Twelve Days of Pre-Recession GM Christmas: Saturn’s Red Line

What do you mean ‘Pre-Recession’?

After the year 2000, but before the economic recession of 2008, GM was making some weird cars. Retro styled cars, cars with high performance trims (for seemingly no reason), cars with LS motors mounted sideways, and of course, Saabs.

Why these cars came about is complex. If somebody is willing to offer a theory, I’m all ears. However, I’m not here to explore the roots of this issue, only what fruit it ended up bearing. While many of these cars may have continued production after the recession of 2008-2010, most if not all were born of the white heat of stupidity that lost GM $82 billion before this time. I say stupidity of course, because most of the following vehicles I would like to own one day.

Saturn’s ‘Red Line’

Image result for roger b smith saturn poster

Saturn lived fast and died young, having only made cars for twenty years. Set up to compete with the flood of small, superior Japanese cars entering the U.S. market, they made small, inferior American cars (at least during this pre-recession era). A few of these vehicles managed to claw their way out of obscurity via forced induction, or because they made you think, “Why?”.

“Red Line” was like Saturn’s BMW ‘M’. Knowing what Saturn was, you can kind of string together what that really meant. It’s like a joke where the setup and the punchline are nearly identical.

“Saturn says they’re making their own version of BMW’s ‘M’ division. Critics say they’re expecting it to be like if Saturn made their own version of BMW’s ‘M’ division.”

The vehicles that received the Red Line trim were the Ion, Sky, and Vue. I’ll start with the Ion.

The Saturn Ion “coupe” is a strange car to begin with, just as Saturn was a strange brand. Similar to the Mazda RX-8, it has an extra set of miniature doors to accommodate the rear passengers. GM called this a, “quad coupe”.

Image result for saturn ion doors

Inside of every Ion, you got a gauge cluster mounted in the middle. I cannot find any literature as to why this was done. Saturn’s motto at the time was “It’s different in a Saturn”, but Saturn also had seven different mottos. If you list them in order, it sounds like somebody slowly succumbing to a mental illness.

A Different Kind Of Car Company (1990-1994)

A Different Kind Of Company, A Different Kind Of Car (1994-2002)

It’s Different In A Saturn (2002-2004)

People First (2004-2006)

Like Always. Like Never Before. (2006-2007)

Rethink American (2007)

Rethink (2008-2010)

Image result for saturn ion interior

The Ion Red Line was the first home of the LSJ, the engine found in the Cobalt SS Supercharged. 205 horsepower was standard, as well as 200 lb/ft of torque. This engine could receive the same power upgrades the Cobalt SS got, so in theory you could have a 260hp, 8000 RPM Saturn Ion. Transmitting power to the front wheels was a five-speed manual transmission, and an LSD was optional.

In the reddit thread concerning Saturn’s RedLine, /u/–Reddit–Username– told me that, 

“I drove the Ion RL at a GM demo day (those by themselves are a good pre-recession GM story).

So closed course, the guy standing besides the car says ‘just be cool and don’t light the tires up.’ No problem…it’s a fucking Saturn. ‘Sure’, I say. He says go, I politely let off the clutch fully then floor it. I was shocked! The front end lifted up, the tires lit right up all the way in to the second gear scratch. I looked in the rear view and see the guy standing at the launch with a dry smile shaking his head. It almost scratched third before I hit the first corner.

It handled great also! I let the turbo cool for a bit and then exited the car with a large ear to ear grin. I remembering thinking the center dash gauges were straight crack head and would be a deal breaker for me personally.” 

I’m curious about what GM demos days were–but let’s move on.

Really, this car was the predecessor to the much more popular and common Cobalt SS. So how is it different? Which one is better?

I read many forum’s circa 2005 of people arguing about which one is superior. What did I learn? I learned I should just buy a used Camaro Z28. Thanks!

What is it about forums that attracts the most unhelpful people? By the bottom of the thread, the discussion had changed to which of the two cars (the Red line or Cobalt SS) looked more like the Scion TC.

