Rare Rides: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS Turbo - In Which Lotus Helps a Hot Hatch

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides 1988 isuzu i mark rs turbo in which lotus helps a hot hatch

Let’s take a trip back to the 1980s — the time when one could drive past numerous Chevrolet and Geo (or Pontiac in Canada) dealers to visit their friendly Isuzu franchise. General Motors has a 34-percent stake in Isuzu, and that means some of the vehicles at the Chevrolet, Geo, and Isuzu lots are up to some badge-swapping trickery. Born as the Isuzu Gemini, the hatchback was renamed and rubber-stamped across brands, swapping badges and fascias with ease.

But one version was strictly badged as Isuzu, and only available for two years toward the end of the model’s run. It’s called the RS, and it’s Really Sporty fun on the cheap.

The Isuzu Gemini switched to front-drive for its second generation, going on sale in 1985. General Motors needed a replacement vehicle for the international usage of the T-body, known locally as the Chevrolet Chevette.

Penned by styling master Giorgetto Giugiaro, Isuzu hired the Italian previously known for stylish vehicles like the 117 Coupe and the Piazza (Impulse to North Americans). This time, the task was a compact hatchback and its sedan counterpart.

Before Isuzu finalized the designs for the I-Mark, it presented them to General Motors. Less than perfectly pleased, GM made several changes to the design without any consultation with Giugiaro. Affronted, Giugiaro ended his relationship with Isuzu, and subsequently denied the I-Mark was his design. He would not admit his association with the vehicle until it had been out of production for a full 10 years.

The resulting reworked design was most commonly seen in the United States as the Chevrolet Spectrum (Pontiac Sunburst in Canada). Though technically the same car, the I-Mark and Spectrum were not actually identical in size. The I-Mark hatchback was half an inch longer than the Spectrum, a tenth of an inch narrower, and over two inches taller. The Spectrum was not as well-equipped as the I-Mark, though both shared 1.5-liter naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines producing 70 and 110 horsepower, respectively. Making the most of all 110 horses, this RS has the standard five-speed manual transmission.

Small trim and design changes occurred over the years, and the 1.5-liter turbo variant became known as the RS for 1988. In 1989 this RS trim changed to LS, as the RS for that year had a larger 1.6-liter turbo engine which produced 125 raging horsepower.

LS and RS trims were available with a Lotus-tuned suspension and some sweet British racing green badges on the flanks of the vehicle. The Lotus suspension also swapped dampers, altered the spring rate, and included heftier sway bars.

The RS also received these excellent factory Recaro seats — with headrest netting!

The I-Mark name passed on after 1989, and for 1990 the new-generation Isuzu Gemini would take the Impulse (Geo Storm / Asuna Sunfire) name in North America.

Our cheapest Rare Ride ever, this excellent condition example is for sale to the southeast of Los Angeles. It has under 95,000 miles, and is asking $1,641.

[Images via seller]

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  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Dec 13, 2017

    Someone needs to track down a Geo Storm GSI for this segment. I had a blast driving those around when I worked at Chevy store in HS.Personally I'd like to own a Lotus suspended Isuzu http://www.motortrend.com/news/1991-isuzu-impulse-rs-review/

  • Brian Prather Brian Prather on Sep 13, 2022

    i owed one of these in the early 90’s I purchased it from my uncle who bought it new for his daughter for graduation. My car had red disk wheel covers like the ones from salt flat racing. If anyone has one for sale or knows somebody who is selling one DM me on IG @papaesco28

  • Lou_BC "The Oldsmobile Diesel engine is a series of  V6 and  V8  diesel engines produced by  General Motors from 1978 to 1985. The 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8 was introduced in 1978, followed by a 261 cu in (4.3 L) V8 only for the 1979 model year. In 1982, a 263 cu in (4.3 L) V6 became available for both front and  rear-wheel drive vehicles. Sales peaked in 1981 at approximately 310,000 units, which represented 60% of the total U.S. passenger vehicle diesel market. However, this success was short-lived as the V8 diesel engine suffered severe reliability issues, and the engines were discontinued after the 1985 model year."I'd say one would be best off finding a gasser to plunk in there or take a loss and re-sell it.
  • ToolGuy GM Buying Guide:• Body on frame• V8 engine• Gasoline engine• Longitudinally-mounted engine• Normally-aspirated engine• Rear wheel drive (or 4WD)That's 6 items. Aim for 4 out of 6 or higher. (My two GM vehicles score a 6 and a 3.) This vehicle is a 1.
  • 28-Cars-Later Based on what people were posting, its going to debut with enough ADM to buy a CPO Porsche so why bother (Unless HMC can bring the hammer down somehow)?
  • MaintenanceCosts A Civic Type R with a better interior and less Fast and Furious styling? That's a pretty appealing product.
  • MaintenanceCosts E23s are a really appealing mix of light weight and interior room. No one has made a RWD car in quite that vein for a long time. The ones with big back seats are all two-and-a-half-ton luxury flagships, while the lighter ones are all "sport sedans" with back seats barely fit for kids.Oddly enough the closest successor to this 7-series may be the current BMW 3-series, which has a couple inches more wheelbase than other entries in the class and a back seat that is at least accessible to adults, although not as roomy as this one.