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Hagerty Employee

How Bob Lutz ushered in the Solstice and Sky, even as GM faltered

When Bob Lutz drove his Pontiac Solstice concept sports car onto the stage at the 2002 Detroit North American Auto Show, there was a clearly audible gasp from the astonished media scrum. Then came a round of applause, soon after topped by another bout of cheers for the sexy Solstice concept coupe that followed. “The North American market is ripe for an affordable, pure roadster,” Lutz proclaimed. “The Solstice is striking in its purity and simplicity.”


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If Bob had only arrived at GM 10 years sooner. 

He had many good ideas but just too little time and money to do much good. 

The Solstice was a miracle it was built. Though not perfect it was a good car. But it alone was never going to save Pontiac. 

People really have no idea how bad off GM was. The GTO did not get a new body and people were upset. Well it took till 2005 till they had the money to add the scooped hood and the duel exhaust on each side of the car. Money was that tight. 

The real trouble was Chevy and GM would never let Pontiac be what it was like in the 60’s and really push new independent ideas. After Delorean left there was no one with enough power to really push for what they needed. 

Sure they had some engineering Rebels but none powerful enough to bring enough change. 

Guys like Herb Adams could have delivered the product but never were permit. 

The last true Pontiac was the Fiero. It was canceled by GM several times and still was built in hiding. 

Gary Witzenburg also wrote a GM approved book on it. I wish he would do a new book today with the whole story not just the GM approved version of what happened. 


We really lost out when GM wasn't able/willing to continue the Kappa cars, I got an '07 GXP as soon as they were available, having test driven and walked away from the original 2.4 NA version base Solstice. I still have it, but I'd probably have a 2nd Gen one also, if there had been one. Lots of parts bin compromises were made due to time & money, but many good things as well, like it's Cadillac rear end. The top is fine IMHO, and as mentioned, the forward tilting hood is a great touch. I just put mine up on it's jackstands for the winter. Between multiple cars and motorcycles, and keeping the Sols off the road from the sart to finish of salt season, I still have under 44K miles on it. The entire bottom of the car looks like it was built last month EXCEPT solid surface rust on the rear axle tubes. (must be that "Cadillac Tax" thing). 😉


The Solstice and Sky were British Leyland cars for the 21st century: clever engineering and design that couldn't overcome a sclerotic bureaucracy. For example, look at Bozi's article here that outlined how GM made owners pay to remove the shipping spacers for the sports suspension on these cars.

A 2nd generation of these cars based on the Alpha platform would've been very interesting. GM almost always needs a second try to get things right. The Alpha platform's biggest weakness - its poor packaging - doesn't matter in a 2-seat roadster. You might've also been able to see out of an Alpha Solstice because it wasn't handcuffed to the past in the way that the Camaro's design is. 


Maximum Bob

New Driver

Best Bob Lutz quote ever; "The problem with GM cars is they all look like angry kitchen appliances"

New Driver

Nice - one of the best articles about the platform.

So, where are they now? Lutz is backing Henri Fiskar (Aston-Martin, BMW Z8 designer, founder Fiskar) in his latest endeavor: re-inventing the young-adult auto ownership experience by creating a $40,000 electric SUV that can be leased without a long-term contract. Franz von Holzhausen went to head Mazda design after the GM bankruptcy and is now lead designer with Tesla. His wife and former co-designer Vicki Vlachakis now designs high fashion accessories from sustainable materials and markets them under her own designer label: Vlachakis.

Intermediate Driver

A GMPP easy-to-install software and sensor upgrade option for less than $700 (installed and warranty approved by GM) was available (still is, in fact) for the Turbo cars that upped HP to 290 and torque to 340.  Hello?  Anybody listening?  I mean this is from a 2.0 liter motor!


Here is what Hot Rod Magazine wrote about the BASE turbo Solstice: 


"Think about that. Here is a 122ci four-cylinder that makes nearly as much power as the 350ci LT1 V-8 in a '94-'97 Trans Am, while weighing a little over 3000 pounds and providing that magical 30-plus-mpg rating. That is 130 hp per liter, or 2.13 hp per cubic inch—more horsepower per unit of displacement than any GM engine has ever achieved, even surpassing the vaunted 638-horse LS9 V-8 that powers the ZR-1 Corvette."


Despite its niggling ergonomic flaws, some budget parts-bin trim, and its lack of top-down luggage space, there was absolutely nothing in the Solstice's sports-car niche to beat it.  The handling was world-class and the acceleration (of the above mentioned modified car) would leave a contemporary Mustang GT--at almost twice the price--in the dust.  All the while getting econo-box mileage.


The Solstice/Sky was--and remains (on the used market)--a performance bargain never equaled in any sports car, foreign or domestic, before or since.  When you factor in its timeless, drop-dead gorgeous styling, it was, in effect, a 21st-century 289 Cobra: fast, sporty, and insanely beautiful--warts and all.


