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How Do I Prepare A Competition Saturn?

When the time comes to prepare your Saturn for either high-performance street or competition use, you will learn very quickly that there are not a lot of knowledgeable Saturn aftermarket tuners. The one glaring exception is SPS – The Saturn Performance Specialists. While several companies sell a few Saturn bolt-on pieces here and there, SPS takes the time necessary to develop and test all of their products before offering them for sale. Most of the products we will be mentioning are available from their catalog, or through their website at (Yes, they are a sponsor. How did you guess?)

In addition, you should be forewarned that working on a Saturn can be a very ego-boosting experience. Since the cars were designed from a clean sheet of paper, a high priority in the original design was serviceability. Nearly everything on the car comes apart with a handful of sockets, wrenches, and a flathead screwdriver. If you ever go back to owning any other vehicle after working on a Saturn, you will realize how spoiled Saturn owners are. I have a friend with an F500, so I get a good dose of this several times every race season – trying to troubleshoot his cooling system last year was like trying to replace the wing of a 747…while it was in flight!

Time To Trade In Those Magnetic Numbers!

All Saturns employ a steel spaceframe covered by polymer body panels (sort of like a tube frame race car, but without all the tubes). In fact, the only metallic body panels on the car are the hood, roof, and rear decklid. As testimony to the polymer panel durability, our 1997 SSC car has experienced two full seasons of on- and off-track excursions. With the notable exception of a rear quarter panel where a Neon front wheel machined its way completely through the plastic, the panels look as good as new (he made the pass, too). Examine any other Showroom Stock car after similar exposure, and you will be reaching for the body hammers – the Neon was…

In addition to providing great durability, the spaceframe / polymer construction helps to drastically lower the vehicle weight. Most Saturns weigh less than 2400 lb. – even with all of the power accessories and creature comforts added in. Our SC2 tipped the scales at a lean 2288 lb. right off the assembly line, and the final race car, complete with cage and full interior, weighs only 2390 lb.

Wheel And Tire Selection

Regardless of the car you drive, wheel and tire purchases separate the proverbial ‘men from the boys’. Without the proper wheel and tire combination, all the money you spend on your trick suspension parts and aggressive brakes will be wasted. I know this is trite, but it is where ‘the rubber meets the road’ (no more bad puns, I promise).

Weighing in at a hefty 16 lb., the stock SC2 Aluminum wheels are neither the most attractive nor lightest wheels you can fit in the Saturn fenderwell. They are sized as follows:

Bolt Circle
15 inches
6.0 inches
4 x 100mm

For competition use, we do not recommend upsizing the wheel diameter. It looks great on the street, but the larger 16 inch or 17 inch wheel increases both rotating mass and rolling radius, negatively impacting gear ratio – and the Saturn needs plenty of gear. If legal, you should find the lightest 15" x 6.5" or 15" x 7" wheel you can afford. If you buy from a reputable source, they will make sure the offset is correct for your application, but be sure to ask since there is not much clearance between the Saturn wheel and the rear strut – especially if you run aggressive camber angles!

Tire size is dictated primarily by wheel width and strut clearance. From the stock 195/60R15, the first step is to change to a 205/55R15. This size works well for most high-performance street applications, and is the size we use on our SL2 project car. For competition use, however, the sidewall is too tall and flexible.

For road racing and autocrossing alike, the tire size of choice is the 205/50R15. There are multiple advantages to running this size tire:

  • This size is commonly available in ‘R’ compounds
  • The shorter sidewall decreases flexing
  • The decreased rolling radius numerically increases gear ratio about 5%

Finally, some successful Saturn autocrossers have been known to run 225/50R15’s on only the front axle in order to change the handling balance of the car. If you run this configuration, keep in mind that wheel spacers are mandatory to keep the front tires from crashing into important things like brake lines! The tire is also way too wide for the 6" factory wheels (although we have seen it done). Due to these clearance issues, we do not recommend running this size on the street.

For most competitors, the choice of tire manufacturer is more often than not based on what ‘the fast guys are running’. Our testing experience has shown that our SSC car works best with 205/50ZR15 Hoosier R3S03 Radials. Since the Hoosiers are a little ‘wider’ than most other 205’s, we use 5mm thick H&R wheel spacers to generate adequate tire to strut clearance. (Past experience with other tire brands has shown that spacers are not necessary with any other currently available 205/50ZR15 tire.) Without the spacers, the tire would eat right through the strut – especially with the large static camber settings we use. As with any tire, investment in a good pressure gage and pyrometer will help you to quickly and accurately determine optimum tire pressures and alignment settings.