What is the deal with Japanese motorists and idling? It’s like a national pastime here. I’ve seen it time and again. Sometimes, folks even recline their seat and take a snooze, read the paper, smoke or drink tea while listening to the radio. Some even work in their cars. Climate control (A/C in summer, heating in winter) and isolation from the world seem to be the main goal, which is understandable, but it made my approach to this relatively rare Isuzu coupé all the more difficult – and the interior out of bounds.
This idling obsession is well documented and some parking lots here have signs expressly forbidding it. Although the Japanese have a reputation for studiously following orders, this is one instruction they like to ignore. In the present case, on the street, idling is allowed and many parked cars, which in other countries would be void of occupants, are actually inhabited and running. Gasoline is not cheap here, but some people feel that their comfort is worth the extra financial and ecological costs. I’ve not noticed this behaviour in other Asian countries, either – it is a Nippon-specific foible.
It follows that when one is out CC hunting, one must be careful not to intrude on people’s personal space, of which cars are an extension. So I gave this Piazza a wide berth and snapped away, which did not seem to bother the owner inside. I don’t even know if he noticed me. I’ve often photographed an empty parked car – sometimes quite extensively – only to notice that someone was observing me doing it from a neighbouring idling car, so perhaps someone hidden behind the tinted glass of that Toyota Alphard across the street wondered why I was circling the Piazza.
But enough about the vicissitudes of automobile use in Japan in general and my paranoid CC hunting habits in particular. Let’s examine this model in more detail. Known internationally as the Isuzu Impulse (and in Australia as the Holden Piazza), the Isuzu Piazza debuted in mid-1981 to replace the 117 Coupé as Isuzu’s prestige model. It was designed by Giugiaro at Italdesign as one of his “ace” cars. The Asso di Fiori (Ace of Clubs) was first seen at the Geneva show in early 1979 and exhibited at the Tokyo show, as seen above, later that year.
The Asso di Fiori was admired as a great design for the ‘80s. Giugiaro certainly seemed very keen on it. A saloon version was even mooted, but Isuzu never pulled the trigger on that one. They didn’t go for Italdesign’s “padded cell” interior, either. Sound decisions. Other than that, the finished product did look remarkably similar to the Italdesign prototype. There was of course one noticeable difference: as they came out before Japanese law changed in 1983, early Piazzas had the goofy fender mirrors imposed on all domestic cars (imports were excepted), as can be seen on the 1981 factory photos below.
On most cars of the period, these don’t really bother me. In fact, I usually like them – or rather, I’ve grown accustomed to them. On the Piazza though, they really look out of place for some reason. Our feature car doesn’t have them, fortunately. It also sports the big “Piazza” script between the taillamps, so it’s probably a late 1983 or 1984 car. Judging from the ones I’ve seen for sale on Japanese websites, quite a few earlier ones have been retrofitted with door mirrors. They do look better that way.
The interior of these Isuzus is really something, like a Citroën CX on steroids. Wish I could have seen it for myself. With over 20 different dials, buttons, sliders and other controls on these column-mounted pods, one has to wonder how this stuff can still all function after over three decades of use. And repairing these things must be lots of fun, too. “OK, try the blue wire. No, the green one. No, the yellow one… AAAAARRGGGGHH!” But for all this cutting edge gadgetry and mono-wiper hipster chic, this little coupé had a standard issue longitudinal 4-cyl. engine sending power to a live rear axle.
The Piazza’s rather pedestrian underpinnings are straight out of GM’s T-car (a.k.a Chevrolet Chevette, Opel Kadett C, etc.), known in Japan as the Isuzu Gemini. The 2-litre engine (actually a 1949cc) was available either with one or two overhead cams, producing 150 and 135hp respectively. This 4-cyl. was already seen on the 117 Coupé and is directly descended from the Bellett’s original 1.5 litre mill, first seen in 1962. The Piazza was spared the Gemini’s tough-but-lethargic Diesel, despite a trial run of 117s so equipped in 1979-80. Transmission options included a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed Aisin automatic.
So the wild dash and the Giugiaro body were really just elaborate window dressing for what was a thoroughly conventional car. It seems Isuzu figured that this might be flagged by critics (which it certainly was), so they launched a 180hp turbo version in 1984 (still a 2-litre, albeit a slightly different one displacing 1994cc) and, thanks to the GM connection, got Lotus to improve the Piazza’s suspension in 1987. In parallel, Irmscher worked their magic on several special-edition cars for the JDM, which some Japanese enthusiasts claim to be the ultimate in Piazzadom, even better than the Lotus-tweaked cars.
The Piazza soldiered on until 1991 in Japan, after which Isuzu cars were all FWD or AWD. The second generation Piazza / Impulse took over, based on the Geo Storm / Asüna / Pontiac Sunfire (known in Japan as the Isuzu PA Nero, such was the pointlessly complex GM marque salad at that point in time), but only lived to MY 1994. The Japanese economy was in trouble by then and the rest of the world didn’t see the point in an Isuzu coupé any longer, it seems.
