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Looking Back at Geo Automobiles

Jesse McGraw

Remember the Geo Metro? The odd, cheap, compact car from an obscure automotive brand? Well let’s look back at the Geo company and all their other cars.

Get to Know Geo

Remember that automobile brand Geo? They had those commercials in the 1990s showcasing their affordable compact cars to the tune of Getting to Know You in different musical styles, then it’d end with their slogan “Get to know Geo”. Obviously, Americans didn’t get to know Geo very well, because the Geo name was completely dropped in 1997 and all of the rebadged imports were discontinued by 2004.

The Chevrolet sub brand just didn’t work out the way GM had hoped. Rebadging Toyota, Isuzu, and Suzuki models to combat the rising import market wasn’t a terrible plan. However, sitting those super cheap and compact Geo vehicles on the same lot as Chevrolet’s larger more featureful models was an unintentional act of self-sabotage.

That’s not to say all of Geo’s vehicles were bad. Some Geo models got terrific gas mileage, one was a capable SUV, and another was a borderline cool sports car. Since Geo is slowly drifting into obscurity as the old cars make their way into junk yards for scrap, we figured it’d be nice to give a last look at these short-lived Geo models that are soon to be extinct.

Geo Spectrum

1989 Geo Spectrum - Redline0442 on YouTube.com
1989 Geo Spectrum - Redline0442 on YouTube.com

The Geo Spectrum is one of the least known models to come out of the Geo brand since it only existed for a single model year with them. The Spectrum released in 1989 as one of Geo’s debut vehicles after having been known as the Chevrolet Spectrum since 1985. It was based on the front-wheel-drive Isuzu I-Mark in either a sedan or hatchback body style and carried a 1.5L single overhead cam 4-cylinder engine that made 70 horsepower and 87 lb-ft of torque. Paired to the engine was eight a 3-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual. Either way, this thing went about as fast as the speed of smell with a 0-60 mph time of around 12 seconds if you were lucky and a top speed of “have we passed 60 yet?”

The Geo Spectrum provided seating for up to 5, but the front two passengers were the only ones experiencing any comfort room. As for features, the Spectrum offered air conditioning, heating, a radio, and could drive. This vehicle sounded so great. How could it have possibly only been a Geo for 1 year? Sorry for the sarcasm. But being that Geo relied on imported vehicles to then badge swap, when Isuzu discontinued the I-mark for 1990, it took the Spectrum with it.

Geo Tracker

1995 Geo Tracker - Cars Trucks Buses on YouTube.com
1995 Geo Tracker - Cars Trucks Buses on YouTube.com

Another premier vehicle to the Geo lineup in 1989 was the Tracker. This super compact SUV is one of the redeeming vehicles to have come out of the brand, but that’s not saying much. Based on the Suzuki Sidekick, the Geo Tracker came with a 1.6L 4-cylinder engine that made 80 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque. It came with a 3-speed automatic, a 4-speed automatic, or a 5-speed manual transmission that routed power to 4×4 drivetrain. The Tracker was underwhelming in the power department, but it’s light weight and truck inspired suspension allowed it to be a decent off-road capable vehicle.

The Geo Tracker was offered as a 2-door hardtop, 2-door soft top convertible, and a 4-door hardtop. In 2-door form, you could completely remove the roof similar to how a Jeep Wrangler would. In 4-door form, the Tracker could seat up to 5, but in similar fashion to the Spectrum with the rear seats being a bit cramped. The Geo Tracker was one of the few models to outlast the Geo brand and continue to sell well into the early 2000s. The Tracker is technically still living on in its successor, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, but the new models aren’t coming back to US shores any time soon.

