Curbside Classic: 1995 Geo Prizm – NUMMI Bear

1995 Geo Prizm. Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, December 15, 2022.

A sweet tooth runs in my family.  Before this past Thanksgiving, I had gone to the candy shop on the lower level of Macy’s On State (formerly Marshall Field’s) to buy some Chicago-specific treats for my nephews and niece.  This uncle can’t keep track of everyone’s dietary issues, and few things seem worse than being the recipient of something you’re not allowed to have.  I texted my sister-in-law to ask if their children were allowed to have sweets and/or if any of them had any restrictions.  Her almost immediate response to the former question literally made me laugh out loud in the store: that the kids can have candy, and that their penchant for sweets was “stunning”.  That was the word she used.  In fact, I’m laughing again now as I type this.

The candy shop at Macy's on State (formerly Marshall Field's). Sunday, November 20, 2022.

The candy shop at Macy’s on State (formerly Marshall Field’s).  Sunday, November 20, 2022.

It’s true that it would take the digits on more than one hand for me to count the number of times I had to have all of my hair buzzed completely off after falling asleep with bubble gum in my mouth and having it wound up all around my head like a rubber band ball.  This seems particularly ironic in 2023 as: a.) I have unmaskable male pattern baldness; and b.) Also stunning was one particular year of my adolescence when I had to have thirteen fillings at the dentist’s office due to a combination of my love for sweets, poor self-esteem and, related to second thing, questionable dental hygiene practices.  (I’m all about giving the young me grace these days.)  Before all of that went down, though, I had become a connoisseur of candy with my weekly, Saturday afternoon bike ride to the convenience store not far from my house to spend my allowance on sugary things.

Haribo Golden Bears (gummi bears).

At some point in the ’80s, I remember gummi (or gummy) bears becoming a thing.  I have a pretty good memory and honestly didn’t remember seeing gummi bears anywhere before a certain point during my elementary school years.  As it turns out, my recollection was entirely accurate this time, as gummi bears were first sold in the United States in 1982.  I’ve always had a taste for the novel or things out of the mainstream, and when gummi bears arrived to the racks of the Sunshine Food Store outpost in my neighborhood, they immediately piqued my curiosity.  There was that spelling, with the “i” at the end that indicated they were from Germany (fancy!), and they came in an assortment of flavors.  They were chewy, sweet, and tart, almost like gum you could eat.  As an aside, I have actually been to Bonn, Germany, the city where this candy originated.

1995 Geo Prizm. Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, December 15, 2022.

Gummi bears soon became a favorite, and I can fondly recall trips to Sears at the Genesee Valley Mall in Flint Township (the “good” mall) where the candy counter was near the Atari video game display area with consoles and test cartridges, not far from the riding mowers and car repair shop entrance.  I’d ask the person behind the counter for a dollar’s worth of gummi bears, which wouldn’t get you squat today (like five bears, maybe?), but was enough then to feel like there was a little weight in the plastic baggie fastened with a twist-tie.  Each individual piece had this melty, rounded, soft, squishy look and feel, but was still recognizable as a bear.

This 1995 Geo Prizm has a melty, rounded, soft, squishy look to it, but is still recognizable as a car.  It is almost early-’90s Hyundai-esque in its lack of distinctive external features.  I think the only straight-appearing line on this thing might be the black side rub strips on the doors.  That isn’t to say I find it unattractive.  There seems to have been that apogee in the mid-’90s when automotive styling was as round as it was going to get before the pendulum started swinging the other direction.  This Prizm represents one example of the extreme of the rounded look on a mainstream car.

1995 Geo Prizm print ad, as sourced (and pieced together) from the internet.

NUMMI, an acronym for New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., was the former General Motors-Toyota joint venture that manufactured vehicles between 1984 and 2010 before that partnership was dissolved and the plant was sold to Tesla.  You can read more about NUMMI in this excellent post by Jeff Nelson that ran back in 2011.  The gist of this partnership was to help GM improve their build quality, efficiency, and employee morale with lessons learned from Toyota, and also for the Japanese powerhouse to gain a footing in the U.S. for making vehicles here, as well as an understanding of the dynamics of the union workforce.  My family of origin had owned an ’87 Chevy Nova born of the NUMMI partnership.  That was a great car, with its Toyota Corolla-sourced mechanicals.

1995 Geo Prizm. Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, December 15, 2022.

This ’95 Prizm is the direct descendant of that capable compact.  This example has the standard 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine with 105 horsepower.  In addition to the base car, there was a more nicely equipped LSi model available that had an upgraded interior, a folding rear seat with access to the trunk (why couldn’t this have been standard on the base model?), a tilt steering wheel, and access to a few other optional niceties that included a 1.8 liter twin-cam four with 115 horsepower.

Being the mechanical twin of the concurrent Toyota Corolla, a car that continues to be a small car benchmark, the Prizm was smooth, quiet, efficient, unexciting, reliable, and often less expensive than the Toyota due to lack of name recognition.  Speaking of the name, the “z” in “Prizm” always bothered me.  There was also the rainbow-named Spectrum sold by the same dealerships, which was spelled correctly.  Why wasn’t that one called the “Spectrym”?  Because that would also have been stupid.

Haribo Golden Bears (gummi bears).

“NUMMI” is typically pronounced “noo-me”, and “gummi” / “gummy” is pronounced “guh-me” by most people, so I’ll admit that my titular metaphor, as far as naming is concerned, may be slightly off.  There was this kid named Jason who lived across the street from me who pronounced it “goo-me” bears, which I would then pronounce “gummy” after he said that word, as if to try to casually slip my correction into conversation.  He and I would just end up pronouncing those words louder and louder.  We didn’t hang, as we just didn’t click.  I hope he’s okay and that his pronunciation of the names of candies has improved.

If the Tropical Green Mica finish of the featured car was a flavor, what would it be?  Most of the green gummi bears I remember were a much paler or darker shade of green than this car, and they tasted like sour apple.  This NUMMI bear would probably taste like Kiwi or something else ’90s-appropriate.  (Snapple, anyone?)  Regardless, seeing one of these in such remarkable shape last month put a huge smile on my face.  Just like a bag of gummi bears I would be snacking on as I watched a movie or television, suddenly all of these long-lasting Prizms seemed to be gone without a trace.

Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, December 15, 2022.