Isuzu made just under 115,000 Piazzas / Impulses in 11 years – respectable, but short of glorious. It didn’t sell that well in America or Europe and it positively bombed in Australia. The only place where it had any semblance of success was in its home country, though its more glamorous predecessor the 117 Coupé was (and remains) much more popular. It may not have been a great car dynamically, but for curbside idling, I’m sure it’s fine.
In Motion Classic: 1988 Isuzu Impulse – A Thoroughbred That Stumbled Out Of The Gate, by Eric703
CC Capsule: 1988 Isuzu Impulse – Wait, What?, by Brendan Saur
Vintage Review: Isuzu Impulse Turbo, by Yohai71
I’m sure the Piazza was available in the UK, but not too many were sold – Isuzu was practically unknown. I always liked them, but we hadn’t seen the 117 Coupe so we had no Isuzu yardstick to judge it by.
Yes, the UK got these, in small qtys
I’d always wondered about those fender mirrors. They seemed impractical. Your brochure picture explains why they were favored. The mirror is visible INSIDE the windshield along with the other instruments. The windshield is usually better wiped and better defrosted than the side windows.
That’s the reason for the fender mirrors. The old Japanese regulation requiring that side view mirrors be visible from wiper-wiped glass. The fender mirrors also protrude slightly less than door mirrors, an important consideration in crowded urban Japan.
The idling thing can best be explained as “every country has its jerks.”
Idling? It’s a national pastime around my town. Indeed, there are laws against idling for more than five minutes in a parked vehicle, with a large monetary fine. No-one has been prosecuted yet. Go figure why?
Why? People here treat their cars like their castle. All entry is barred and that included never opening the windows except to pay a parking/toll fee.
Air-conditioners are run winter and summer, driving or parking; gota keep that nasty fresh air off the interior. Which makes it very difficult to judge the ‘milege’ of a car when you know many of those miles were spent moving no-where with the engine cooking itself itself in Park.
Besides an odometer, these cars should have an hour meter too, like a farm tractor.
Many pickups now have hour meters, that report total hours, while the Ford and GM police/special service vehicles for the last decade or so have total hour and idle hour meters.
I believe I’ve been seeing it in some regular vehicles as well lately, it likely is incorporated into the service reminder programming as well.
Nice find – that looks in great condition.
I was never a fan of these when they first came out, but they’ve grown on me over the years…
I wonder if the owner was enjoying a delicious Mini Stop halo-halo ice cream parfait….
I believe the car that Isuzu had Giorgetto Giugiaro develop into the Piazza was his 1980 Lancia Medusa. I seem to recall that he was proposing it as the template for a second generation VW Scirocco, but Volkswagen thought they could handle designing the successor to the brilliant first generation Scirocco internally.
I believe the car that Isuzu had Giorgetto Giugiaro develop into the Piazza was his 1980 Lancia Medusa.
There’s just one not-so minor problem with that theory: Isuzu commissioned Giugiaro in 1978, and the the Asso di Fiori (“Ace of Clubs”) was shown at the 1979 Tokyo Auto Show.
More obviously the reverse is the case with the 1980 Medusa. It’s obviously an evolution of what he started with the Asso di Fiori.
Fair point! I found a pencil sketch of the Ace of Clubs in profile. It looks remarkably like the Fuego, although the show car is closer to a Piazza/Impulse than just about any other show car has ever translated into production.
The Chevette bought an Italian dress, hot couture infatti.
I’m amongst the sheep who really approved of Guigiaro’s abandonment of the ‘orriblegami, then and now still.
But it was the errand of a fool to spend so much on a dress without a change of very drab and possibly dirty knickers. Apart from anything else, who wants to find a big, stiff solid axle underneath all that pretty? She can’t dance with that there, especially if the way is uneven. I mean, hopping all over the place on a bump would be an unseemly end to pretensions of societal rise, surely?
They did indeed sell this egg as a Holden, just as our newly-floatated dollar was floatated and then besunk by outside realities, which sent the price to a level I scientifically estimate to roughly about the present debt of the entire country. For clarity, it was stupid-expensive, very badly – and doubtless correctly – reviewed, and sold in wee numbers to the foolish. Must admit that in those days of boom and bust hereabouts, it was a perverse giggle to watch these silly, shiny-shouldered buyers lose everything including their shiny trousers, but especially to watch the financial kerplunking of their Holden Pizzas.
It’s quite a find, Agent 87, this Ace o Farts (aka the hot Isuzu Pizza Aftermath). Even when there were large feelers atop the guards out front, they maintained their dignity in styling.
Which is a good thing, as nothing else about them is otherwise worth an idle thought, or even a thought of idling.
I always thought these are beautiful cars. Rare ones – there was no Isuzu dealer around here until 1983 and it was pickup- and Troopers-only until the VRA expired in 1987 or ’88 by which time the RWD car’s run was almost over.
The 5-door prototype is interesting, another good-looking car, sort of reminds me of a Dodge Lancer/Chrysler LeBaron GTS. Would’ve been a car without a market on Chevette underpinnings, there was just no demand for an RWD economy sedan that wasn’t ultracheap due to paid-off tooling and the T-car bones were just too crude to go directly against the BMW 3-series.
