By on February 26, 2010

The Trooper II deserves some serious respect and love. It was among the very first, perhaps the very first of the “compact” SUVs that took the US market by storm in the eighties. It was eminently practical, durable, rugged, and good looking. And it’s one of the cars on the list that I wish I had bought. Did it have any faults? Probably, but as far as I’m concerned, someone should still be making this Trooper.

Let’s do the history first. I don’t have the proof to back me up, but I seem to remember the Trooper being available in California before the 1983 Chevy S-10 Blazer. We gave the baby Blazer GM Deadly Sin status, so maybe my memory is skewed by the fact that I instantly elevated the Trooper well above the Blazer in my ranking. I readily admit that they were very different animals, and the Blazer’s claim to fame was that it offered the amenities (V6, automatic, etc) that made SUVs acceptable to the mainstream and sparked the whole boom. That may be precisely why I dislike it too.

The Trooper was a totally different animal than the Blazer. Like the little Chevy, it was based on compact pick-up underpinnings. But that’s where the differences start: the Isuzu P’up (Chevy LUV) was a notoriously tough little goat, reflecting fully Isuzu’s light-truck expertise and the best of (mostly) typical Japanese quality standards of the time.

The Trooper first saw the light of day somewhere in 1981, and wiki says that it was first sold in the US as a 1983 model. I was smitten right off for another reason: the fact that it looked so much like an early Range Rover. Let’s be honest and call it a blatant rip-off, right down to the single round headlights in the slotted black plastic grille as on these two early models. The huge greenhouse, the high seating position, the fantastic visibility, the dash; hell they even copied the fact that the RR started out as a two door and added the four door later. Tellingly, RR added its four door in 1981, the year the two door Trooper came out. Oops; too late; but a couple of years later, there it was!

Obviously, the RR and the Trooper shared little under their similar skin. The RR was a brilliant and sophisticated vehicle, way ahead of anything then conceived of at its birth in 1970. A long travel all-coil suspension, full time AWD and four-wheel disc brakes made similar SUVs like the Jeep Wagoneer look like dinosaurs, even in their relative youth. The fact that the RR had a detuned and relatively torquey 3.5 liter aluminum V8 (ex Buick) added to its exotic appeal at the time. I’m getting off track here; I’ll save it for a RR CC.

The point is that the Trooper may have been devoid of the Rover’s sophistication, but its tried and proven hardware was bulletproof. It’s appeal was limited to those with a certain austerity of expectations in terms of power and other comforts. The Trooper came with a 1.9 liter four that may have had something like 88 hp. Frankly, it was probably a good thing that an automatic wasn’t available until the latter years when its four grew to 2.6 liters and the Chevy 2.8 V6 was optional.

But the little four was a trooper, as long as one didn’t mind rowing the gears with the gusto of an oarsman. I had a bad case of SUV-itis in the very early eighties, and seriously contemplated a Scout Traveler with the turbo-diesel. Once the Trooper arrived, the Scout instantly fell off the radar. Well, the lack of an automatic was the rub; Stephanie refused to take up crew. We ended up buying a Cherokee when that came out; don’t ask about its reliability.

A former neighbor of mine drove one of these early two doors for almost twenty years, finally replacing it with a Toyota Four Runner (what else?). He was a hard-core kayaker, and it took him to the remotest corners of the west, without ever letting him down. He loved the roomy body, with enough space to sleep in the back in a pinch. Frankly, I don’t think there’s been another SUV that’s ever approached the Trooper’s interior space, except a Suburban and the like. It’s a giant box in there, that made the rest of the competition like the Cherokee feel like a sub-compact.

And the visibility from that front throne is like nothing else, except the Range Rover, of course. It’s not a coincidence that I drive a gen1 xB; it’s the non-offroad compact version of the Ttrooper. And I like rowing gears. I suspect if I had bought a Trooper, it would still be sitting in the back lot, ready to roll for those times when the urge to really get away from it all strikes. All these years later, and the Trooper is still an unfulfilled desire. I guess its hardly the only one on that list.

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56 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1983 Isuzu Trooper II...”


  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Always liked these, but ‘durable’? Maybe in Oregon. In Maine they rusted to oblivion in very short order, usually even before that craptastic Chevy V6 croaked.

    Now if you want to do a CC on a really interesting small SUV, see if you can track down one of the ARO’s that was imported here. A good friend had one, called it the R.A.T., short for “Romainian Army Truck”. :-) I don’t think many escaped Maine though (the importer was here in Portland).

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The Chevy V6 was only available as an option in the latter years, and I rarely see them anymore; mostly the old ones like these. Rust? what’s that?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      krhodes beat me to it – these were total rust buckets.

    • 0 avatar
      talkstoanimals

      My brother had one of these while he was in college. He left it home during my senior year of high school, and I used it to bound through our western New York snow and through our local muddy fields. Then, while our college careers overlapped for a period, he would let me borrow it to run errands from time to time. It’s cavernous interior and fantastic outward visibility made it a joy for hauling and driving on Boston’s crazy patchwork of roads. What a great truck that thing was. Alas, as you guys have noted, rust ultimately did the beast in. It started on the rear cargo doors, then spread like wildfire. It was a sad day when that thing went off to the junkyard.

      I had a friend who had the contemporary Mitsubishi Montero. That was also a pretty neat little SUV – marginally more refined than the Trooper, but also slightly less rugged.

    • 0 avatar
      justwork

      I guess it depends on how you treat them, I drive a 1991 Trooper II V6 with almost 300,000km on the clock. Two small rust patches are starting to form around the rear windows and 1 on each rocker pannel, still looks great, drives perfect with the 5spd transmission, and is %100 reliable.

      If I could I would hop in it right now and drive it across the country, knowing it would not let me down.

      When I get the space I plan on buying one from the desert and doing a full resto, these are great SUV’s.

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    Unfortunately THIS happened:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isuzu_Ascender

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It’s been so long since I saw one of these that I forgot about them. They rusted into oblivion in short order, and were pretty much extinct within a few years.

  • avatar
    twotone

    My 1991 Trooper II was one of the most reliable vehicles I’ve owned. Bought it with 92k on the clock, put on another 75,000 miles with only scheduled maintenance — never a break down. Four-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission gave about 20 MPG. Took it all over Colorado logging road and never got stuck.

    I miss it.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    mrh1965

    I looked at a used one at some point in the 90′s. The upright simplicity of it appealed to me, the GM V-6 did not.

  • avatar
    JP

    The 4-door kinda looks like a Range Rover to me. But in all seriousness, I bet these early Trooper IIs were much more dependable than any Land Rover/Range Rover product of that era.

  • avatar

    >>>Did it have any faults?

    My recollection is that they were prone to rollovers.

  • avatar
    gsnfan

    IMO this is one of the three best SUVs I have seen (the other two being the Jeep CJ-5 and the Daihatsu Rocky). They say, “My owner did not buy me for image. He or she bought me because they needed the off-road capability that I provide.” They have a certain honesty that no modern SUV can provide, due to the glut of crossovers that cater to the buyer who buys the car simply for image.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    These also came with a turbodiesel ending, as befitting Isuzu’s truck diesel expertise. These are one of my all-time favorite SUV’s — fun to drive, manual transmission goodness, and in 2.6l 4-cylinder form, rugged as hell (if it could avoid the body cancer).

  • avatar
    YYYYguy

    What was the difference between the Trooper and the Trooper II?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Isuzu did the naming ass-backwards. The gen1 was called Trooper II, except for the last two years. The successor gen2 Trooper was a whole different animal, and not very reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      justwork

      The trooper II was imported into America without the back seats. It was cheaper and easier to do this, then the dealership installed the seats… Voila, the trooper II

  • avatar
    italianstallion

    Anyone remember the Acura SLX? A rebadged Trooper available until Acura replaced it with the MDX. A rare find.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    We were interested in a small suv when the only 4-door “suv’s” were the Suburban and the International Harvester Travelall. We thought there should be a 3/4 size version, so were happy to see the Blazer arrive. This was before they were called suv’s. That odd phrase seemed to be coined when the 4-door 4-Runner and Pathfinder showed up.

