By on April 10, 2012

When you think about cheap factory hot rods of the early 1990s, do you think of the Geo Storm GSi? Probably not— the Isuzu-built Storm has been nearly forgotten by now— but the GSi had some pretty impressive performance numbers. How about 130 horsepower in a 2,392-pound car?
The ’90 Storm GSi listed at $11,650 (and that’s the pre-dealer-markdown-and-factory-rebate price), which gave buyers a pretty good bang-for-buck ratio when compared to, say, the 108-horse/2,291-pound/$10,245 Honda Civic Si.

Of course, you see 1990 Civic Sis all the time these days, and this is the first Geo Storm I’ve seen (outside of 24 Hours of LeMons races) in several years.
Storm trivia: what notorious whackjob mass murderer drove a Storm? Answer: Timothy McVeigh, who daily-drove a Storm until a week or so before he did his crime. The Storm, which he dubbed “The Road Warrior,” got rear-ended at a gas station, and McVeigh ended up using a ’77 Mercury Marquis as his getaway car.

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Geo Storm GSi...”

  • avatar

    While the Isuzus could be entertaining, in terms of finish, build quality, and refinement they were a big step down from the other Japanese majors. I test drove a first-gen Impulse and while the car was very pretty, it felt downright crude compared to a contemporary Civic. Now a real junkyard find would be Storm with the rare wagonback.

  • avatar

    Until about a year or so ago, my niece Rachael had one, though not the GSI, hers was the more run of the mill variant with a manual if I recall and it was yellow too.

    Hers may have been a 1990 but don’t know, it had issues that cropped up and it was followed up not too long later with a ’92, I think Jetta that got rear ended and now she drives a 2002 Jetta that she recently got and is now a Freshman in college.

    I see these still around Seattle though not too often these days though. However, I DID see a couple of weeks ago, a very nice, mid 80’s vintage Isuzu P’up though while driving down to Tacoma for the weekend and was the 4×4 variant I believe as well.

  • avatar

    My roommate in college had an early 90’s GSi and it was a pretty fun ride. It was totaled when he hit a bear on the freeway and rolled it a few times in the ditch. He and his girlfriend walked away without a scratch, amazingly. It was replaced with a used Civic hatch from the same era. The Storm compared well to GM products in fit and finish, but the Honda was noticeably nicer.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    What I liked was the available replacement hatch which was a very easy bolt-on conversion which turned the storm from a hatchback into a small two-door wagon….

    Didn’t they also make this into a convertible? But then, wasn’t the convertible limited to three-cylinder models, IIRC?

  • avatar

    Back in school a friend’s fiance had one of these. My friend had a Pathfinder but the storm had studded tires. Guess which car we all packed into to go skiing?

    As nice as the figures for that car look, the Sentra SE-R was being readied for sale in 1990 as well.

  • avatar

    Are you familiar with the super rare Isuzu Impulse Turbo AWD? Basically the same car as this Storm, but with the obvious drive train additions and turboey bits.

  • avatar

    I love how far the nose of the car drops down in the commercial as it comes to a stop!

    For some reason, I remember a commercial advertising these where there was a girl who says, “Guys like a girl who can drive a stick!” I think it was more of a local dealer commercial, but it always made me and my friends laugh like Beavis and Butthead. We were so mature.

  • avatar

    I remember these cars from when I was selling Toyotas in the early 90’s. At the Atlanta area sales meeting, we were shown current Toyota models and the cars they considered to be the direct competition. The Storm was the car considered to be the competition for the Paseo; sadly, the Paseo wasn’t competition at all to the Storm, or a number of other cars. We got to take turns driving the Storm around the facility, it was a lot stronger than a Paseo. At least when it came to that car, I wished I was working at the sister Chevy store…

    Used ones sold pretty well, because the depreciation was so high. I don’t recall a used one of these coming back on me, not like the Hyudais of the era.

    I liked them, the power was good and it was a nice size for a commuter/weekend toy. They weren’t the best materials or assembled, but it looked like it would have been liveable. I might have a different opinion if I actually owned one.

    When the 1993 Camaro was released, I thought it looked like a huge Geo Storm… Maybe it was…

    • 0 avatar

      My buddy wanted one of those Z28s back then to replace his ’84 Z28 (305/auto/yuck). I’d spot a Geo Storm and say “Hey look, a new Camaro!” We’re still friends but he never got one. I definitely wasn’t a fan and didn’t care for the ’94 Mustang’s new softer contours either. I had heard they were both designed by chicks. Previously, men ruled the design floors , but yeah, at a half mile, you couldn’t tell which one was coming at you

      • 0 avatar

        As a teenager I loved the 4th-gen F-bodies. Just to antagonize me, my brother insisted they looked just like a Geo Storm. That drove me freakin’ crazy — they obviously have nothing in common, I would (defensively) retort. Then one day we were driving around and I spotted a 25th anniversary T/A (white w/ black stripes, IIRC) coming toward us. “OOH! OOH! Look! A 25th anniversary T/A!” Turned out it was (of course) a stupidly painted Storm. My brother almost died laughing and I didn’t want one quite so bad anymore.

