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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Maisto and Matchbox Pontiac Solstice coupe and convertible; Maisto 1:24 Saturn Sky Redline




One of the successes of trying to get a concept car to production between the cost of the platform and the bean counters is this Pontiac Solstice.  With the help of Bob Lutz the Solstice managed to get into production as-is with some parts-sharing to keep the costs down.  The roadster was a success even though it did not live long enough under the Pontiac, or even the Saturn, brand as both folded in 2009, cutting the life of the coupe with removable targa panel.  Matchbox and Maisto have been the leaders with this car and did quite a nice job with it.




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The Pontiac Solstice was an idea created by Lutz to create a fun-to-drive two-seat roadster that would challenge the Miata and bring back the sporty image of Pontiac, especially after the Aztek disaster.  The new coupe and roadster was introduced at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show and the roadster would make it into production in 2006, with the Saturn Sky/Opel GT following a year later.  Also arriving is the turbocharged GXP model (Redline for the Sky).  A new platform was developed to accept the small length of the car as the Kappa platform, and to keep costs down the vehicle shared numerous parts with other GM products: front signal/fogligts from the Pontiac Grand Prix; rear reverse lamps from the GMC Envoy; rear axle from the Cadillac CTS; HVAC system from the Hummer H3; seat frames from Opel Corsa; 5-speed automatic from the Cadillac CTS, STS, and SRX; 5-speed manual from the Hummer H3; interior storage bin from the Cadillac XLR; and steering wheel and engine from Chevy Cobalt.  This parts-sharing may have saved costs but in effect made the Solstice seemed unrefined compared to the Mazda Miata.





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Maisto was first with the 2002 Solstice concept coupe in orange.  The metallic orange is beautifully done in the smooth curves of this coupe.  The lights front and rear are flush with the body and are detailed, the twin kidney grille is proudly done with honeycomb pattern, the central dual exhausts in the rear bumper, and check out those Pontiac logos for the hood release latches.  The downside here is the usual Maisto in 1:64: no interior.  Also the rear end tends to squat down a bit and the wheels look out-of-place.  A year later Matchbox introduced their version of the coupe in 2004, amongst the low point in Matchbox Hero City era.  Here the body is much more smoother; so smooth that the lights tend to hide in the light blue paint.  Matchbox did more detail here on the door lines but not on the windshield frame, added exterior mirrors, detailed the base with the dual exhaust, and added a black plate with the Matchbox logo at the rear.  The interior features seating for two, the smooth dash flow with dual pod gauge cluster, and the shifter in the center console; but missing was the nifty spare tire under the rear window.  Matchbox did put this casting under use for a brief while, but the original orange paint from the showcar rarely made an appearance.






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In 2006 Maisto made two versions of the new GM roadsters: the 2006 Pontiac Solstice roadster and the Saturn Sky Redline, along with a similarly-badged Opel GT.  Nice, but I prefer the 1:64 which takes it to a whole another planet.  For starters there is an interior; truth be told if Maisto releases any 1:64 convertible it must have an interior.  It has the correct 3-spoke steering wheel, seats, and shifter, but otherwise is rather flat with no gauge or central control display at all.  The windshield is a bit tall and the wheels look small and cheap despite the appropriate 5-spoke look.  Styling is this car's best suit: the smooth bodylines again with a front end that looks more properly-designed than the coupe concept, the detailed lighting, the added Pontiac logo's, the door handles, the comet taillights, the convertible roll hoops that extend over the rear trunk, and the more chisled rear end.  The exhaust is down to a single tip but the blacked-out panel does enhance the look.  Underneath the base is smooth and on the dark blue version that was released in 2006 it has unusual phillips-head screws to remove the base; the newest recolor in yellow, which was released in the 2007 model year and does a better job at giving this casting the proper look than the dark blue, now reverts to a rivited base.





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Of course to curb costs another brand needed a taste of the Kappa platform, so Saturn and Opel shared a common model: the Sky and GT.  Both had more of a chisled look to the car as this red 1:24 scale Maisto version shows.  The front has larger headlights with dual beams; split grille, and unique lower signal lights and foglights.  The sides add a Corvette-style line scallop, while the rear has horizontal taillights and a revised lower bumper that now houses dual exhausts and relocates the reverse lamps to a single central unit.  The real Sky looks impressive, but this Maisto version looks a bit sloppy at some angles; no where as bad as the 5-spoke wheels that look a tad bit too small.







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The standard engine in the Solstice is the 2.4L ECOTEC I-4 that produces 177 horsepower, but in the GXP and Redline, like the 1:24 show here, is the turbocharged 2.0L ECOTEC I-4 that produces 260 hp. and 260 Ib-ft of torque.  The engine bay is mostly a black pan with the silver turbo plumbing the highlight here, as is the forward-opening hood.  I must say after looking at the actual car mechanic work around this engine bay would be a challenge: for example, the battery is located deep and low on the inner passenger-side front fender under a few components and a structure brace!  The base underneath shows off the dual exhausts, drivetrain components, and the upper-and-lower A-arms on all four wheels.  Unlike the exterior the interior shares the same layout with the Solstice with the similar seat frames, shifter, 3-spoke steering wheel, and dual gauge pods, but the layout is different: instead of the dash center controls curved toward the driver the central controls are mounted flat and center.  There are some nice silver accents and a few details to spice up the interior, but it still looks rather drabby and the gauges are angled too far back.






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It was a nice trial run while it lasted, but even with the success of the styling the platform would beg for a fresh second redesign if it could with little to no parts-sharing and a refined powertrain and suspension improvements.  Not to mention the faults of the trunk area: barely any room to store anything and requires getting out of the car to open the trunk and fold the convertible top down.  As for the coupe the rear hatch was too small to store the removable targa panel (it did come with a retractable softtop for sudden emergencies).  If GM would've made this platform a Chevy and kept it in the line the second-generation may have provided more success upon itself; for now these replica's of the Solstice and Sky are good examples of the brief run of the Kappa family.



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