By on October 3, 2014


My first car was rarer than a Ferrari. Honest.

Back in 1990, upon turning 16, I bought a 1984 Isuzu Impulse Special Edition. It was exactly like the car pictured above. Yes, it had gold rims. Isuzu sold only 3,000 Special Edition Impulses in 1984. Hence, the rarity.

Truth be told, when I bought the Impulse, I thought it was fugly. I particularly didn’t like the rear end. My dream cars back then were the 1967 Camaro, 1978 Firebird, and the new Camaro RS. But my mom forbade me from buying a dangerous and obnoxious V8. So I ended up with the Impulse. Make the jump to find out more about my Impulse and ask me anything about my ownership experience.

The 1984 was an early model. A turbocharger was not available, so my engine barely had 90 horsepower. And forget about “Handling By Lotus”, which was still a few years away from becoming reality.

Nevertheless, it was still fun to drive. It was rear wheel drive and relatively lightweight. It came with power everything, and even an aftermarket sunroof. The instrument cluster pods were wacky squared.


Plus, a stock graphics equalizer!


What questions do you have?

For a great read, I highly recommend In Search of the Holden Piazza. It’s about two friends who drive all over Australia looking for the few remaining Holden Piazzas (what Isuzu Impulses were called there) left in the country.

Photo credit: Interior shots from eBay ad featured in Bring a Trailer. More interior shots from that car can be found on my blog.

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56 Comments on “AMA About My Isuzu Impulse Ownership Experience...”

  • avatar

    A friend of mine in high school had a red 1984 Impulse. He got his for the low cost of $0.00. We drove that car everywhere and it was just plain weird. It never gave him any major problems except if he tried to use the radio and the headlights at the same time. They were on the same fuse and the aftermarket tape deck would blow the fuse if it was on with the headlights (no music at night).

    What kind of weird quirks did your first car have that most people wouldn’t expect?

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      The first thing I noticed was that my Impulse had just one front wiper. I remember having a hard but not impossible time finding a new rubber blade.

    • 0 avatar

      That must have been painful once he realized that for a few minutes and a fuse+piece of wire that problem could have been fixed forever.

    • 0 avatar

      A friend of mine in college had a later model one of these, it was not a turbo but it did have the “Handling by Lotus” badge on it. We always thought it was an odd car and we called it “The Batmobile” due to it’s odd proportions but I don’t think any of us knew what it was other than it had “Handling by Lotus” and was from the 80’s. I always found it to be quite an attractive vehicle given my massive boner for foreign 80’s spaceship cars. I had no idea how rare they were until I read an article about it a few years later down the road and by that point he already sold it for just under a grand. If I would have known what I do now about these cars I might have just snatched that up and cleaned it up a bit, it was in really good shape for a college kid’s daily driver.

  • avatar

    My best friend had two of these. A red, turbo 5 speed model with lotus handling, and a white automatic naturally aspirated model. Amazing cars. Had such a cool and unique interior, and was a blast to drive in.

  • avatar

    How many miles did you drive that? We had a Chevy Spectrum (I-Mark). Decent driver, but not super reliable to say the least…

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      I bought it when it had around 80,000 miles. I think when I got rid of it when I went to college, it barely had 90,000 miles.

      You see, I lived across the street from my high school. But being a proper Orange County resident, I drove to school every day.

      It was reliable, but I do remember the bumper over the exhaust tip had a black, sooty build-up.

  • avatar

    The early Isuzu’s reminds me of Inspector Gadget. I’ve always loved the looks of these types of dashboards. For me, [email protected]<k the touch screen, give me buttons. Lots of them. I hate the new trend of plain dashboards with an Ipad on top.
    My last car was the 06 Civic because I loved the dash and the new Sonata’s dash really appeals to me.

  • avatar

    I love most Giugiaro-designed cars, and this one is no exception. But I can’t believe that any car with chevette underpinnings was any fun to drive. Was it?

  • avatar


    1. “aftermarket sunroof” – ugh, i hate those (unless it’s an ASC slider done to look OEM), assuming it was a crappy pop-up type: did it leak? or was that a non-issue in The OC?


    2. what tape got played to death / was the car’s theme music, or what song/album reminds you of that car now?

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      Excellent questions, Mr. Slirt.