    Anyway, this article reminded me of an older 4-door “suv”, which was the Toyota LandCruiser. Here’s a picture of one:
    http://www.ebroadcast.com.au/ecars/Toyota/55.html

    These were very tough but crude things. I remember travelling in one against a headwind which cut the highway speed in half and had the roof panel fluttering like a sail.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      The original sales literature for the 1966 Ford Bronco refers to it as a “Sport-Utility Vehicle”, or a “Sport/Utility Vehicle” (or somesuch combo of these three words in this order).

      TTTT, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an even earlier usage of “sport utility vehicle” somewhere.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I had an 88 Trooper and a 91 Trooper. Both of them with the five-speed / 4 cylinder 4WD combination. Both were about $500 a pop.

    They’re very durable. But they also…

    - leak
    - terrible on any speed above 55 mph
    - have very mediocre fuel economy given the power level

    A Jeep Cherokee with the 4.0L V6 would be a far better choice. Don’t get me wrong. The Trooper series has it’s charm but the Cherokee was almost always a far better vehicle. The only exceptions I can think of are hunters, hardcore outdoor folk, and perhaps those who are looking to actually sleep in or on their car.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      The Jeep 4.0L was actually an I-6 not a V-6. Great engine too. It’s a significant part of the unique character that Cherokees and (older) Wranglers possess…I for one was sad to see it go.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      You’re right. I knew that but the use of V6 is so common that I always use that instead.

      I’ve been guilty of writing the very same thing about the engines for Celica Supra and W124′s. My bad.

  • avatar
    saponetta

    One thing about the trooper that was a pain was the 15 1/2 inch wheels. This made getting cheap tires for them difficult.

  • avatar
    littlehulkster

    I actually have an 87 Trooper. I got it to replace my dearly departed Diahatsu Rocky.

    I guess I have a thing for oddball offroaders. I swapped in a Cummins 4BT into mine. I was going to go with an Isuzu diesel, but they’re either gigantic, too rare or too underpowered.

    She’s starting to rust now, but I never drive it unless I’m offroading or the weather is really bad, anyway.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Quite possibly the slowest vehicle I’ve ever driven, and I owned a ’79 Rabbit diesel. You could just about watch the progression of rust day by day as soon as the first perforation came through the sheet metal. The Trooper is kind of like that nice, sensible girl you knew in college who, unfortunately, died young of cancer.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    Troopers had the longevity of a potato chip! The 4 cylinder engine was a dog and ate up valves like crazy.

    My inlaws had 2 — lived in Vermont so the 4 wheel drive WAS amazing, yes, and an incredibly practical vehicle to schlep with.

    (but they eventually gave up and got a CRV)

    • 0 avatar
      littlehulkster

      The 4 cylinder didn’t eat up valves if you treated it like the industrial motor it was and had the valves adjusted every 15k.

      You know, like the owner’s manual said you should.

      Mine was totally busted by the time I got it, and I’m not a fan of gassers in trucks anyway, so I put the diesel in.

  • avatar
    JP

    Paul,

    Going back to a previous comment I made about this entry – are you planning to do a Curbside Classic report on the (Classic) Range Rover someday? I’m sure you see a good number of those out in Oregon.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      There are actually surprisingly few, and I haven’t shot one yet. Just waiting for the right opportunity.

    • 0 avatar
      littlehulkster

      He probably hasn’t taken a shot of a Range Rover because they’re all in junkyards or driving Clarkson through Bolivia. Land Rovers have a lot of good attributes, but reliability is not one of them. In fact, I’m pretty sure Land Rover has been ranked as the least reliable brand for over 20 years running now.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      There is a Range Rover sitting in a driveway not far from here with the headlights out of it. It looks as though it hasn’t moved in a while. It’s right at the end of the driveway as though it were waiting for the hook.

