Classic Cars Wiki
Classic Cars Wiki

The Isuzu Gemini was a compact car built, in several generations, by Isuzu and sold from 1974 to 2000. The same basic product was built and/or sold under several other names, sometimes by other General Motors brands, in various markets around the world.


The first Gemini was the Bellett Gemini, first seen in November 1974. It was based on the third-generation Opel Kadett C on the General Motors T-car platform and came in four-door sedan and two-door coupe body styles. The chassis code was PF50, although the later 1.8-liter versions were called PF60 and the diesels PFD60.

In June 1979, the Gemini received a new slant nose with rectangular headlights and a redesigned rear end. The changes were actually more comprehensive than that, also including a redesigned (longer) engine bay and a wider radiator opening for two new engines added in November (the twin cam G180W and the new 4FB1 diesel) which both required wider radiators for more air for cooling.

In Japan, sports models were available under the names ZZ/R, ZZ/T and ZZ/E. These were equipped with an Isuzu G180W 8-valve DOHC 1.8-liter engine, most commonly fuel-injected, producing 97 kW at the flywheel. These models also came with a shortened remote throw manual shift lever and optional factory LSD differential.

Isuzu Gemini was also sold in South Korea as Saehan Gemini, whose manufacturer became Daewoo Motors in 1982. It then became Daewoo Maepsy after 1982 and remained on sale (later as the Maepsy-Na) until it was replaced by Daewoo LeMans in 1986.

The Gemini was complemented in 1981 by the Giugiaro-designed Coupé Isuzu Piazza, based on the Gemini's platform, which was introduced in the United States in 1983 as the Isuzu Impulse and Australia in 1986 as the Holden Piazza.

In addition to sedan and coupe models, Holden in Australia produced the Gemini as a three-door station wagon and three-door panel van, which were derived from the Opel Kadett C Caravan and Vauxhall Chevette wagon, with Isuzu Gemini front panels. The Australian Holden Gemini was fitted with an Isuzu G161Z petrol engine, although 1979 and later models were available with a 1.8-litre 8-valve SOHC diesel engine (4FB1). The more common G161Z was a 1.6-liter 8-valve SOHC fed by a Nikki carburettor. The Holden Gemini was Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1975.

In Europe, the 1976 Gemini was equipped with a 1.3-liter engine known as the 1G13C, which was adopted by Opel in Germany for their Opel Kadett.

Sold as:

  • 1975–1984 - Holden Gemini - Australia (1982–1984 in New Zealand)
  • 1975–1983 - Opel Gemini - Malaysia, Thailand
  • 1976–1979 - Opel Isuzu/Buick Opel - United States
  • 1976–1982 - Saehan Gemini - South Korea ("Saehan Bird" in the export)
  • 1983–1986 - Daewoo Maepsy/Maepsy-Na - South Korea, Saehan Maepsy before
  • 1982–1988 - Saehan/Daewoo Max - pickup version, South Korea
  • 1981–1984 - Isuzu I-Mark


General Motors sought a replacement for their world car T-body Kadett / Gemini, and this time, instead of building one design on several continents, they decided to build a world car in one location and export it to several continents. As a considerable portion of the T-body manufacturing had been turned over to Isuzu in Japan for economic reasons, so would the manufacturing of the replacement. In 1984, Isuzu again commissioned Giorgetto Giugiaro who was responsible for the 117 Coupe and the Piazza. This time, he was to design an economy car on the new front-wheel drive R-body platform. The R-body featured a MacPherson strut front suspension and beam axle rear suspension, which foreshadowed most of GM's offerings through their current model lineup. Giugiaro's design followed the Piazza design very closely in shape and detail, though the proportions made the Gemini appear shorter and taller in its three-door version, and a four-door sedan (notch back) was also designed.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Isuzu presented the designs to GM prior to freezing them, and GM ordered a number of detail changes to them without ever consulting the designer, Giugiaro, which was taken as an insult, and ended the long relationship between the noted Italian designer and Japan's oldest car builder. The insult was serious enough to Giugiaro that he denied the design was his until a decade after the vehicle went out of production.

The R-body Gemini was introduced in May 1985 as the Gemini FF. In Japan, originally with chassis code JT150, it was available with a carburetted 1.5-liter SOHC engine. A newly developed 1.5-liter inline four diesel engine (JT600) was added to the lineup in November. At the other end of the lineup, a 120 PS (88 kW) fuel-injected and turbocharged version of the 1.5-liter 4XB1 engine ("Irmscher") was added in May 1986. The FF Gemini underwent a facelift in February 1987, receiving a more aggressive front styling with wraparound headlight as well as other minor changes. At the same time the "FF" moniker was dropped, as parallel production of the preceding RWD Gemini came to an end. In March 1987 the Gemini saw its European premier, at the Geneva Salon. European sales of the already somewhat dated Gemini were disappointing, and Isuzu soon withdrew from the European passenger car market entirely.

A 1.6-liter DOHC engine with 135 PS (99 kW) was introduced in February 1988. Export versions were also available with a smaller 1.3-liter four to suit taxation systems based on displacement. Trim levels were widely varied, from basic models ("C/C" in Japan, "LT" in general export markets, and "S" in the US) to Irmscher, ZZ, and Lotus Tuned versions, and plenty of optional equipment and dealer options were available.

North America[]

In the US, the vehicle was available from Chevrolet (and later Geo) as the Spectrum, or from Isuzu themselves, as the I-Mark. GM's Pontiac division sold the I-Mark as the Pontiac Sunburst in Canada from 1985 to 1988. GM Canada announced that the Sunburst's replacement would be the Passport Optima in 1989. For GM, this was an entry level vehicle to attract young buyers and to compete with Japanese compact cars in the US market. Chevrolet's Spectrum lacked many of the options and equipment of the I-Mark, though both were available with the 70 hp (52 kW) 1.5-liter SOHC non-turbo and 110 hp (82 kW) turbo engines, but no diesel engines were offered in the US. The turbo model I-Mark was called the RS model in 1988 and then changed to the LS model in 1989. The I-Mark was available with the 125 hp (93 kW) 1.6-liter DOHC engine in 1989 only, as the RS model. In 1988 and 1989, the LS and RS models were offered with Lotus Tuned Suspension, the sportier suspension featuring more rigid dampers, alternate spring rates, and bigger sway bars.

Sold as:

  • 1985–1989 Isuzu I-Mark - United States
  • 1985–1990 Isuzu Gemini - Japan, Europe, and Central America
  • 1985–1988 Chevrolet Spectrum - United States & Canada
  • 1989 Geo Spectrum - United States
  • 1985–1989 Pontiac Sunburst - Canada
  • 1985–1990 Holden Gemini - Australia
  • 1985–1990 Chevrolet Gemini - Chile