  • avatar

    Isuzu attempted to do what Mazda and Mitsubishi did by fielding a sturdy little truck under a GM name. When Mazda and Mitsubishi took the plunge and released cars under their own brand, Isuzu was under pressure to do the same thing.

    The Impulse was their big gamble and while not a complete flop, it did not establish enough of a beach head into the US market for other Isuzu branded products. Isuzu had no Plan B follow up except for this vehicle – the Storm, and to retreat back into the GM line up with their small truck and their small sedan, branded as a GEO. The Storm was a lesser version of the Impulse and it signaled to US buyers that unlike either Mazda or Mitsubishi, there was not a bandwagon for this brand.

    So, there was the smell of doom on the American future for Isuzu by the time the Storm was unleashed. Additionally, the GEO versions were available, cutting into whatever exclusivity was possible for dealers focused specifically on Isuzu products, undermining the brand.

    Mazda and Mitsubishi did not return to their American sugar daddies when they began marketing under their own names. While both continued to sell throught Ford and Chrysler, they didn’t expand through them, but expanded instead through their own dealers. When Isuzu returned to GM, this signalled to the market that unlike the other two “captive imports”, Isuzu wasn’t successful in making the transistion to being an independant American brand.

    Decades later, we see Mazda seriously challenged by the US market, even after giving it many excellent products. Their retreat to Japanese manufacturing makes their continuation in the US an uphill battle. Mitsubishi did not do as well and they have only survived throught their massive corporate structure in Japan willing to take repeated annual hits in the US market. Isuzu is barely among us and shows little sign of repeating what success they had when this vehicle was launched.

    Subaru seemed to have found a footing in the US market after a decade in the wilderness after their years of novelty wore off and today. They are looking pretty good and are to be congratulated at their recent successes.

    Isuzu’s history in the US shows that it is hard to be a non-Big Japanese Three even during years of economic prosperity.

    • 0 avatar

      The remainder of Isuzu (or a portion of it) was gobbled up Toyota when GM had their massive brand fire sale a few years back. That’s also when Toyota bought the remainder of Subaru from GM as well.

      Supposedly Toyota bought Isuzu for their diesel technology, but Toyota have since partnered with BMW and PSA for oil burning engine tech. I have yet to figure out what they were doing with Isuzu.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe they did it for the trucks.

      • 0 avatar

        Indeed the Toyota Dyna medium cabover truck sold here seem to look suspiciously a lot like their Isuzu counterpart. Don’t know if they share anything or that kind of styling was just being the current fad in medium cabover truck. Come to think of it the Mitsubishi version looked a lot similar too.

        I always find it interesting that Isuzu went dead precisely in the middle of an SUV bloom. Other makes made money hand over fist selling SUVs, and a mostly SUV maker went kaput? Anyway if they didn’t die then they probably would in the decade that followed, when SUV suddenly becomes passe.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think the Impulse was their ‘make or break’ car. At the time they were selling Troopers and pickup trucks at a decent clip. The Impulse was a side show at best.

      • 0 avatar

        I didn’t claim that the Impulse was their “make or break” car. My first paragraph set up the claim that after Mazda and Mitsubishi fielded cars, Isuzu was doing the same – fielding a car. From there I wrote that the Impulse was their “big gamble”.

        Isuzu was trying to expand into a car market within the US. They had a truck presence already. They were following Mazda’s and Mitsubishi’s, “captive import to independant brand” path.

        I couldn’t say that the Impulse was Isuzu’s make or break car because I don’t how Isuzu intended to follow up with it. The Impulse could have been a vehicle designed to only test the US market waters. It might not have been considered a failure with Isuzu. I don’t know. What I do know is that the Storm was not the kind of follow up expected from Isuzu after the Impulse, and if I am not mistaken, I do believe that the Isuzu Storm was marketed as the next generation Impulse for a brief time. So, it is quite possible that the Impulse did not meet market expectations. I don’t really know how high Isuzu set the bar for it.

        I do know that the Storm, in any guise, didn’t cement a car market for Isuzu, which earlier appeared a possibility with the launch of the Impulse.

      • 0 avatar

        You make it sound as if Mazda only came to the USA in the mid 80’s, when it was around longer, and wasn’t under Ford until 1979.

