COAL: 1990 Isuzu Trooper – “Tri-tone”

Ah…my Isuzu Trooper. One of my favorite cars. Here it is in all of its Tri-Tone glory; white roof, black hood, silver body!


What I like most about the COAL series is that they are less about the cars and more about the stories behind the vehicles. They tell the stories of different periods of life. Sometimes the stories are interesting, other times they are duds.  The vehicle often acts as a prominent character in the story.  Last week’s COAL was rather uninspiring. While there was nothing wrong with the red Ranger, it did not tell a rather interesting story.  This next COAL tells a story that has more color. 


To understand the next vehicle in my vehicle history, we must go back to 1992. My parents quickly learned that after I was born, fitting a car seat in the back of a 1990 Pontiac Sunbird coupe was not going to cut it. It was traded in for a late-model Chevy Astro that lasted all of four months before my parents purchased a blue 1990 Isuzu Trooper LS. My parent’s dad loved the Trooper. It was roomy, reliable, affordable, had a great 4WD system, and was a good family vehicle for a few years. In the late ’90s, my parents moved to the country and purchased a country vehicle; a red 1990 Isuzu Trooper. The same merits that caused them to purchase the first one made them purchase a second one. It lasted them a couple of trouble-free years and served them well.

How the Trooper arrived when it made the voyage to Iowa. When we got it, it had a weird front-end squat that threw off the proportions.


I mention all of this because after the red Ranger was gone, my dad had the Trooper itch again. Seems like Joe Isuzu did an excellent job of selling the merits of the Trooper to my dad. He and I soon took to Craigslist and searched the country for rust-free Troopers. Rust-free and Troopers were two things that normally did not go together. Troopers had a tendency to rust away before their warranty period ended (something Joe forgot to mention in his advertisements). This was the reason for getting rid of the first two Troopers. Nevertheless, my dad wanted a rust-free Trooper and I was going to help him find one.

After much searching, we found the perfect Trooper for sale in metro Detroit; a 1990 Trooper, V6, 5-speed manual, and most importantly, rust-free. The listing said the car came from a ranch in the southwest. The few (cellphone) photos of the car showed that the underside had little rust. The paint was faded, but it looked to be relatively a clean car. My dad called the owner and they spoke. By the end of the call, my dad agreed to fly to Detroit, where they would exchange the title and money.

The Trooper that started it all. This is identical to the first Trooper my parents had when I was little.


There are times in life when buyer’s remorse sets in quickly. If I had to guess, my dad developed buyer’s remorse for his Trooper purchase somewhere between Detroit and the Iowa border. My dad boarded an early flight to Detriot one Saturday morning. I did not hear from him at all that day, but the following morning I woke up to the Trooper sitting in the driveway. I remember my mom telling me not to bring up the Trooper to my dad. What the cell phone photos did not show was the car had no backseat or any seatbelts besides the driver’s seat. The story goes my dad stood at the airport and had to decide if he was going to drive this Trooper 500 miles home, or go back inside and purchase an expensive airplane ticket. He took a gamble and set off for Iowa in the Trooper. The series of unfortunate events did not stop there, as somewhere between Indiana and home, the exhaust developed a leak and made the drive loud. Also, the radio did not work either.

Nevertheless, the Trooper was rust-free and ran well, so we were going to make lemonade out of a lemon. Now finding seatbelts and a backseat for an uncommon Japanese car proved to be difficult. After a few weeks of not having any luck, I finally found the parts we needed, except there was one catch. The advertisement was for a whole Trooper!  A local Craigslist ad had a 1990 Trooper for $400. The thing was so rusty it could not be driven. It did have a (good) back seat, good tires, and most importantly seatbelts! After dragging it back to our house, we stripped all usable parts off of it and then hauled the carcass off to the junkyard.

How does one find seat belts and a rear seat for a car? Purchase a whole car!


The cell phone photos of the listing for the Trooper did not do justice to just how faded the paint was on the car. The roof and hood were badly sunburnt from the southern exposure. My dad took this opportunity to learn how to paint a car. He purchased some implement paint and a cheap paint gun and proceeded to paint the roof of the Trooper white and the hood black. I nicknamed the car “tri-tone Trooper,” which stuck. Troopers left the factory with either a 2.5L Isuzu 4-cylinder or the Chevy 2.8L V6. On paper, there was not much difference in power or torque between the two engines.  The 2.8L Chevy was an engine my dad and I were familiar with from our Fieros. The Fieros had a multi-port fuel injection that made 140 hp and the Troopers used a single-port fuel injection that made 120 hp. Between the downgrade in power and more weight, the Trooper was very sloooow. It is important to note what a Trooper is and is not. A Trooper is not sexy, fast, luxurious, or safe.  A Trooper is spartan, roomy, reliable, and tough. The only options our Trooper had were AC and the Chevy 2.8L V6. The Trooper had manual windows, locks, mirrors, a single-speed rear wiper, two-speed front wipers (slow and slower), and a rear defroster. But to Joe Isuzu’s marketing point, it did have four-wheel disk brakes!

After we got a back seat in the car, it was used regularly by the family. It became the weekend warrior vehicle, as it could haul more than two people to Menards, as well as pull our small utility trailer. I developed a strong attachment to the Trooper and found myself driving more over my Firebird. I could see how Joe Isuzu was right about the Trooper. The driving position of the Trooper allowed you to see the entire world from the driver’s seat. There was so much glass and thin pillars that blindspots did not exist in the thing. The thing was best experienced on gravel roads near our house.  The 4WD worked flawlessly and I would often use the abandoned railroad bed near our house as my road home. As winter approached, I was excited to put it through the test of inclement weather.

