Vintage Review: 1971 Isuzu 117 Coupe – Road Test Magazine Showcases Isuzu’s First Italian Impulse


Isuzu Motors Ltd. was in rough shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The Japanese maker of heavy duty commercial vehicles, with a side foray in passenger cars, was a bit player on the Japanese automotive scene and was under intense pressure to merge with a larger entity.  But that didn’t stop the company from dreaming big, and one of those dreams, though flawed in many ways, was the Isuzu 117 Coupe.  Styled by famed Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, this sleek sports coupe was a Japanese take on a European exotic. Though the 117 would never be sold directly in the U.S., Road Test Magazine’s Tokyo correspondent took the Japanese/Italian quasi-exotic out for a comprehensive road test as reported in the April 1971 issue.


From the company’s inception, Isuzu’s cars had not been standout styling stars.  They tried sporty with the Bellett 1600 GTR, which was decent enough, though far from an Italian super model.


However, when asked what an Isuzu looked like, most Japanese would have conjured up the frumpy Florian.  The dreamers in Tokyo weren’t deterred–they used the Florian chassis as the basis for a styling fling with the Italian design house.  Who says a bottom-tier Japanese industrial corporation can’t dance with the stars?




I’d love to know how much Saké Road Test’s man in Japan had consumed before he likened the 4-cylinder in the 117 Coupe with a Ferrari V12.  Fuel injection on an I4 does not a twelve cylinder make…


The Saké also must have been at work when the Road Test driver couldn’t tell if the walnut trim on the instrument panel was real or fake.


As for the car itself?  Well, it was a flawed beauty to say the least.  It wasn’t really that quick, allusions to Ferrari power plants aside.  Braking feel was subpar, and both the manual shift action and the manual steering were heavy and hard to use.  A true super car needs a lot more than just great looks.  But, just as with the Giurgiaro-styled Piazza/Impulse that would ultimately replace the 117, at least Isuzu had a flair for the dramatic–even if all the style was just draped over a mundane platform.