      • 0 avatar

        Isuzu’s main car for the US market was the I-Mark sedan and coupe, starting in 1981. It was initially based on the world T-car (Kadett, Chevette, etc.) and had even been sold under the Buick/Opel name in the late ’70s. It was replaced by a new FWD version in 1985, and this car was also seen under the Chevy and Geo badges in the US. The final effort was the 1990 Stylus, but it sold poorly and Isuzu abandoned building passenger cars after 1993.

        The only Mazda sold under the Ford name in the US was the Courier pickup. Mazda had been selling cars in the US under its own name since 1970.

    • 0 avatar

      The Isuzu Trooper seemed to have done pretty well at the time.

  • avatar

    I remember really liking the look of these cars and the vertical exterior door handle behind the window when I first saw them, I was however 8 years old at the time. I recently saw one at a used car lot and someone had taken a “magnum V8” badge off a dodge truck and stuck it on the side of the storm, I thought that was pretty funny.

  • avatar

    One bad thing about self-serve junkyards is that they will let anybody in that has a dollar to their name. The hood on that car was probably perfect when the car went into the yard, but one dufus who can’t figure out how to use the hood release (or if the cable is broken, figure out how to pop the latch with a screwdriver from the front or from below) pries the living snot out of it with predictable results.

    I’ve seen it countless times . . .

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, “U-Pull” cars get damaged badly, which is why you won’t find a 4 year old wreck there.

      I see posts “I tried all the yards and can’t find parts for my 2008 Brand X!” Umm no, you wont see late models, unless low resale value.

  • avatar

    In 1998 I was looking to buy my first used car and came across a GSi in my search of the classified ads. I remember considering it seriously enough to ask my good friend at the time what he thought of it. He said he’d laugh at me and that it was a girls car. Definitely liked the fact that it was both a fairly rare and sporty car in GSi trim but couldn’t really disagree with the girls car comment. I feel like I observed a large number of these as base models in obnoxiously bright colors. That’s probably something that could be said of most of the cars in this class.
    Ended up picking up a ’92 Sentra SE-R instead, certainly didn’t regret that decision.

  • avatar

    My favorite Geo Storm video:

  • avatar

    I remember when we were looking for a nice Civic for our daughter. Civics were hard to find, but every car lot in town had at least one Geo Storm.

  • avatar

    “The Storm, which he dubbed The Road Warrior, got rear-ended at a gas station, and McVeigh ended up using a ’77 Mercury Marquis as his getaway car.”

    That’s the sort of publicity—like OJ’s infamous Ford Bronco—most manufacturers hope they never get.

  • avatar

    That $11,650 msrp was a dealer dream. I remember a friend driving a 90 or 91 off the lot for a few pennies under 9k.

  • avatar

    Interesting how this econobox from 1990 had an airbag, while many higher-priced cars from that year (Honda Accord, Acura Integra, Nissan Maxima, VW Passat, Cadillac Brougham – the list goes on) were using the kludgy “passive restraint” automatic seatbelt workaround.

  • avatar

    My buddy had one of these back in the day. My Turbo Dodge Shadow would run the butt off of the Storm all day long, but I still thought it was a great little car. It ran forever.

    Sure, they were cheaply constructed, but so were most muscle cars back in the day.

  • avatar

    My 1992 Geo Storm’s throwout bearing just died two weeks ago. I bought it in 2001 with 68K miles. Presently it has 181K miles. It has a modest 1.6L engine which consistantly yielded 32 mpg. Fun to drive. But, it now has rust holes in the unibody that you can put your fist through. It’s time for it’s last drive to the salvage yard.

  • avatar

    Fun fact: in 1991, GM used these for engineering mules to test out battery components for the EV1 that would debut a few years later. Of course, charging stations were non existent, so they had small Honda generators in the back that would kick in once the prototype batteries got below a certain level, as a means of keeping the batteries charged.

    Sound familiar?

  • avatar

    Wow. Thought this would’ve been Chinese beer cans by now…

  • avatar

    I seem to remember semi-stoplight racing some dudes in one of these. I remember burning rubber and really really pulling away from them..

    my car? 1992 jeep wrangler with 180hp 4.0 liter and 5 speed.

    haha. I really hated these Geo Storm cars.

  • avatar

    Actually, I think that Timothy McVeigh had a Geo Spectrum (the Isuzu-based four-door sedan), not a Storm. When it was wrecked beyond repair, he bought the Marquis.

  • avatar

    I Love My Black Geo Storm GSI, I Got It New In 1991, Rebuilt The Whole Car In 2004. Has Only 92,000 miles Moving To Fl. Going To Sell.

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