The blocks around the campus used to be reliably good CC hunting grounds. Not so much anymore; it’s mostly a sea of late model Asian brand sedans and CUVs. But one day this fall, I scored a two-fer. I already wrote up the ’64 Falcon in the background. So let’s take a look at the foreground: a Geo Spectrum, otherwise known as an Isuzu I-Mark, Gemini, Pontiac Sunburst (in Canada) and possibly other names elsewhere.
I hate to say it, but this might be the last one left in town still active on the streets.
I shot this yellow on back in 2015, but I haven’t seen it lately. Now I just need to find a red one.
Jim Cavanaugh did a full CC on the I-Mark version, and it didn’t get a whole lot of love from him. “Another Household Appliance” is what he called it. Hard to argue with that, but then they were pretty tough little appliances, and for some folks, that fit the bill for what they were looking for.
And Willam Stopford did another take, focusing more on its development, history and the Holden version.
The original styling was by Giugiaro, but apparently the mothership GM messed with his design, and was so incensed that he broke off his relationship with Isuzu and denied for a decade that he had anyhting to do with it. Well, it’s got his hands all over it, even if there was a bit of after-the-fact dilution.
The original version still had sealed beams in the US, but the ’89 restyle brought in a smoother if even more generic front end. For that matter, this was a pretty generic car all-round.
That includes the interior, although it did have that decidedly Isuzu instrument panel. With 70 hp on tap from its 1.5 L SOHC four, its performance was generic too, especially when teamed with the three speed automatic.
But it’s still getting someone around, and cheaply. Which was why someone bought it thirty years ago. Mission accomplished.
First off – 30 years? Holy cow!
I shopped for my first new car 30 years ago?
Secondly, this is a very good looking car. One can say that it is unadorned, but the proportions, the lines and the purposefulness of the design is excellent. This, and many similar little cars of this era, benefitted from a minimal design often lacking in earlier vehicles, or since.
It is not a square car. It attempts no fender blistering, no Pontiac ground effects, no asymmetrical shapes, no kick-ups over the back fenders, or ridiculously ginormous grille or badging. This car is easy on the eyes. That shouldn’t be a crime.
Interior-wise, this car was not a pioneer regarding high quality plastics, fabrics or instrumentation. I’m unable to think of a car in this class that was. Yet – look at what it did well, shall we? The interior is airy, roomy, uncluttered, and informative. While that dashboard appears generic – thankfully, it doesn’t try to do anything unnecessary just to be different.
I wouldn’t change a thing. Perhaps if it had a richer paint job in a better hue of blue, yellow or red – perhaps if it could have benefitted from today’s level of interior materials – but this car is 30 years old and it reflects what could be done in a vehicle that had a window sticker in the $7,000 – $9,000 range.
I agree VanillaDude. The farther we move into our current trend of flame surfacing and weird shapes and overembelished “aggressive” design, the more I appreciate the beauty of simplicity of the mid 80s-90s designs.
When (I assume it must happen sometime) does the trend of bizarre car design start to fade away finally ?
I remember the ’90s. It was awful. Cars were designed to look plain boring, offensively boring or ugly boring. Not saying current cars are my cup of tea, but let’s not forget how bad it actually was.
Back in the 1990’s, I also thought new cars, for the most part, were overly generic and horribly boring. But time has changed that, and when I see one of those cars on the road, it’s a breath of fresh air with its simple lines and clean, functional design. I even find the poster child of generic boring 1990’s styling, the 1997 redesign of the Toyota Camry, a rather handsome design today.
I guess I’ll see in 20-30 years if I warm up to the current styling trends, or if I’ll still consider them overdone and tacky.
I rode in one of these in the early 90s as my 89 Civic had broken down within 2 miles of a Honda dealership that had a Spectrum 4 door as it’s “courtesy car”. It struck me as a 2/3rds Civic and made me realize just how nice my car was.
I guess if you can find a decent example of a Spectrum at a reasonable price there is no reason not to buy it…aside from parts scarcity. But there really is nothing compelling about them.
BTW, my Civic cost me $9K in 1989 and that included A/C, for the extra cost compared to this Spectrum I think that the few extra thousand dollars was better spent.
This would probably be a Buick today, since Geo was the dumping ground for various GM product back in ancient times as Buick is used today.
I had one as well (an I-Mark). Overall it was a good car and fulfilled its mission well.
Very strange, yesterday I was literally musing that I had not seen one of these in a while, even in a junkyard and here you post this! Amazing.
Given the low entry price and lots of “deferred maintenance” often given inexpensive automotive appliances; I am guessing many/most of these were “rode hard and put away wet too often”?
This would explain why so few are still on the road.
Wonder what parts support is like for them, or any former GM captive import, these days? Used to see an early Metro around occasionally, but it’s been MIA for a couple years now.
A coworker of mine bought a Spectrum around 87 or 88, in bottom “Express” trim. Somehow, he qualified for financing, in spite of working for minimum wage. Seemed functional enough. Exhaust noise was quite evident from inside, but was not unpleasant.
Here’s your red one, Paul.
We traded my ’87 Suzuki Samurai for it in anticipation of starting a family not long after marriage. Drove it about a year (33K miles) and it was rattling and leaking oil. That didn’t bode well, and having already replaced Beth’s tree-smashed Buick Century with an ’89 Honda Civic DX hatch (and loving it), we traded the Sputum, er Spectrum, on a ’90 Civic base hatch. And never regretted it.
