California Autos Examiner

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sun sets on General Motors Sky and Solstice plant

The Pontiac Solstice coupe is drop dead gorgeous

As General Motors begins to take some of its product lines out behind the barn and shoot them, it’s hard not to get a bit misty eyed. Take for example the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, two American kids growing up in the heartland (okay, actually Delaware).

I remember the first time I laid eyes on the Pontiac Solstice. It was at a GM ride and drive event that was touring the country. The line to test drive the car was long, the day was hot and my wife was questioning exactly why we had to wait in line for this particular car when the line for the Tony Stewart Signature Series Monte Carlo (with orange trim) had no one in line. I gave her the “Surely you must be joking” look and then continued to count the minutes. A fight broke out in the front of the line when someone either tried to score another drive or cut in front, either way no other GM car on the test track inspired that kind of passion. When we finally reached the front of the line, I was practically salivating. We sat down low in the seat, almost so low that my wife could hardly see over the dash. I shifted into first and the Solstice squirted forward. I was quite smitten with the car, even after just a few minutes in the driver’s seat.

My next encounter with the Solstice and Sky wouldn’t be until 2007 when I was invited to GM’s Milford proving grounds for a sampling of their 2008 lineup. Driving around those hallowed grounds was a real treat made even more special when driving with the top down in a Saturn Sky. Yes, the hood shook when I drove over rough patches and the cabin materials were on the hard, cheap-ish side of things, but who cared? I was driving the whee out of a red convertible on GM’s dime and all I had to do was steer clear of the GM proving ground police. As luck would have it, I took a few wrong turns in the in the Sky and ended up with an extended tour of Milford. While I half-heartedly tried to find my way back, a procession of a Buick Enclave, Cadillac CTS and Saturn Sky passed me in the other direction. It was hard not to admire the brilliant styling of those cars. Thank you Bob Lutz I muttered under my breath. You can watch my awkward interview in a YouTube clip shown below.

The Sky and Solstice would have had brilliant successors, I can just feel it. Whatever shortcomings the current models had, GM would have been able to smooth over. Sadly, that day will never come and GM leaves this segment behind. To be certain, sales of convertibles is mercurial at best. The Kappa twins had issues from an intruding gasoline tank, mere suggestions of cup holders and overall refinement that could not best the Miata. Still I am very torn up about the loss of these two gems, more so even than the loss of the Pontiac G8 (which doesn’t make a lot of sense). We can hope that one day GM will be in a position to once again offer up such models to the buying public. However, any such models would be far down the road.

I have always told myself that I’ll buy one of these convertibles on the used market someday. Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt if I will ever come back. There will be hot new models and I’ll forget all about these two stylish, but flawed machines. One day I'll be watching an auction like Barrett-Jackson and my memories will all come flooding back. The lights will turn off at General Motors’ assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware at the end of the month. Not only will this be the end of era of GM assembly in Delaware, it is the last auto assembly plant in Delaware. Farewell my little twins, you will be missed.

Here is my tear jerkingly bad interview. I swear I was ambushed by the camera!

Here is another tear jerker. This video was shot when the Kappa cars were first beginning production. There was such hope and optism by the workers. Now that we know the ultimate fate of the plant, it's a little tough to watch without feeling bad for some of these people.

For more info: If you want to know more about the plant's closing, check out this Wilmington News Journal / USA Today piece.
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