(first posted 5/17/2014) A failure to display the requisite amount of respect cost Seinfeld’s famously neurotic Elaine to lose attention from the famed Soup Nazi. American consumers, whose finicky habits have scared away many auto manufacturers, likewise frustrated Isuzu to the point that their famously tough pickups were yanked from the grasp of pickup buyers in the US.
On one hand, you can’t really blame American pickup buyers. Trucks were getting bigger, plusher and stronger and by the mid ’90s, Isuzu’s mainstay was unable to keep up. For a while, too, it may have seemed to corporate HQ that SUVs would pay the bills in the US and that revamping their basic, low-profit compact pickups for American tastes was hardly worth the effort. But after the well publicized, Consumer Reports Trooper roll-over “scandal,” this sentiment was reversed and the low-content S10 rebadge, the Hombre, was brought in to fill the hole left by the long-in-the-tooth homegrown truck for less outlay by Isuzu.
Never called by its real name in the US, the Faster began life as a body-on-frame version of the Florian sedan (replaced by the Aska, a high-quality GM J-car) with a pickup bed. Known for being both tough and cheap, Chevy imported it to the US until 1982, badging it the Light Utility Vehicle. I had a chance to drive a particularly beat up 1982 diesel 4×2, its final year before Isuzu completely took over marketing of the truck with the P’up. LUV and P’up might be cute names, but the particular truck I borrowed and maintained for my friend in the summer of 2011 was anything but cuddly.
The picture on the right is sadly the only one we have of it; I can be seen in the foreground petting my nineteen year old cat, Sox (RIP). My friend’s LUV diesel had broken power steering (much stiffer than proper manual steering), broken motor mounts, a cracked exhaust manifold, no radiator, no seals on the doors and about 400,000 miles on it. Between the effort required to drive it around town (it was dangerously slow on the highway, though my friends and I also drove it there), the panic involved in keeping up with traffic, the vibration and the noise, I was required to take a nap each time I got back from a trip of any duration in that thing. I would always remark to my buddy that “your Isuzu punched me in the face,” because that was exactly what I felt had been done to me each time I drove it. Of course, I now realize the fumes it emitted may have had something to do with this sentiment, but I nevertheless came away with an immense amount of respect for the thing.
It was on its original engine, master cylinder, clutch and transmission (there were maintenance records). It could get up to about ninety miles per hour, if you waited long enough, and keep up with urban traffic, if you kept it floored and used the surprisingly precise shifter enough. My friend and I also learned a fair degree of wrenching on that car, replacing its injector pump and front shocks, and as well as embarking on an ultimately abortive installation of a biodiesel fuel system.
My friend had worked on a North Carolina biodiesel farm (where chicken shit–along with other bi-products–was turned into fuel) where she bought the truck for $1000. It was used for errands around the farm, and rarely taken on the open road before she purchased it. It probably should have stayed on the farm, but if that were the case, I’d have never gotten the chance to fall in love with this particular pickup, which was replaced by a ’95 LeSabre, its polar opposite.
Back to the featured truck which, in its resplendent burnt umber, is a welcome break from all the white cars the lords of the curbside classic keep sending my way. I found it during a walk parked in front of another extremely honest Japanese car, a first gen Mazda Protege (in white, natch) and knew I had to get it on camera. These actually hold up pretty well (their predecessors, on the other hand, were particularly bad rusters), and were pretty popular in the US for the first couple years they were sold. A neighbor of mine, whose wife worked at the local Buick/Isuzu/Lotus dealer and who owned a LeSabre of her own, replaced his beige Datsun 720 in 1988 with a then-new Isuzu pickup. Its styling stood out to me then and they still look attractive to me today. The Hardbody may have been California cool, but the 1988 Isuzu Pickup (no longer called P’up but still called Faster overseas in 4×2 configuration, and Rodeo when equipped with 4WD) has aged better and looks, dare I say it, brawnier than the famed Nissan.
