It was December 1991, and Mom decided it was time to get a new car.
There was nothing major wrong with her 1976 Vega, but it was starting to have the kind of little issues that made my non-mechanical mother a bit nervous. It had been a good, relatively trouble-free car that did not live up to the infamous Vega Legend, but Mom was ready for a change. My repeated attempts to talk her out of getting rid of the Vega were in vain.
She wanted her two children to help her pick out her next car, which took a little planning. My brother and I lived up in Seattle, but Mom still lived down south in our home town of Raymond, a two and a half-hour drive away.
We rented a white 1991 Corolla to make the trip. I don’t remember why we didn’t just take either my 1966 Pontiac Catalina or my brother’s 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit. Perhaps the Rabbit was in need of another clutch cable, and maybe we were afraid that the old Pontiac’s starter would give out. The Catalina went through a series of cheap reconditioned starters before I eventually had the sense to ask a gas station mechanic where he got starters for his customers.
All the way down to our hometown, we bemoaned our mother’s taste in cars. She had her heart set on a new Chevy Cavalier, a car neither of us cared for. But, in our mother’s world view, there were only two cars worth buying: Chevrolets and Ramblers, and Ramblers were no longer an option. However, when we finally made it down to Raymond, Mom took an instant liking to the Toyota. In fact, she was beaming. This was HER kind of car. Everything had a purpose, and there was a purpose for everything; form just simply followed function. It’s hard to adequately describe just how much she liked that Toyota without making it sound like a silly joke. After all, it was only an appliance-white Corolla 4-door! But some people aren’t impressed by a Turbo-Super-Mega-Charged GSXZX or a Supreme Brougham D’Pretentious. They want a car that fits like a good pair of shoes, and Donna Hayes was one of those people. Whenever someone started bragging about their fancy luxury and/or performance car, she’d invariably shoot them down by saying in a perfect deadpan: “A car’s just basic transportation.”
She liked the Toyota so much, she elected to travel to the Chevrolet dealership in nearby Aberdeen with my brother and I, while her boyfriend at the time, a courtly gentleman named Sterling Andall, followed us in his two-tone 1975 Camaro Rally Sport.
My brother and I were very happy that she liked the Corolla. Everyone knew that Toyotas were the most reliable cars on the road, didn’t they?
Mom’s only objection was that the Toyota was a “foreign car.” At this point in the proceedings, my brother’s subscription to Consumer Reports came in very handy. He patiently explained to Mom that the Corolla was actually assembled in California, in the same factory where a very similar car called the Geo Prizm was also put together, to be sold at Chevrolet dealers. Of course the Geo was little more than a Toyota Sprinter Sedan with a Geo globe emblem tacked on, but Mom liked the idea that the Geo was “a Chevy,” and we all three liked the fact that you could usually get a better deal on a Geo versus an equivalent Toyota.
Such was the marketing power of that Toyota tri-oval badge. Call a car a Toyota, and people will automatically assume that it’s made in Japan and therefore superior to any domestic brand. But in our particular case, Mom’s bias in favor of an American brand worked very much to our advantage.
The story of the NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) plant where Corollas and Prizms were assembled was covered quite well by Jeff Nelson in his article on the Prizm’s predecessor, the Chevy “CorNova”:
While I’m at it, for another good article on a NUMMI-built car, I recommend Paul’s piece on a very inexpensive used 1992 Corolla:
Once we made it to the dealership and had a chance to look at a couple of Prizms, Mom was quick to decide that the Geo was even better than the Corolla. In fact, you could almost say that Donna Hayes was in love. And that was a huge problem. My mother had many virtues and many talents, but she couldn’t dicker and she couldn’t deal. The salesman knew he had a live one on his hands. Our Geo price advantage was evaporating. This was where my brother and I came in.
I tried to interest Mom in a silver 1991 Prizm that had been repossessed and only had 10,000 miles on it, but she wanted nothing to do with a used car. Besides, it had a cassette deck. SHE DIDN’T WANT A CASSETTE DECK. A radio was good enough for her! I remember thinking that the only person who would benefit from my mother’s insistence on getting a new car would be me. “Someday, I’ll inherit a car with 10,000 fewer miles on it.” I hit it right on the nose, but I’m glad I kept that thought to myself.
