By on May 31, 2022

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhen The General began building the AE82 Toyota Corolla (actually based on the JDM Sprinter version) at the NUMMI plant in California, that car got Chevrolet Nova badges. When Toyota debuted the E90 Corolla platform in 1987, it made sense for the NUMMI-ized version of the new E90 Sprinter to join the Suzukis and Isuzus of the new Geo brand. That car was the Geo Prizm, and I’ve found one of the super-rare factory-hot-rod GSi Prizms in a Denver-area self-service yard.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, decklid badge - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Prizm GSi was available in sedan and five-door hatchback form, just for the 1990 through 1992 model years.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt got the same powertrain and suspension goodies as the AE92 Corolla GT-S, which meant this 130-horsepower “Red Top” 4A-GE engine. If you wanted a nearly invisible sleeper sedan in 1991, this was your car.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, decklid spoiler - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHardly anyone would have noticed this subdued decklid spoiler, and fewer still would have understood the meaning of the GSi badges.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, gearshift - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSadly, the original buyer of this car ruined it by opting for the four-speed automatic transmission. To get this transmission, ’91 Prizm buyers had to get the “Preferred Equipment Group 2,” which included air conditioning and added $1,834 to the cost of a $12,195 car (that’s about $3,940 on a $26,195 car, after inflation). By the way, the Prizm/Corolla was the last new car Americans could buy with a three-speed automatic, all the way through the 2002 model year.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, emissions decal - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt’s always good to see these New United Motor Manufacturing logos during my junkyard travels.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, gauge cluster - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou didn’t see many Detroit cars with the redline marked at 7,500 rpm in 1991. These cars were good competition for the Sentra SE-R, though the Isuzu-built Geo Storm GSi was a better speed-per-dollar deal than either one.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, grille badge - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Chevrolet bowtie hiding inside the Geo logo was a nice touch.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, gauge cluster - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis car drove just 168,121 miles during its career, which isn’t so impressive for a Toyota.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFor the 1993 model year, the Prizm became an E100 Sprinter, and then the ’98 Prizm became a Chevrolet when the Geo brand got the ax. After 2002, the Chevy Prizm was gone.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis is only the third Prizm GSi I’ve found in 15 years of writing about interesting denizens of the car graveyards, after a white ’90 sedan and another red ’91 sedan. I hope to find a hatchback version someday, but even the ordinary Prizm five-doors are hard to find.

1991 Geo Prizm GSi in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAdd this car to the “rare but not valuable” file.

Essentially the same thing as a BMW 3-Series, but cheaper.


I couldn’t find any Prizm GSi TV ads (there may have been none), but at least there’s this ad for the regular Prizm rhyming “Geo” with “free-oh.”

For links to better than 2,200 additional Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

[Images by the author]

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31 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Geo Prizm GSi Sedan...”


  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Two questions:

    -The body seems to be in staggeringly good shape for an early 90s GM product. Did the Prizm/Corolla just hold up well or is this one an anomaly?

    -Was the strut tower brace factory?

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Wow – a three-speed automatic and air conditioning on a fast-engine subcompact! Well, most Americans are in love with comfort and convenience, and the original owner apparently just wanted quicker acceleration from stoplights.

    I wouldn’t be too hard on that original owner, since by the ’90s, people who had American V8’s when they were younger couldn’t be impressed by acceleration of most cars at that time. I just assume the original owner was middle age or a bit older, to have the money to blow on an automatic and AC.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    If this car were in the East or the Midwest the body would have been long gone from the tin worm. Nice find.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    As many Geo’s I washed and moved around the Chevy lot I worked for in HS I never noticed the Bowtie hidden in the logo.
    Incidentally, this car was a bargain for what you got for the money, and fun to drive in 5sp twin cam form.This and the plain FX16 (not GTS) were sleepers.

  • avatar
    henrydedrick

    It’s always good to see these New United Motor Manufacturing logos during my junkyard travels.

    There’s a story there…

    https://www.thisamericanlife.org/561/nummi-2015

  • avatar
    dal20402

    For so many years these were the cheap way to get a reliable used “Corolla” for those in the know.

  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    Having had two different NUMMI cars in my past, I can attest to the Dr. Deming quality is built in philosophy. These cars were built with Union labor and were of remarkable quality due to Toyota’s following Dr. Deming’s approach. GM learned nothing from the NUMMI experience and Toyota learned how to de-content their cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Gotta agree GM went back to their old ways and learned little and Toyota learned from the best on how to de-content a car. These Geos were very good cars along with the Vibe. I still see an occasion Geo along with a few Metros. Deming’s principles are still practiced by Toyota and many of the other Japanese manufacturers.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        The ‘union bashers’ are unwilling to accept these facts. Japanese management and organizational culture was based on collectivity. The gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid being limited, unlike in American/European countries, parking spaces being allocated according to when you arrived, not your title. Employees wearing ‘uniforms’ rather than being identified by their different clothing. Those on the line being able to make suggestions without being challenged/put down/chastised by their supervisors/management.

        There is still a considerable demand/market for the Toyota Matrix and/or Pontiac Vibe and they command something of a premium based on their perceived quality/reliability.

        I had a neighbour who owned a NUMMI Nova and that car served him faithfully, with minimal issues for many years.

        Oshawa manufactured sedans in particular Buicks with the 3800 also have a good reputation.

