In 1974 General Motors
released the Isuzu Gemini - their first small "World" car which was sold under an astonishing array of makes and models. Most Australians knew that the Holden Gemini was a re-badged Isuzu, but were unaware the little car was being sold in the USA as the Buick Opel and Pontiac T1000, in Brazil as the Chevy Chevette, in the UK as the Vauxhall Chevette and in Germany as the Opel Kadett
Dubbed “Project P192”, the Isuzu engineers took the specifications of the Opel Kadett – and then set about improving it. Firstly the wheelbase was increased by 10cm, rear track was increased by 4cm, shoulder room was increased and legroom improved. Additionally the Isuzu car was powered by a brilliant little engine, far better than the Opel unit. The G161 Isuzu SOHC engine was strong, powerful, reliable, economical and quiet.
The quality control of the Gemini was spot-on, finish and panel fit being very good. The seats were quite big and comfortable and headroom was ideal for a small car. The standard seat belts were good (although at the time they were not mandatory in Japan), the driving position was great, but the steering wheel and pedals were offset a little – noticeable at first but owners would quickly adjust. The other driver ergonomics were first class – evidenced by small touches such as the rear view mirror which was large and well located.
Very much a car with European connotations, the Gemini had real personality, and at the time that was unusual for Japanese cars. The GM influence had combined with Japanese engineering and quality control to produce a car that would compete in markets world-wide without any feeling of inferiority. The Gemini came to fruition at a time when small cars were "in" and gave Isuzu a strong toehold in the extremely competitive 1400cc-2000cc class, both in Japan and abroad.
On the Road
The Gemini would go well, stop very, very well and had reasonable roadholding. Acceleration was impressive in all four forward gears. The a five-speed option was not available on the TX, but the four-speed with full syncromesh was adequate for all but professional rallying or racing. You could option the 3 speed Tri-matic auto. With a weight of from 880kg up to 905kg in the heaviest version, and an SOHC engine capable of producing a 100bhp (at 6000 rpm), the Gemini was no sluggard. There was performance enough to capture the youth market, yet the handling
was light enough and the rack and pinion steering so positive that it also appealed to female drivers.
department at the rear was taken care of by a couple of trailing arms and a Panhard rod, to kill the lifting of rear wheels due to the live "banjo" style rear axles fitted to the Gemini series. Coil springs with separately located shock absorbers completed the rear suspension
. That live axle did make the Gemini entertaining when off the bitumen. The damping of the rear end was as good as any then available, but for Australian conditions it was a little disappointing that the engineers didn't come up with an independent rear suspension setup.
The Gemini understeered, and in the wet it was very easy to provoke oversteering characteristics by judicious use of the throttle. In the dry however, you had to be driving very fast to change the Gemini's understeer tendencies into anything else. With its light weight, the Gemini was nimble enough on paved roads and with a change of damping in the rear it would have taken the fight up to cars such as the Galants and Lancers which were dominating the rally scene at the time.
The Gemini looked good too. There was a small front spoiler tastefully blended into the wheel arch line, which was flared to take wider wheels. But the depth of engineering was far more than skin deep. The brakes were very good, being the typical front disc rear drum setup - a light pressure and the Gemini would wash off speed with ridiculous ease. A heavy pressure and there was some lock-up, but the car stopped in a dead straight line with no fuss at all.
Behind the Wheel
The interior of the Gemini sedan and coupe was spacious and well laid-out in the dash area. There was a curve in the sides of the Geminis which provided much more shoulder room than average. The total result being that a large man or woman had no trouble fitting in the front, behind the steering wheel or in the back seats of both the sedan and coupe. The instruments in the dash were neatly and compactly laid out. Wipers, lights and flashers, both low and high beam, were on stalks - as you will see in the video below. The wiper switch had an intermittent setting for use when it is mildly drizzling as well as two speeds, fast and slow. Choke was automatic. Driving the Coupe was somewhat different from the sedan. It was lighter in weight and therefore slightly more lively in performance.
In 1975 GMH
began the manufacture of the Gemini in Australia, and within a year of its release the little Gemini had become the most popular car on the market (no doubt helped by the low price tag and its being named Australian Car of the Year). Amoung the (for the time) luxury accessories that came with this first Gemini as standard were the aforementioned front discs, reclining bucket seats, carpet, fan boosted ventilation and rack and pinion steering
. The last of the TX's rolled off the production line in 1977
when, after the usual makeover necessary to keep a car 'fresh' in the mind of the public, the TC model was released.