Meanwhile, Mr. Andall was looking at a new white Trans-Am. (Yes, they sold Pontiacs, too. Small-town dealers are like that. They even sold Toyotas, but they didn’t have any Corollas in stock.) Needless to say, he and my mother did not see eye-to-eye on cars, but he came along for moral support and to share in the occasion. There was a real gleam in his eye when he looked at that Firebird, and for a moment, I saw a much younger man.
Of all the men who passed in and out of my mother’s life after Dad died when I was four years old and my brother was six, Sterling Andall was by far my favorite. He was an unpretentious fellow, but that majestic movie-star name just seemed to suit him. And besides, he had good taste in cars. In this old snapshot from the late 50’s he poses proudly in front of his flower garden, while a 1955 Chrysler waits patiently in the driveway.
Mom was very specific about what she wanted: a base model Prizm painted either white or light blue, with an automatic transmission and nothing else that she would have to pay extra for. The dealer didn’t have any of the 130-horsepower GSi models for her to look at, but the rear spoiler on the GSi would have elicited a derisive snort from Mom in any case. She always referred to rear spoilers as “basket handles,” a little bit of sarcasm that I believe she picked up from me.
Regarding the available options such as air conditioning, power windows and those annoying cassette decks, she flatly stated with a dismissive wave of her hand, “I don’t need all that nonsense.”
You’d think that someone so particular about the specifics of a car would also drive a hard bargain, but in the case of my mother, you would be wrong. She would have paid list price for the Geo if my brother hadn’t done her dickering for her.
Since they didn’t have the exact car Mom wanted on the lot, the salesman called around to several other Chevy dealerships until they came up with a car that was dark metallic blue, but otherwise fit her specifications. Mom decided that she could live with a dark blue car, and the deal was made.
Later, when the salesman called Mom to discuss the delivery of the new car, he made the mistake of calling her “Hon.” Why did he call her ‘Hon?’ What was she, some little old lady? It annoyed her no end. As a result, calling each other “Hon” quickly became a running joke in our family. One can’t help wonder what she would have done if he’d called her “Hon” before the deal was closed.
When the car arrived, the salesman insisted upon a commemorative photo. What you see here was my mother’s “grin and bear it” face. Astute car-spotters will of course instantly identify the lawn-ornament Vega station wagon in the background.
Mom drove that little car for the next 19 years, until November 2010 when a massive stroke left her paralyzed on her right side and greatly affected her ability to speak. When she passed away seven months later from complications of that stroke, Betsy officially became my car.
Yes, her name is Betsy. Plenty of people have a name for their car, but Mom took that point of view a step further. In her universe, darn near everything was alive and had a personality. She could get anthropomorphic with the best of them. She didn’t just open the dryer and take out the clothes. No, the dryer happily opened its mouth, and the clothes danced out into the laundry basket, happy to be warm and eager for you to wear them. It was rather like a Disney cartoon.
I supposed she could have picked a more imaginative name for her car. Calling your car “Betsy” is rather like naming your son “Michael.” It’s not a bad name, but it’s a trifle obvious.
But what the heck. She’s Betsy.
And she’s looking good. This picture, taken last summer in the same spot where Mom shook hands with a man who had the temerity to call her “Hon” shows how little the car has changed.
Speaking of running jokes, the handshake photo op quickly became a family favorite. When I ended up buying the Vega from Mom, I insisted that Sterling take a commemorative photo. I’m scratching my bald head right now as I look at that picture. Is that guy with the full head of hair and the Joe-College outfit really me?
This shot, taken in the summer of 1992 right after Mom and Sterling painted the house, shows Betsy in all her youthful glory, and not yet sporting her Dairy Queen Blizzard antenna topper.
This picture from last summer reveals the fact that Betsy’s dark metallic blue finish has faded a bit. But it’s a nice effect; like a movie star with a touch of gray in her hair, Betsy is still looking good. Mom always parked Betsy in the garage, and although the garage had no door, Mom would drape old towels on the back of the car on sunny days to protect Betsy’s finish and interior.
The DQ Blizzard is firmly in place on the end of the antenna, where it has been for several years. I’ve given up on trying to remove it. I’ve decided that it’s a “period correct accessory.”