I wonder if there was any difference between the Geo/Chevy’s and the Isuzus, I never had any real issues with mine but I bought it with over 80k miles on it when it was about four years old. Yet people hate their Spectrums but generally seem to like their I-Marks. Maybe the materials were nicer? Mine felt good inside with decent upholstery etc. Besides an abject lack of power (but there was a turbo version that corrected that, at least in the Isuzu lineup) it did everything pretty much as well as most other small cars, with the exception of being a LOT cheaper than a Civic or Corolla or 323 (when buying used).
I actually liked the car, but by the one year mark I was getting bad vibes about its long-term durability/reliability. We put 165K on the Honda, and sold it to my youngest brother, who ran it up to 220K and sold it again. Don’t think the Spectrum would have gone near that far.
Unlike this morning’s Cadillac, I have warmed to these a bit. I suppose my biggest problem with them was that around the time I was exposed to one I was also driving a Plymouth/Mitsubishi Colt which was sooooooooo much more refined even though it too was a minimalistic econobox.
As I think of it, my Colt was an 83 which was near the end of that generation and GM was still selling this Chevy Speculum six years later. Perhaps I would have liked one of these better if I had gotten to try the stick shift instead of experiencing the 3 speed automatic non-a/c car blowing heated air at me through the “fresh air” vents on a hot summer day. But it got my dear departed mother in law everywhere she needed to go.
How odd. I drove and rode in a number of the Colts (they were made locally here by Mitsubishi), and, as a late ’70’s design, they felt pretty flimsy, VERY roly-poly round corners, had somewhat cramped and low-set seating, a rather stiff 8-speed gearchange and only reasonable mechanical quietness to recommend it. In contrast, my sister bought a super-low mileage ’85 Spectrum (Holden Gemini) sedan when it was about 5yo, and it felt entirely more modern. Solid body feel, slick n’ light 5-speed, excellent ride, decently low wind noise, good-enough steering and (to me) perfectly ok handling. Whilst alright in town, it had no power on the highways, and had crappy front seats. I should add she drove it 300k for the total cost of one clutch, and it was in perfect working order when it left.
Like everyone, it seems, I couldn’t ever warm to the thing, but I have to say it was to me a substantially better car than the Colt (as it ought to have been), and much harder to kill.
I rented a new Mitsubishi Colt/Mirage other than the fuel economy it had little to recomend it, at 100kph the wind forced the tops of the front doors away from the door seals making a buffetting noise, it had the clunky super shift overdrive twin gear stick setup that was fun for half an hour or so the economy setting worked the power one seemed absent, Handling was the usual vague unresponsive style expected from Japanese cars of that era, Anything else would seem an improvement,
I don’t disagree with what you say, Justy. It seems that cars all have a “loveability factor” (for lack of a better term.) Mitsubishis had it and I-Marks/Speculums didn’t.
JP: One of my college dorm mates had the “Twin Stick” Mitsubishi version of this car you mentioned; also equipped with a surprisingly competent, dealer added air conditioner, yellow with black interior and a kick-azz Mitsubishi (of course!) sound system.
For a car of that overall size, there was a LOT of interior room, enough for my 6-1 weightlifter self to be comfortable in.
He and I had great fun driving this car, rowing thru the gears and sucking the headlights out of bigger, more powerful cars driven by our unsuspecting college friends.
Two things from the interior picture, one, the driver of this car must be fairly short. And two, is the anti-theft club intended to be ironic or does the owner actually think someone is going to steal this car?
My initial reaction to the steering wheel lock was the same as yours. But then I remembered when I was driving old beaters. They weren’t much, but I couldn’t afford to lose them. My guess is that this humble car is a prized possession of its owner — for its utility, if nothing else.
I chuckled at that as well. Brings back memories because back when I met my wife (about 16-17 years ago), she ALWAYS used a Club on her Thunderbird. After a while, life got too busy to mess around with the Club, and gradually she got out of the habit of using it, but for a while, ours was the only car I’d see with one on the steering wheel.
Been a while since I’ve seen one of these. Interesting that it still has a Chevy emblem on the grille.
Did the ’89s really come with Chevy bowties on the grille, even though they were now being marketed as Geos? (nlpnt’s comment below about the ’89s having a grille unique to that one year suggests that they did.) When I first saw the picture, I assumed this car’s grille must have been replaced at some point. My wife’s grandmother had an ’89 Geo Spectrum at one time, and I didn’t remember that it had a Chevy logo up front
Yes the 1989 models had the Bowtie on them. I don’t know why they did not add the Geo logo to the Spectrum after redesigning the grill. It could be that they knew that the Spectrum would not be in the lineup that long. The 1990 Geo Prizm was offered for sale as an early 1990 model in Feb 1989.
Of course the Bowtie was added to all of the Geo models. It is in the center of the Geo globe emblem.
The exterior and interior design says 1981.
And it was a new grille for ’89. The ’87-88s (and ’89 I-Marks) had driving lights of some sort inboard of the headlights, the ’89 Spectrum lost them in favor of a one-year-only wider grille.
I guess the modern incarnation of this car would be the chevy Spark. Small, cheap and not extremely well made. But all that said, I’d consider owning one for the right price.
I owned one the same color and it was a nice little “appliance”, but that’s what I needed. Drove it all the way down the Al-Can highway and it ended up in California. I don’t recall it ever breaking down, though.