By on December 11, 2017

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboLet’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.

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboThe 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.

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboThe 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.

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboSmall 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.

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboLS 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.

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboThe RS also received these excellent factory Recaro seats — with headrest netting!

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboThe 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.

Image: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS TurboOur 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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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: 1988 Isuzu I-Mark RS Turbo – In Which Lotus Helps a Hot Hatch...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Screaming deal. 0-60 in 8.9 seconds in 1989 for an econobox was screaming fast.

    I have a 1985 Isuzu Impulse all original (5-speed manual) I’ll likely be putting up for sale this spring.

    It has a small star in the windshield (repaired, but poorly by previous owner) and would like to find a better piece of glass before I put it on the market.

    • 0 avatar
      Dinkster72

      Is your Impulse the turbo or NA? I have a soft spot for Impulses as my parents had a 87 Turbo RS when I was learning to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Mine is NA — the joke in Isuzu circles is a non-turbo Isuzu is a running Isuzu. ;-)

        Here is a pic of mine from the Greenwood Car Show in June 2016. This was taken by Alex Kwanten for Old Motors.

        https://www.instagram.com/p/BHKenuJjCrL/?taken-by=oldmotors

        • 0 avatar
          ciscokidinsf

          Hi, turns out I am in the market for a late 80’s Isuzu impulse. I’ve been searching all over the place. I promise to take care of it as much as you did. When you are ready to sell, can you plz text me at 65zero – 22eight – 486seven or shoot me an email to [email protected] – I am in NorCal (Bay Area) – February would be better for me, but if you need to sell it earlier, let me know, I’ll make it happen.

          This Imark RS has awesome seats and I’m sure plenty of parts to help the Impulse.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            The Impulse is turn key inside and out (sans that chip in the windshield which is a nuisance). I have a stack of receipts from the restore. Body/interior sans headliner is all original.

            Spring 2018 is when I’d be looking to sell, I’ve noted your info.

        • 0 avatar
          Thomas Kreutzer

          I have to log in to say, that is a cool car and it looks like it is in great shape. That design is so much nicer than the next generation Impulse/Geo Storm design. It would be a sure hit at any ’80s car show.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I don’t necessarily think this is a car I’d ever think of buying, but hats off to the current owner for taking such meticulous care of the vehicle. It’d give me real confidence that it’s about as reliable as any car with that much miles and age could be.

  • avatar
    Null Set

    Great car.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    A friend of mine owned one of these many years ago, at least until he t-boned someone that ran a red light.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Notice that the seatback releases for the front seats are situated in-board rather than on the outside of the seats.

    Off hand, I cannot recollect another car that had that configuration.

    Wouldn’t that make it rather awkward to release the seatback from the outside in order to get into the back seat?

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Neat little piece of ’80s atmosphere. Someone needs to snap it up.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Awesome find Corey, love these things. One can’t discuss Isuzu Geminis and not mention the awesome ads for these!

    youtu.be/lIfk7-Hid4Q

  • avatar
    Mr. Cereal

    Cool car. Love the styling. Found this exact car on Daily Turismo (same pics) with a link to an eBay listing from 2015. Looks as if it was sold then. Maybe listing on topclassiccars.com was never taken down?

  • avatar
    ciscokidinsf

    Corey, what’s the deal with topclassiccarsforsale.com…. they seem to only have old ebay/CL listings. There isnt even a date when the ad is posted. Pure frustration trying to find cars in this site.

  • avatar
    SnarkyRichard

    The best parts of that car are the beautiful aftermarket Enkei wheels . Don’t know why anyone doesn’t make wheels like that anymore . Just dozens of cloned spoked wheels looking all pretty much the same with a different amount of spokes in different colors is the standard today – pretty sad .

  • avatar
    Proud2BUnion

    That for-sale listing is rather obviously a scam-$1641?! That price point is very popular on Craigslist. Not sure what that amount translates from US dollars to Nigerian Niara.

  • avatar
    deanst

    “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.”

    You’d be driving for a long time in Canada – the Isuzu name didn’t come here until the 90’s.

  • avatar
    threeer

    What a neat little find! Love the Recaros and honest-to-goodness five-speed hatchy goodness. But I also have some reservations on that listing and price. Looks a little fishy. Still, if truly being sold for that, I hope somebody snaps it up and shows it continued love. Would be a fun little ride.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The 1989 version offered the 16V DOHC motor which was fairly robust. It ended up in the later Impulse/Stylus.

    Here’s an inexpensive example which might still be available.

    https://barnfinds.com/near-extinct-1989-isuzu-mark-rs/

    • 0 avatar
      9Exponent

      It’s already gone, as it always goes…

      That was identical to my first car. Over the years, i’ve Kept my eye out for a possible replacement, to no avail. It seems the few people who are aware of the car are quite fond of them.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    These were neat little cars – I tried one out back in the day. At the time, though, I was an over-the-road salesman and my priority was comfort and ride. Ended up with a Mercury Tracer, which wasn’t a bad little car (and one of the few compacts around at the time that had cruise control).

    Kudos to the owner of this car for keeping it up so well!

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    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/

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