When most people think of the Isuzu name, they think primarily of diesel engines and heavy machinery, perhaps even buses and trucks. In their 86 years of automotive production, much of their efforts and acclaim have been in these areas. Among the many commercial vehicles and engines, however, there were scattered a number of incredible automotive gems gifted to the world, and now mostly present in the JDM market.
Isuzu Background and History
In 1878, the company first started in the petroleum field, giving it rich knowledge in the key elements that powered their future creations. Before Isuzu Motors came along later, work started as a cooperative effort between Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Ltd and Tokyo Gas and Electrical Co. The plan was to build cars together, and in 1918 they partnered with British automaker Wolseley Motors Limited to produce and sell Wolseley cars in East Asia.
After a number of initial domestically made cars and trucks, Ishikawajima merged with DAT Automobile Manufacturing, and by 1949 the name Isuzu emerged as the company’s official name in honour of the nearby Isuzu River. Some of Isuzu’s most iconic early passenger cars like the Bellel and Bellett may have led some to wonder what the significance of the word “bell” was. In fact, the official English translation of “Isuzu” is “fifty bells.” Suddenly the mystery becomes clear.
In the heady years of the 1950s and 1960s, Isuzu was struggling to find viable commercial partners. The Japanese government at the time was trying to limit the number of automobile manufacturers to stop the market becoming too saturated. Isuzu’s cars were considered too large and expensive for the domestic market, which contributed to the struggles. After failed attempts with Subaru, Mitsubishi and Nissan, 1971 brought better news in the form of a partnership with General Motors.
1981 – The Isuzu Brand
After many years of cooperative operation, Isuzu finally started once again to release cars under its own brand in 1981, and this time in the United States. The Isuzu P’up was the first model pickup truck sold under the Isuzu name as opposed to Chevrolet as many had previously been. In the years that followed, the company expanded operations into Europe with their Fargo and Carry vans, produced in the UK and sold under Vauxhall’s Bedford brand.
The Isuzu Bighorn
One of the most iconic vehicles to emerge from this period was the Isuzu Bighorn SUV. It enjoyed a long run of success from 1981 to 2002 initially under the Bighorn name, but later and more internationally as the Trooper. In fact, it had many names on the international market, including Caribe, Acura SLX, Honda Horizon and more. The first generation ran until 1991, and then it was updated substantially for the second generation which ran until 2002. Some people may not realize that the Bighorn was one of the early cars to steadily adopt great refinement in comfort, such as air conditioning, a more powerful V6 engine and power windows.
2002 – End of the Passenger Line
Fans of the Isuzu passenger cars were saddened to learn that in 2002 the company would stop production of these vehicles and concentrate entirely on its more lucrative commercial and industrial vehicle lines.
The legacy of Isuzu passenger cars lives on in the vibrant and dynamic world of Japanese domestic market imports.
Many cars produced by Isuzu in Japan were either never exported, or produced only with the badges of other marques like Chevrolet, Subaru and Honda/Acura.
The result is that many undiscovered gems from the Isuzu treasure chest lay undiscovered. Thanks to the fondness and appreciation of British drivers for Japanese imports, we are now able to experience them.
Better yet, thanks to the compatibility of JDM cars within the UK market (right hand drive), we can enjoy them even more conveniently than drivers in mainland Europe or the US.
What makes Isuzu a JDM brand of choice?
For some, Isuzu is one of those Japanese brands that they’ve certainly heard of before, but perhaps couldn’t name more than one or two of their famous products. This is the result of the company investing far more resources into their commercial vehicle operations instead of passenger cars. Much of the contribution of Isuzu to the world of passenger cars has been overshadowed by the many badges of different companies who attached themselves to the fruits of the Isuzu production line.
The truth is, however, that if you don’t know much about the brand, then you’re missing out. There are many great reasons to love the Isuzu brand, and to make it a top choice for a JDM import purchase.
1. Off-road ability
Fans of the Isuzu Bighorn will be aware of this car’s prowess in the off-road arena. Showcased in many an ad, the Bighorn was a champion of dynamic performance thanks to its incredible suspension, strong build and powerful V6 engine. Drivers wanting a JDM car with these capabilities, as well as good on-road performance and reliability were always drawn to the Isuzu brand, with power and capability always being hallmarks of the brand.
An off-road or adventure vehicle needs to have a strong source of power behind it. Quality diesel engines have been Isuzu’s game since its founding, and so JDM enthusiasts have long looked to this brand to supply strong and capable vehicles for off-roading.
2. Power and engine quality
As we touched on above, engines have been the name of the Isuzu game for a long time. They are particularly known nowadays for their remarkable advancements in the field of diesel engine technology. Even when you purchase an Isuzu JDM model from the 1990s or 2000s, you can enjoy powerful and extremely well-constructed engines that will serve you well.
The Isuzu brand name may not stand as well for sumptuous interiors or luxury finishes like some of the company’s counterparts such as Toyota and Honda. What it does have, however, is a healthy dose of sturdiness and strength, with just enough of the comfort built in to make the vehicles both affordable and able to deliver great performance.
3. Strong and sturdy build
The Isuzu, whether it be the Bighorn, Rodeo, Unicab or any other model, is a brand that stands for strength and sturdy build quality. One issue the company faced in its earliest days was that the cars they build in Japan were (at first) considered bulky or large for the domestic market. In fact, what it really shows is the company’s commitment to a solid frame and strong vehicle build from the beginning.
Even as comforts and upgrades softened the tough edges to make the cars plusher in the face of growing competition, the hallmarks remain power and strength.
A JDM Isuzu gets the job done
Enthusiasts looking to get their hands on an iconic Japanese domestic market SUV should look no further than Isuzu, and especially the Bighorn. What’s more, you can get your hands on a piece of rare treasure, too, since the Bighorn name is somewhat in a minority after the international versions all adopted different names, the most common being the Trooper.
If you’re interested in adding a JDM Isuzu import to your collection, then get in touch with us today to learn more about our selection.
Take time to explore our own range of Isuzu import cars and find a great-value family car that will help you live the strong and innovative message of this great Japanese brand.