Curbside Classic: 1983 Isuzu Trooper II

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic 1983 isuzu trooper ii

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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  • EChid EChid on Mar 02, 2010

    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.

  • EChid EChid on Mar 02, 2010

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

  • Bob65688581 Small by American standards, this car is just right for Europe, and probably China, although I don't really know, there. Upscale small cars don't exist in the US because Americans associate size and luxury, so it will have a tough time in the States... but again Europe is used to such cars. Audi has been making "small, upscale" since forever. As usual, Americans will miss an opportunity. I'll buy one, though!Contrary to your text, the EX30 has nothing whatsoever to do with the XC40 or C40, being built on a dedicated chassis.
  • Tassos Chinese owned Vollvo-Geely must have the best PR department of all automakers. A TINY maker with only 0.5-0.8% market share in the US, it is in the news every day.I have lost count how many different models Volvo has, and it is shocking how FEW of each miserable one it sells in the US market.Approximately, it sells as many units (TOTAL) as is the total number of loser models it offers.
  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.
  • ToolGuy When you are pulled over for speeding, whether you are given a ticket or not should depend on how attractive you are.Source: My sister 😉