Rare Rides: Control Yourself With the 1985 Isuzu Impulse

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s Rare Ride has brown paint, a tweedy tan interior, and super rad 1980s Italian design. Think you can control your Impulses?

Okay, no more puns.

Known elsewhere as the Piazza, