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Found On Craigslist: A Unicorn Isuzu I-Mark RS

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Sometimes Craigslist can turn up a gem of a unicorn, as it did with this 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RS.

The inspiration for the acquisition of this Isuzu came from a pile of Car and Driver magazines from eBay. While poring over an issue from 1989, I flipped to a review of the Isuzu I-Mark RS and remembered everything I loved about that car.

First, there’s the styling, which directly referenced the Giugiaro-designed Impulse. Impulses are pretty light on the ground today, but you can still find a few on Craigslist, which allows you to appreciate its wonderfully smooth shape. The upper cutline that runs the length of the body is a uncommonly clean touch.

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The I-Mark was an econobox. It was smaller than the sporty Impulse and hoped to attract buyers leaning toward a Civic or Corolla. In some non-US markets, it was known as the Gemini, which used these neat commercials for initial promotion.

The I-Mark was also sold in the US as the Chevrolet (and later Geo) Spectrum, essentially replacing the long-running Chevette.

Related: JUNKYARD THERAPY: 1985 Chevrolet Sprint – The First Chevy With Three

The RS was sold for one year only, and it featured a sixteen-valve engine – four valves per cylinder were still pretty exotic in the late-’80s – and it revved all the way up to 7,800 rpm. Car and Driver had given the RS a middling review, knocking it for the noise all those rpms created while acknowledging the fun that could be had with its heady-for-its-time 125 horsepower.

So I did a Craigslist search, and wouldn’t you know – an I-Mark RS was for sale about 30 minutes away. Only $700, as it wouldn’t pass smog.

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Next day, I drove down and bought it. It certainly was a sub-$1K car, with worn shocks that gave it billowy handling and a dented front fender.

The decent set of Falken tires comprised about half this I-Mark’s value.

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This RS transcended its price by being much fun to drive. Its short length – less than 158 inches, about the same as a Honda Fit’s – and tight 32.8-inch turning circle made it a whiz in the city. Low-end torque was lacking, but the engine did love to rev.

The RS offered optional Recaro sport seats, but this one had the base buckets, which were surprisingly grippy.

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The rear seat was never sat in while I had this RS, and it folded in two parts.

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The I-Mark was close to state of the art in econobox design, with pod-like controls behind the steering wheel and a Honda-like upper dash bin. The gauges were crisp and clear.

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The Impulse’s cutline defines the I-Mark as well, and so it shared with the Impulse’s exceptionally clean appearance.

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I didn’t keep the I-Mark long. Once my mechanic got it to pass smog – he might as well have been a magician, as I rarely knew how he got my sketchier cars to pass – I soon grew tired of the ear-splitting howl the engine made when you revved it up. Honda 16-valvers had a raucous and supple note, but the Isuzu’s was grating, like a dentist’s drill. Fun for the first few curvy-road jaunts, then you wished you had some way to tune the sound.

Currently, there are no I-Mark RSs on Craigslist: this rusted and can’t-stay-running base sedan would have to tide you over until you found another one of these unicorns.

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Tell us in the comments – do you remember the Isuzu I-Mark RS?

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