The interior is in good shape, original Delco AM/FM radio and all. And that odometer reading is no joke; Betsy only recently hit 70,000 miles. That’s just a little over 3,000 miles a year. Since Mom had recently retired when she bought Betsy, the car never had to endure a daily commute. The low mileage is in spite of the fact that Mom was fond of driving for the heck of it, or “taking the scenic route,” as she liked to say. A 50-mile round-trip to go shopping in Aberdeen was a monthly ritual for her. This is one of the keys to Betsy’s good overall condition. Mom drove the car just enough to prevent a lot of the issues that seldom-driven cars tend to have. She was also fond of saying, “a car shouldn’t just sit.”
The seats show very little sign of wear. I usually use Hawaiian beach blankets for makeshift seat covers, but I removed them for these photos.
One of the few flaws in the interior is this cigarette burn on the passenger-side door panel. It dates back to the only time anyone ever smoked in this car, when Betsy was less than a month old. Mom was driving Sterling to a doctor’s appointment when he absent-mindedly lit up. My militantly non-smoking mother was not pleased.
I see things a bit differently. Whenever I get in the car, I look over at that cigarette burn and it reminds me of a good man who treated my mother like a lady.
One minor problem that has cropped up lately is a bad case of sagging headliner. That will be my next project.
Here’s an idea: Why not have a Geo Prizm Turbo Limited Edition? The emblems are available at your local department store! I was going to give these faux emblems to my brother as a joke, but I lost them when I drove away without first taking them off of the bumper. These things are pretty common. I was starting to wonder why so many different makes of cars were using the same script for their “turbo” emblems.
But who needs tacky stick-on emblems? The simple addition of a bike rack turns Betsy into a hybrid; a much more sensible upgrade. This picture was taken last year when I picked up my new bike at Free Range Cycles.
The car came with a space-saver spare tire, but Mom got a real tire and wheel to use instead. Although it takes up a lot of trunk space, I agree with that choice! And put the blame on me for those marks on the bumper; that’s where the left bike pedal always made scratches, until I started putting a sock over the pedal.
A profile shot makes me say that the Prizm is one of many cars that owe a stylistic debt to the NSU Ro80.
The ’89 to ’92 Prizm was based on the JDM Corolla Sprinter Sedan, as this photo of a Sprinter (from the Japanese car export website www.beforward.jp) clearly shows.
This shot of a Corolla illustrates some differences between what you got from a Chevy Dealership and what you could get down the street at the Toyota store. In the USA, the Sprinter Sedan body style was only available as a Geo. Those who insisted on a car with a Toyota badge had to settle for the regular old Corolla, without the Sprinter’s C-Pillar windows and that little hint of a spoiler on the trunk. Such are the small details that can make a big difference in the appearance of a car.
But it’s only a hint, and not a full-on basket handle. Thank goodness for that! I really like this particular little detail.
No car is perfect. Although Betsy’s rear windows do open, they don’t roll down all the way.
I’d actually prefer the 5-door hatchback version of the Prizm, which was based on the JDM Sprinter Cielo, but the hatchback was discontinued after the ’91 model year. It’s a bit more practical, and I like the oddball bubble-back design a little more than Betsy’s conventional layout. Don’t tell Betsy I said that.
One thing you won’t hear me complain about is the motor. Betsy just has the standard 102 horsepower engine, but that’s plenty of power for the way I drive. Note the conspicuous absence of the word “Toyota” on that valve cover. I find it amusing that nowadays we consider a car that has a 4-valve-per-cylinder electronically fuel-injected motor to be a ‘dull, boring appliance.’
After all those years of having a garage to herself, I imagine it was a big adjustment for Betsy when I took over as her driver, and she moved into the dormitory-style accommodations of a condominium parking garage. Oh man, am I ever my mother’s son! I’m turning the simple act of parking my car into a Disney cartoon. And don’t ask me why they gave me an extra-wide disabled parking spot when I’m the able-bodied driver of a very narrow car. Just lucky, I guess!
I’ll also have to admit that my choice of parking spots is sometimes based on how well I think my car will get along with the other car. Here, she’s parked next to a co-worker’s 2nd-generation Prizm. Although Betsy might envy the newer car’s voluptuous curves, the later-model Prizm is probably jealous of Betsy’s complete set of original wheel covers.
