-Series". I miss that car.

EricM SuperDork
6/28/23 6:08 p.m.

Hawaii 1993, my wife and our 1993 sl2 5dpeed manual.  Ordered it from the factory. All options except lethar and the aluminum rims.  No E36 M3, got 40mpg on the highway. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/28/23 6:39 p.m.
wae said:

First new car I ever bought was a 1997 SL2 with the 5 speed in a beautiful dark blue.

I am not a color geek, I don't really get worked up about this or that shade of whatever.

Except for THAT blue.  It was perfect.  My dream Saturn is a '95 SL2 in that color.

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