How I May Have Helped Create the Saturn Red Line Badge

I might have had a small influence on Saturn's performance sub-brand.

To this day, the internet still makes fun of Al Gore claiming to invent the Internet (which, by the way, isn’t true). With that in mind, I’m not claiming to have invented the Saturn Sky Red Line. But my presence at a particular time and place might have had a small influence on its creation. 

The year was 2001. The place was the Saturn Performance Club Rally. (Yes, there really was a group of Saturn enthusiasts who were more interested in speed and performance than haggle-free pricing and free doughnuts with an oil change.) The Rally was a week-long event that included a dyno day, a day at a drag strip with our very own bracket class (I won), getting kicked out of a go-kart track for excessive contact, and a track day at Gingerman Raceway. It was here that I maybe, possibly, left my mark on the Saturn brand.

The Saturn Performance Club had been hosting this event for several years, but in 2001, representatives from Saturn attended the Gingerman track day for the first time. They included Saturn’s One Lap of America team, their SC1 and LW300 track cars, and S Series Brand Manager Todd Christensen, who brought a pre-production 2002 SC2 to show off its new design. He soon realized that we were not the typical crunchy Saturn owners he was used to dealing with. He was quite interested in our enthusiast perspective on the cars, and made it a point to talk with each one of us individually about our cars, how we had modified them, and what we liked and disliked about them. How often do you get an opportunity to chat with the company’s brand manager for your particular car?

The Saturn ///M SL2., Justin Hughes

At the time, I was driving a lightly modified 1996 SL2. I hadn’t done much to it because I was focusing my efforts on my Miata for autocross and track days. Many of us had switched from our modified S Series cars to Miatas in search of better performance and handling. But as a nod to their Saturn’s small but vocal enthusiast following—and to annoy the local BMW club whose autocrosses I attended—I stuck a BMW M badge to the back of my SL2. Todd Christensen got a good laugh out of this, and took a picture to bring back to the office.

Time passed. The Ion replaced the S Series, and the decline of Saturn into a brand of rebadged Opels began. But for the first time, a factory tuned performance variant became available in 2004: the Ion Red Line. It was mechanically identical to its Delta platform brother, the Chevy Cobalt SS. It also featured a special badge, unique to Saturn’s Red Line variants. I’m not saying this actually happened, but I can’t help but wonder if the fake M badge on my SL2 amused Saturn so much that they decided to give the Red Line cars their own special badge after seeing it. It’s at least a non-zero probability.

Additionally, the knowledge that many of their enthusiast drivers were moving on to a roadster may have encouraged Saturn to introduce the Sky for 2007. Though a thinly veiled rebadge of the Opel GT, and mechanically identical to the Pontiac Solstice, the Sky gave Saturn owners a true enthusiast car similar to the Miata but within the Saturn family. Again, I don’t know if my own interactions with Saturn managers and engineers had anything to do with this, but I also doubt it’s a complete coincidence.

Sadly, the Saturn brand came to an end in 2009. With the demise of Pontiac as well, this roadster disappeared from North America and has not returned since. Still, it still amuses me to imagine that possibly, maybe, I might have made a small impact on this minor footnote in automotive history.