Curbside Musings: 1991 Geo Metro LSi – Math Skills

1991 Geo Metro LSi. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 28, 2019.

One of my first serious career interests was to be a car designer.  Every kid goes through a period of discovering what he or she would like to do for work when they grow up, and I smile when I think of all the different things I had wanted to be: a chef, a dressmaker, and an automotive stylist being among them.  Could I have done all three?  The world will never know, but I also believe that everything happens the way it’s supposed to.  I had started sketching cars during my fourth grade year spent overseas in Liberia.  Maybe it was because I was a little homesick, but one day I took a blank sheet of paper and drew my version of an AMC Gremlin from memory.

1991 Geo Metro LSi. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 28, 2019.

The Gremlin has a pretty uncomplicated shape in profile, especially with its bluntly chopped tail and upswept rear side window.  There aren’t a whole lot of pesky compound curves on it to hamper the process.  The Gremlin was easy enough to sketch for a kid who was still in his single digits, and I prized that picture, rudimentary though it was.  From the time I returned home to Flint, Michigan and up through high school, I was busy creating a small stack of Joe Dennis originals of cars I dreamed of being put into production.

I had even been gifted with a Crayola drafting set for Christmas at some point, so my parents were paying attention.  I actually wasn’t that technically skilled at drawing, and most of my sketches were in direct profile and never three-dimensional, but I would sketch and dream to my heart’s content.  I honestly thought I would work for one of the Big Three (or resurrect AMC) one day in that capacity.  I also understood the importance of getting good marks in math class and paying attention if I was going to gain entry into that field and succeed.

I’m nothing if not a walking set of dichotomies.  During recess in elementary school, I equally enjoyed playing soccer on the field with the guys and double-dutch jump-rope with the girls.  I would roughhouse loudly with my brothers in the living room, and later be quietly busy with my knitting needles on the couch.  I still listen to most every kind of music – pop, rock, R&B, jazz, Latin freestyle, classical, etc.  I had the whole Black / White / foreign / U.S. thing going with my parentage and background.  Scholastically, I loved both math and English, and I got good grades in both.  As far as the latter, I’ve always found joy in expressing myself, so things like writing essays and telling anecdotes innately appeal to me, and I did well in subjects dependent on skill with the written word.

1991 Geo Metro LSi. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 28, 2019.

I’m also highly methodical (Tuesday mornings at CC are evidence of this) and love the no-nonsense truths that mathematical formulas deliver without fail.  It’s almost like the left and right halves of my brain had to agree with each other not to dominate for no other reason than to ensure my own sanity.  Maybe I had thought I’d design cars by day and write columns about it by night.  I do miss the youthful optimism of believing absolutely anything was possible, and it’s true that many things still are.  I did as a youth what I believed I was supposed to do in order to stay on the path to an automotive career, which was to continue participation in the Flint public school system’s magnet program, which included advanced math courses.  It was around the time of the Geo Metro’s introduction for the ’89 model year that I would take geometry.  (Shout out to Mr. McLean.)

You’ve made it into the collective, cultural psyche when you’ve been spoofed on The Simpsons.

My mind has formed associations by what seem to be the most random combination of occurrences and stimuli.  When the Geo Metro first arrived for the ’89 model year, replacing the Chevy Sprint, my first thought, honest to goodness, was that General Motors was trying to form some connection with geometry with the new name it had given its version of the Suzuki Cultus that was manufactured in its CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada.  In most of the definitions of geometry that I’ve read online, many of them include reference to the concepts of area and volume.  That contextual connection with this little car would make sense when one thinks about the Metro doing the most within its little external dimensions.

1991 Geo Metro LSi. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 28, 2019.

These things are tiny.  This little LSi hatchback sits on a 89.2-inch wheelbase, measuring 174.4″ from bumper-to-bumper, is 62″ wide and 52.4″ tall, and yet it has a cargo capacity of 29.1 cubit feet with the rear seats down.  This is within just one cubic foot within the cargo capacity of my old, much bigger ’88 Mustang hatchback (also with the rear seats down).  Curb weight?  Just 1,620 pounds.  The Metro’s fuel tank held only 10.6 gallons of gas, but its one-liter, three-cylinder engine with 55 horsepower was rated by the EPA for fuel economy of 46 city / 49 highway with its standard five-speed manual transmission.  Consumer Guide reported their test car returning 39.5 miles per gallon.  That’s the kind of math I can get behind, though I still wouldn’t want to be in one of these in an accident.

Maybe GM was going for urban flavor with the name “Metro”, short for “metropolitan”.  This would make sense for such a small car, especially in large cities like Chicago where side-street parking can be a bear in some of the more densely populated neighborhoods.  I still maintain that there was somebody in the chain of this car’s development or marketing that had the same thought as me that “Geo Metro” would register with math-philes.

1991 Geo Metro LSi. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 28, 2019.

Ultimately, a later lack of confidence in my math abilities derailed my car-designing aspirations.  Trigonometry would later be a challenge, but I was still all-in on my car designing goals.  Ultimately, it was calculus with Mr. Shaw as a high school senior that was the last nail in the coffin of that dream.  And then it was off to college with a blank slate and a new dream of journalism and anchoring the nightly news.  (For about five minutes.)  I kept many of my car sketches and have them in storage somewhere.  I’ll need to go through my things at some point for a periodic purge, but if I come across that cache, I’d consider sharing some of my better drawings here at CC.

As for this jellybean Geo, I think it still has such a purity of shape, especially compared with many of today’s overwrought and ever-larger designs, even among compacts.  Its tasteful, minimalist looks reflect its mission as a simple, low-tech machine, designed for the singular purpose of facilitating the most inexpensive operation possible on a tank of gas.  It represented simple math for the economy-minded masses.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, April 28, 2019.