I look at this photo I took the other day when I was visiting my brother, and I wonder: Will I ever need another car? My current job commute is ten miles round-trip, and I usually just ride my bicycle to work. The car gets driven one or two days in a typical week, and a high percentage of the driving is in the form of easy highway miles. Riding a bike to work makes the commute fun, and it also prevents driving from feeling like a chore. I’m 53 years old, and based on my lifestyle and family history, I can expect to live another 25 to 30 years. So by then, the car will have what, 200,000 miles? So what? We’re talking about a Toyota here. Sure, I don’t have the most exciting car in the world, and she’s not the sort of car that gratifies the Male Ego. My Male Ego would love to have a car with a stick shift, but what happens the next time I crash my bike and have to walk around on crutches or do everything one-handed for a while? The delicate dance of driving a stick shift would be difficult.
After Mom had her stroke, I looked at the Geo and thought of Jay Leno’s old saying, “The car needed me.” Well, maybe the car did need me, but I also need this particular car. Perhaps the next owner of my Geo hasn’t even been born yet. Like I said in the title, she’s a keeper.
Plenty of these cars here wearing Toyota badges none with Geo badges they just keep going until people get sick of driving them
Yeah, in places where they don’t salt the roads, these cars just keep going and going. I’ve seen a lot of old Corollas and Prizms that obviously have not been well-maintained, but are nonetheless still on the road.
Beautiful piece. It was a pleasure getting to know your mother, Sterling, and you. That car’s definitely a keeper. It’s nice to see you taking such good care of it.
Sounds a great way to link back to your Mum, and you can always get an MX-5 for the weekend. 😉
Key point is that, as you identify, for 80% (?) of users, the car is a tool of equal status to the refrigerator/TV/lawnmower/dishwasher and worthy of the same level of interest we (readers of this site and others like it) give to the cooker or the vacuum cleaner.
And that failure to understand people like your Mum and what they needed from a car is why GM, Ford, Chrsyler, BLMC and maybe now Peugeot are where they are now.
Funny you should mention the MX-5. Whenever she saw a Miata, Mom would invariably say, “You know I don’t like convertibles, but I can just see you in one of those. It’d be perfect for you.” The idea is definitely tempting.
Nice story Mike,never seen a Geo but as Bryce says there’s plenty of them as Toyotas.I thought it looked familiar.
Chevrolet began selling a line of “captive import” models in the U.S., sourced from various Japanese manufacturers, in 1985. At first these cars were just badged as Chevrolets, but from 1989 to 1997 they were badged under the Geo brand. After that, the remaining models went back to being badged as Chevrolets again.
And to further confuse matters in North America, GM sold many of these same captive imports in Canada under the Asuna brand…
Ah, yes. Asuna. David Saunders covered Asuna in his article on Canadian badge-engineering. It’s a real trip down the rabbit hole of car-marketing nonsense. Of course the U in Asuna should have an umlaut over it, but I can’t seem to find the umlaut key…. I really need to get a better computer.
Yes, By the time I realized I misspelled it (I’m a Southerner, so not as familiar with Canadian marques), it was too late to edit.
But you’re right, it’s Asüna.
Be glad you didn’t have the spoiler on Betsy – those damned things wreak havoc with mounting a trunk mount bicycle rack. The only car I’ve ever owned with a rear spoiler that fitted a trunk rack well was my Porsche 924S.
Nice Long Haul Trucker, by the way. I see your serious enough to do bar end shifters rather than the damned brifters, and 26″ wheels to boot.
I love that bike; it’s perfect for me. Even though I’m still fairly skinny, I needed a heavy-duty bike, with a steel frame that even I can’t break, no matter how stupid and wreckless I get.
My mom bought a base model 95 from Enterprise, it was red with steel wheels. I could never convince anyone it was actually a Toyota, even though one of the center caps was from Corolla. I thought the dash and center stack were a nicer design than the same generation Toyota. It ran perfectly and she kept it for 16 years. There was nothing wrong with it when she sold it, she was just sick of it and wanted something new. She bought a red 03 Sunfire from her mechanic and says she can’t believe how cheap it feels compared to her Geo.
A beautiful story about a beautiful lady. I really enjoyed this piece. So often a car is in reality a link with a loved one. Well done!
