I have literally been looking for this car my whole life, and here it is.
I was driving home from downtown with my family and exclaimed “Holy Cow, it’s an Isuzu Bellett!” Naturally my family was not as impressed as I was, and I returned the next day at first light to get these shots, lest my quarry disappear for another 48 years.
Yes, you heard right, it’s been that long since I saw one of these. Here’s my sister and me and Yiffee the Keeshond with my Aunt Ena’s Bellett in 1971. As you may remember I am Canadian, and grew up in a Dutch immigrant family. In the 1960’s a fellow Dutchman had a local import dealership selling Toyota and Isuzu. My grandfather bought a yellow Toyota Corona much like the blue one in the photo above, and my uncle an FJ40 Land Cruiser. Even my own father bought his used Rambler there, so I suppose it was up to my aunt to round out the selection with an Isuzu.
We’ve covered the Bellett before with one found in Japan here by TATRA87, but the Isuzu marque goes back to 1934. They made their name in commercial trucks and didn’t start making passenger cars until 1953. After building the Hillman Minx under license for several years they began production of in house designs with the Bellel in 1961, and the smaller Bellett in 1963. Isuzu translates to “Fifty Bells”, hence the bell in Bellel and Bellett.
Back to our subject car, which really is in phenomenal shape. It had received a budget repaint at some point but was clean, straight and amazingly rust free. How can this be so when most 1960’s Japanese cars quickly rusted into oblivion in my Ontario home town?
Ah, that’s why. It’s a BC car. Same healing rains and lack of road salt that Oregon receives. You can see the SAE 64 stamp on the taillight lens, that’s how I pegged this one as a 1964 model. My aunt’s Bellett had larger taillights and a different grille.
Another fun feature at the rear is the tiny 1.5 inch tailpipe.
The Bellett was built in 4 countries for 10 years, but despite looking a bit like a scaled down Italian Alfa Romeo it was not a sales giant. Speaking of giants, I should have taken a photo of myself next to it, this is a very tiny car. What do you think of the profile? I quite like the angular midsection with the more rounded ends, but I know this is viewed through the four year old eyes of my childhood.
The Bellett seems to have been mostly exported to Australia, and also to Canada and parts of Europe. I don’t think any made it to the US. Looking at old Bellett ads the word Sporty comes up in every one, perhaps it was a marketing mistake to play up the sporting aspect of the car. Toyota’s greater success would indicate that what people really wanted in a Japanese sedan was slightly boring but highly reliable with a strong dealership network.
Here’s a big part of why the Bellett was relatively sporty, that’s a semi trailing arm independent rear suspension. It has coil springs so that cross leaf spring there must be some sort of sway bar/camber compensator. Again the lack of corrosion here is staggering, this car must have spent its whole life in a dry garage.
The interior is rather sporty as well. Dual binnacles on the dash for speedo and gauges, a floor shifter and bucket seats. Look at the way the glove box is cut into the dash on the right, not only is it cool looking but the cutout is the same size as the one for the gauge cluster to cleverly facilitate left or right hand drive. Mileage was about 70,000 which also helps with the great condition.
And yes, that is a Corvette with turbine mags in the window reflection, but who cares? It’s a Bellett!
The sporty moniker was slightly justified, as the Bellett does have a limited amount of racing history. Bruce McLaren apparently drove one at a 1965 Goodwood meet, the first Japanese car to be raced there. Fifty years later one was invited back to Goodwood for the 2015 vintage festival, seen here fleeing for its life from a much bigger fish.
The Isuzu script on the hubcaps looks so similar upside down I hadn’t realized that I’d photographed it that way until later. When was the last time you saw a car with 13 inch wheels? They look impossibly tiny today and I’ll bet those BF Goodrich 145SR13 tires were made in the 1980’s.
Here we are again with my two aunts in Halifax, which is quite fitting because some Belletts were assembled in Nova Scotia, albeit only in 1968 with some 585 cars produced.
Not the most appealing angle for this car, but it does give us opportunity to check out some of the great details. Look at the little chrome bumps on the tops of the fenders where JDM mirrors would be attached. If I had opened the forward hinged hood I would have seen a 1500cc pushrod 4 of 60 horsepower.
More good stuff here, such delicate pushbutton door handles and the little cover for the lock cylinder.
Just look at the great trim details, I like the drip rail extending to the back of the C pillar and the exposed trunk hinges. If someone told you this was an Alfa Giulia you’d believe them.
Goodbye little Bellett, I don’t imagine our paths will ever cross again. 48 years between sightings is a long time and I don’t plan on living to 101. As we left my daughter asked me if I was going to buy it, but I can barely take care of the 5 vehicles we have now, let alone an obscure orphan from Japan. I sure was chuffed to find it though, and hope it gets a good home. Just seeing it brought back visions of childhood, family trips, and adventurous aunts. For such a diminutive car it sure carries a load of memories.