No longer offered with a diesel–a shame as the last of its KB P’up predecessors offered a stout turbocharged 2.2–the new TF series could never match Nissan’s smooth and responsive VG-series V6 for power nor, after 1989, its base level KA-block 2.4 liter four. Isuzu, stretched thin in the US, specialized in toughness and like the soup nazi, the presentation of its high-quality product was minimally tailored for urban sensibilities (the final Trooper and Vehicross being notable exceptions). While the company was happy to give foreign markets legendary turbodiesels, and were hold-outs in offering them to US customers, they ultimately determined that it just wasn’t worth the effort.
Too bad, though; with such low sales of the truck overall, it may have gone far in cultivating a loyal clique of buyers. Even in VW’s darkest years, there were always diesels on tap and Mercedes, despite playing in a glamorous market sector, has always offered a diesel. Isuzu’s approach, on the other hand, meant that this truck has a carbureted 2.3 liter, offered until 1993. 4x4s got a 2.6 liter fuel-injected unit, shared with the Rodeo and Amigo, as well as a 3.1 Chevy V6 option, shared with various GM products. Isuzu’s Rodeo SUV, incidentally, was the first to leapfrog Nissan and Toyota’s 3.0 twelve-valve V6s in 1993 with their excellent 3.2 liter dual-cam (quad-cam after 1996) unit, but the pickup was never to receive it, having been dropped from the US line-up after 1995.
Not that the refined new V6 would’ve been a bad fit; a good amount of effort was made to make these trucks a pleasant place to spend time. The dashboard is particularly car-like, much as with the Nissan and Toyota pickups which also shared so much of their interiors with their SUV derivatives. Isuzu was particularly fond of the pod-mounted ancillary switchgear and while often derided by the autorags, it now seems to be a pleasing period quirk. Complain all you like about the following statement, but the level of quality–if not luxury–evident in this interior far exceeds even the nicest pre-1995 Explorer, to say nothing of the Blazers and Jimmys of the era. The current owner must be thanked for keeping it in such nice condition.
This vent window means this truck must be older than 1994, and the more square-rigged grille makes it 1991 at the newest.
The Isuzu script on the rear changed after 1990, so this truck is from one of the first three years of the TF-series’ US sales. While the Hombre replaced it in 1996, the TF-series continued until 2002 elsewhere in the world, with all varieties of crew cabs, 24-valve V6s and turbodiesels. It’s somewhat of a mystery to me why the Hombre even happened; after all, the mechanically similar Rodeo was still being made in Indiana, and was also offered with a new, dual-airbag dashboard, which should’ve been easy to adapt to the existing truck.
Eventually, with the S10’s overdue replacement, the Colorado/Canyon, the Isuzu pickup made a comeback of sorts, in widebody format with GM engines, but once again American buyers rejected its back-to-basics ethos. With its restrained styling and available 5.3 V8, it was my favorite pickup during the years it was offered, but by this point, compact trucks were mostly abandoned by consumers, leaving no room for anything which was even slightly unique. That’s the market’s loss, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve heard of LUV trucks with small block Chevy V8s swapped in and thirty years later, GM actually offered the same thing from the factory. As for me, one day I’ll find a carburetted TF-series Pickup like the one we see here and swap in a Chevy V8 of my own, sans emissions equipment (they wouldn’t know here in Indiana). That would make for a very special soup indeed.
1984 Isuzu Pickup: Found In A Surprising Location, 1979 Chevy LUV 4×4 (Isuzu Faster): Tough Love
In an attack of common sense (a rarity) my future ex BIL bought one of the things. Gas engine manual. It did well by him for years and he wrecked it when he was drunk. Haven’t seen one of these in years. Thankfully, haven’t seen the ex BIL in an even longer time.
These were good trucks that I put on a par with Nissan or Toyota. Thanks for the story and I guess we now have seen some of the reasons (other than quality) that a company can lose out. Unfortunate.
What a coincidence, your future-ex-brother-in-law is also my half-step-grandnephew-in-law, twice removed, which makes us…3.25rd cousins!
I always liked the look of the Isuzu pickups from that era, though the 2.4 litre in my ’92 Nissan King Cab had more power. In retrospect, it would have been nice to own something a little different, and that’s what the Isuzu is.