      1. The electric sunroof worked fine, but the manual sliding moonroof underneath always gave me issues. It never leaked.

      2. The tape deck did not work. But the radio worked. I had a boombox CD player that skipped all the time but I listened to Jesus Jones’s Right Here Right Now on repeat.

  • avatar

    What did you pay for it?

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      I want to say that I paid $3,000. I still don’t remember how I was able to afford it. I made $4.25/hour bagging groceries and collecting carts at Lucky and $5/hour as a cashier at Arby’s. A fill-up was $10.

  • avatar

    How solid were those column mounted controls? They look like they could be creaky and “bendy” when a button is pushed. But maybe that Japanese build quality negated the issue?

    *Sigh* I miss spaceship-inspired Japanese cars from the ’80s.

    • 0 avatar

      My bad I see they are not column mounted but extend outwards from the dash. Question still applies tho.

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      It was very solid. All of the inner bits were heavy duty plastic, not the crap we have nowadays.

      I didn’t smoke, but there were integrated lighters in each door, IIRC.

      To be fair, half the buttons didn’t work. The A/C, fan, and cruise control did not work.

  • avatar

    Did the Joe Isuzu ‘Liar’ ads airing at the time influence your purchase in any way?

  • avatar

    Did you ever have a chance, later, to drive one of the late “Tuned by Lotus” models? If so, how different was the handling from the one you owned?

  • avatar

    No actual questions for you, but thanks for the memories. We had an 84 Impuse, 5 speed, black with red pin stripe. Most importantly, it had the proper checkerboard wheels. To hell with your goldies! ;)

    Moved up to the new Supra in 87. Blue with blue cloth and targa top.

  • avatar

    What made it a “Special Edition” just the rims?

    I remember these cars mostly when they transitioned to Geo Storms. This was back in the hot hatch glory days when almost everyone made a 3 door version of a basic car with 5 speed. 90-130 HP back then was about all you got. I had the more square / notchy looking Civic S1500 so in comparison the Impluse was very aerodynamic looking. The Impluse strikes me as a early Prelude / Integra – wedge shape with slightly rounded edges. The half-hidden pop-lights seems like a great idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      I think it was all cosmetic. Gold rims made them “special”.

      The half pop-up lights were cool indeed. In the later versions, the pop-ups disappeared.

      My friend had the new Geo Storm GSi. There was more plastic body cladding than two Pontiac Grand Ams. It was an automatic with an economy mode that let it run on three cylinders.

  • avatar

    Nice! Those Are rare. Haven’t seen an Impulse, much less an SE, in over a decade, if not longer. I bet you could get $2,900 for it on ebay if you still had it today.

  • avatar

    I remember some Hong Kong action flick where the protagonist was doing a lot of bootleg turns in his Impulse while either chasing or being chased (it’s been over 30 years, so I have no recollection of the movie title). So, does it drift?

  • avatar

    …i presume these are all older photos since you’ve let the car go: in the pre-web days (read: pre-self-publishing) what possessed you to take all these clean interior shots of what mustn’t at the time have seemed a particularly precious artifact?..

    …i regularly regret not having kept better documentation of my ’81 capri, so i envy what you’ve preserved here…thanks for sharing; your pictures alone make a great time capsule…

    (edit: just noticed your bringatrailer photo credit; how close is this interior to yours?)

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      I never took a photo of my Impulse.

      Those photos are from an eBay ad of a 30,000 mile example from last year. Bring A Trailer featured it, I swiped some of the photos, and the eBay ad has disappeared.

      The interior is identical to mine, except my cloth interior was gray and the plastic dash was black.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    In middle school, a few of my friends’ parents and my parents decided that since we all had swimming pools, we should all know lifeguarding techniques. (this is not bragging; for some reason in the 1980s in SE CT, no one had central air so everyone put in a pool. Having a pool wasn’t a status symbol, everyone just had them.) So we got a teacher to come to one friends’ house and teach us for a couple months one summer to be certified lifeguards.

    The teacher’s name was Wendy, and she was maybe mid-30s, and had a smokin’ hot daughter who was probably 16ish that came with her when she gave us lessons. Man that chick was hot.

    Anyways, Wendy drove an Isuzu, it was one of the later ones with the half-pop up headlights, but most importantly to 12y/o me, had a fender badge that said “tuned by Lotus” with a Lotus badge. I thought that was awesome, having never seen an actual Lotus before.