The only real difference when they were manufactured was the layout. The Cobalt SS could only be had in a coupe (at the time), while the Saturn was the funny little four door. There are differences today, though.

Shopping for a Cobalt SS is sort of difficult, because they made three different versions. Shopping for a used Ion Red line is pretty easy on the other hand. There’s only one to look for.

They are not super common, however they are all under $5k. All of them. I usually would say I found a real sterile example, but I didn’t. They’re like the forgotten performance car. Nobody cares about them.

That’s a shame, because I think It looks just as good or better than the Cobalt SS. It could also be had with a big wing (like the Cobalt). If I had to pick between the two? I’d take the Ion.

One of the other cars to receive the Red Line treatment was the Vue.

Image result for saturn vue redline

The Saturn Vue was built on the same basic platform as the Chevy Equinox, and Pontiac Torrent. Although the Vue was the only vehicle on this platform to have a ‘performance’ trim, it was not actually the most powerful.

The interesting part of the Vue Red Line is its engine, a Honda J35 that General Motors referred to as the “L66”. It’s the same basic engine available in the Odyssey and Pilot of the same era. Unlike other Red Line models, this engine was also available in other trims of the vehicle. This means the Vue Red Line is not any faster than its lower priced counterparts. The Red Line trim consisted of lowered, ‘sportier’ suspension, a body kit, some interior tweaks, and a nicer stereo. Yeah, I guess what “Red Line’ actually meant when downhill pretty quickly.

They also made a Red Line version of the next generation Vue, which only stuck around for two years. It looks even more boring than the first generation, so I’m just gonna act like it doesn’t exist. Frankly, I don’t think anybody reading this is gonna be upset about it.

The final car to receive the Red Line treatment was the Sky.

Image result for saturn sky

I always liked the Saturn Sky. It reminds me of Chrysler’s ME412 concept car, which 12 year old me was enamored by. I remember asking my dad if he knew what the ME412 was, him saying no, and then I ran over to the computer, closed out of Insane Aquarium, and printed out a picture for him. The Sky was actually designed by Tesla’s current design chief.

The Sky was a re-bodied Pontiac Solstice. It got the same drivetrain options, but no coupe version (a shame if you ask me). The standard engine was the 2.4 liter, 177 horsepower Ecotec. The Red Line got a jump of nearly one hundred horsepower, to 260. It had the same motor as the Cobalt SS Turbocharged, the LNF. Available from the dealership was a turbo upgrade kit, which gave you an extra 30 horsepower. At nearly 300 horsepower, the Sky Red Line with the upgrade kit could allegedly touch 0-60 in close to five seconds.

It was available with both manual, and automatic transmissions (power outputs remained the same for either option). Interestingly, it was rear-wheel-drive, and an LSD could be had between those rear wheels.

Despite this, reviews at the time were not very positive. They basically said it was like a shittier, faster Miata, and the top sucked. Pretty much just a worse Solstice.

All of this being said, I was pretty set to tell you all to go out and buy one of these cars. Why not! They all gotta be around five grand now. Right?”

Haha, Right?

This car suffers from the same boomer car collector mentality the Corvette does, which honestly I feel dumb for not expecting. You know how before I couldn’t find any nice Ion Red Lines? It’s hard not to find nice Sky Red Lines. They are all overpriced.

I know what you’re thinking right now. Oh, you’re just talking this up! There’s a few with like ten thousand miles on them, and they’re like ten grand or something!

One example I found only had six hundred miles on it. *That’s sixty miles a year.*

I can list more examples, but you can look for yourself. The cheapest one I found was $6k, and it’s a total piece.

The most expensive one I found was thirty-two… thousand… dollars.

Saturn. More than you can afford, pal.

I have saved images of this post on Imgur for posterity. There is some strange shit going on with the owner though (seriously), I do not recommend you call him. 

Happy Holidays, see you tomorrow.

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