Those little nissian trucks, always ran so hot .My buddy had 2 of them they both would get hot at a stop light ,heaven forbid a fast food drive through,,my isuzu was twice the truck,your right wasnt quit as quick,,we always drove the isuzu Cruz ing cool as,a cucumber ,idle for days ,,good trucks ,Hombre was the beginning of the end for isuzu here in the US, If people wanted an s10 they would have went to the chevy store…Dumb shits!! You don’t see nissian or toyota do something stupid like that..Wow!!
Yes! Toyota and Nissan have never rebadged anything ever.
Screw the V8, get an EFI 2.6 and turbocharge the hell out of it.
Perry, you’re remembering these with your heart, not your head. There must have been some life changing things happen while you borrowed this truck and you’ve transferred the karma. These couldn’t carry the Mitsu diesel Dodge’s spare. That switchgear you recall so fondly had a 50% failure rate. The only saving grace was their ability to sell at very cheap leader rates. I do love the wing window, however.
These were honest trucks and I would have had one when they were new. Buddy of mine had one in this wonderful shade of lavender. Always wondered if that was a factory color. But who would repaint a basic truck?
One of my dad’s old coworkers had one of the diesel P’ups. He used it to haul wood, which he would get for free from people who cut down trees and use to heat his house. He was very, umm, frugal.
He ended up selling it – for his rather high asking price – to a guy who bought it to ship to a South American country, who bought it specifically because it was a diesel.
I owned and drove a ’95 Isuzu for 4 years. Put 115,000 miles on it, hauling a large 36″ commercial mower with all the requisite landscaping tools every day. It was bare bones without AC, but was a great truck. Tough and dependable, with adequate power from the 2.4 and 5 speed. One thing that burned me was that these were nearly impossible to find in long bed towards the end of their offering, and I had to settle for a short bed. It was huge improvement over the ’83 long bed P’up, in loaded LS trim, I had previously; that 1.9 was a slug. Dependable, yes, as long as you didn’t need to go over 72 mph, ’cause that’s all it had; in fact we have a steep bridge here Jax (Dames Point), max speed going up was 45 mph in 3rd! Granted, it was loaded, but cripes! Isuzu made a great “price-leader” truck; virtually every business in town that needed a runabout delivery vehicle had one, or a few. Isuzu sent me a newsletter about an early 90’s pickup at a medical supply business in Apopka that racked up 750,000 miles on just a few years. Their fleet manager attributed it to religious maintenance, and that it was driven by all 3 shifts everyday, it never had a chance to cool down! Isuzu just wouldn’t upgrade there trucks to meet most Americans’ taste. Damn shame.
That little red 4×4 being hawked by Joe Isuzu is exactly the way I remember these. With the 31″ tires, rollbar/brushguard installed and painted in a good color these were really sharp. Ditto for the Amigo, which was the closest competition the Wrangler had in those days. These had a LOT more style than the comparable Nissans and Toyotas, even though they were a basic spartan rig. One thing I never did like was the SpaceCab variant. I don’t like extracabs in the first place, but these had a really wonky quarter window that dipped down below the door window. Looked mismatched, like someone frankensteined it in their back yard.
A small block would be nice, Perry, but consider a few options: The turbodiesel from the NPR series of COE medium duty trucks would be a world of torque! OR…back in high school, a friend had a 1st gen Chevy LUV and damn if it wasn’t the exact way Id want one. He had a factory 4×4 with a 6″ lift and 32″ tires on slot mags, a stepside bed, the front clip was swapped out for an earlier 4-eye grille and the finishing touch was a turbocharged Grand National engine! I didn’t believe him when he told me he could smoke all 4 tires in 4-hi. Well he locked his hubs, shifted in and spooled that turbo….I was WRONG!
Ah, the LUV. Extremely popular here in Chile, where it was built in Arica from the late 70s to 2008.
The Isuzu Pickup. 0 to 60 MPH in 3.6 seconds. 125 MPG. Able to tow 25,000 LBS. Fully loaded $1495.00. 20 year unlimited mileage warranty. Signed, Joe Isuzu.