This is one of those cars I can’t help feeling sorry for — it had so much going for it, but the end result would up being less than stellar.
I, for one, love the styling, and this car’s influence on worldwide auto styling was immense. But dang, there’s more to life than styling, as Isuzu undoubtedly learned. My aunt actually bought an Impulse, and to illustrate how slowly these sold in the US when new, she bought a new 1986 model that was still on the dealer’s lot in early 1988. It looked neat, but was merely adequate as a car. Wasn’t terribly reliable either, and she traded it in after six or seven years on a Subaru SVX.
Incidentally, the saloon version pictured here looks very generic, almost like it was a slightly melted Nissan Stanza. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a picture of that prototype before.
And as always, I’m amazed by the meticulous condition of the Japanese street finds. Oh, and it seems like there’s (too) often a Toyota Alphard lurking in the background.
I found these to be very attractive as well, the first year or two got the semi-hidden headlights with the flaps and four sealed beams underneath then switched to a different hood and flush lights (no more flaps). Haven’t seen one in years, didn’t realize they were produced in such low volumes until this, I guess SoCal had a greater concentration of them than many other areas.
Not sure why the twin cam has less power that the single cam, unless you are comparing it with the turbo single cam? By the time the car was sold here as the Holden Piazza, it had the turbo. It was savaged by the critics for its rubbish chassis.
I hardly remember seeing them on the road when they were new, and I haven’t sighted one in years. I think the bad press and the high price didn’t help matters.
An attractive design for a time which wasn’t a great time for automotive styling, but the frontal overhang it too much, depending almost making it look like a front wheel drive. And in the end it’s no 117.
Yes I remember these from Aussie they were not considered very special and handled like a Japanese car which isnt all that brilliantly turbo engines but they didnt go all that well they looked great but sales were poor, theres a fan base for them in NZ but the young guys have really taken to JDM oddities here and of course the modifications to make them look riced to go with it.
I remember the one near where I lived in Sydney. A real estate agent owned it. He was very proud of it. Personalised number plate ‘NEGOT8’
Pretty sure this was the first mass produced car with hidden guttering, one of the reasons it looks contemporary with cars at least 5 years younger.
Interesting to see the JDM version. This car goes on my increasingly-exhaustive list of Giugiaro/Italdesign cars I don’t like the design of.
I noticed the idling thing, too, when I was in Tokyo a couple summers ago. I figured it was along the lines of “This is Tokyo; there’s very little space at all, let alone private space, but this is mine”. It’s ecologically unsound, but so are the Germans’ Autobahns. Eh! People.
My first new car purchase was a bright red 1985 Impulse Turbo, with every option they offered. Loved it for the first 45,000-ish miles, then the digital dash turned into an intermittent stroboscopic nightmare with the speedo flickering through a 5-7mph spread. That was shortly followed by the intercooled turbo blowing water out the tailpipe on my way to work one day. Then it was just a parade of electronic glitches that never ended. That being said, it still ranks as one of my favorite designs, and the cockpit (while everything was working) was just a cool place to be. Great seats, and all the main controls were a fingertip stretch away while your hands remained on the wheel.
From a styling standpoint these were outstanding. So clean. The side line of the forward opening hood and the bottom edge of the hatch, line up with the character line that runs the length of the car. I also like the flipper door headlamps which integrates them and still allows them to be visible to flash to pass. Over all, I prefer this to the second gen Scirocco, as the Izuzu has flatter body panels. I wasn’t impressed when I learned that it shared it’s platform with the Chevette. My Mother in Law had a Chevette.
Wether it’s to your taste or not, this was the first production car in the world that eliminated rain gutters, integrated the doors and hatch to wrap into the body, and had flush glass all round. That’s why it looks much more modern than it is, and why Giugiaro referred to this car as a “Copernican revolution”.
Of course, now it rains on us every time we get out of the car—but as long as Giugiaro was pleased with himself, that’s the only important thing. 🙄
Really? What happened was exactly what Isuzu told him to do; free reign on the Gemini platform, you create what you see fit? How that’s his problem since they were smitten and said Sold! isnt his fault, really. This is avant-garde in 1979, full stop.
I’ve rewritten this several times because I am having trouble describing why I like the looks of this car so much. So I’ve settled on this:
I like it so very very very very very much.
It is pretty as f**k.
Not my best writing but it about covers it.
“It didn’t sell that well in America or Europe and it positively bombed in Australia.”
Apparently just 200 were sold, and Holden pulled the Piazza from the market after just one year.
Looking at it now, you have to wonder why it did’t sell like hot cakes. It’s getting better looking every year.
Could be tempted
Was there really a Pontiac Sunfire version of the 2nd gen Piazza/Impulse in Canada? That was a J body (Chevrolet Cavalier, etc) in the U.S., and a quick Google image search of ‘pontiac sunfire canada’ didn’t produce anything but that car. Wikipedia says it was sold in Canada as a Pontiac for two years, but doesn’t mention under what name.