According to Joe Isuzu, Troopers could carry a symphony orchestra and every book in the Library of Congress. I am not sure if that is true, but I can attest there was vertically nothing that could not fit in the back of a Trooper. In other markets, this was sold with a third-row seat.


The first winter with the Trooper was a winter we got an abnormal amount of snow in eastern Iowa. The Trooper’s 4WD came into use by everyone in the family. It worked every time and never left anyone stranded. The worst snow I have ever driven in I did in the Trooper. The drive from the town I attended high school to my parent’s house is eight miles and takes about 15 minutes. One winter day, we got dismissed from school early due to snow. I worked at the local grocery store and was called to see if I could work the evening shift until 9:00 PM. I agreed to work and did not listen to my mother who told me to come home. When 9:00 rolled around, I went out to the Trooper and headed home. The wind was so fierce and the snow was so heavy, I could not see much more than 6’ past the end of the Trooper. It was good I knew the back roads well, as I used the power lines to guide me due to the white-out conditions. It took me 1.5 hrs to get home that evening! The blizzard was nothing for the Trooper. 

Winter came and the Firebird was parked back in the garage for its winter slumber. Sometime after Thanksgiving, the windshield washer tank developed a crack and would not hold any fluid. I found a cheap solution that would ultimately come to cause some havoc for my dad and me. When you live on a gravel road in winter, having a working windshield washing system is a must for safe driving. The Trooper’s washer reservoir developed a leak and would not hold any fluid. I took to the recycling bin and found a 1-Liter Deju-Blue water bottle. I filled it with blue winter washer fluid and put the bottle in the single cupholder in the Trooper. When I needed to clean my window, I would roll down the front window and squirt some washer fluid on the windshield. The quick fix worked well for me. Being responsible, I mentioned this fix to my dad and my sister, who were frequent passengers in the Trooper. 

Joe Isuzu did lie about the interior features of Troopers. There were not many options one could get.


One Sunday afternoon, my dad was working on something in the garage. It was cold out and he had the garage heat on high. He soon got hot and was very thirsty. The Trooper was in the garage, and he happened to see the Deju-Blue water bottle. He opened the cap and drank a big gulp of the liquid in the bottle. He immediately came inside and yelled for me. He asked me why I had vodka in the front seat of my car (I was 17 at the time). I looked him in the eyes and told him he had just drank washer fluid. At this point, my mom came into the room and called poison control. My parents were soon off to our local hospital. When they arrived at the ER, the doctors were already waiting. Seems it is not every day one drinks washer fluid, which made finding an anecdote difficult. My mom was told to go across the street and purchase a six-pack of beer. The doctor wanted to get my dad drunk to slow down the oxygen in his blood until they could find a solution. There sat my dad in the ER pounding back beers. Nurses would come by and poke their heads in to see if the rumors were really true that a patient was drinking beer in the ER.

My dad ended up staying in the hospital for four days before all the washer fluid was out of his system. At the time, he and I did not speak about this issue, nor did we purchase blue washer fluid for a couple of years. We now talk about the issue and joke about it. While I am not proud it happened, no one got seriously hurt and it does make for an interesting story. After my dad came home from the hospital, the washer tank was fixed and the Deju-Blue bottle was thrown away.

The Chevy 2.8L V6 gave us no trouble during our ownership. The story goes that Troopers were shipped from Japan to the US and had the Chevy V6s installed in California. These motors had no advantages over the Isuzu 2.5L I4, other than marketing material for Joe Isuzu.


The following fall, I headed off to college. If you remember, I had the Firebird with me, but I also brought the Trooper for the colder months. My grandmother lived 14 miles from my school and had a very large garage. During nice weather, the Trooper sat in her garage and the Firebird sat at school. As soon as it got cold, I parked the Firebird and drove the Trooper. The Trooper was a great college car. I loved having it at school, as I did not have to worry about something or someone hitting it. The thing was also larger inside than my college dorm room. At the end of the year, I fit all of my belongings in it with room to spare. It was also at this time that my dad told me he wanted to sell the Trooper. It started to develop the same rust that the other two Troopers had. When I returned home from school that spring, the Trooper was soon listed for sale. A dentist from Kansas ended up flying to Iowa City to purchase it. My dad loaded the thing with all the Trooper parts we had accumulated and off the dentist went.

While that ended the Trooper chapter for my dad and me, it left me a huge Trooper fan. Troopers were sold all over the world under various different manufacturers’ names. They are very durable, tough, and reliable vehicles and have developed an off-road following, with their only real fault being their rust issues. Finding rust-free ones is becoming harder and harder. If I could build a collection of odd vehicles, a Trooper would be at the top of my list. For me, the Trooper was a good car and one I would purchase again.

By now I have probably confused you with what year it is in my COAL journey. We are now in the early fall of 2012. I am entering my sophomore year of college. I just sold my Firebird to make my tuition payment. I am in something borrowed from my dad, but I have the itch to purchase my own car. Luckily I found something very cheap and familiar, but needing love to get back on the road. 

Holy grails of Troopers; a two-door short wheelbase model. These were sold for one year only.


P.S. I have attached links to some of Joe Isuzu’s Trooper ads for entertainment. Maybe these will make you want to go down to your local Isuzu dealer to purchase a Trooper.

Isuzu Trooper vs Jeep Cherokee

Mrs. Isuzu

Joe Isuzu Cried Wolf

Take the Trooper to the Bank

Isuzu Trooper Grand Canyon

Joanne Isuzu

Joe Isuzu Isn’t Dead

***Just go to Youtube and search for “Joe Isuzu.” You’ll be amused. Trust me, I wouldn’t lie.