Curbside Capsule: 1981-82 Holden TE Gemini SL/X Diesel – Paul, I Found Another One

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One of Paul Niedermeyer’s most prized Curbside finds in The Land That Rust Forgot (aka Eugene, Oregon) was an Isuzu I-Mark diesel. He first covered it in 2014, following up his piece in 2015 to advise us the car was still running. And it’s not much of a gamble to say that, a year later, that trusty, reliable Isuzu is probably still clattering around Eugene. Paul pondered how many of these cars could still be running (well, ambling) around as daily drivers. The answer is: at least two. 

It’s not a coupe like Paul’s I-Mark mark, as Australia lost that bodystyle in 1978. It also wears Holden badges rather than Isuzu ones and was assembled in Australia, but otherwise it’s the same car right down to that “power”-plant under the hood. The naturally-aspirated 1.8 four-cylinder Isuzu diesel produced a mere 51 hp and 72 ft-lbs of torque.

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While many Geminis of this era have been tricked out, ridden hard and used up, this diesel seems to have enjoyed a much more placid life befitting its leisurely demeanor. Holden made the diesel available only in the top-spec SL/X sedan and, thankfully, with only a five-speed manual transmission available. The oiler also commanded a sizeable $1,000 premium over the regular 1.6 petrol mill. The Gemini (and I-Mark) had been restyled for 1979 and, in sedan form, it strongly resembled the new Holden Commodore; wagons used carryover sheetmetal aft of the A-pillar. The diesel engine was a new mill developed by Isuzu and first launched in other markets in 1980. The T-Car platform was ageing, however, having first launched in 1973; it would live into the mid-1980s in most markets and, astonishingly, lasted until as late as 1998 in Colombia.

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The Gemini was an enduring sales success for Holden and thousands left the old Acacia Ridge factory on Brisbane’s southside each year. The diesel was only a niche player however, given it was limited to one transmission, one body style and one trim level. The diesel was restricted to the SL/X because the engine was imported from Japan and Holden still had to reach an 85% local content figure. Although a small seller, the diesel’s buyers were loyal: a resident of Kenmore, around half an hour from the old Gemini factory, reached a million kilometres in his 1984 Gemini diesel (link here) and claims his trusty diesel has only broken down once. Another owner says he regularly gets between 5-6 l/100km (42-45 mpg), which must make that agonizingly slow acceleration somewhat worthwhile; Popular Science recorded a 0-60 time of 25 seconds, on par with other diesels of the era but absolutely tepid by modern standards. For comparison’s sake, the 1.6 petrol achieved around 9-10 l/100km (23-26 mpg) and produced 67 hp and 81 ft-lbs. Despite slow sales, Holden offered the diesel until the end of the RWD Gemini’s run in 1985.

Geminis of all different stripes are becoming an increasingly rare sight on Australian roads so spying one of the rarest Geminis at my local shopping mall was as much of a delight to me as Paul’s I-Mark spotting was for him. Now, has anyone else spotted one of these?

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1985-89 Isuzu I-Mark

Curbside Classic: 1982 Isuzu I-Mark diesel coupe

Curbside Classic: 1980 Chevrolet Chevette Scooter