On this date in 1990, Saturn sold its first car. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the first Saturn - the blue SL2 sedan shown above - was sold just after midnight to Elaine Terry at Saturn of Clearwater. "I wanted an American-made car and decided to give it a try," Mrs. Terry told the newspaper. It was a 25th wedding anniversary present. USA Today and CNN were reportedly at the retail facility to document the event. "I kept it for 10 months and put over 5,000 miles on it. People all over the country wanted to buy the car from me. One man in Las Vegas was talking up to $100,000 for it."
This was the first Saturn demonstration prototype vehicle. It was completed for evaluation and shown to the media on September 15, 1984. General Motors Chairman and CEO at the time, Roger Smith, and GM's then-President and Chief Operating Officer, F. James McDonald, are pictured with the 1985 Saturn four-door sedan concept.
Note: As General Motors gets ready to shut Saturn's doors at the end of this year, I'd like to take a moment to look back at why the brand was created and how it evolved over the years, what made the cars and company so special to me, and also address some concerns about how Saturn's closure will impact the future of SaturnFans.com.
Later tonight the giant ball in Times Square will be lowered when the clock strikes twelve and 2010 will come to an end. It's been a emotional year for Saturn employees, owners, and fans; October 31st marked the end of General Motors' grand Saturn experiment. Of all the news articles I've written for SaturnFans.com over the past 15 years, this one has been by far the hardest for me to write. Saying goodbye is never easy, and this time is no different. To me Saturn was more than just another car or company: it represented a fresh approach to running a business, and more significantly, it was a symbolic entry in America's ideological battle against the best vehicles the "import" car companies had to offer.
Over the years, one of Saturn's most impressive features was their innovative plastic polymer body panels that it used to cloth it's cars in. The panels resisted damage from small dents, dings, and minor bumps — they proved to be very popular among Saturn owners. The panels simply absorbed the impact, and bounced back into their original form. Back in the day, if you went to your local Saturn retailer, the sales folks would eagerly show you how well the panels worked by either pounding on the side of a car with their fists, or by inviting you to jump up and down on a sample door panel laying on the floor. No matter how hard you tried, the panels always went back to their original shape.
Ken Newton from St. Joseph News-Press: General Motors, feeling the pinch of foreign imports, dangled the idea of opening a new plant to build a "revolutionary" car. Such a factory would employ 6,000 people while also creating 15,000 jobs in supporting businesses. Workers there would not only have the benefit of a paycheck, they would stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the vanguard of a new era of American industrial might. Perhaps to seem egalitarian, or more likely to create buzz and cajole some incentives, GM executives offered the pending plant to interested states, hoping they would compete for the car company's affections.
John McElroy from Autoline Detroit via AutoBlog: In the early 1980s General Motors launched a top-secret program to figure out how it could build a small car to successfully compete against the Japanese automakers. It was called the S-car program and the results of this study shocked top management at GM. It conclusively proved General Motors could not profitably build a small car in the United States that was priced against the Japanese — at least not under the current GM system. And that launched another study to figure out what it would take become competitive. GM concluded that it needed a clean-sheet approach to designing, engineering, manufacturing and retailing small cars in the American market. In other words, it needed a whole new car company.
ABC News looked back on its evening news telecast from July 26, 1985 when GM announced construction of the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
You may recall a couple of months ago GM had an auction, liquidating lots of classic cars. They even pulled the last built Saturn Ion out of the museum it was in to put it up for bidding. Well, this is that car. It was also featured in at least two articles on this website (here and here). This Saturn Ion is in fantastic shape, as it was stored in a museum. It now has 2,500 miles on it.
Many years ago, Saturn Corporation participated in the Sports Car Club of America racing series. Dave Rosenblum, who ran the Inner City Youth (ICY) Racing Team, ran and managed the team that raced Saturn S-Series coupes, like the modified SC2 you see above. They not only raced, but they won – including the SCCA's World Challenge T2 Manufacturers' Cup.