I always liked the later Izuzu pickups. Based on my ownership of a beater ’75 Luv, I always figured it would be a tough little burro with something resembling humane conditions in the cab. The LUV was tough but brutal to ride in. That ’88 looks like a peach. Nice photos in this article.
Sold here as a Holden Rodeo new but many ex JDM Ibooboo Fasters have arrived used they were available with the 3.2 DOHC V6 in Aussie or a turbo diesel, We had a LUV as a workshop hack along with a B1600 Mazda the LUV was preferable to drive as it had floorshift opposed to awful treeshift on the Mazda, I havent driven anything from Ibooboo smaller than a 6 wheel tipper recently so have no opinion of the more recent utes.
We get Great Wall versions of the last gen Rodeo, not sure how much they share with the Japanese version. Haven’t heard much good or bad about them, quite popular now.
I thought they were a near-copy. There was a big deal about asbestos gaskets and other no-nos a year or so ago.
I had a ’91 Spacecab with the 2.6 and a stick. Loved that truck! It had 55k when I bought it and was still running strong with 178k when I sold it. My kids got too big to climb easily in and out of the back seat when I took them to school, so it was replaced with a Cherokee.
My first experience with these was my friend’s 4X4 Pickup in red. These came with the then optional and class leading 31″ factory tire/wheel package. His truck had the 4 cylinder/5 speed combo and it was tough as nails as we (being teenagers at the time) promptly took it off-roading on a regular basis. It definitely held its own against the comparable Nissan Hardbodys and Toyotas of the day.
I would love to find a low mileage rust free example but in the have become mythical unicorns in the mid-Atlantic region. I suspect that these trucks were use within an inch of their working lives and promptly put to pasture.
I’ve always thought these trucks looked better than the competition – good ol joe Isuzu nailed the styling. I’ve not seen one in years, though, I think the last I saw was a rodeo.
I’d dig one of the 4x4s with a 5 speed. Those are cool looking trucks.
Well, since I am likely the only one here who currently owns one of these (a ’94), I can make some observations. Mine is a base model 2WD short box, 2.3, 5 speed. It is crude, slow, and noisy. It steers like a school bus. It rides like a Radio Flyer, primarily because of the extremely stiff rear leaf springs. It has a carburetor (which lasted on the base engine through 1995). Remember cold-start fast idles? It has no cup holders.
It is very well built and solid. It is quite comfortable to drive, slow manual steering notwithstanding. It handles pretty well, and can be pushed harder than you would think. It rides well with 500 pounds in the back. It feels like it will run indefinitely.
Here it is a month ago, doing what it was made to do. Working.
Nice to see one. Let me know if you ever want to sell it
When my father sold his long bed 1978 4WD International Scout ute he bought a long bed Holden Rodeo diesel 5 speed,no turbo 1982 model.In 1993 he bought a 2.8 litre turbo diesel 5 speed Rodeo.I then owned a 1970 Peugeot 404 ute with 36,000 original miles on it.I drove my dad,s new Rodeo and thought it was crap compared to the go kart like handling and steering of the Peugeot and the 404’s ride far superior to the Rodeo.When he died in 2007 the Rodeo had covered only 80,000 kilometres and the back unmarked because he wouldn’t cart anything in it,Thats what the trailer is for!!! I bought the Rodeo from his estate and now it has covered 110,000 kilometres and as I live in the city the hopeless power steering,lumpy ride and gearing makes it no fun.
