The Carchive: The 1990 Geo Range

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We’ve reached that point in the week where time stands still. Suddenly, the present day is of no consequence at all. You’re about to be transported to a point in time which was finished with years ago, but which has suddenly returned with a vengance. Welcome to The Carchive.

For as long as it takes you to read, digest and then almost immediately forget this feature, you’re back in 1990. We’re reading about one of the many brands that came and went over the last 20 years. We never saw them over here in England, but I’m not going to get bogged down with import/export location details. It’s not like we want to discuss Geo graphically….

“This is the 1990’s”

These are the 1990’s? 1990s? SYNTAX ERROR.

Those were the 1990s, it’s true.

“Introducing Geo, a new approach to quality in the automotive marketplace. Geo combines the best of Japanese thinking in technology and design with recognized North American know-how in manufacturing, engineering and comfort”

Yay! Geo was great. Geo gave people a way of buying a Japanese car without it being a Japanese car. Well, nearly. If you bought a Geo Prizm you were buying an American-built Japanese car, if you were buying a Geo Tracker you were buying a car which might, depending on spec, have been built in Canada. And if you were buying a Metro or Storm, well, you were buying a Japanese car with badges that don’t give the game away.

Let’s look at what you could get on a model by model basis.

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“Geo Storm is the new generation of performance coupe, for a new generation of enthusiasts”

You didn’t have to have performance if you didn’t want it; there was a basic 95hp 1.6 litre model if you were a scaredy-cat. But it seems a little pointless to have opted for anything less than a PMY Storm GSI, with the 130hp 16v version of that motor.

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Of course; elsewhere the Storm, wearing its original Isuzu Impulse badges, could offer rather more zing by way of various technologies including turbocharging and four wheel drive. But Geo were keen to appeal on price-point above all, and real power was never really offered. Still, the evidence is out there that people enjoyed their Storms. It was an appealing, if slightly odd-looking little car.

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“This spacious five-passenger automobile is the flagship of the Geo family of advanced design vehicles”

It’s a Toyota Corolla! This “advanced” design had already been around since ’87 wearing Toyota badges, meaning it was pretty well proven on the international stage by the time it joined the Geo family. Never mind that, though; the Prizm was a genuine American-built car, albeit with oriental blood running in its veins. It was one of the core products of New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), based in Fremont CA, not a million miles from Hooniverse Global HQ.

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And as far as I know there was nothing really wrong with it. It was a fundamentally unexciting machine, not one which sold itself on the virtues of beauty, power or mystique, but it was a very sensible low-cost family machine, especially in the rakish hatchback form (which we received in the UK with a great pouring of extra luxury electrical features as the Corolla Executive). You could get a little performance too, if you liked, with a 130hp GSI version as with the Storm.

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“Geo Metro is the fun and frugal way to go”

We looked at a later Geo Metro a few weeks back, but this brochure chronicles the earlier, Suzuki Swift-based Metro. And what a terrific little machine it was. I first noticed these things around ’89, wearing Suzuki Swift decals of course, and most of those I saw were Swift GTI’s with factory alloys, graphics and ground effects. As time went on, though, the Swift seemed to gradually be moved further and further downmarket, ending up right at the bottom of the bargain bucket.

Check out the steel rims on the XFi Coupe, and the almost total lack of any spuriously pretty exterior trim. The very essence of “Stripper”.  No GSI model here, 1-litre, three cylinder was what you got. Last time I drove one it was two years ago, and I really enjoyed it; so different was it to the cars that I drive every day. Mind you, that was a ’98, which was already fourteen years old by the time I drove it.

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“Geo Tracker is the four-wheeling fun machine with the high-energy personality that will take you where you want to go”

Staying with Suzuki, this was, of course, a Vitara. Not sure if it was the same with you guys but the Vitara was a runaway success over here. There had been small, compact off-road cars before but they had never really been marketed in this way. Before too long a cottage industry had risen, catering for those who wished to enbolden their Vitaras through the addition of wide (sometimes ridiculously so) wheels, attention grabbing body kits and graphics.

Looking at one in hindsight, it was very obviously a “fun” car, especially so in “convertible” form with the removeable roof panel and fold-down rear pram hood. Furthermore, keep the rubber vaguely sensible and they were surprisingly handy off the beaten track.

Today, oddly, tiny 4x4s don’t seem to be anywhere near as popular as once they are; the Suzuki Jimny can still be had and is still basically the same as the one which hit the market in 1998, but there are very few tiny off-road cars anywhere these days.

So, what of your Geo tales? Did you once have a Storm which was a complete GEO Speedwagon? Got any stories of NUMMI naughtiness?

Could GM do with having a budget-oriented brand name again?

What say you?

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of General Motors. Geo was a strange name, really)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

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