Does a rising “modern classic” tide also lift Isuzu’s boats?


Be it Bring a Trailer or the Radwood effect, modern classics (especially trucks) have appreciated to previously unheard-of heights. I remember when darn near every Isuzu sold on BaT would sell in the real world (whatever that means) for a fraction of today’s transaction prices and wind up one dead battery away from the junkyard. Thank goodness the good old days are a thing of the past. Still, has Isuzu’s modest product portfolio truly come of age?

Motorweek’s masterful wordplay stirs up good vibes for this storied Japanese company with roots dating back to 1916. Market conditions during the 1986 Trooper and Impulse’s heyday didn’t exactly bode well for the brand, but ’86 was Isuzu’s best sales year with 127,630 vehicles sold. The 1986 Trooper II tested here in LS trim looks suitably upscale, and the “4×4 of the Year” dashboard emblem (thanks to 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine) might have turned a few heads. (Heads that would otherwise consider a Toyota 4Runner, ‘natch.) The whole package is great, except the notion of an optional rear seat for four-door models seems unfortunate, considering that other reviews suggested it “looks and feels better than it is.” Even so, Trooper IIs in top form deserve to sell for 17 large, considering how other SUVs of the era perform these days.

The Isuzu Impulse sported an eye-catching Giorgetto Giugiaro body draped over a rear-wheel-drive chassis, and the 1986 model’s turbocharged 2.0-liter mill provided the acceleration the truck deserved from the get-go. The handling and braking? Not so much, as Motorweek couldn’t resist throwing in a few barbs with its praise. Later iterations sported “Handling by Lotus” emblems engineering but were hampered by an antiquated stick-axle, as was the Fox-body Mustang. Much like the Isuzu Trooper II, clean examples go for decent money, and this second-generation, 1991 Turbo AWD Impulse could break the five-digit mark when the hammer drops.

Isuzu USA closed its passenger-car doors in January 2009, bought out its (modest) dealership franchises, and went whole-hog on commercial/medium-duty trucks. But there’s more than a simple, nostalgic twinge to the brand today, as many of Isuzu’s cars had sleek Italian designs, and its trucks were both capable and far more affordable than Toyota’s. These virtues may be why the Isuzus that remain on the road are getting cooler (hotter?) by the day; after all, the classic car market has a “Big Tent” ideology just like most political parties—in theory, at least.

That proverbial tent should open wide for all fans of the Joe Isuzu TV commercials, too. The smooth-talking, pathological liar was pure marketing brilliance when the big dogs were promoting “Quality is Job 1” and “Oh, what a feeling!”

In case you missed them, have a sampling below (and give a round of applause for YouTube):

Of course, good marketing isn’t usually enough to float an organization. You need the right combination of value, performance, and availability/support, a combination which Isuzu USA clearly lacked. Ironically, it was David Leisure, the man behind Joe Isuzu, who expertly summarized Isuzu’s stateside problems in 2008 when he said, “I thought they already had stopped selling here.”

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