I’ve lived with an ’82 diesel P’up 4×2 shortbed for 22 years. It’s reassuring to hear I’m not the only one who needs a nap after a drive in one. Our odometer got stuck turning over 254,000 mi. ten or more years ago. Lots of things no longer work or are held in place with tape, wire, or Vice Grip pliers. If only Isuzu hadn’t made the engine so well. Over the years I’ve learned: (1) you need to “get a run” at getting up hills the way tractor-trailers do; (2) it’s easy to neglect commonsense maintenance when a vehicle starts and runs without fail for, say, ten years; (3) if you don’t check your transmission’s filler plug, say, every ten years, it’ll work loose and you’ll end up needing to replace or rebuild a cooked tranny; (4) P’ups used numerous different trannies, now all incredibly hard to find and/or more valuable than a trio of jalopies. Even with the weak link (gearboxes) and lack of refinement, these have to be among the most efficient and dependable of hacks we Americans have been able to buy. Incidentally, the Pacific Northwest is the only region I’ve seen more than the occasional P’up/ Luv/ Toyota diesel. Thanks for a great article, Perry.
P.Roberts….my brother in law owned a rough short wheel base 1st series petrol Rodeo flat tray.He and I built and renovated many fine passive solar timber houses and did some very fine cabinet making out of rare Australian and imported timbers.His Rodeo was old,battered and tired and despite carting very heavy loads of timber and tools,not once did the Rodeo fail to proceed.The same series,non turbo diesel,wasn’t exactly a fast ute.The 1993 turbo diesel,2.8 litres,is quite fast accelerating.I rarely use the turbo in it because am not a speed hog.I get 35 miles per gallon from it and it will carry 1.6 tonnes.My bros petrol Rodeo was also held together with wire and the engine treated with Nulon and it kept going,surprisingly.The house we built every day after building other houses,every weekend,Christmas and New Years Days for several years.The other side,the middle 3rd is floor to ceiling double glazing and then more glass fitted into the roof shape with a clerestory.A big and tough job.
Is “flat tray” a flat bed with the sides that hinge down? We don’t roll such practical machinery here in the States, except for larger (maybe 1 ton) commercial vehicles. You see a few homemade flatbeds on old pickups where winter’s harsher and road salt takes its pound of flesh…er, metal. By the way, the house looks great. Good day.
Yes,the flat trays were alloy as opposed to the metal ute backs and they did have low sides and back which were hinged.Flat trays were useful for loading air compressors and tools but due to low sides they were not much good for carting garbage and garden waste.The ute backs have higher sides and tailgates.The house belongs to my sister and is built on the Pythagorean Golden Mean mathematical formula,length,breadth and height.It makes it feel like a church inside.
My 1993 ute has only needed one replacement part,the hydraulic clutch cylinder.I telephoned the local GMH dealer and asked if they would re-sleeve it with stainless steel.The guy laughed and said we haven’t done that for many decades.He said he could sell me a new cylinder and the, recent, price was $660 [Australian].I was really shocked with that price,being used to Peugeot spares prices which were much cheaper.I phoned Repco,a national auto parts chain,and was told they had one in stock but that it was not a factory original part.The price from Repco was just $60 and they were amazed when I mentioned the price GMH wanted.I bought the $60 part and put it in myself.
Isuzu pulled its smaller utes (I think you’d call them) from our market and Chevrolet last sold a “Luv” here in (I think) 1981, so we have no dealers to call. I’ve also had people laugh on the phone when I tell them what I’m after. There’s a chain here called NAPA who, while pricey, tend to stock parts for older vehicles. I just changed the water pump on ours (so simple it was almost pleasant) and got the impression that I bought one of their last. From your post it sounds like the turbo makes for a better diesel experience than normally aspirated (similar economy + less of a slug).
I am selling my 1994 Isuzu pickup, anyone interested?
Good friend of mine had and 90ish diesel pup with 300k+ miles for his hvac business , hard to argue with that kind of longevity. And my wife’s 02 rodeo is still going strong!
Bought a 91 used base (2.3l, standard transmission, utility white, no back bumper) in San Antonio from a woman who swore she used it in her work as a crime scenes reporter in Brownsville, TX and to drive on weekends to visit a sister in Dallas; it had a press sticker on the windshield and a windshield crack from side to side for over 10 years until I finally had it replaced. TOUGH — still going but been through some stuff. I just drove it back from Austin (70 highway miles) and has about 172k on it. Engine sounds great, and seems ready to go.