Taking over a parent’s car is a unique experience. I bought two different Crown Victorias from my mother, and still have one of them. Your piece reminds me that I really need to take that story on.
You have also solved a longtime mystery for me: I always knew that the Geo was just a Corolla, but never made sense of the differing body styles. Now the puzzle is completed, and one more bit of fascinating but completely useless information is stored away in the place that keeps me from remembering relevant stuff. 🙂
Back when these were being built, while I knew that they were closely related to the Corolla, I never knew that their styling was based on a JDM Corolla variant not sold in the U.S. I don’t recall ever seeing that reported anywhere. I assumed that the styling differences were something GM or Toyota had come up with specifically for this model.
I’m on the same boat, I lifelong car spotting nerd, but I’ve never noticed the different C-pillars on the Corolla and Prizm. I always thought they were 100% the same minus the badges, great write up!
I know I’m not the only one who would like to hear about that Crown Victoria. And er… regarding expanding your repository of useless information, I’m glad I could help.
And speaking of beautiful, Mom still had a bit of a twinkle in her eye, even when she was in her 70’s.
If you sell that car, you’ll regret it for the remainder of your life.
Thank you for this story!
It’s funny, I was happy to trade in my tired ’96 Prizm on a “new” used Mazda3, but my now-teenage daughter misses the Geo and wishes I’d hung on to it. Being modest, honest and sturdy, whether you’re a car or a person, will make you a lot of friends.
My senior pastor’s husband has a 91 Corolla in that same color. He got it for $500 a few years ago and the previous owner would buy it back in a heartbeat. He loves that car, even though it’s faded, and has basically no options. His wife, my pastor, hates the car and refuses to be seen in it! She has a 2000 Bug and just bought a 2010 Eos and wants to get rid of the Toyota. But he just won’t do it!
When I read how your mother would flatly refuse an otherwise perfectly matching car with a cassette deck, I’m reminded of how members of our parents’ generation were conditioned to a lengthy list of “a la carte” options – and how much these same folks (as well as many others) dislike the current practice of “options packages.”
It can be frustrating when the buyer wants to buy from dealer stock. I ran into this same issue the last time I helped a family member buy a new car, and I finally had to pull them aside and explain that they could either a) take the car on the lot and drive away today, b) pay a transfer fee in excess of the cost of the unwanted option, and then technically have a less valuable car, c) burn gas that costs more than the unwanted option by driving to another dealer some 200 miles away, or d) wait until the dealer gets, or orders, one exactly the way you want it. But some people have strong opinions, and I respect that.
As for myself, about 20 years ago I was “forced” to accept an unwanted remote locking fob on a Maxima; I thought such a device was useless until I lived with one. But then again, it works both ways: One of my current vehicles (bought lightly used) doesn’t have heated seats, but after I did the math I decided I’d save enough to buy several lifetimes’ worth of heating pads and massages for my arthritic back. 🙂
Same here. I was annoyed my new car came with keyless go and remote start as part of a package, I thought they were gimmicky features, and just wanted a simple key, dagnabit.
Within the first day I was in LOVE with the remote start, here in OK where the temperature can be anywhere from 120 to -10, it’s nice the start the car with the AC/Heater on and go out 4 min later to a comfortable car.
A coworker had elderly parents shopping for s new Lumina. They wanted a sunroof but refused to get one with a CD player. Because they didn’t have any CDs. I think the dealer had to do a radio swap before they would consider the car.
This so resonates with me, even though I’m just 36. My ideal vehicle right now would be a base Ford F-150 crew cab, long box, 4×4, locking diffs, EcoBoost and cloth seats. That’s it. No carpet, no nav systems, no chrome trim and definitely no 20 inch chrome wheels. Supposedly you can order such a beast but good luck doing so!
Thank you very much for finally writing the story, I’ve been waiting for it! All the details that come with long-term ownership are nice to hear and it’s great to see someone take very good care of a basic car that gets the job done as well as any other car (and often better). Thanks again!
After a lifetime of GM products my fathers last two cars were Toyotas, Amon Coronas though not Corollas.
Similar to the Sprinter, the Corona was not sold in the U.S. after 1982, with its spot in the U.S. Toyota lineup taken by the front-wheel drive Camry. The Corona was a reasonably popular model here, but through most of the ’70s and beyond it was probably Toyota’s third or fourth most popular vehicle at best (behind the Corolla, Celica and pickup), and never sold in anywhere near the numbers that the Camry would go on to.
