Monday, November 26, 2007
Isuzu Returns to International Motorsports Competition!
Ok, so the title is a bit of a misnomer. There will be no grand return to the winner's circle. Why? Well, for starters, Isuzu never saw a winner's circle, ever. But what better place to start than at the 24 Hours of LeMons, that ill-conceived race honoring the crappiest, worst, most decrepit and forgettable cars ever made. By those standards, it's a miracle nobody else is campaigning an I-Mark.
Let's be honest: did you even know that Isuzu still exists?
I had completely forgotten what an Isuzu looked like until just the other day when I saw an old Trooper billowing steam from its radiator on the side of the 101. Ah yes, the Trooper. Dad sold Isuzus new back in the good ol' days. He was one of the first dealers they signed up back in '81-82. They had a really great new-car smell in those 88-89 Troopers. As a five-year-old, the then-new '89 Isuzu Trooper held a special place in my heart. Nostalgic Motoring J, fo' sho'!
Die-hard car guys might vaguely recall the "Handling by Lotus" badges that graced the flanks of select I-Marks, Impulses, and Styluses(who knows?) back then.
Some information about Isuzu's 90-year history is covered on their official timeline at the Isuzu Company History. But, like Chinese textbooks, it appears some of their history is, well, history: lost to the sands of time. There's no mention of the Lotus partnership, nor that Isuzu ever sold a car called the I-Mark. It's been erased from the official record. Is this a bad indication? You tell me.
Yes, almost 20 years ago, this wasn't just a bad joke: Isuzu by Lotus. This partnership was built purely out of desperation. My Theology of Marriage professor in college taught us that there are several types of marital relationships. One is the so-called "salvage relationship", where two f'ed up people get together in an attempt to salvage their piss-poor lives. Well, the marriage between Isuzu and Lotus definitely fit this mold.
Sure, the Turbo Esprit had its 15 minutes of fame in Pretty Woman, but in reality it was a world-class POS. And Isuzu needed all the help they could get, so why not let struggling Lotus design a few suspension pieces and slap on some green badges? At worst, Isuzu would create a modest performance image for themselves to enhance, well, their shitty everything-else.
So that's how it came to be that Isuzu (the Fiat of Japanese cars?) got tied up with Lotus, the flimsiest British car of them all. Of course, I'm down with Fiats and Lotuses, so when I saw this rare, semi-desirable beast on craigslist, I had to jump.
It's an '89 Isuzu I-Mark RS ("Real Shitbox"?). Joe Rusz wrote in the December 1988 Road & Track that its 16-valve twincam sounded "like a Cosworth racing engine". Aren't you sold already? We were so blinded with enthusiasm we could hardly see straight. What a PERFECT car for the 24 Hours of LeMons!
After closing the deal, we get this thing dragged back to the barn and I hit up google for "Isuzu Racing". Behold:
Isuzu Performance's "ISUPAGE"
No shit, someone actually pays attention to this stuff! What's more, there's a link to a catalog with all sorts of performance parts for I-Mark, Impulse, what have you...eagerly, I clicked. Immediate desperation set in. I remembered another thing I learned about in college: "buyer's remorse".
"EFFECTIVE JUNE 17, 2002, WE HAVE DISCONTINUED A NUMBER OF HIGH END/LOW VOLUME PRODUCTS AND ALSO PRODUCTS WHICH WE HAD PREVIOUSLY SOLD AT A LOSS. IN ADDITION, WE WILL NO LONGER BE DEVELOPING NEW PARTS FOR ISUZU, GEO STORM, OR LOTUS VEHICLES TO SELL TO THE PUBLIC, AND WE ARE DISCONTINUING PRODUCTION OF OUR OWN ORIGINAL PARTS FOR THESE SAME VEHICLES, IN ORDER TO DEVOTE MORE PRODUCTION TO CHEVROLET AND PONTIAC HEADERS AND EXHAUST SYSTEMS. IF YOU WANT ANY OF OUR OWN ORIGINAL ISUZU, GEO STORM, OR LOTUS PARTS, WE SUGGEST YOU ORDER THEM IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THEY ARE ALL GONE."
That’s chapter one. Would you like to have chapter two? You better, I know the way.