" A classic adventuremobile "

Our first Adventuremobile, the GEO Tracker (Suzuki Sidekick)

We all have that one vehicle from our childhood that holds a special place in our hearts. For me, it was my mother’s teal-green GEO Tracker.

I still remember sitting in the backseat with my little brother and the dog as my mom blasted down the Pembina Trail dodging mud pits and deep ruts putting her little 4×4 to good use.

To my brother and I, these trips may as well have been a safari park adventures. Out the window, we’d see all kinds of animals, rabbits, deer, Canada Geese, even the occasional moose.

The Tracker was an utterly utilitarian vehicle, but Growing up in Northwestern Minnesota, that’s what you wanted. Owning a 4×4 was its own kind of independence. It enabled us to take trips like this without fear of finding ourselves stranded far from help.

You have to remember, in those days no one had cell phones in those parts, and it was a long way from to walk to the nearest payphone to call for help.

My mother’s Tracker was also the first car I ever drove. I must have been in third grade at the time when for some reason, my mom decided to let me drive — more like idle — the Tracker the 200-yards from the pole barn to the garage. Of course, she denies this ever happened, but I remember.

What is a GEO Tracker?

1996 Teal four-door GEO Tracker

The GEO Tracker was marketed go anywhere family wagon. With its body on frame construction and coil sprung solid rear axle it was surprisingly nimble off road. Photo credit: General Motors

If you’re not familiar with the GEO Tracker, I don’t blame you. Sold in the U.S. between 1989 and 1998 under the short-lived GEO brand, the Tracker was developed as a joint venture between General Motors of Canada and Suzuki.

In the U.S., it was sold as the Suzuki Sidekick and the Tracker under GM’s GEO brand, which at the time, was better known for low-buck economy cars like the GEO Metro and Prism than for helping develop an awesome little four-wheel-drive trucklet.

The Tracker came in a pint-sized, two-door model available with either a hard shell or soft top, as well as a more conventional four-door hardtop model beginning in 1996.

Red two-door GEO Tracker

My family’s first Tracker was a little-red, two-door convertible. Photo credit: General Motors

Our first Tracker was a red two-door, two-wheel-drive convertible, which we traded after my brother was born for the bigger four-door model I remember so fondly.

Unlike most compact SUVs from that period, the Tracker was built on a traditional light-truck chassis and suspension. Four-wheel drive came courtesy of a robust two-speed transfer case. However, unlike the four-wheel drive systems you’re probably familiar with, it couldn’t be engaged while on the move.

It makes sense why both the Tracker and the Sidekick were lauded for their off-road prowess. They weren’t particularly great compared to Jeep’s Wrangler or Suzuki’s own Samari, but they were cheap, light and a solid foundation for an off-road build. Of course, we never did anything like that. We were perfectly happy with ours Tracker’s stock 7.9-inches of ground clearance and full-size spare tire.

Despite the failure of the GEO brand, General Motors continued to sell the Tracker under the Chevrolet bowtie until 2004, but I’ve always found the chunkier first-generation models a little bit more endearing.

Given a chance to own one, especially a teal one, I’d jump at the opportunity. Unfortunately, finding a four-door Tracker or Sidekick in good condition today isn’t all that easy. My search only turned up a handful of abused examples, many with more than 200,000 miles on their clocks.

Motorweek’s take in 1996

Why the tracker has a special place in my heart

Looking back, the Tracker was something of a hidden gem.

It may not have been the most capable off-roader, nor the most comfortable or fuel efficient, but none of that was important. Our little green Tracker put countless adventures within easy reach. It was our base of operations while exploring the backcountry with our parents, and I can’t count how many road trips we took in the thing.

For that reason, the GEO Tracker will always have a special place in my heart, and it was the major motivating factor in my decision to get a 4×4 of my own.

Further reading

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So tell us in the comments section below:

  • Did you have a Tracker or Sidekick? Do you remember it as fondly?
  • What was your first Adventuremobile?
  • What did you like about it?
  • Where did it take you?

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  • thecedarjournal

    I never owned either of those. I did have an ROTC buddy who got the sidekick when it first came out and then painted a huge “S” on the hood. He took it everywhere and often on Monday mornings he would drive up with in covered in mud.

    My first adventure vechicle was a orange 73 VW van. It went on the best adventures with me. Couldn’t go more than 55mph top speed with my foot to the floor but I loved that I could park, hike, and sleep in it anywhere. As a college student with no money it took me all over exploring the nature of the Louisiana coastline and beaches.

    March 2, 2018 - 2:41 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      The Trackers and Sidekicks were great go-anywhere 4x4s, but you can’t beat a classic like a VW Bus. Please don’t tell me you got rid of it. Those things look so much fun. Was it a pop-top one? I have so many questions!

      March 2, 2018 - 11:34 am Reply
      • thecedarjournal

        No it wasn’t a pop up. I sold it when I graduated college and went into the Army. Had to have the cool new car…
        The best part was the middle seat in the back was out and I could sleep in it between classes. Plus, the engine was small and was easy to maintain. Now – looking back all those years I wish I had hung onto it as it is now worth more than the $800.00 I paid for it then.

        March 2, 2018 - 11:51 am Reply
  • penncosect24

    I would get a GEO Tracker today if they were still available! I agree! The Tracker was a versatile, go-anywhere vehicle! Am looking for something similar now. Any concrete suggestions on a new (not-used) vehicle? Needs high-ish road clearance and better-than-lousy gas mileage. Thanks!

    March 8, 2018 - 5:25 am Reply
  • Wayne Goeken

    Ah, I fondly remember your family’s green Geo Tracker. Yes, a perfect vehicle for your Mom’s/family’s adventures.
    My favorite adventure vehicles over the years have been Subaru Outbacks with my current 2003 Outback being the best yet–and still going strong with over 315,000 miles on it. Just over a month ago it carried me on a 3,000+ mile road trip to New Orleans, Missouri, and many points between. It’s been on camping trips to ND and SD badlands, BWCA, and too many more places to start listing. Incredible vehicle with it’s AWD for winter roads and cross-country ski outings in NW MN. And it loves river trips–transported me to many canoe and kayak destinations–also handy hauling of kayak trailer–once when taking a group of kids on kayak outing I had 16 kayaks on the rack and 3 on top of my Subaru–19 TOTAL! I’ve also loaded it with firewood or paver blocks inside and have strapped on 4×8 sheets of plywood and other sundry items on top. And I have sprawled out in the back and slept in it! Love–it’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru. So True–I LOVE MY SUBARU!
    …and I understand the 2018 models have higher ground clearance–oh boy, more adventure ahead!

    March 8, 2018 - 11:46 am Reply
  • Authentic Asheville

    Yessss the geo tracker! Awesome. Mine was a Toyota Corolla lol.

    March 19, 2018 - 1:30 pm Reply
  • Melissa

    I loved my little red 4×4 convertable Tracker so much. It was great off road, in the desert, drove it across the country a couple of times (not super confortable on a 2000 mile trek, haha) I miss that car so much. I used to red line it all the time pushing it to 100 mph and finally threw a rod at 65k miles. Found an abandoned teal one in New Orleans after Katrina but couldn’t get a clean title. I’d buy another one in a heartbeat.

    January 27, 2019 - 5:30 pm Reply

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