Tempus does fugit.
I’ve been test driving new cars long enough that the first new cars I test drove are now Antique cars, literally. I recently found myself behind a ’95 Mustang GT and was astonished to see the black and white “Antique” tag it wore – which reminded me that I am, too.
When I began writing about cars back in the mid-1990s, there were at least six brands that no longer exist, today. I thought it might be fun to reminisce about some of these Gone Ones.
Saturn (1990-2010) –
This was GM’s second attempt to resuscitate its small-car image, after Geo (about which more later). It was marketed as a “different kind of car company” and was in that it served its cars price fixe – i.e., you didn’t haggle; you paid what the sticker said, with the idea being to make the buying process less harrowing for people who didn’t like to haggle. Of course, no-haggle meant you paid what the sticker said – which meant you couldn’t haggle the price down.
The cars were different, too – at least initially. They featured flexible plastic exterior body panels that covered up the underlying structure of the car. This largely eliminated the door dings that every new car owner dreads and also reduced repair costs as the plastic panels were easy to remove and replace with new ones if they were damaged. They were also something else unusual – for an American car:
The curb weight of the first Saturns, the SL series, was only about 2,300 lbs. They also sat low to the ground and came standard with five speed manual transmissions. They came close to 40 MPG on the highway without CVTs, turbos, stop/start “technology” and were fun to Frogger through traffic in.
GM eventually badge-engineered the brand into duplicative irrelevance. Saturns were resold as Pontiacs (another Goner) and Chevys and lost their composite exterior panels, became heavier and bigger and soon the only thing that was meaningfully different about a Saturn was not being able to haggle over the price.
Mercury (1938-2011) –
This was Ford’s Oldsmobile, with some Pontiac seasoning. Meaning, a Mercury was a cut above your basic Ford in terms of trim and amenities but not lacking in the performance department, which it sometimes offered more of.
One of the last of these that I got to drive as a brand-new press car was the resurrected 2003-2004 Marauder, which was a hopped-up version of the Ford Crown Vic, which Ford sold fleets of to cop shops all around the country in the ’90s and early 2000s. But not even the Police Interceptor versions of the Vic had what the Marauder had – which was a 302 horsepower version of Ford’s 4.6 liter DOHC V8 paired up with a tire-chirping four speed automatic feeding an aluminum driveshaft spinning 3.55 rear gears. In black (other colors were available but black fit) this thing made you feel like a Fed, without the ugly connotations associated with that office today.
It was the last rear-drive, V8-powered Mercury and – as it turned out – one of the last Mercs, period. By the time the brand died, it wasn’t selling much anyhow. But at least it went out in style and will be remembered for that.