Your car owes its smooth side profile to the 1985 Chevy Spectrum.

January 01, 2001

When masterful Italian car stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Chevrolet Spectrum and its Isuzu I-Mark twin, the car featured revolutionary “aircraft doors” that curved up into the roofline, eliminating the need for unsightly protruding drip rails. Better aerodynamics improved fuel economy in the gas-sensitive ’80s, sating customers still reeling from the gas crisis of a decade earlier. Giugiaro’s hidden drip rails were brainstormed on the 1979 Asso di Fiori concept car and brought to life on the Isuzu Piazza and Impulse, but the I-Mark and Spectrum marked mainstream application of the brand-new technology. Soon, the trend spread to every automaker around the world, eliminating door-borne aerodynamic drag almost overnight.

We spotted this 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum at Pull-A-Part of Birmingham. The owner got the car from his mom, and takes immaculate care of it — in fact, he has two. He’s only seen three pass through the yard inventory in all the years he’s visited — but the car has been a reliable workhorse, spending its day as a parts hauler for his shadetree mechanic business. Its red paint is still radiant, noticeable from across the parking lot. It has original glass and the body is nearly dent-

Though the 70-horsepower 1.5-liter carbeureted four-cylinder engine was nothing exceptional in its day, the car made up for its average power output with impressive design cues throughout. Inside, “piano-style” pod switches surrounded the gauge cluster. Only rarely had flush glass appeared in a production car before, and the shut lines for the hood, doors and hatchback were distinctly designed to seem hidden upon fast 

In Japan, diesel and turbocharged versions were available in place of the basic powertrain, and toward the end of its lifecycle, famous European performance tuners Lotus Cars and Irmscher individually applied their knowledge to special editions of Isuzu’s version of the car. Today, the Chevrolet Spectrum, Isuzu I-Mark and Isuzu Gemini are best remembered for an acrobatic performance in a series of television ads from the 1980s. In the era before CGI and boilerplate legalese, “Dancing in Paris” featured precision stunt drivers in a raw display of talent, engaging in synchronized maneuvers throughout the French capital in a light subcompact car that still remains beloved by a small but mighty legion of dedicated owners decades later.