Geo Prizm

1995 Geo Prizm - carsforsale.com
1995 Geo Prizm - carsforsale.com

The Geo Prizm filled the economical sedan void left by the Spectrum. Another compact car that could be optioned as a sedan or hatchback, but this one was based on the Toyota Sprinter and Corolla. Sadly, the Prizm wasn’t derived from the AE86 Sprinter that graced the pages of Initial D. Instead, it was the more economical, front-wheel-drive E90 series that didn’t have classic flip up headlights and looked pretty unremarkable. Under the hood was a 1.6L dual overhead cam 4-cylinder engine that made 102 horsepower, which was almost range topping for Geo at the time…

In 1992, the Prizm went into its second generation where it was only available as a sedan and went through a minor redesign. The Prizm also received a “luxury” LSi trim level that added leather seats and a larger 1.8L twin-cam 4-cylinder engine option that made 115 horsepower. The downfall of the Geo Prizm was that it was out sold by its Toyota Corolla twin and lost sale on its own dealership lot to the similarly classed Chevrolet Cavalier.

Geo Storm

1992 Geo Storm GSI - Adam Hooten on YouTube.com
1992 Geo Storm GSI - Adam Hooten on YouTube.com

Probably the “coolest” car to come out of Geo was the Storm. It was a compact sports car based off of the Isuzu Impulse, but it removed some of the expensive features to be more affordable around the $10,000 range new. The Geo Storm was available as a sporty liftback or an oddly shaped wagonback. Under the hood was either a 1.6L SOHC 4-cylinder that made 95 horsepower or a more powerful 1.6L DOHC 4-cylinder in the GSi trimmed models that made 130 horsepower.

Speaking of GSi, that was pretty much the only Geo Storm anyone should have bought. Not only did the Storm GSi have a better engine (especially after 1992 when they dropped a 1.8L I4 engine in), but it also had a spoiler, better acceleration, a rear anti-sway bar, and better headlights. Couple that with its Lotus tuned suspension and you have a fun little ride for a great price. Too bad you could only get flip up headlights for its first two years of production though.

Geo Metro

1992 Geo Metro convertible - Doug DeMuro on YouTube.com
1992 Geo Metro convertible - Doug DeMuro on YouTube.com

If any car on this list were to stand as the lone example of the Geo brand, it would be the Geo Metro. The tiny Metro was a badge swapped Suzuki Swift that had been popularized as the comically cheap compact car of the 1990s. It came in a handful of different body styles, like the typical 3-door hatchback, a 5-door hatchback, a 4-door sedan, or the uncommon convertible, and it cost a little over $6,000. The Geo Metro had just a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine available staring out that put out a measly 55 horsepower. In later years it received a 4-cylinder engine option, but the 3-cylinder stood as its main power source.

While that 3-cylinder engine wasn’t getting you anywhere fast with a 0-60 mph of maybe 15 seconds and a top speed of possibly 90 mph, the Geo Metro did get wonderful fuel economy. EPA estimates for the Geo Metro XFi was at 43 mpg city and 52 mpg highway for a combined 47 mpg. That’s pretty great numbers for a non-hybrid car, especially from the 1990s. Chevrolet took on the Metro model after Geo shuttered and sold the cheap car until 2001.

1996 Geo Metro hatchback - carsforsale.com
1996 Geo Metro hatchback - carsforsale.com

The Geo Metro wasn’t the fastest, coolest, or most practical car to come out of the Geo automobile brand, but it is the most memorable. It was full of cheap plastic, could barely make it onto a highway, and was nobody’s first choice when shopping for a car. However, it did leave a mark (more like a stain) on all of our memories in the same way that the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Pontiac Aztec, and Nissan Cube have. It lives on with a class of models that carried so much infamy when they were around that they won’t let you forget them, even after they’ve been long gone.

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Jesse McGraw
Jesse McGraw

Jesse's life-long car obsession began when he started collecting Hot Wheels as a child. He’s constantly keeping up with the latest car news and diving deep into automotive history. His automotive journey began with a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, only recently replaced by an impeccable 2014 Kia Soul. You can find him modifying and racing cars in video games when he’s not playing paintball or writing about cars.

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