Not all cars achieve greatness. Of those that do, some are born great, but others only achieve it near the end of their production span. The 1963-73 Isuzu Bellett is clearly from that latter school of thought, as this pumpkin-spiced very late model 1600 GTR will hopefully demonstrate. This little orange monster has plenty of juice!
I found and wrote up a fairly similar car a couple years back: it was a year younger and had the 1.8 litre engine. What a difference 12 months and 200cc makes! This 1600 GTR (or “1600 GT R-Type,” but that’s just too long) is the absolute queen of the Belletts, the closest that early ‘70s Japan got to a domestic Alfa Romeo or a BMW.
I won’t bother with the Bellett’s wider history – just take a peek at my previous piece if you need a refresher. Let’s skip right to late 1969, when the Tokyo Motor Show saw the Bellett 1600 GTR for the first time, looking pretty much like the car above. The beta version had just won a race at Suzuka, so this newcomer came haloed with fresh racing cred from the get-go.
The idea was to take the 117 Coupé’s 120hp DOHC twin-carb engine and install it in the Bellett notchback coupé, mated to a 4-speed manual. Said notchback coupé was somewhat lighter than the 117 and it had all-independent suspension to boot. The Bellett’s IRS was a swing axle design, with stiffer springs front and rear for the GTR. Another technical amelioration specific to the GTR was the addition of a servo for the brakes, which as far as I know remained discs at front and drums at the rear. So better than Alfa? I’d say about even.
The one thing that was not quite as great as anything made in Italy was the Isuzu’s interior. There are few places more appealing to sit in than an Alfa or Lancia of this era, but to be entirely fair, we’re setting the bar quite high and the quality of the pic is quite low.
But even if we look at a (much clearer and well-lit) period photo of a completely original interior, the fact remains that our Bellett is more comparable to a BMW -02 than a Lancia, from this angle at least. BMW -02s are great cars, but they had rather drab interiors…
I stated in my Bellett 1800 GT post that Isuzu built only 1400 units of the 1600 GTRs in two years, which would be 1970 and 1971. It’s a factoid floating about some English-speaking websites, but clearly an incorrect assumption, as proven by the above period photo of a GTR with the MY 1972/73 “mask” grille displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show in late 1971. The total fleet, i.e. 1400 made, is confirmed by all sources though, so this is a rare car indeed.
Our CC is also wearing this admittedly unfortunate grille, so if it is a genuine GTR (one can never be 100% certain of these things), it’s one of the last ones. By this time, the Bellett was really becoming an afterthought at Isuzu. Production of all Bellett GTs (GTRs included) after 1969 dropped to minuscule levels – less than 1500 units per year – and cars were pretty much built to order until it was halted in March 1973.
The GTRs were essentially built to order anyway, given that the DOHC head for their 1584cc engines were more or less hand-made, just like the rest of the initial 117 Coupés. Those fine motors were related but different from the OHV and SOHC Isuzu 1600s – they made many variations of that G-series 4-cyl., which lasted all the way to the Piazza. Much as the late-model grille is not my cuppa (a common enough gripe, apparently), I quite like the revamped taillights on these final Belletts.
Of course, our feature car has had a few questionable extras tacked on. The front chin spoiler kind of, er, spoils the front end and the fat tyres and Watanabe rims, coupled with the black plastic over-fenders, is another particularly objectionable mod on this car. On the other hand, painting the bumpers black kind of works, here…
This specific car is also adorned with a few too many decals and stickers, in my opinion. I’m particularly wondering why there is an Italian tricolour on it. The Alfa Romeo connection again? This car may be used in historic racing events, so it’s understandable that some sponsoring would be displayed (the Total sticker on the rear end, for instance), but these other ones diminish the visual impact of that majestic “Type R” emblem. Pity.
I’m nitpicking, as usual. In truth, even in spite of those ugly wheels, this rare Bellett’s delightfully ‘70s hue made for a very pleasant surprise – and made it possible to find, too! It was parked beside a building entrance, partially hidden by a row of parked cars. Had it been a duller shade, like silver or white, I might not have perked up and noticed it from the street. This is the classic Bellett GTR colour, it seems. Green, blue and yellow were also used, but iconic orange just can’t be bested.
In Japan, these cars are just as revered as the contemporary C10 Skyline GT-R, Mazda Cosmo or Toyota 2000GT. Internationally, the fading of Isuzu as a carmaker has perhaps tainted their sporting legacy, and the Bellett GTR does not have the same status abroad as it deserves. It’s certainly not put on the same level as the aforementioned Japanese automotive legends. Isuzu, as a carmaker, ended with a whimper, but the Bellett ended with a real bang of a variant.
Curbside Classic: 1964 Isuzu Bellett – Canadian CC Holy Grail, by DougD
Curbside Classic: 1971 Isuzu Bellett 1800 GT – Not Undercover Of The Night. by T87
I agree with you on the visuals, I quite prefer the green stock GTR.
However if this Bellett has the performance to back up all the boy racer exterior mods it would be quite exciting to blast up a twisty road.
Would your Aunt Ena have bought one of these if she’d been able to?
Certainly not, she was after cheap transportation 😉 . However if I’d known this existed I would have lobbied my father to buy one.
Daniel Stern lobbied his father to buy the ’62 Lancer, and that worked out well.
I think his father must have been exceptional. I know what would have happened if I’d tried that.
Reminds me of a 1973 Corolla Levin I had until recently. It was orange as well but a bit rough, very solid car though.
That’s pretty sweet…
What a peculiar grille treatment. Think I might have found the inspiration. 🙂
MY first car was a 1964 1500 bellett that my grandfather bought new it even had a crank handle was the most fun car I have driven.are there any GTR belletts in Australia
These were JDM only, but there is at least one in Oz:
My buddy had one when we were kids in the late 70’s in Australia…dunno if it was a GT, but was orange and had a black bonnet like that, I thought it was a replacement bonnet ha ha…and maybe it was, although it came with a harness rather than belts and was quick and rowdy alright…it ended it’s days upside down out in the Blue Mountains on a dirt back road sadly.
Gorgeous car why don’t Isuzu make cars again
Not just Ute’s and SUV