CC Capsule: 1968 Isuzu Bellett – A Nice Little Bell, By Any Other Name

Long-time CC readers must believe Isuzu Belletts are the most common of sightings. For some reason or another, at least two contributors have already found a few of these early Isuzus in Japan and Canada. Each with a documented entry (links further down). Add me to the count of Bellett sightings, with this ’68 model in El Salvador.

And unlike many of my worn-out and junky finds, this one is in fairly good condition. On looks alone, one could think that Belletts survive in large numbers all over Central America. On the contrary, this is the only one I’ve ever seen. In my twenty years of living here.

Do Belletts only appear when CC contributors are around?

Here’s a bit of automotive trivia that’s flown under the radar: it’s been sixty years since the Bellett debuted to the world. The model was launched in June 1963, and was Isuzu’s second passenger vehicle of their design. A compact model aimed toward Japan’s rising middle class, the Bellett provided decent quarters and modest performance. Early models carried either a 1.5 OHV inline-four or a 1.8 diesel, with the former providing 49hp and a top speed of 65mph.

Doesn’t sound like much, but in the Japan of the 1960s it more than sufficed. Same in Central America. Heck, 65mph is still good over here nowadays.

As far as everyone knows, the Bellett’s styling was an in-house effort. If so, Isuzu’s stylists created a fairly attractive and accomplished little vehicle. The model has a few hints of Italian influences, with slight resemblances to Alfas and Lancias in its general proportions. Admittedly, this sample’s rubber helps the car’s stance.

The Bellett’s history has already been extensively covered by Tatra87 (links below). To briefly recap, like most Japanese carmakers after the war, industrial truck maker Isuzu had been assembling knockdown Hillman Minxes for local consumption. With Japan’s economy quickly growing in the late ’50s, Isuzu took the next logical step; to develop its own line of passenger vehicles.

Isuzu’s first in-house effort appeared as the Bellel, a slightly upscale sedan launched in 1961. The model’s name is a word play on ‘bell’; in allusion to the Isuzu name, which itself means ’50 bells.’

While looking a bit generic and slightly unrefined, the Bellel already showed hints of Italian styling. Mostly in the rear quarters. These early Bellels sold poorly and suffered from serious production issues. Not the most auspicious start.

What doesn’t kill you -or your customers- makes you stronger. Isuzu’s second offering arrived in ’63 and was better sorted out; styling-wise and quality-wise. Following corporate practice, the new compact was named Bellett, as in ‘little bell’. Production ran until 1973, with about 173K units sold.

Isuzu eventually explored the performance angle with the Bellett. First to appear was the 1600GT, which carried a 1.6 OHV inline-4 offering 86hp. Being a relatively small vehicle of 2000 pounds, the car’s performance stood out in Japan’s traffic.

Not content with that, Isuzu’s engineers eventually offered the Bellett 1600 GTR, the hottest of all the ‘little bells.’ It’s nowadays a coveted version of the model, and it has its own CC entry.

Back to today’s find. As mentioned early on, this is a 1968 model. Under its hood, it carries the less glamorous -but far more common- Isuzu 1.5L OHV engine.

As can be seen in the photos, this Bellet has a bit of an identity crisis. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that’s a Dodge R/T badge on the grille? Last I checked, Dodge has no links with Isuzu. Not now, not ever. I guess someone just thought it looked good?

But as I’ve said in previous posts, the locals just love their ‘stinking badges’ here. As nonsensical as they may be.

Talking about identity issues, this particular Bellett had been for sale for ages and the online ad incongruously promoted it as an “isuzu bellett 1968 datsun nissan 1200.”

An Isuzu, Datsun, Nissan, 1200? Had the car suffered an engine transplant or something?

Nope, none of that. Instead, all photos showed it still carried the Isuzu engine. A few mods as usual, like the ever-missing air filter case. But other than that, it was still full Isuzu.

In the end, looks like the whole ‘datsun nissan 1200’ matter was a ruse to lure more traffic to the sales ad. A bit of a deceit, yes. But is not like there are tons of Salvadorians jumping online eager to purchase an Isuzu Bellett. Nowadays, most don’t even know Isuzu ever made passenger cars to begin with.

In any case, I was glad to find this Bellett datsun Nissan 1200. It was curiously not far from my mother-in-law’s house in San Salvador, and I ended up coming across it a few times on my way to family reunions.

In person, I found the car looked tiny and cute. I considered its overall shape to be attractive, fairly clean, and with a good deal of poise. However, it lacked that one 5-10% je ne sais quoi to make it truly memorable.

After being on that sidewalk for months, I haven’t seen the Bellett datsun Nissan 1200  in recent visits, and seems to be finally gone. If so, I hope it now belongs to someone who appreciates obscure early Japanese cars and ceases that multi-identity nonsense.

And let’s see what other CCer comes across a Bellett. It’s only a matter of time.


Further reading:

Junkyard Classic: 1966 Isuzu Bellel -Turkey On A Stick

Curbside Classic: 1971 Isuzu Bellett 1800 GT – Not Undercover Of The Night

Curbside Classic: 1964 Isuzu Bellet – Canadian Holy Grail

Curbside Classic: 1972 Isuzu Bellet 1600 GTR – The Best For Last