In parts of the country where rust is an issue, Coronas are a rare sight today, and the name has been largely forgotten by the non-car-oriented public. When I was in college in the early ’90s, I had a female friend who drove an ’81 Corona sedan that was a hand-me-down from her parents. That’s the last time I remember knowing someone who owned one.
I always really liked these. My ex had an ’89 Corolla SR5 coupe, which I believe is the coupe version of this car — and it was just a real pleasure to drive. I’ll bet the sedan is too.
During my brief but rewarding (not) career as an automobile sales associate (1990-91), these were ubiquitous on used lots. The used car manager bought program (ex-rental) Prizms 3 at a time and would be gone in a week.
Great cars; much nicer than the concurrent Corolla. They are pretty much gone here in the Rust Belt. Yours is in amazing condition.
Love the story! Just about brought a tear down my cheek! What a cool woman. And unreal how long she kept her cars!
my mother in law has just retired from driveing she passed her test in 1938 ,her first car was a 1921 austin 7 her finnal car has been a 1997 nissan micra a lifetime of cars..very nice wright up…
Even if you have no interest in cars, or that car, it was a really really nice story for a Saturday afternoon. I think your mother and Mr. Andall would be proud. Thank you.
When I was a kid, my mother had a ’74 Pinto that she nicknamed “Betsy”….
Hey, let’s hear about it. Maybe we could have “Betsy Week.”
This reminds me of my 1991 Eagle Summit LX; which I purchased in 1998 for $1500. A 5speed, with a barely working clutch (which I replaced a year later before heading to college), the car went everywhere, excellent in snow, and with very little maintenance over the years. It could fit my entire dorm room, driving too and from Hudson Falls NY to Boston with ease as well as 30mpgs. The car even got me through a 2500 mile road trip after I graduated college. Eventually lasting me 10 years before it started eating rear wheel bearings monthly. A retired Whiteman Chevrolet mechanic bought it from me stating “I know these cars, its perfect, and I can handle the rear end” and I saw it driving around town for the next 5 years. I bought my friends Saturn SC1, not super loving it and eventually selling it for a Subaru Forester. Now my wife and I are ardent Subaru owners. Though I will never forget my California Orange Eagle Summit.
I just want to say thanks to everyone for their kind words. I had A LOT of fun writing this story, because it brought back so many happy memories, and it’s great to see it appreciated.
This makes me miss our white ’95 Prism, dubbed “Gracie” by the wife, even more. We bought it in 2000 with 55,000 miles on her to replace my POS ’91 F-150. Ours was not the LSi, but it had air and a cassette deck (which, with it being 2000 and having last bought a cassette ten years before, we never used). The quality of the interior was better than my ’96 Contour, and years ahead of my later car, an ’02 Cavalier. It gave us seven years of excellent service, went through snowstorms with barely a hiccup, and delivered excellent gas mileage (although I wished it had a stick and not the power-sapping automatic). In 2007 we wanted something bigger so we “upgraded” to a Buick Rendezvous (mistake), and gave it to my father for a year, then gave it to her dad, who lives up north. He ran it until 2010 when he traded it at 196,000 miles for a ’95 Contour. He said his mechanic (who also owned the car lot) gave a story that she leaked oil and the brake lines were rusted. Got $400 for her. Needless to say, we were not happy, especially two days later when she was back on the lot for $1995 (all that fixed in two days, except for a wheel cover that we had lost in 2005). I looked inside and she hadn’t even been vacuumed. While thinking about what to do, Gracie was sold to a local yokel, who promptly wrecked her. It was not the end such a dependable car deserved.
Gracie, huh? Good name for a Geo. And yokels should stick to driving Yugos. Ugh!
Chiming in a bit late here, but thanks. Love stories like this.
Glad that you chimed in. It really is a lot of fun to hear everyone else’s stories of stubborn parents and reliable, lovable Toyotas, Geos and Whatnots that they used to have. This here website is a fun place to hang out.
