Curbside Classic: 1983 Isuzu Trooper II

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer

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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Paul Niedermeyer
Paul Niedermeyer

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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.

  • El scotto The days of "Be American, buy America" are long gone. Then there's the mental gymnastics of "is a Subaru made in Lafayette, IN more American than something from gm or Ford made in Mexico?" Lastly, it gets down to people's wallets; something cheap on Amazon or Temu will outsell its costlier American-made item. Price not Patriotism sells most items. One caveat: any US candidate should have all of his/her goods made in the USA.
  • FreedMike Well, here's my roster of car purchases since 1981: Three VWsTwo Mazdas (one being a Mercury Tracer, full disclosure)One AudiOne FordOne BuickOne HondaOne Volvo I think I hear Lee Greenwood in the background... In all seriousness, I'd have bought more American cars had they made more of the kinds of cars I like (smaller, performance-oriented).
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.
  • Lou_BC I suspect that since the global pandemic, dealerships have preferred to stay with the "if you want it, we will order it" business model. They just need some demo models on hand and some shiny bits to catch the impulse buyer. Profits are higher and risks lower this way.