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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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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

  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".
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  • Jeff Matt--I think this is a good move for Mitsubishi to expand their presence with satellite dealers. I had a 85 MItsubishi Mighty Max and my sister had a 83 MItsubishi Starion. MItsubishi needs to add a compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and the Santa Cruz but offer it for less. A smaller more affordable truck will sell. I believe MItsubishi should still offer an inexpensive subcompact like the Mirage it will sell in a slowing car market with high msrps. Yes I know the Mirage is probably going to be canceled but I believe in these times it is a mistake and they should reconsider cancelling the Mirage. Toyota is having problems selling the new redesigned Tacomas and Tundras with the turbo 4s and 6s. Most Tacomas have MSRPs of well over 40k. There is room for MItsubishi to grow their market share with more affordable vehicles. I am not saying Mitsubishi is going to overtake Toyota, Honda, or Nissan but they should take advantage of the more affordable market segment that these companies for the most part have abandoned. MItsubishi doesn't have to be the biggest just increase sales and become more profitable.
  • Cprescott More hideous garbage.
  • Jalop1991 Mitsubishi is planning dealer expansion? What, the dealer will be adding a customer-only bathroom?