A very good looking car as I mentioned in a past post of yours. The dark blue wears well on that car. In my area (Maryland) most of the first gen Prizms were white, light blue and red. It was rare to see a dark blue or brownish Prizm(or the hatchback) I always thought the first Gen Prizm to be better looking then its sister car the Corolla. The creasing(for a better word) just above the belt molding on the doors and the more rounded fenders made it look much better then the Corolla with its slab sided doors. The Geo offered that hatchback but the Toyota did not here in the USA even though Toyota did offer it as a Corolla in Europe during the same time. In the UK it was called the Executive 5 door(according to a 1988 issue of UK magazine CAR(which I got at a library book sale years ago) )
As a person that owned a Pontiac Vibe(another NUMMI car made by Toyota and GM) for a time I feel a kinship to you and your Geo. Those that bought the Prizm and Vibe new, knew they were getting a Toyota disguised as a GM product and thus got all the reliability of a Toyota but with a cheaper cost. Those that are looking at buying one used know that they can get Toyota reliability for dirt cheap.
It is odd that your mom would turn down a car with a tape deck and it brings up a story about my father. In 1993 my folks bought a new Taurus GL wagon that had a lot of features that were considered luxury back in 1993(like power locks, windows, tape deck, power seats etc) those were all options on the taurus at that point, when they traded it in in 2009 to buy a 2009 Taurus, all those features were standard except a CD player was offered standard. I went with him to buy that car and I remember being as embarrassed as the sales guy when my dad asked him if there was an option for a tape deck!! so while your mother was insistent on having no tape deck in her 1992 car, my dad was insistent on getting a tape deck for his car in 2009.(in the end I scored a tape deck/CD Player combo from a 2006 Ford Five Hundred(the last year offered with this type) and put it in(the 08-09 Taurus/Sable was nothing but a 05-07 Five Hundred/Montego with more fake wood and chrome and a bigger engine and a regular trans instead of a CVT) )
I am curious, how comes you have not changed over the factory AM-FM radio to a factory CD Player(they offered one on the Corolla of that year) or factory tape deck(if you wanted to keep it period correct) or an aftermarket one? I got my grandmother’s old 1992 Jimmy when she could no longer drive in 2005. It had 30,000 miles on it and had no A/C from the factory and just a regular AM-FM radio with no tape or CD players. I could live without A/C but that radio got switched out for a tape deck that I could play my iPod on via a tape adapter(they did not offer any cheap AUX ported radios at that time) because i had a commute of 30 miles each way from work and home and while stuck in traffic I was not going to be stuck listening to people on the radio flap their gums instead of playing music.
Again nice car you have
Yeah, you and Mr. Klein and PRNDL pretty much demanded that I write this story, and I’m glad that you did.
I’ve kept that stock radio for more than one reason. One is that there’s such an amusing story behind WHY the car just has a radio. Second, is to keep the car as original as possible. Third is that I really don’t listen to music very much when I drive. In other words, I have a tendency to simply drive when I drive, and I very rarely get stuck in traffic jams (it pay to work the early shift). On long road trips, I like to hunt around for the local stations, even if they’re just flapping their gums. And if I do decide to listen to music, I plug my phone or an MP3 player into some battery-powered speakers that I keep stored in the glove box. And also… at my age , I have pretty low-fidelity hearing. A good sound system would be wasted on these old tin ears.
I understand on that. I was wondering, in the pic of your mom and the sales guy that called her hon(incidentally in the area where I live (Maryland only about 15 miles from Baltimore City) the word “hon” is not looked at as derogatory but as a badge of honor and is as celebrated at Crab cakes and Natty Boh in Baltimore culture) there is a 4 door Chevy Lumina Eurosport. Was that yours or the sales guy’s? It seems all the Eurosport Luminas I have seen are white with a red interior like that one.
Oh, the Lumina is what the salesman drove up in. I’ll confess that I know very little about Chevy Luminas.
Great story, great memory of your mother and her gentleman friend.
Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed this. I always feel that the more personal pieces people write here are among the best. It’s amazing how so many memories of loved ones we have involve a car.
As for your mom’s/your Geo Prizm, it’s definitely a keeper! I agree with you on liking the styling better than the corolla. Plus it’s always nice to own a car that hardly anyone else does.