    • 0 avatar
      littlehulkster

      Yeah, if you could get a Samurai, Trooper or Cruiser to push start you, the Range Rover was an incredibly capable vehicle. I think it was underestimated because it simply stopped running once it hit an obstacle. If you had the luck or the mechanical mojo to keep it going, you could flatten almost anything in those things.

      The Rovers in my offroad club keep a full motor in the back, though, and have me carry the electrical and suspension parts. Makes it a little harder to see, but it’s better than winching them every 30 feet.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Funny that there are not many Range Rovers out there in Oregon, unlike all this biodegradable Japanese stuff, they are all over the place here in Maine. Along with tons of Discoverys and a fair few Defenders. Even a few Freelanders.

    As to the reliability issue, in my experience (had a few in the extended family, but not personally owned one, yet) mechanically they are pretty good, if expensive to follow the proper maintenance schedule. So people don’t, and they break expensive bits that go ungreased or un-oil-changed for too long.

    It’s the ‘luxury’ crap that will kill you though – far be it that you want the A/C, electric windows, and electric door locks to all work AT THE SAME TIME! It’s British for God’s sake. Put on a stiff upper lip and drive the thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Texacrat

      I’ve had good luck with my Rover, and hopefully I won’t jinx myself, but I’ve never had to have it towed (it now has over 100K miles). Cars I’ve owned that I did have to have towed:
      1) 84 GMC pickup – 700R4 transmission at 40K miles
      2) 91 BMW 318 – head gasket (50K)
      4) 97 Jeep Cherokee starter relay (I admit I should have spent a few minutes troubleshooting this first)
      5) VW Passat – water pump disentegrated (60K).
      So yep, the Rover’s been pretty good. Would love to see a CC on the Range Rover also.

  • avatar
    partsisparts

    Because of these trucks for years I thought Isuzu was japanese for blown head gasket!

  • avatar
    typhoon

    I had a maroon 1989 Trooper, much like the one in the pictures except a four-door. 5-speed, 4WD with a low-range transfer case, and the 2.6 L four-cylinder, which, honestly, was embarrassingly slow in traffic and not even very efficient for its size (the big gas tank made it seem like you got more out of it, though). Still, I miss it in some ways; it had a utilitarian charm, an authenticity that’s strangely rare in these sorts of vehicles. It’s the sort of vehicle that makes you wonder if you really need anything more.

  • avatar
    Maxb49

    This was a nice vehicle that well suited the purpose for which it was designed. Thanks for the article Paul!

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    The maroon one reminds me of my college days. One of my school buddies had two brothers, all three of them had different brands of japanese cars, each thinking their own car/brand was the best, and they thus insulted each other based on the car. To wit, there was the:
    - Dolt in the Colt;
    - Clown in the Crown; (btw, Paul, did you CC this rugged little sedan yet?)
    - Pooper in the Trooper.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Robert, the only Crowns sold in the US in any substantial numbers was the S50 from ’67-’71. I might have a small chance of finding one here; there’s probably a fair number collected in CA. The S60-70 models sold very poorly, and it’s been ages since I saw one.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Hi Paul, Could it be there was something called a Corona Crown?

      More I think of it, his car was some kind of deluxe Corona, and he was telling me then (almost 20 years ago) that there had been a car called the Crown – probably the one you mentioned.)

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    My old rowing coach had one of these (diesel 5-door if I recall) and it was well up to the job of towing a trailer of shells and a load of teenagers at the same time.

    [Edit: The teenagers were, of course, not towed but sat inside on the seats]

    One question though; why is it that every time the Rover V8 engine is mentioned on this website it is always followed by an explanation that it was originally a Buick design? Anyone who cares already knows this and anyone who doesn’t can easily find out all the facts they need with Google, (such as its 42 year post GM career).

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Trying to answer your question. Maybe it’s because that fact so perfectly illustrates much of what’s wrong with GM. Create something innovative, release it before it’s fully baked, give up on it so completely that you sell off the design or give up your advantage, and watch it go on to glory somewhere else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      Perhaps TTACs should have some sort of “B&B Common Knowledge” page for newbies that lists info that posters are not allowed to repeat over and over?

