(first posted 4/12/2013) Quick: Name an American-built pickup truck from the late 1990s that is not called Ford, Chevy, GMC or Dodge. OK, then, I mean yesterday, before you read the headline. Would you have guessed “Isuzu Hombre”? If so, you are a better person than I am.
I am a sucker for oddball vehicles–you know, the kind that languish in showrooms and within five years are remembered by virtually nobody. Today we have such a vehicle. Just how obscure is this one? Wiki asserts it may be the rarest North American pickup of the ’90s. Wiki’s editors note that there is no citation for that fact, but is one really needed?
Poor Isuzu. Other than the Trooper of the 1980s and the Rodeo SUV that you read about here last week, have they ever been able to build a vehicle that more than a couple of hundred people in the entire U.S. can remember? In a way, Isuzu is sort of like Peugeot–revered and successful throughout the developing world, yet unable to even sniff at success in America. And poor Paul–is this an American or Asian truck? I’m glad I am not managing the CC index.
From 1988 through 1995, Isuzu built its own pickup (cleverly named the Isuzu Pickup), in Lafayette, Indiana. Related to the Rodeo (also built in Lafayette), the little truck was known worldwide as the TF (or third series) pickup, and as the Faster in its home market. It could have been the vehicle with more worldwide names than any other, including the Chevrolet LUV (Americas), Vauxhall Brava (UK), Isuzu Dragon Eyes (Thailland), Isuzu Fuego (Phillipines), and so many others that I have tired of looking them up and re-typing them here. After the 1995 model year, production of the vehicle was discontinued at the Lafayette plant, although it continued to be built for another seven years elsewhere in the world. One may presume that Isuzu figured to sell more Passports through Honda dealers than it could sell pickups (sorry, I mean Pickups) through its own dealers.
So, you ask (and quite reasonably): Why is he talking so much about the TF series that came before the Hombre rather than the Hombre itself? The answer is that the TF at least had more than four paragraphs written about it across the entire internet, which is more than we can say about the Hombre. Really, now, a show of hands: Who out there has ever even HEARD of an Hombre? And be honest. Let’s see – six . . . seven . . . eight, back there by the door . . . OK, it looks like eight.
I will confess that I was one of the vast multitude who’d have lost a $5 bet on the existence of this car. Then, about two weeks ago, I stumbled across this one, which was parked next to a downtown Indianapolis parking meter. There was something odd about the grille on the green “S-10” I was approaching on the way back to my own car–it looked vaguely like a grille on some Isuzu models. Then I saw the “Hombre” badges on the doors and tailgate.
“Holy Crap” was all I could think. I whipped out my phone camera and started to document the automotive equivalent of finding an okapi (a rarely seen African animal that resembles both a giraffe and a zebra) in the wild. Just who exactly would be driving an Isuzu Hombre in downtown Indianapolis?
You have probably figured out that these were produced on the same Shreveport, LA assembly lines as the Chevy S-10 and GMC S-15 that came out that same year. Why they chose not to call it either an S-5 or an S-20, well, I can’t say. I also can’t tell you how the Hombre got completely different front fenders, front bumper and rear bed quarters than its line-mates. Undoubtedly, the GM product planners expected the Hombre to be the style (and volume) leader of the line, which required having fender flares at all four wheel openings. Or not. I quit trying to figure out the thinking of GM product planners a long time ago. Or could this have been an Isuzu project with enough of a budget for some unique sheet metal? Again, I have no answers; however, I can tell you that this is a 1999 or 2000 model from the revised grille. Does this mean I’m now ready for the exams to be certified as a national expert on this little truck? This is just sad.
Motor Trend gave this vehicle a look in its April 1996 issue. They liked the low price (around $11,500) and the fender flares (seriously), but wished that an automatic transmission would have been among the options available with the 2.2-liter four–but really, who needs an automatic when they have fender flares?
I tried unsuccessfully to find some production figures. Maybe MCT, our production number guru, can help out here. I did, however, stumble across a fabulous sentence on a timeline found on planetizuzu.com: “1996 – Isuzu’s sales peak in the United States. The Isuzu Hombre pickup was introduced.” There you have it. Isuzu was humming along, minding its own business and doing just fine, when the Hombre crashes the party and starts everything swirling down the drain. Clearly, the introduction of the Hombre marked the beginning of the end of Isuzu vehicles being taken seriously.
I have been trying to take the Hombre seriously, but I just can’t. I have, however, begun to develop an appreciation for its camp factor. I’ve never considered myself a big fan of this generation of S-10; how can you drive a pickup that looks so much like a big carp from the front? But the Hombre is, well, just different. You’ll certainly not find another one on your street. Or City. Or County. Or . . . oh, never mind. In fact, I did a search on AutoTrader.com. Would you guess that there was not a single Hombre for sale within 200 miles of my zip code? I sort of like the little thing, but I simply will NOT go more than 200 miles for one.
So, just what do I like about it? It’s simple, it looks better than an S-10, and if you find one it will absolutely have a stick shift. And say whatever else you will about the thing, it is undeniably unique. But there is one more reason–but dare I state it? OK, then. I know you’ve been waiting for this throughout the entire piece, so here goes: Because it’s one tough Hombre, that’s why.