When the first Oldsmobile Aurora hit showrooms for the 1995 model year, it was easily the best-looking car of any GM brand. In fact, it was probably one of the best cars General Motors had at the time, and it was later used as the basis for the Cadillac Seville STS in 1997. But the first-generation car was big and cumbersome, and with its myriad of technology features came a greater myriad of electronics issues. When the second-generation Oldsmobile Aurora debuted for the 2001 model year, it fixed all of the previous generation's problems. And it made the car a sportier, better vehicle overall—dare we say world-class in a time when General Motors' accountants still strangled its design and engineering departments. Unfortunately, it was doomed from the start, as General Motors announced in 2000 it would be winding down the 100-year-old brand. The car lingered on until 2003.
Consider the Plymouth Prowler a last hurrah from a dying brand as the curtain lined with a guillotine blade came falling down. It was a dream car in every sense, created by designers let loose to build a modern hot rod. Initial cars in 1997 came with a 214-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. After going on a one-year hiatus, the 1999 Plymouth Prowler returned with a 253-horsepower version of the same engine and more paint color choices than just purple. Though it only came paired with a four-speed automatic transmission, the Prowler was always considered more of a boulevarder than than a proper sports car. As it turned out, after Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler purchased Chrysler, it quickly wound down the Plymouth brand, rebadging the roadster as a Chrysler in 2001 and its final year in 2002. But "Chrysler Prowler" never sounded as good as the car's more alliterative name. It was replaced with the unloved Chrysler Crossfire.
Pontiac has a storied history of muscle cars. Heck, Pontiac created the muscle car! Arguably, it saved its best one for last, though. The Pontiac G8 showed up on American shores for the 2008 model year as a rebadged Australian-market Holden Commodore sedan. It had V-6 or V-8 power, rear-wheel drive, a modern six-speed automatic, plenty of space, and a good helping of style. It was often called a BMW on a budget, a compliment for the $30,000 car if ever there were one. And in its top model, called the Pontiac G8 GXP, it came with a 415-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 from the Corvette and a six-speed manual transmission. So what happened? GM's 2009 bankruptcy happened. GM was forced to pare down its lineups, and Pontiac lost out. Pontiac only imported 1,829 G8 GXPs to the U.S., and about half of them came equipped with the $695 manual transmission option, making it a rare car, indeed.
The Saab 9-5 had received little attention for more than a decade due to the brand's inability to turn a profit and GM facing much bigger problems like an imminent bankruptcy. But Saab was planning a new 9-5 midsize sports sedan; just a little late. The car debuted as a 2010 model to modest fanfare. It wasn't the car Saab needed to return to its lovable Swedish roots, but it was a very good start. It came standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or an optional 2.8-liter V-6. It even had all-wheel drive available. But it was too little too late. The Saab 9-5 was too far along in development to scrap—word had it the 9-5 might be rebadged as an Opel or uplevel Buick—but GM instead put the brand on the block for sale. After numerous suitors, financial peril, and a blocked sale to Chinese suitors, Saab ended its run in early 2012. A wagon version and a future generation of the smaller 9-3 hatchback were expected but never saw the light of day.
Saturn came about as a "Different kind of car company," designed to reinvent GM's sales practices and the way it built and sold cars. In the 1990s, it was even succeeding, selling almost 400,000 the plastic-bodied S-Series cars annually. As an encore, Saturn branched out with a compact crossover, the Vue. In its first generation, it had plastic body panels and a Honda-sourced V-6 engine; it was otherwise lackluster. But its second generation, Saturn ditched the plastic body panels and developed it for an international audience with help from GM Europe and GM Korea. The result was a much more formidable vehicle that came with a choice of four-cylinder, hybrid, or two V-6 powertrains. It, too, faced the chopping block in the wake of GM's 2009 reorganization, making it a future candidate for the Orphan Car Show. GM considered rebadging it as a Buick to keep it on sale in the U.S., but later decided to bring out the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain for small crossover duties. However, there's a footnote to this particular sad story. Chevrolet relaunched the Vue last year as the Captiva for fleet services, giving the other crossovers a buffer from facing rental car duties. In a few years, it'll likely be possible to pick one up without much trouble if you're a fan of the Euro-designed Saturn Vue, a vehicle that was actually one of the better ones in its class at introduction.