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