I think it was on Top Gear they said that everyone will own a Vauxhall Vectra at some point in their lives. It is a right of passage for the car enthusiast. Well I am proud to say that I owned a Vauxhall Vectra and I enjoyed it, most of the time.
My 1996 Vauxhall Vectra was known to us Americans as a Saturn LS. Mine was a 2000 with the 3.0L V6. It is most notable for it’s scathing by Jeremy Clarkson on Old Old Top Gear, and just about everything he said was right.
I found my Saturn at a Chevy lot outside of Chicago back in 2008. After spending most of the day looking at used late 90s Camrys and Accords, we stumbled upon the Saturn. After the sales guy tried to push a Mazda Protege, which look like a Fisher Price toy with the dorky mods and the motor from a Cuisinart, we test drove the Saturn. It had 125000 miles on it, full leather, heated seats, and sunroof; fully loaded for 2000. It has decent performance and was much better appointed than the Hondas and Toyotas I looked at previously. Sure it wouldn’t be as reliable, but it was a nice car. The negotiation was really easy, the sticker price was $3999, online was $3499, and the dealer manager offered us $3000. Well, that was easy and the car was ours.
It was the peak of 16 year old freedom, first car and the ability for me to go where I want, when I want. One week after purchase the Saturn decided that it didn’t like the serpentine belt that it had and wanted a new one. After driving 5 miles to a friends house we had it towed to our trusty mechanic the next day. “It is going to be one of those cars” my dad and I thought...
But it wasn’t, it wasn’t a lemon, it worked quite well. After eating the serpentine, I did not have to service the engine for years. I slightly rearranged the front bumper after having an unintentional ice skating fight with a Ford Contour (Saturn 1 Contour 0). Then came the next challenge of the high school car, college. I complicated the matter by going to college in Oklahoma, a place where cars are pelted with sky stones, burnt by trees, thrown onto the roofs of houses, and worst of all, Oklahoma Wal-Mart parking lots.
Thankfully Saturns are made of plastic and are indestructible (or very destructible depending on velocity). Those thunderstorms could through anything up to the size of golf balls and the plastic body panels wouldn’t care. Little rubs and dings by dumbass college students that can’t drive only left irritating paint marks, but no dents. The Saturn made it through Oklahoma without being thrown into a tree. It even chased a few of those tornadoes and drove into a lake that was formally known as Chickesha. If it could survive 4 years of that, it could survive anything.
Eventually quarterly 1600 mile road trips and subsequent more frequent 300 mile road trips on the beautiful roads of Oklahoma and Indiana, which could best be described as slightly better than North Africa, took its toll. It was beginning to get to the point where shop work was prohibitively expensive. This allowed me to gain experience wrenching on the car myself as parts were fairly inexpensive. I was able to change the oil, replace the wiper system when it broke, replace the headlight mount that I broke in that crash, and replace the power steering rack.
There is something about your first car. It doesn’t matter what it is from a Camaro to a Multipla, you always have fond memories about your first car and all the antics you did with it. From the mundane such as trips to Sam’s with your roommates to stock up on toilet paper (for kids going to college, that is as good as currency) to punching through thunderstorms for sweet tornado pictures to replicating SNL’s Night at the Roxbury on Halloween (it was a bit obsure to the underclassmen). At one point in its lifetime the car had been closer to Mexico than Canada (which is impressive considering most of it’s life in Chicago). It has been on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan Avenue.
I truly enjoyed my Saturn. Sure it wasn’t the 2 Fast 2 Furious import that was popular when I was in high school, but it was a good car. I had it for 9 years and got it to 197,000 miles, much longer/further than what my dad and I expected out of it. I would still be driving it had the repairs not piled up and became hard to justify financially. Heck, if I had the real estate, it would be sitting in my barn for my grandkids to find. The Saturn introduced me to basic wrenching on cars, it also taught me 2 things:
1. It is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
2. Good Saturns don’t die, people kill them.
I feel kind of bad that I may have killed my good Saturn (honestly my wallet got got the brunt of the death), the core mechanics were indestructible. But, I look at it now and hope my good Saturn is helping out some other high school or college student make memories with their friends (please don’t destroy it; although after reading this history no one will want it anyways). As long as I don’t find it on Row52 for a number of years, I will be happy.
I am excited for my future with the next car. No, I won’t be able to careen headlong into things with the same reckless abandon as I could with my Saturn, but it taught me a lot about cars and really helped me figure what chariot I want for the next step in my vehicular journey.
Hint: It is another rebadged German sedan. Also I’ll need to change my avatar...