What was the most fuel-efficient (mass-produced, internal combustion-powered, highway-legal, non-gray-market, four-wheeled, et freakin' cetera) new car available in the United States during the 1980s? No, not the Toyota Starlet or Corolla Tercel, not the Honda CRX HF, not the Subaru Justy. It was the Chevrolet Sprint ER, and I've found a nicely intact example in a car graveyard just east of Sacramento.
Starting with the Chevrolet Sprint in 1985, General Motors sold rebadged versions of the Suzuki Cultus all the way through the 2001 model year. For the 1989 through 1997 model years, these cars were sold as Geo Metros; after the demise of the Geo brand, they became Chevrolets.
Unlike most miserable econoboxes, the Metro’s decades-long reputation for frugality has kept it on the road for longer than most of its competition, and 21st-century examples are very rare in wrecking yards. Here’s one in a Denver self-service yard.
The Geo Metro, a Suzuki Cultus imported by GM, came after the Chevrolet Sprint version of the Cultus but before GM axed the Geo brand and started selling Chevrolet Metros, which sold in respectable numbers during its 1989-1997 run.
There was a convertible version of the Metro, which allowed thin-walleted drivers to enjoy open-air driving without having to take a Sawzall to a 20-year-old Corolla, and I’ve found one of the few remaining ones at a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.
I live in Colorado, where recreational cannabis has been legal since the beginning of 2014. The (allegedly) medical-only stuff had been available all over Denver, complete with sign-spinners on street corners, for years before that, and so nothing much changed when the Reefer Man was allowed to sell his wares to just about any adult. Sure, hundreds of doomed recreational dispensaries have joined the hundreds of doomed brewpubs and doomed tattoo shops fighting for the not-so-abundant dollars of the thin slice of the Denver population interested in shatter hash, yeast-sludge-filled draft beer, and/or blotchy tattoos of the Chinese characters for “poop”… and I’ve started seeing bags of weed in junkyard cars here.
Prior to legalization, no self-respecting tow-truck driver or junkyard employee would have allowed free pot to slip by, but nowadays a few grams of mystery doobage is about as appealing to those guys as a half-empty 40-dog of King Cobra found in the trunk.
Here’s a Suzuki Swift that I found in a Denver yard with such a bag that I spotted tied to the gas spring on the hatch.
GM and Ford sold quite a few of their badge-engineered micro-import gas-sippers (the Kia Pride aka Ford Festiva/Aspire and Suzuki Cultus aka Chevy Sprint/Geo Metro) in the 1980s and 1990s, and that means that I see a lot of these cars in the junkyard these days. It takes a special Metro to warrant inclusion here— so far we’ve seen this ’90 Metro El Camino, this ’92 LSi convertible, this electric-powered ’95 Metro, and this ’91 Suzuki Swift so far, plus this bonus Honda CBR1000-powered LeMons race-winning Metro— and I think a happy yellow LSi convertible is more interesting than your ordinary Geozuki.
There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display.
A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible.
Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs.
The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads and wickedly cold weather for one irrefutable reason. It was free… after tax, tag and title. The only thing I had to do was figure out how to win it.
So I got busy. 150 entries a day for 3 full months. 13,000 in all. The day came for the drawing, and I won!
Now that it’s possible to buy electric cars that actually do what cars are supposed to do, we mustn’t forget the very lengthy era— say 1970 to just a few years ago— during which all manner of optimistic-yet-doomed companies converted various econoboxes into lead-acid-battery-based EVs. Every once in a while, I’ll spot the remains of such an EV at a junkyard; we saw a junked EVolve Electrics 1995 Geo Metro EV conversion last year, and now a different Denver yard has given us this ’88 Sprint “Electric Sport.”
As a former Metro owner— about ten years ago, I found a low-mile ’96 Metro with four-cylinder and automatic for a scrap-value price and couldn’t say no to the deal— I’ve always sort of liked Suzuki’s little no-lux gas miserwagen. It takes a special Metro for me to include it in this series, however; we’ve seen this ’90 Metro El Camino, this electric-powered ’95 Metro, and this ’91 Suzuki Swift so far, plus this bonus Honda CBR1000-powered LeMons race-winning Metro, and now I’ve found one of the very rare Metro convertibles at a California self-service wrecking yard.
It takes a really special Geo Metro to achieve Junkyard Find status; the last one that managed the feat was this bright green electric-powered ’95, which turned out to be a Ree-V conversion made in Colorado during the EV optimism of the late 2000s. During a trip to my old San Francisco Bay stomping grounds a few weeks ago, I spotted today’s Junkyard Find parked just a few yards away from this will-make-you-haz-a-sad 1960 Nash Metropolitan.
Before there was the Geo Metro (a rebadged Suzuki Cultus, there was the Chevrolet Sprint (also a rebadged Suzuki Cultus). U.S. gas prices dropped below a buck per gallon during the middle 1980s, which had the effect of forcing the oil-income-dependent Soviet Union into bankruptcy even faster than predicted, with end-of-Cold-War results. On top of that, cheap gas prices meant that only the most tight-fisted of cheapskates felt that buying a tiny three-cylinder car built by a motorcycle company made any sense at all. Still, enough Sprints were sold that I see them in junkyards every now and then.
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