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The Carchive: The Geo Metro

Chris Haining January 29, 2014 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 17 Comments

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So far I’ve been studiously ignoring most of the material within The Carchive that dates from anywhere post 1990, ‘cos, you know, that’s too new. But hang on a minute, 1990 was almost a quarter century ago. Seriously, that’s ridiculous. My Father’s ’96 Mondeo V6, if it had survived, would be an eighteen year old car by now. OhEmGee.

So, without totally opening the floodgates, let’s start to allow a few trickles to seep through, starting with that tower of excitement; the second generation Geo Metro.

This brochure was actually picked up while on holiday in FLA, in 1995 and it fascinated me because, well, the Metro was pretty much the least American-seeming out of all the cars on the market. Florida, for me as a 14 year old at the time, was still stuffed full of T-Birds and Crown Vics, Town Cars and Caprices. And it wasn’t just cars of the past, either; there were plenty of intriguingly unfamiliar big cars coming on stream, too. The Aurora, the Intrepid, all glorious and a fantastic contrast from the tedious motoring landscape of ’90s England.

And then there was the Geo Metro, which made me think “Who on Earth would want one of these when everything else is so much more appealing?”

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“This sensible idea comes in two sizes- a roomy four-door sedan and a sporty hatchback coupe”

A roomy four-door car. Well, the GM “M” platform was always a well-designed setup, making the best possible use of the real estate it sat on. But I can’t believe for one second that anybody chose a Geo Metro for its roominess compared to, well, bigger cars. And the “Sporty” hatchback coupe? Well, granted the profile, with just two doors, has more in common with the GTI’s of this world than the Sedan does, but aside from the paucity of hinged access methods there is precious little actually sporting about any Geo Metro, unless, say, it had been stripped out and re-engined with a CBR1000RR lump, but you’d want to do that with a ’90, anyway.

That said, it is remarkable how much more appealing the three-door body is over its frumpier sedan sister, providing you went with the LS model to avoid the godawful recessed rectangular headlamps that characterized the base machines.

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“The small car with big ideas”

The brochure tries to kid us that this car is the solution to all your transportation needs. The photographs show it in the following situations: Parked outside a pavement cafe with a pear of embarrassingly overdressed young go-getters enjoying an al fresco high tea; being admired by a trendy musician with over-coiffured hair next to a glass curtain wall with a ludicrous display of unlabelled electric guitars, as if in the most pretentious music shop ever; and in the company of a presumed female student moving to college, complete with an overspilling cargo of all those campus essentials running as far as a baseball mitt and ball, Ficus and Victorian birdcage.

Not just big ideas, but all the lifestyle answers to boot.

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“A new 1.3 Litre four-cylinder engine gives you power for passing and merging, while the redesigned four-wheel independent suspension provides smooth ride”

It provided a ride smoother than if you were, say, being dragged over a ploughed field in an iron bath. And if you’ve never been in a bigger car before, you might be led to believe it a surprisingly smooth ride when find yourself not bleeding, bruised or concussed at journey’s end . No Cultus-based car ever had the worst ride in the world, but smooth is definitely a comparative term.

As is power.  The three cylinder allowed sufficient power to easily get past most bicycles and all but the most determined armadillos, while the 1.3 litre four-cylinder had so much extra power it could lead to dizziness and your eventual insanity. It’s 70hp would ensure effortless overtaking of anything, providing they were going slow enough. Unless you took the three-speed auto choice, which I should imagine would have sapped more or less all the power, switching the optional A/C on would probably send you backwards.

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“Automatic Daytime Running Lamps. Geo Metro is among the first cars in the U.S.A. to offer this innovative safety feature.”

Whoa! Now that’s some pretty serious bragging, and it checks out, too. It seems that the only other GM car in ’95 to have auto DRLs was the Chevy Corsica. Now that’s something to truly be proud of. Actually, the Metro spec lists were pretty strangely balanced; you could have A/C but there was no option for power windows. Assisted Steering was firmly on the extras list, but a pair of airbags came as standard. And every model had four speakers. But your rev-counter, your ABS, your cassette or tape player and your rear windshield de-fogger were all optional extras. I suppose you couldn’t expect more from what was obviously intended as basic transportation.

“Obviously, the 1995 Geo Metro is anything but basic transportation”

Oh, right. Of course. Basic transportation would have been, well, being dragged over a ploughed field in an iron bath. Geo Metro, later becoming Chevrolet Metro, was all the car some people ever needed. Truth is, those people considering one of these as a car, new, from a dealership, probably wouldn’t have had much in common with us Hoons. These people didn’t really want a car at all. These people wanted a trouble-free basic, reliable transport solution with as little emotion attached to it as possible, for not a huge amount of money, and in the Metro that’s exactly what they got. This here was an appliance.

And, you know what, that was absolutely fine. The Metro was pretty much the consummate consumer durable tool for going-along-the-road-in and then parking up and forgetting about. I mean, these days a lot of people do exactly the same thing with their bought-on-credit BMWs, which is a shame. The Geo Metro almost insisted that you let it serve as your four-wheeled slave and give it absolutely no credit for anything else; being fun or generally inspiring, or indeed having any kind of image whatsoever. The Geo Metro was An Car.

