Roman Vaisman’s 1996 Saturn SC2 began life like every other Saturn at GM’s manufacturing facility in Spring Hill, Tenn. It went to California, served its owners well for 160,000 miles, then turned up on Craigslist. For $250.

Vaisman and his co-conspirator Ryan Althoff were looking for a car with which to go Lemons racing and a $250 Saturn coupe was just the ticket.

“I went to look at it, and it was listed as a mechanics special, but it actually ran,” Vaisman said. “The guy said it can’t pass smog, it’s overheating. So I looked it and asked Ryan if he knew anything about Saturns, because he’s a better mechanic than I am. He just said, ‘We’ll figure it out.’”

They towed it home, pulled the engine and sent the carcass out to have a roll cage installed. They told their fab guy, they wanted some seats and a new steering wheel, too. New or used, it didn’t matter. They replaced the ratty used Butler Built seat the fab shop installed, but the oh-so-cool Kal Kustom steering wheel stayed put. It’s fitting yet somehow out of place all at the same time, as improbable as that sounds.

As they were going through the motor, they didn’t find anything really wrong with it, so they installed new rings and bearings, refreshed the cylinder head and put it back together. But a funny thing happened along the way. When they were done with the car, it was too nice to use for Lemons racing, or it least it looked too nice.

So, Vaisman and Althoff used the car to go through HPDE 1-3 and to attend competition school. Vaisman attended Driving Concepts in the spring and Althoff took his course that fall. Now they both had competition licenses. They just needed to figure out what they wanted to do. They landed in PTE and the E3 endurance class.

Yes, PTE, a class dominated by RX-7’s and RX-8’s and well-prepped Miatas. Surprisingly, the stock Saturn engine has some snort, punching out 130 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque at the front wheels, which is enough to push around its 2,280-pound curb weight.

Of course, getting the car set up took some work, because, let’s face it, there really aren’t any experts on racing them. In fact, this might be the only Saturn SC2 in all of NASA. That meant Vaisman and Althoff had to become experts, something they have largely accomplished.

They started with the suspension, with coil-over shocks and springs from Agility, the only company they knew of to offer components for the Saturn and, fittingly enough, one that is no longer in business. They added a strut-tower brace that was fabricated custom by Viking Offroad Engineering, one of their sponsors.

The power steering pump kept relieving itself of all fluid under race conditions — it didn’t like sustained high rpm — so they removed it and fitted a manual rack and pinion. They also found a Quaife limited-slip differential. Trouble was, it was located in Great Britain, so they had to get it shipped to the United States.

They couldn’t get even tire wear, so they modified the strut mounts in the front and rear to get enough camber. They also modified the top of the strut tower to yield more caster.

“The amount of camber we run on this car — nobody believes me — but we run negative 4.5 in the front, and negative 3.5 in the rear,” Vaisman said. “So it runs crazy amounts of camber to make it turn and to get the tire wear we need.”

After running the entire 2012 WERC season, they decided in mid-October to run the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. That presented a lot of work in a short period, and there was still the question whether the engine could take the strain of a 25-hour race.

“The engine we put together in 2009 was the same engine we used in the 25 hours,” Vaisman said. “We checked compression and did a leak-down test. Everything was great so we thought there’s no reason to take it apart if it isn’t broken. There was nothing wrong with it.”

The two had been crewing for Karen Salvaggio in the 25 hours since 2007, so they knew it was better to dance with the devil you know rather than the one you don’t. So they went with the original engine. After a shakedown at Buttonwillow, a fresh coat of black paint and a host of stickers, they were ready. Well, as ready as you can be for the 25.

So how did they do? How about seventh in class and 29th overall. But here’s the kicker.

About seven hours into the race, the crew noticed that the inner axle CV boot was largely gone and the grease had flung out of the joint. They elected to leave it till it broke, then ran the next 18 hours of the race on an axle with a CV joint with no grease in it. And it finished. Barely. By the end of the race, it almost gave out.

“As soon as you got on the gas, it had a crazy vibration. We went from running 2:10s to 2:25s,” Vaisman said, noting how relieved he was at the lengthy caution period at the end of the race. “I just nursed it home. I couldn’t drive it fast. I just drove it in fifth gear around the track. Thank God there was a yellow, so I didn’t have to race for a while.”

Roman Vaisman’s 1996 Saturn SC2


2,280 lbs. with driver


stock 1.9-liter DOHC four cylinder


Front: struts with Agility coil overs, custom tower plates and brace;

Rear: Independent with Agility coil overs


Toyo Proxes RA1


Stock, with Raybestos SD43 pads front, Carbotech XP8 pads rear

Data Acquisition:

AiM Solo


Sampson Racing Communications, Royalty Auto Body, OG Racing, EZ Logy, Porterfield Brakes, Need Speed Racecar Rentals, Veterans Home Loans, Channel Islands Roofing, Toyo Tires, Viking Offroad Engineering


Image courtesy of Brett Becker

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