I own one, I'm keeping it, and I predict it won't be long before Haggerty is writing about how this car's value in the collector's market is shooting through the roof.  You heard it here first.

New Driver

This was arguably the best car GM built in a long time, if not ever. It had everything right, engine, power, suspension, the looks. The big problem was, the cost was much higher than the retail price, and there was no way to make people pay more for a four banger. Any bigger engine would put it in competition with Corvette, which was of course unacceptable. So, unfortunately this excellent car was dead at birth.

Advanced Driver

Thanks Robert,I think you have great insight.

Advanced Driver

I just bought one!  7958 miles. Payed twice book value from 2 years ago. You can throw the book away right now on nice ones.  Ask any dealer.  Miata's, Fiero's, Crossfires, and Solstices.   I don't think we will ever see this kind of car again in the U.S..  The days of bold ideas (like the Fiero) and brave thinkers are likely over.  Being shoved aside by big money.   There's not enough money in it for them anymore.  We are being forced to swallow larger and larger vehicles every year.  With astronomical price tags and pre-orders required, (insert Ford Bronco here).  As small interesting vehicles are being wiped from our selection.  They are in danger of complete extinction, mainly do to pricing issues.  NOT lack of demand!  Big Auto is actually afraid of how many small trucks they would sell if they were made available to the public,  because they see it as displacing their big trucks and their money cash cow.  Small trucks?  Where are they?  Every country but "here".  Do you ever get tired of reading about a vehicle only to find out that it will be marketed in the rest of the world but not in the U.S.?  We need a Henry Ford again.  Small and affordable and for the masses.  With some added variety of course.  We are supposed to think we are the freest country on earth!  Its getting harder every day to believe when every aspect of life is being manipulated for someone's profit.  If you own a small and interesting car, hold on tight!  They are quickly becoming rare, and valuable.


Besides the timing and the economy, I saw a number of DYI articles where some Solstice owners were transplanting Corvette V8's into them.  Like the article stated this would threaten Corvette sales  But what a set up!!  

New Driver

Great article and I love mine. Timeless styling makes it a looker. Every time I park it I have to look back over my shoulder at it’s beauty. While not winning a drag race I went in a spirited drive with some 911’s and stayed with them through a curvy course. I love the handling of these! 

Pit Crew

2008 Sky Redline in my toy garage. Always exciting to look at and equally exhilarating to drive. It will be with me for a long while.

New Driver

My wife and I purchased a 2007 Mean (Solstice color code for yellow) GXP new about 14 years ago and have about 17,000 miles on it. Finally had to purchase new tires for it two years back as the original Goodyear Eagle F1s were getting too "plasticky" on wet pavement.

The only non-original thing on the car now is the radio. We have the GM "Monsoon" system in it, but the original CD/MP3/XM/AM-FM head unit lost its mind about 5 years ago or so. I replaced it with a JVC unit that utilizes all of the power that Monsoon amp and speakers can deliver.

I did bleed and reload the brake fluid several years ago just as a precaution. Cheap braking insurance. Still on everything else original (except that I change the oil every year). Because it's a Hagerty car, it's been garaged its whole life. Only seen rain maybe 3 or 4 times.

Someone has replaced the radio in mine also, before I got it.

I picked up a 2008 GXP last year for a little over $6,000, and love the way it drives and handles and looks. I changed the radiator, fan (fan was damaged), and thermostat, and completely flushed the orange antifreeze for regular green and it now has no problems with the temperature. Never liked that orange antifreeze. Getting that last air bubble out of the system is really a pain. It's more fun to drive than my 97 Vette and the wife's BMW Z-3. Chevy or Buick should have picked up the line and kept it alive.
Pit Crew

There was another proposal/ A body style that would resemble a 1953 corvette with a nomad roof. GM contracted to have 50 of the Nomad roofs created in fiberglass complete with tinted windows. In 2016, GM included a red solstice with one of the Nomad roofs in the 2006 Detroit Auto Show. I purchased a 2006 solstice which was considered totaled. Later to my surprise, I noticed a posting for the Nomad roofs and made a deal for 3 of them. I have one on my solstice, It turns the car into a Sport estate, and is beautiful!

Folks the reality is the ergonomics were never an issue in this car. Nearly all sport and performance cars are built for style not vision lines. I never understood the complaints as they all are made to look cool over just being practical. 


Development cost today really make it difficult to build a low cost sports car. The Miata I fear today may be on its last gen. With Fiat pulling out the cost to do another gen may just not work. 


EV may be the only thing that saves this kind of car. The cost of EV will drop in time and much of it will inter change in a number of cars economically. The only real issue is getting a large enough battery in it and dealing with the excess weight. My Fiero at 2600 pounds will look feather light compared to what could come. 


The fact these cars were built at a bad time was a problem but sales had dropped by the end of the line and I am not sure there would have been a second gen even if GM has not gone chapter 11.  


If cars like this were easy and profitable to build everyone would be doing it.