        As industrial relations academics say “you get the union that you deserve”. If management is competent, then the union members generally behave in a similar manner. If management is incompetent, then you end up with an adversarial workplace.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          @Arthur Dailey–Wasn’t the Toyota Matrix made in Canada and the Pontiac Vibe made at the Numi plant in California. Scotty Kilmer always comments on how much better the Canadian made Fords and Toyotas are than the USA ones.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            According to Auto Trader the following were the only vehicles manufactured in Canada in 2021. Equinox, 300, Grand Caravan, Pacifica, Challenger, Charger, Edge, Ford GT, Civic, CR-V, Lexus RX, Nautilus, RAV4.

            Considerably fewer than when Oshawa as manufacturing both trucks and sedans, St Therese was manufacturing Camaros/Firebirds, Hyundai was manufacturing in Bromont and there was a Volvo assembly plant in Nova Scotia. The last Studebakers were manufactured in Hamilton. All full-sized GM vans were for a number of years manufactured in Scarborough (Toronto). And there were Canada only marques such as Canadian Pontiacs, Acadians, and Meteors. The major shift occurred when the Auto Pact was replaced by NAFTA and manufacturing shifted to Mexico.

    • 0 avatar
      punkairwaves

      Deming worked directly with GM Powertrain. A statistician who knew him personally said Deming had been unable to get any traction at GM because Powertrain was caught in an internecine battle with other factions at the company. Deming’s improvement program was among the casualties.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “If you wanted a nearly invisible sleeper sedan in 1991, this was your car.”

    Gotta disagree with Murilee on this one – the Protege LX (with the twincam engine) had plenty of performance and had even less go-fast styling items. I owned one, and the Geo in this story was one of the other cars I considered (with a manual, of course).

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I recall this engine being the total opposite of what GM would put in their cars (and yes, I know it’s a Toyota engine but being put in a GM-branded car.) The other twin-cam, 16V 4 cylinder GM had was the Quad 4, and I’ll be charitable and describe it as a paint mixer rattling a can of gravel at high RPMs. A friend of mine had a Olds Calais Quad 442 and that engine was ragged before balance shafts were added. And then you get into a Geo, with the Toyota engine, and it purred when you wanted it to and then screamed when you wanted some fun. It’s too bad this particular one was neutered with an automatic as these small engines really were made for a manual transmission.

    And to answer EBFlex’s first post – I recall these being hit with the rust bug very easily. Like the “Honda Rot” on the rear fenders, I recall the rear wheelwells and the sills under the doors getting rusted fairly quickly.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    These NUMMI cars were well built. A family member of mine owned the 5 door version with the 8v engine and a 5 speed manual and it lasted for years. The hatch was quite versatile for moving large items.
    In 1991 when this was new GM offered a range of compacts in the same $12k price range. An all new Saturn SL2’twin cam would have cost that. My folks bought a new SL1 for just over $11k. The J cars were still riding on a decade old platform with the Cimarron out to pasture and the Firenza and Skyhawks were gone but you could still get a Cavalier and Sunbird with options.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    All the best automotive assembly plants are in California.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      No according to Scotty Kilmer it is Japan and then Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Is Hermosillo part of Japan or Canada?

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          Of course not but I only had 2 choices for a compact pickup a Ford made in Mexico or a Hyundai made in Alabama and both are very scarce. Cross my fingers and hope I got a good one but so far it is better than I expected.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Does Scotty Kilmer still keep his vehicle fluids and cleaning supplies outside on a shelf in the weather (with his income, I hope not)?

            I do some low-rent things in my life, but I draw the line at keeping bottles of hygroscopic brake fluid out in the rain. The point being, Scotty Kilmer doesn’t know everything there is to know.

            It’s interesting to see how many vehicle assembly plants were once in the California Republic. (I wonder where they went?)

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    My cousin’s first car was the standard version of this one. She got the absolute base model which I recall carried a sticker price of I believe $10,125. She got it at the end of the model year in August for $7500 brand new. Personally, I was extremely impressed with it. Yes it was just a cheap little low line sedan, but the seats were superb and they reclined, it rode very smoothly, if the pavement was not coarse, it was surprisingly quiet, it got 45 miles per gallon on the highway, it had a five speed, it had twin cam 16 valve motor, it had port fuel injection, and 4 wheel independent suspension. That was some pretty sophisticated kit 30 years ago, especially at that price point.
    The GSi was all the more impressive.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    During the 90s there were lots of good compact and subcompact cars that were affordable. You could choose from Civics, Corollas, Escorts, Cavaliers, Saturns, Mazdas, Mitsubishis, Metros, VWs, and the list goes on. Some were better than others but most with proper maintenance would go a long time.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It’s too bad that carmakers have moved away from the high-volume, low price market in favor of more expensive, “loaded” vehicles with bigger profit margins.

      A large number of people who would be in that market are now limited to used cars, that now cost more, adjusted for inflation than those ’90s economy cars.

      One caveat: environmental and safety regulations have added substantially to the price of “entry level” vehicles. You can’t build/sell an economy car like this anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Adjusted for inflation that 1991 Prizm would be $26,000 today. At that price point, you still have Civics, Corollas, Elantras and Fortes, and they’re probably far better equipped and quicker than a ’91 Corolla/Prizm.

        I’d bet the house on the Civic and Corolla never going away. The Elantra or Forte? Probably a good bet they’re sticking around, but you never know.

  • avatar
    kinsha

    I owned a “91” GSI 5 speed with every option including an electric sunroof. Loved that car and regretted selling it ever since. These cars would scream all the way to the 7500 redine. This was the last version of the 4age motor (redtop) on top of that 4 wheel disc brakes in “91” The 4age was a wonderful motor!

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