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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The rear seat was never sat in while I had this RS, and it folded in two parts.
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.
The Impulse’s cutline defines the I-Mark as well, and so it shared with the Impulse’s exceptionally clean appearance.
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.
Tell us in the comments – do you remember the Isuzu I-Mark RS?