Well, now that this brief French interlude is over and done with and that Japan is closing its borders, looks like it’s back to our regular JDM finds for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, I’ve been accumulating so many photos lately, so there are plenty of good candidates. So for the first JDM post of 2021, why not pick something we can all enjoy? Hmm… Something classic, with that exotic Italian flair, not another boring Toyota-or-Nissan box…
Aha! I’ve got just the thing.
Behold, one of the most enticing Japanese coupés of the ‘70s, and doubtless the most handsome Isuzu ever. To be honest, if I had to choose between this, the Fiat 124 Coupé, the Audi 100 S and the Peugeot 504C, it would be difficult to make up my mind.
Certainly, if one is considering the mid-‘70s Isuzu range, the 117 is the proverbial flower on the dung heap. And I’m being almost unfair towards dung here. Apparently, families needed not apply for the sexy tw0-door. One either had to punish one’s spouse and children with a Gemini, or embarrass them with a Florian. The agony of choice.
This is not the first Isuzu 117 Coupé featured on CC. I found a couple of decomposing ones (and a Florian saloon) last year, as well as a Series 1 museum exhibit. The rotten ones were a Series 2 like our feature car and a series 3, with square eyes. I also have a superb series 3 post lined up, but I’ll keep that for a rainy day.
I already detailed most of this luscious Giugiaro-designed beast’s history in my previous posts, but just to recap, Isuzu launched the 117 Coupé in late 1968. Early cars, until 1973, were made in very limited quantities, but this changed when Isuzu got access to GM’s deep pockets.
Changes were made to the car – it was simplified and cheapened in certain ways (real wood and leather trim on the dash was replaced by plastic, for instance), given beefier bumpers and a mild facelift. The engine, hitherto available in 1.6 and 1.8 litre guise, was now solely the 1817cc 4-cyl., though there were both SOHC and DOHC variants, fed by a mix of a single Rochester carb, twin SUs or electronic fuel injection.
A confusing amount of trim levels were therefore ushered in, to reflect the various flavours of engine and interior appointments. In keeping with the era, a jumble of letters were used: XC, XC-J, XT, XG, etc. The highest grade was the XE, which had velour seats and the 140hp fuel injected DOHC engine.
Our feature car, being an XC, has a lower-spec SOHC engine with twin SUs, which churned out 115hp. It could be a ’76-’77 model (there’s no way to tell, externally), in which case the SUs would have been replaced by EFI, but nothing else would be different.
Underneath all that loveliness, the Isuzu is straightforward – simple even. A 3-speed slushbox was optional, but the one we have here has the 5-speed manual. Said transmission send the power to the rear wheels via a cart-sprung live axle. It’s a body-on-frame design, too, so all pretty conservative. This all helps if and when major salvation operations need to be conducted. No wonder a fair few of these are still extant and restoration shops specializing in these exist.
Our feature car has had a couple of novel (i.e. aftermarket) features. The chrome fender mirrors are not what one would expect to find on a series 2 coupé, which had body-coloured items. They’re more like a series 1 car – not a bad thing at all, as far as I’m concerned. The other stand-out are the Cromodora alloys, but those look perfect on this car too. For once, the mods were moderate and tastefully done.
This theme is carried on in that sweet interior. It’s not 100% stock either – the steering wheel and the gear lever aren’t, anyway, though they look like period aftermarket items – but that oh-so ‘70s dark chocolate, tobacco brown and beige combo is irresistible.
The 117 Coupé was billed as a four-seater, not a 2+2. Sure, it looks pretty tight back there, but for a ‘70s Japanese two-door, it’s not too bad. One might even imagine that someone with actual legs and feet could sit here and survive the experience.
From a distance, our feature car looks gorgeous, but it looks all of its 45 years up close. There are signs of rust and general fatigue aplenty. This is not unexpected, but it could mean that this car was never restored, and that’s getting pretty rare.
Luckily, the 117 Coupé is not that rare. The series 2 (1973-77) cars, with about 50,000 units made, represent the majority of the breed. MY 1975 was the car’s sales peak: over 13,000 were delivered, all of them for the Japanese market. And unlike, say, a disposable appliance such as a contemporary Toyota Corona, folks who bought these new tended to keep them and take care of them, so quite a few have survived. This one certainly did, even if it wasn’t the fanciest version. May it continue to grace the streets with its lion-festooned body for many more years, the world is better thanks to its presence.