Junkyard Find: 1991 Geo Prizm GSi Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

When 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.

The Prizm GSi was available in sedan and five-door hatchback form, just for the 1990 through 1992 model years.

It 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.

Hardly anyone would have noticed this subdued decklid spoiler, and fewer still would have understood the meaning of the GSi badges.

Sadly, 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.

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

You 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.

The Chevrolet bowtie hiding inside the Geo logo was a nice touch.

This car drove just 168,121 miles during its career, which isn’t so impressive for a Toyota.

For 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.

This 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.

Add 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]

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jun 01, 2022

    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.

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    • FreedMike FreedMike on Jun 01, 2022

      @Lorenzo 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.

  • Kinsha Kinsha on Jun 10, 2022

    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!

  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon