This Saturn SL1 Defines The Term “Sleeper”

Being a car junkie, I’m always thinking outside of the box of “automotive builds” with many variations of cosmetic and performance traits. “What would be refreshing to see at a car show?” I find myself asking this often.

With that being said I discovered a forum about this type of LS4 swap and knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but I didn’t expect that the car that would be getting the LS4 swap would be a Saturn SL. Originally I thought someone would do this LS4 swap to a Honda civic or some other common front-wheel-drive hatch/sedan that is friendly to the car scene.

Getting back to the point, the fact this guy, Sean, created this magnificent monster out of a Saturn gives me a sinister feeling of joy. This guy drives one of the most regular, most unassuming cars on the road today, all while packing 450 hp under the hood. In a car that weighs a little over a ton. Savagery.


This car originally started out as a 2000, base model Saturn SL1 that had a Single cam four-cylinder motor, making a total of 100 horsepower. Now the car has a 5.3 liter LS4 V8 from an Impala SS. The standard 5.3 makes 303 horsepower, and 323 lb/ft of torque, but if you’re doing a swap like this, why not make it as mental as possible? An upgraded intake, exhaust, and throttle body are just some of the modifications. In total, this car makes 450 hp. I can’t imagine what the torque steer is like.


This Saturn will most likely embarrass a majority of other cars on the road today. Even if it has the tiny 14 inch steel wheels (at least I think they are 14’s) once those wheels get traction, a few quick throws of the gear lever will leave most opponent’s egos ravaged. This car is the definition of “sleeper.”

Backing up a bit, even in stock form, the Saturn SL isn’t a bad car at all. It is a cheap (in cost and build quality) economy car that best served people who need to get to point A to point B. It is generally reliable, pretty decent on gas, and the best part of all was the plastic body panels. Unlike other winter beaters, this one doesn’t have Swiss-cheese rust poking though the doors. Even after a Chicago winter, It’ll carry on exactly the same un-inspiring design curves as when it started.

This generation Saturn SL (and the one which preceded it) aren’t generally popular among today’s car crowds. Lacking aftermarket support might be one factor, lacking any type of driving excitement may be another. As fate would have it, these simply became hand-me-down cars. Someone’s daily driver, or winter beater. You would expect that this would be a teenager’s first car, or a car that you would see more often in college towns.

So for Sean R, who decided to go absolutely crazy with this build, I say thank you. The next time you line up next to an SL1 at a stop light, just remember the old saying: “Be careful who you call ugly in high school.” It’s an odd ball creation, for sure, but masterfully executed.


For those who want to know more in-depth detail about the swap make sure to read up on the owner’s thread on the LS1Tech forums here.

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