It was a few minutes before midnight Wednesday, when Elaine Terry was scheduled to become the first owner of a Saturn automobile in the area, and she was waiting nervously for the blue sedan to appear. Her car-to-be was out back, getting all the fingerprints washed off.
"It was just full of fingerprints," said Mark Belviso, Saturn of Clearwater's general manager.
For three days, Mrs. Terry's car and the seven other first cars Saturn of Clearwater received were an object of curiosity on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The dealership didn't officially open until Thursday morning, but people had been there since Monday _ looking and touching.
People came out by the dozens to get a glimpse of General Motors Corp.'s newest attempt to compete with Japanese imports. They were even there in the middle of the night, with Mrs. Terry.
"I have been driving past here for months and months wondering what Saturn was," said Amy Woolary, who stopped by just before midnight Wednesday.
Others came by to stare and touch. One fellow drove up in a stretch limousine and put a few new fingerprints on Mrs. Terry's car before she left the lot with it.
Others just drove by, honking their horns and yelling "Go America" when they noticed the crowd gathered in the dealership's brightly-lit lot.
The cars could not be delivered to new owners until Thursday. In an attempt to become the first Saturn dealership in the country to sell a car, Saturn of Clearwater opened at 12:01 a.m. to deliver Mrs. Terry's car.
Saturn officials could not confirm that the dealership was the first in the country to sell a car, said spokeswoman Jennifer Schettler.
But the dealership beat any in time zones beyond the East Coast, and Russ Clark, Saturn's manager for the Southeast, said he knew of no other dealerships in his area that actually sold cars at midnight.
Mrs. Terry said being first wasn't all that important to her anyway. She was just happy to have her new car _ even if it was in the middle of the night and a long drive back home to Tampa for the school teacher.
By day's end Thursday the dealership had sold four other Saturns and taken orders for seven more. A truckload of about a dozen more of the cars also arrived Thursday.
Mrs. Terry, who traded in her 1985 Oldsmobile Delta 88 for the Saturn, said she decided she wanted a Saturn weeks ago _ before she even got a chance to see one in person.
In the meantime, "I drove a couple of Toyotas. We drove a Honda," she said. "But from everything we have read, this has that quality and more _ it's made in Tennessee, and I'm from Tennessee."
She wanted to buy an American car.
Mrs. Terry drove over Monday, pointed to the blue car on the lot, asked whether it had an automatic transmission, then said she wanted it after the salesman told her, "yes." Sticker price was $12,800.