We bought a base-white ’94 Prizm on July 4, 1996, with 7k that had been a lease car for a couple of years. Paid about $7,000 for it. It had standard AM-FM and A/C that the bride had demanded. The car stood up to years of long, 70-mile round-trip commutes, delivering 32 mpg. The car soldiered along 170k before the transmission went out. Put a rebuilt tranny in the car and it kept going. We saved it for our daughter, but she delayed getting a driver’s license and we ultimately sold it for $500. I often thought we should have held onto that car; I’m sure it would still be going. Best car we ever owned and sold me on Toyota quality standards. It had only a couple of glitches; the radio had a short out and go silent, and the airbag dummy light was on in perpetuity.
This is a great write-up, Mike. Your mother’s view on cars is similar to that of my dad’s, at least later in his life. Just wanted an honest basic driver that didn’t use too much gas and didn’t need expensive repairs. Your Geo certainly fits that bill, and I hope you get to keep it as long as you want.
I didn’t get to keep my dad’s trademark Pontiac 6000 station wagon when he passed away, as it was very beaten up and too far gone to justify keeping by that point. But we did keep his Nissan Sentra which was his city commuter. It’s still going, though now it’s being driven by my youngest cousin who delivers pizzas with it.
Went to this link after reading today’s piece on the Geo Prizm. I’m glad I did. Your story about the car and your Mother is priceless.
There are no throw away cars when one takes care of them.
Love the article about the Geo Prizms, i love these car… Ive owned two of these and they last forever… At the moment, im on the process of converting my Prizm GSi into an AE91 Toyota Sprinter SE Saloon… Both front and rear will look exactly just like the JDM version once its done.
I wish I’d noticed this comment sooner. Here I am, replying three months later! That sounds like a very interesting project.
No worries Mike, and indeed it is an interesting project. I think i may be the only one here in the US to do this… The GSi already came with a stock Red top 4aGe but with Auto tranny “need to convert it to manual thou”, that said, im just enjoying the car at the moment.
Hey _shikii_, nice looking project you’ve got there. I’m thinking about converting my 92 GSi to the slimmer bumpers as well. Would love to hear about where you sourced those and how difficult the install was. I’ve started up a GSi website with registry – click on the link embedded in my name above – they’re getting pretty rare on the ground these days!
hi there Ray, good to hear there’s another person out who appreciate this cars. as for converting into JDM spec, i got all the parts straight from Japan and it is quite expensive and took me years to source out all the body parts at the cost of thousands to import them. prolly not worth the investment, but if you’re hardcore like i am then its ok i guess. as for the install, its not that hard, you will have to remove your entire bumper and that includes the reinforcement bar aswell. you need to cut an opening to where your stock bumper was mounted for you to be able to insert the JDM bumpers bracket and its all bolt-on from there. also, you will have to remove the two front tow plates and save the bolts as you’re going to use that to bolt your JDM bumpers bracket. other EE90/AE91/AE92/AE95 corolla/Sprinter bumpers should fit also.
Sounds pretty straightforward once you’ve got the parts – good to know!
The bigger Prizm engine turns the car into a sleeper, unless it got the 3 speed automatic. With a 4 speed automatic or 5 speed stick, they’re frisky little things. My mom has a Dark Blue-Green Metallic ’02 Chevy Prizm LSi (fancy Prizm, as we say), Miss Bluebell and she’s quite the car. I mean, she’s completely reliable, frisky (4 speed) and a cute little car. My dad had a stick version of Bluebell and he called the stick Madame Blueberry. And when I was a kid, we had a Polynesian Green ’93 Geo Prizm, Peppermint Patti. Dad test drove a ’92 burgundy Geo Prizm LSi, but my grandparents (his parents) wouldn’t help buy it. So he ordered Patti instead and my other grandparents helped finance her (my mom’s parents were richer than my dad’s, I guess). Patti was sold for parts, due to rust and what seemed to be worn brake rotors, so I was told. Blueberry was totaled in a crash when I was a college girl.
Update: Bluebell was traded for a ’16 Corolla right around the start of summer for rust. She had 136,614 miles and her underneath was rusting bad. She seemed to have muffler trouble, due to being buzzy and had a check engine light. Other than burning a quart of oil ~1000 miles, her engine was running good, though. In the past, she had evaporation system issues and a small vapor leak, so maybe it was one of those old issues cropping up again. Maybe it was her non-dealer gas cap.