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    There was nothing particularly cutting edge, or great, about the design of the engine, besides the fact that it was uncommon for a V8 to have an aluminum block in those days.
    The buick 231 V6 and 350-430-455 V8′s were a very similar design, only they were made of cast iron.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    During my college years, I drove a 1987 Cavalier Z24. It was terrible, but I bought it cheap, and it did the job.

    During that time I worked at a car electronics shop and a friend there owned a Trooper II. During one of his multiple radiator replacements, I peeked into the engine bay, and I was surprised to find the very same motor that was in my Cavalier. Sure the engine was longitudinally oriented instead of transversely mounted, and the intake was different, but other than that, it was the same motor.

    The 2.8 V6 was no performer in the cavalier, I can only imagine how bad it was in the trooper. I don’t even think proper gearing would have helped that motor.

    -ted

  • avatar

    I like Educatordan’s suggestion (3 above)

  • avatar
    pudelpointer

    I had an 85 Trooper and my brother had an 83. Mine had a problem with the heater that I never did get fixed,…it was brutal to drive in the winter in Iowa. We used them for hunting and they were great for carrying our dog kennels and gear. I traded mine in on a 92’4Runner and have been driving 4Runners since. My brother started driving Cherokees in the early 90′s. His Trooper sat in the woods behind his house for a couple of years,we pulled it out and tried to get it running,but discovered the entire floor pan had rusted away. He sold it to a local junkyard for $50.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    I had a maroon ’89 and used it to tow a motorcycle and trailer all over the US. It had the 4cyl and would not do 100 even down hill. On windy freeways (I’ve got a great story about a blizzard in Iowa…) it was freightening. It never got better than 16 MPG.

    I ended up putting a turbo charger on it and it became a very enjoyable vehicle. It still got 16 MPG (probably because it didn’t have to work so hard!) and by adding ARB lockers, made it a very capable 4×4. This was at the time of the Firestone recalls so I was able to get a free set of tires after 50,000 miles. Pretty happy with that!

    I loved that little truck. It ended it’s life when a car pulled out of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Asheville, NC in front of me. Them Firestones had 125 miles on them…

    I have nothing but good things to say about the little Trooper. The larger replacement, we’ll that’s another story.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    As a sidenote, back in the empty eighties (late) I had an 75 LUV pickup. The best and most indestructable rig I have ever owned. NEVER left me walking once, even off-road when I would repeatedly jump it and catch 3ft of air, spraying gravel over the cab and into the bed.Had more fun watching the look on passengers faces as we headed towards the jump. Retired her after 367,000 faithful miles. ISUZU TRUCKS ROCK! I miss her

  • avatar

    The 2nd gen Trooper (along with the Rodeo) was my DREAM car as a kid. I loved its honest and boxy design, but in the end my allegiances moved to the Rodeo, which was also a tough beast and didn’t flop over as readily.

    The only similar modern example I can think of would be the Nissan X-Trail, which is available all over the world (except NA) but came to Canada briefly in 2005-2006. Like the Trooper, it had rust issues, it also came with a bullet-proof 4cyl, a manual, real 4WD (as opposed to say, the CRV) and a high-up, boxy/honest design that was just plan useful. Every time winter comes around I’m once again tempted to trade my weakling Mazda 3 Sport in for one of those.

  • avatar
    EChid

    The 2nd gen Trooper (along with the Rodeo) was my DREAM car as a kid. I loved its honest and boxy design, but in the end my allegiances moved to the Rodeo, which was also a tough beast and didn’t flop over as readily.

    The only similar modern example I can think of would be the Nissan X-Trail, which is available all over the world (except NA) but came to Canada briefly in 2005-2006. Like the Trooper, it had rust issues, it also came with a bullet-proof 4cyl, a manual, real 4WD (as opposed to say, the CRV) and a high-up, boxy/honest design that was just plan useful. Every time winter comes around I’m once again tempted to trade my weakling Mazda 3 Sport in for one of those.

  • avatar
    EChid

    Argh, and now we see 1) my newbness and 2) how much this comments system sucks.


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