I used to drive it to Montana every summer from Texas with no problems – and a great ride if you drive it fairly sanely and respect what it is (basic, no frills). Feels like a couch on wheels. Manual everything. Side triangle / pass-through windows whistled at high speeds, so I caulked them shut at some point (sorry, purists). AC died in a fender bender (but possibly is repairable even at this late date), so the windows are rarely up now when I drive. Found a back step bumper with a towing hitch from a metallic blue one of a similar era at the strangest side-of-the-road garage ever on a trip to Arkansas. Also had tow hooks installed on the front and carried a tow arm in the bed in case it ever did give up on a big and remote drive (it didn’t).
Installed the ‘best’ Wal-Mart speakers and radio that a poor young person could afford over 15 years ago and they are still going ok more or less; at this point I’m cranking news podcasts. Yeah, I sped in it and drove some back roads and national park roads and even some beach stretches I definitely should not have in it but those narrow tires got me through some improbable situations even without 4wd. Isuzus must come stocked with angels.
I came of age as a driver in this thing and it is still a scary ride for those who can’t handle the un-modern. Definitely no airbags. Seat belt occasionally unbuckles on its own. Apparently, stupidly easy to break into. As close as I will get to owning a motorcycle.
It’s been undeniably kind to me as a person who didn’t grow up doing anything with cars or even remotely adventurous but who made up for it in Texas (and drove some big, waaaay out there runs in this little used truck). I have lost count of how many friends I have helped move. Very minor fixes continue to amaze me with how much they improve performance (for example, tire balancing). Oil changes have been religious. I’ve done a few minor services on my own and replaced the passenger window on my own at one point (nearly everything in the truck can be undone with a phillips head screw driver, it seems), but I bet a truly mechanical person could make these trucks hum.
Beyond the lack of AC, there’s little to discourage me from continuing to drive it and learn from it even as an older guy who should have a more respectable ride. It’s pretty ugly on the outside at this point (aren’t we all?) but I still get cash offers and the interior has held up. Thank you, Isuzu. Please come back with an electric version of something as durable and ‘utility’ as this for the next generation!
Got to this site a little late. I have had my pup since 2010 but haven’t driven it much over the last 5 years. Yes it drives like a “log wagon” but even with 250,000 miles it will still run. Thought about selling it and even put it on Craiglist but everyone wants me to give it to them. Even though I only drive it about 25 miles a year and only around town it is always handy to have since it is the only truck I have. When my daughters vehicle broke down and she needed a way to get to work in Atlanta she said it was a blast to drive a stick shift and the small truck was easy to park but she did wish it had power steering. At 31 years old my 1988 pup is still working.
As long as the insurance is reasonable, keep the truck. It’s a lot more convenient and cheaper than renting one when you need it. Loan it out to friends and that will keep the engine used more often. Keep one of those new jump packs in the car and you never need to jump start with another vehicle.
This kid at my high schools father had a previous generation model in the late 90s. It was rather rusty, it looked like it had been fished out of Buzzards Bay.
Ive driven a couple of Holden badged examples recently turbo diesel they are ok probably on par with a 2.4 Hilux on performance so quite slow and noisy but good for what the one I drove is used for its a runabout for a farm tractor used for contracting and gets dragged along behind a large John Deere, Ive been in an early non turbo Rodeo 83 ? somewhere in that vintage lots of noise rattles and it could not exceed 80kmh 50 mph on level road, it cannot have been that bad new surely, I dont mind Isuzus but prefer the larger models
Thats more the size of Isuzu truck I prefer notv actually a pickup
My brother had an Isuzu pickup years ago that he bought from a friend. The engine just would not quit. Being in New England, the body just rusted away. My brother convinced his toddler sons that the holes in the bed of the pickup were so that the bed of the truck would not fill up with water like a bathtub in the rain. He finally had to get rid of it when the door springs rusted and you had to get into it by manually pushing down the window and climbing in the window opening. The window regulators had long since rusted away. It just had the worst body quality of any vehicle I had ever see. I borrowed a Honda Passport (rebadged Rodeo) years later and I had the same quality concerns. Great engine, garbage body.