    So my question is, do you know Wendy’s daughter, or have any pictures of her daughter, preferably in one of her little bikinis she’d wear at the pool? And if not, does your car have a Lotus badge?

  • avatar

    No question – just a comment/memory.

    Such a beautiful car – I have always loved the way these looked.
    I test drove one in 1986 – brand new – 5-speed. But at the time Isuzu was a fairly new nameplate and I ended up buying a Nissan 200SX.

  • avatar

    Did it make you pine for future Isuzus (Isuzi?) such as VehiCROSS or Axiom?

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      Not really. I did drive a red Trooper II for quite a bit. Back in the early 1990s, I just assumed that Isuzu was here to stay. Their cars and trucks were everywhere.

      • 0 avatar

        Same here. With the popularity of the Troopers I thought Isuzu would be a forever brand. Their demise plus the starveling histories of Mitsubishi, Daihatsu, Suzuki, and Mazda make the “Japan Inc.” fears of the ’80s and ’90s seem a bit overheated. Like everyone else, MITI, METI or whatever is reluctant to prop up a loser.

        Subaru’s rise to ubiquity is all the more impressive.

  • avatar

    It’s amazing how similar Giorgetto Giugiaro styled cars in this time period. The Giorgetto Giugiaro trilogy (Esprit, DeLorean, Impluse).

    • 0 avatar

      I always thought VW cribbed the design of the second generation VW Scirocco from Giugiaro’s Impulse. The shapes are very similar.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, the first Scirocco (and Golf/Jetta and Audi 80) were penned by Giugario, as was a lot of European cars in the 70’s and 80’s that weren’t inhouse designs. Bertone, or designers that have previously worked for Bertone, had a massive influence on how car design in Europe for over 20 years. Having designed a lot of the ‘Icons’ (like the Esprit) made other designers change their style to match too.
        He also designed the Iso Grifo, maybe the most awesome looking car ever.

      • 0 avatar

        I thought this WAS the design for the new (1982) Scirocco, but then VW went with their in house design and Giugiaro let Isuzu have this.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        The Impulse was meant to be the second generation Scirocco, but VW decided to go a different way.

  • avatar

    Those control panels. Damn.

  • avatar

    Why did you sell/replace the Impulse?

    What did you replace it with? Why did you choose that car, and how did you feel about it.

    And, my big question: If you knew your future with the Impulse when you bought it, would you buy it again?

    • 0 avatar
      Jim Yu

      I sold it when I went to college. I bought a YJ Wrangler my senior year in college. I wanted something completely different.

      In retrospect, I would get the Impulse again. It was such an odd car and I like odd.

  • avatar

    I had the rare unicorn. A 1991 impulse RS awd. Was the best car I ever had for 6 years before the tin worm finally ate it. I have always wondered how it compared to this generation of impulse.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the 80’s when these were around I worked with someone who was shopping one along with the other Pony cars of the era, 200sx, Celica, Mustang, Camaro etc. For some reason the insurance rates on the Impulse were much higher than the others. $1500-2000 per year in 1985 dollars. I think the higher rates were attributed to the weaker 2.5 mph bumpers and flip up lights being fragile in low speed collisions.

  • avatar

    Can someone remind me what AMA stands for?

  • avatar

    I’d love to see a Vellum Venom article on this design. Though it looks fairly plain now, I remember this design being touted as one of Giugiario’s best, with special emphasis on hiding cutlines.
    The interior sure departs from that simplicity.

  • avatar

    Aah the Impulse/Piazza, what a dud they were in Australia, over priced, and if I recall correctly the stability of the early cars under heavy braking was, to put it mildly, atrocious. Something to do with rear axle causing severe brake hop, so that hard barking in a straight line could result in the car doing a 180 spin. I remember seeing a fantastic photo of the skid marks hopping and then pirouetting in a magazine at the time.
    Aah found a link, it was smashed by the media and became a joke in Australia.

  • avatar

    Nostalgia! Mine was an ’87 that I purchased in ’96 for $500 w/140k on the odo. I had it for less than a season because it was not very reliable and did terrible in NYC winter.

    Turbocharged, intercooled, LSD, seats by Recaro, I did not have the Lotus handling badge but it did have some pretty cool factory applied “4ZC1” decals. Thanks for the article/memories!

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