We were left with one car, which Anna needed to commute Monday through Friday, forcing me to rely on public transportation for the job hunt. This wouldn't have been a big deal back home in Chicago, but was a massive inconvenience in the Motorized Republic of Southern California - the infrastructure out here is just nowhere near as developed, and where it is it tends to be pretty unreliable.
Enter my father-in-law, a fleet manager/lead mechanic at Cox Communications of San Diego, who came through in a pinch with a freshly decommissioned 1999 Saturn SL (gracias, Gil). There's no 1 or 2 missing from that model name, it was the sub-stripper, sub-basement, bottom-feeder, homeless crack fiend garbage can corrugated cardboard soup kitchen edition, too skint for a fancy alphanumeric designation. It cost us $900, had 70k well-maintained miles on the clock, A/C, an automatic, an AM/FM cassette deck, and massive oil/coffee/vomit(?) stains all over the formerly tan carpet floor. It was refrigerator white with black bumpers, which in combination with its rounded body gave it a resemblance to a color inverted killer whale - we nicknamed it Reverse Orca. It was, no exaggeration, the biggest piece of garbage anything either of us have ever owned.
|not ours, we took no photos of it|
For starters, the seats were made of two massive, flat, limp pieces of foam covered with school-bus grade beige vinyl. They pivoted in the middle and slid back and forth but sucked regardless of their position, allowing your whole body to slide laterally during even modest cornering. 20 mile drives would leave your back aching like you spent the day moving house. The quality of everything you saw, touched, or controlled was appallingly low. I remember the dash has mold flash lines an eight of an inch high and hard enough to cut skin, and it all fit like together like a Soviet knock off Optimus Prime - the tape deck once popped out of the dash as it twisted through a long on-ramp.
The engine broke 4 motor mounts in 18,000 miles, and there was nothing wrong with it - they just do that. It was rough, and sounded like an industrial generator amplified through a blown speaker. The rev limiter cut in at 4,500 RPM, I kid you not, and it might as well because it made no power anywhere anyway, with the only noticeable affect of giving it more throttle the sensation of heavy pieces of 100 grit sandpaper rubbing together faster and faster. The trans would hunt on inclines you couldn't detect without a bubble level.
Steering feel was shockingly inconsistent, with weight switching from light to heavy and back again through the same easily taken turn. Brakes were soft and prone to locking regardless of how many times I bled them, and it handled like the suspension was made of water logged firewood, which is to say spongey and hard at the same time, a feat unmatched anywhere else in all of automotive history, and surely the lifetime achievement of Saturn's development engineers - here's to you, guys, your legacy will live on.
I hated that car, but it got me where I needed to go and eventually helped me get back to work, and for that I'll always be grateful. It never broke down, always managed at least 27 MPG, and cost next to nothing to insure. We sold it for a $100 profit to a guy who bought it for his daughter, who was about to start college - a noble job for the faithful heap of trash.
What's the worst car you've ever owned? Here's your chance to vent, I'd love to hear about it.