A Gemini In The Rough: 1989 Isuzu I-Mark Turbo LS
The second generation Gemini was a GM backed and Isuzu built subcompact that was “sort of” styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. The front engine front drive setup of the 2nd generation might mean that it lacks the drift potential of the rear-drive first generation, but this one makes up for that deficiency with a spattering of badges that claim things like “LS”, “Handling by Lotus”, “Turbo,” and “1.5T”. Find this 1989 Isuzu I-Mark Turbo LS offered for $3,2000 in Brooklyn, NY via craigslist. Tip from FuelTruck.
It’s debatable if the Isuzu I-Mark is a “SUPER RARE CAR” or “TURBO ROCKET” as claimed in the ALLCAPS SCREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS LISTING by the seller. It includes gems like “THE 1.5LITRE ENGINES GROWLS WHEN THE TURBO KICKS IN,THE 5SPEED TRANSMISSION IS ON THE MONEY” and a photo of a lady in teal Crocs holding a hat in front of her face.
Powering the I-Mark is a turbocharged 1.5 liter 4XC1 single-overhead-cam (non intercooled) 4-banger that produces 110 horsepower and 120 ft-lbs of torque. Thankfully, the Isuzu uses some seriously thin gauge steel and hits the scales at 2154 lbs soaking wet.
The interior is what you’d expect for an economy car built in Japan under the watchful eyes of bean counters from Detroit. Oddly enough, the hard plastics and cloth interior have survived the years of age without significant wear ‘n’ tear.
See another oddball 4-door turbo crapbox for cheap? email@example.com
This has the delightful/atrocious proportions of a first generation toyota echo. The echo had less power though. Love cars like this.
That era was a high-water mark for Japanese cars in a lot of respects, a few rough edges aesthetically but nothing like some of the awful shapes and contours they're putting out now (seen the interior of a late RAV4 lately?) The material quality was better then, automakers seem to have decided now that every car has to have leather seats even if it gets hard ABS plastic door panels and other junky trim.
Okay, they're getting a lot more power now, but they need it because there's better rollover protection and motorized everything and touchscreen everything else and a separate airbag for each limb and sensors to measure the weight of your scrotum to ensure the groin-bag doesn't turn your outie back into an innie, and all that stuff represents an extra 600lb.
Did you just say that the Isuzu I-Mark represents the high-water mark of Japanese car design? 😉
No, I said that era – which I'll call '85-95, with a few outliers earlier (like the '82-ish Celica) and later ('98-ish Lexus GS, Land Cruiser, etc.) – represented a general high-water mark for Japanese cars in design, material quality, and assembly quality.
Not this one in particular, but in general. Those years gave us the wonderful Troopers, the MkII-MkIV Supras, the sweet Maximas, the AE86 Corollas, introduction of Lexus and Infiniti and Acura and some of their most memorable products.
It was a brief window where Japanese design seemed to be outgrowing weird before it relapsed into the present inventory of oddballs, where most Japanese cars were in fact Japanese, where material quality wasn't thrown out the window to cut cost in the face of a rising yen.
Yes, for the most part the powertrains are better now, as they are with everyone else. But the cars themselves are not.
Don't cars have an airbag for the giblets now?
I thought it was right there on the DOT's nanny-list right above the backup camera.
Wouldn't surprise me.
It's called a knee airbag. Supposed to help prevent your legs from hitting the lower dash in a crash.
Better hope they weren't made by takata, and don't have flying shrapnel shooting towards you down there…
Your car is smashed, your insurance is going to go up and BAM! How about a nice shot in the pills to top it all off…
I had an '89 RS hatchback version of this (traded in my '85 RX-7 for it). The Isuzu was pretty quick on its feet and fun to drive. Redline was 7800 rpm which was very high for that era. It came with some awesome OEM Recaros. It ended up getting stolen, stripped for parts, and abandoned. The insurance company figured that the missing seats were worth more than the car, declared it totaled and cut me a check. It was a good car while I owned it except for one original design fault: the ECU was too close to the exhaust manifold and would melt every 5000 miles or so, causing complete engine stoppage. Not so much fun late at night on the interstate.
I've got a 1988 I-Mark LS Turbo that I drive daily. Reliable car, 265,000 miles and still going! I'd like to see if I could find someone who would actually want one though…
'89 IMark LSes were rebadged '88 RSes. In '89 Isuzu did that so they could put the new and more powerful 4XE1 engines in IMarks to test them before using them in Impulses and their other cars. Very few '89 LSes hit the market, so in a sense they're rare, but that doesn't make them collectible. Good cars all around though.