It’s a rare commodity to find these days, a car that alludes to acheiving absolutely nothing more than simply existing.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of General Motors, probably Chevy, who absorbed Geo a few years after this brochure was released. I saw a Geo Tracker randomly in Ipswich, once. It somehow seemed much, much cooler than a Suzuki Vitara despite being identical…)

  • "But hang on a minute, 1990 was almost a quarter century ago."

    Yeah, thanks.

  • Number_Six

    Having driven a few examples, the only memory that stands out is the greasy feeling of the plastic steering wheel. I suppose it was fun to put it on the doorhandles on highway off-ramps, but that describes just about any rental/loaner/car that isn't mine.

  • Devin

    Here's an opinion, that era of Metro is one of the rare tiny three-box sedans that doesn't look really weird. It's kind of normal and cute, like a baby car. But something like a sedan Sonic or Fiesta just looks kind of odd and ill-proportioned.

  • Colonel Panik

    Great dependable yet cheap transportation.
    Easy car to work on.
    The 3 banger with a turbo, yeah they had turbos for them, would eat many of your Hoonmobiles.
    Less than $100 to upgrade the suspension to the "damn good little sport car" level.

    Best bang for the buck care in 40 years. Fun on a budget.

    • rethcir

      Pics please!!

  • Jay_Ramey

    This is the first time that I've noticed the little Chevy bowtie in the badge. I think this may have something to do with the fact that Geos lasted a grand total of like 3 months on the roads.

    Given the… dubious branding exercise, I think this is the closest we've come to a truly unbranded, generic cars.

    In Canada they had Asuna and Passport, those lived even shorter and were trying to accomplish the same thing.

    • Ate Up With Motor

      The bowtie is silent. (Seriously, my family had a Geo Prizm for about six years and I never noticed that either.)

      The lack of brand recognition did have a certain benefit to savvy used-car shoppers. I was surprised to note in the latter '90s that the Prizm had lower book values than the equivalent Corolla despite being built in the same factory by the same people using mostly the same parts. Eventually, sellers figured that out (although insurance companies apparently never did, sadly), but for a while a Prizm was a way to get a used Corolla for $300 or so less.

    • RegalRegalia

      Geo-The other Saturn.

  • M44Power

    Someone on the west coast restores those and lists them for a crazy price on the 'bay. I've not been drunk enough to bid on one.

    • nanoop

      Drink, then read Colonel Panic's comment above – then go over to the ads you mention.
      I'm expecting a new series here on Hooniverse.

  • bhtooefr

    One thing I'll note about the airbags… it has to do with US law.

    After 1989-04-01, cars were mandated to have a passive restraint system of some sort for the driver (that is, one that does not require that the driver take any action to use it). Automatic seatbelts and airbags were the two ways to comply.

    Let me explain automatic seatbelts, because you've probably never used them, if you're outside of the US. There's several varieties of them, but GM products (the Metro included) used the worst one, in which the seat belt was mounted to the door, and you were intended to leave it buckled, always. So, you had to open the door, and then crawl behind and under the belt, then shut it, to get in the car. This was clearly a "we'll comply with the letter of the law exactly, but make it so horrible that nobody wants it" action.

    (For what it's worth, most carmakers opted to motorize the shoulder belt (so that it went down the A-pillar), use a padded anti-submarining knee bar in the dash, and a manual lap belt. VW, what I'm most familiar with, opted to door-mount the shoulder belt, use a starter interlock so that the car wouldn't start if a shoulder belt was unbuckled, use the knee bar, and a manual lap belt. Door-mounted belts have the additional problem that if the car's door opens in a crash, well, you're no longer belted.)

    This generation Metro had to comply with the laws that were going into effect 1998-09-01, however, which mandated airbags. So, they went ahead and put them in. (Also, as a side note, it was the first car to meet the 1997 US side impact standards.)

    • krazykarguy

      GM's 'belts in the door' BS is the reason my mother was ejected from a 1988 Olds Delta 88 in a head on collision. She survived the accident, but was run over by the car, crushing her pelvis.

      I'd love to introduce the "engineer" who came up with that workaround to the new safety regulations to the business end of a baseball bat.

  • Kathy Garner

    The hatchback Metro was the BEST car I ever had … 200,000 miles. Wish I still had it! Kids called it "my truck, the car" …

  • Who would buy such a car? Well, a naive, fresh emigrant from Europe bought one in July 1996 and paid full sticker price for it… It was a three door model with a three speed automatic. It was "scuba blue" (purple) and was traded in (at a substantial loss) in 1999 for a Saturn SW-2.
    Yes, that was me. The main downfall of the Metro (and many following entry level cars from GM) was the transmission: if only it had one more gear! The much larger and heavier Saturn had the exact same fuel consumption on the highway, thanks to its four speed automatic transmission. A few years ago, I rented an Aveo, and again, it could have used an extra gear for highway duty… I guess they "solved" the problem on the Spark by fitting it with a CVT!
    But I digress, besides its transmission, the car was fine, it was simple, relatively comfortable (at least for someone fresh out of college) and very practical, thanks to its hatch. It was perfect for puttering around the SF Bay Area.

  • rethcir

    My first car was my parents' old '92 Metro XFI. (I have a pretty good hunch that stands for Extra Fuckin Inexpensive). No AC, no airbags, no power windows, no radio. Starting there really makes you appreciate just about any other car on the market. On the plus side, it got like 45 MPG, meaning in the 99-2000 timeframe I could go like 400 miles for $10, making it fantastic for teen road tripping.