Tag: saturn

Saving Saturn: A different kind of car collector  – Eric Weiner @Hagerty

Saving Saturn: A different kind of car collector – Eric Weiner @Hagerty

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The most interesting car collection you’ve never heard of lives in a subdivision just outside Princeton, New Jersey. Nestled between patches of bucolic farmland and aging equestrian stables, in the cool shadow of a nature preserve, the neighborhood looks like any other. Drive past too quickly and you might miss the vast horde of Saturns, fanned out in the driveway of a single house like paint swatches in a catalogue. Before that rainbow array of plastic body panels stands its caretaker, a soft-spoken 26-year-old woman named Jessieleigh Freeman.

She fiddles with a scrunchie on her wrist and purses her lips as I wander, speechless, among the coupes, sedans, and wagons. “Seventeen of them,” she says, one hand idly playing with the Saturn pendant on her choker necklace. “I’ve got one in every body style—a few doubles, even.” The skateboard she carries displays the same two words you’ll find all over her Instagram: Saving Saturn.

How did Saturn get to the point that it needed her help? At the outset, the new brand lived up to its slogan, “a different kind of car company.” It was announced as the newest addition to GM’s household in 1985, the result of a bright-eyed dream that an all-American economy car with a unique approach could best Japan’s imports. Like the United States, Saturn was indeed a Grand Experiment. Most people remember the brand’s plastic body panels, meant to stave off rust, but Saturn’s true brilliance lay in the approach it took to people. Attempting to operate outside of the way Detroit had long done business, Saturn built its first plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Employees were recruited from various GM factories, and these people were eager to join an energetic culture offering the promise of a clean slate. Having signed up with Saturn, they then benefited from an unprecedented arrangement with the UAW chapter that allowed them to sidestep the complex web of union job classifications, participate in key decision making, and earn wages based in part on quality and productivity goals. GM even instituted a profit-sharing program in place of the traditional fixed-income pension. At retail locations, Saturn pioneered no-haggle pricing that immediately attracted thousands of hopeful customers.

This concept was so appealing that demand for new Saturns outstripped the Spring Hill plant’s production capability for the first five years. The brand’s early years were by and large successful, with massive customer satisfaction and an eclectic owner demographic that seemed all-in.

Not everyone at General Motors shared that enthusiasm. The rest of the company lived on the main deck of a corporate battleship—the kind of place where a proposed update to the bathroom tile might have to pass through multiple floors of executives—and it didn’t take long for resentment to boil over. Saturn was sucking up valuable resources, and as the brand’s initial momentum waned, the goodwill that had paved the brand’s road ran dry. The original S-Series ended production in 2002, by which point the larger L-Series line was being produced under traditional UAW labor rules in a Delaware plant. Soon after came the Vue SUV, the Ion sedan, the Relay minivan, and the Sky roadster—all of which were based on other GM models, and not unique to Saturn. An attempt to sell the brand to Penske fell through, and the dealership body closed for good in October 2010. That’s the end of it.

But not for Freeman. When she talks about her cars, she speaks slowly, surveying the breadth of her collection.

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In its day, a 1993 Saturn SL2 was nothing special. That’s what makes it very special to one family – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings

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On a Sunday night in June 1993, George Chamberlain couldn’t contain his excitement. He gathered his whole family – wife, son, daughter – and hustled them in to his hand-me-down beater Volkswagen Rabbit. That night in St. Peters, Missouri, there were no carnivals, no church suppers, no special events that had George thrilled. Instead, it was a silver Saturn SL2

.”It was his first new car,” his son, Scott, said. “He did a lot of research on it – read all the reviews, read up on it in Consumer Reports.

“George, a mechanical engineer at McDonnell Douglas, labored over the order sheet, picking the exact options that maximized the value he’d get out of the four-door spaceframe sedan while remaining in his budget. The dual-overhead camshaft, 124-hp, multi-point fuel-injected 1.9L four-cylinder engine was a must. Same with the alloy wheels and the ABS system for the four-wheel discs. The five-speed manual transmission would do. Though he wanted the sunroof, he balked at the price. All told, it cost him a little less than $15,000.

He’d placed his order and waited patiently enough, but the rust continued to slowly consume the Rabbit and the leak in its exhaust grew louder by the day. The call from Lou Fusz Saturn of St. Charles County, notifying George that the car had been delivered and that he could pick it up that Monday, couldn’t have come soon enough.

Scott, who’d turned 7 just a couple days prior to seeing the pre-delivery SL2 still in its plastic transport wrapping under the dealership’s lights, was largely oblivious to the details of the transaction and didn’t share his father’s enthusiasm for the car itself. He didn’t pore over sales brochures or read the reviews or compare prices with his father. “It was just an average ordinary family car, always in the background while I was growing up,” he said. “It was really insignificant at the time. Even my dad had no illusion the car was anything fantastic”

Rather, what memories of that time stuck with him concerned the cutaway cars he saw on the dealership floor when accompanying his father on his fact-finding missions. “It was the first time I’d ever seen a car pulled apart like that,” he said. And even more than that, he appreciated Saturn’s much-ballyhooed efforts to create a sense of fraternity around Saturn ownership. Like many Saturn dealerships, Lou Fusz organized road rallies and picnics, offered home maintenance workshops, and made a big spectacle – the launch, they called it, keeping with the astronomical theme – of handing the keys of each new car to the customer and sending them on their way.

“From the standpoint of bringing families together, it was a really good ownership experience,” he said. “It didn’t feel disingenuous, it genuinely felt like they enjoyed what they were doing. They did a good job of creating a community out of the brand.

“A year after delivery of the SL2 and after taking part in some of the dealer’s events, the Chamberlains even traveled to Spring Hill, Tennessee, for the first Saturn Homecoming, where the family – wearing matching red-and-white Saturn outfits, no less – toured the factory, mingled with the tens of thousands of other Saturn owners who showed up, and reveled in all things Saturn

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GM Made A Pointlessly Beautiful Part That Few People Will Ever See – David Tracy @Jalopnik

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On Saturday, I took a stroll through a junkyard just for fun. In just 30 minutes I spotted some interesting hardware: A strangely beautiful GM part that few people will ever see, an awesome air intake system that cools a car’s computer, and one of the wackiest suspension designs of all time. Check it out in the first installation of my new series called “Junkyard Finds.” (Since I basically live in junkyards anyway, I may as well take you all with me.)

I am in the process of piecing together used parts for a dirt-cheap overlanding build that I plan to someday take on an expedition of epic proportions. With coil springs, front lower control arms, and shocks sourced for a total of $50, I still needed rear control arms. A friend of mine had lifted his Jeep Wrangler JK recently, and had a set of arms sitting around, so I visited him down near Dearborn.

After handing my buddy $20 for the parts, he and I decided to head to a local junkyard, Fox Auto Parts in Belleville, Michigan, to hang out a bit more in a socially distanced fashion. Once there, I was keen to show off my knowledge of random cars, so I kicked an early-2000s Saturn Ion’s extremely rusty rear brake drum. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Oh, I gotta show you something,” I responded. I kicked the car again. The thing wouldn’t budge, probably because southeast Michigan’s road salt was so upset that it couldn’t eat the car’s plastic exterior panels and it took it all out on that drum.

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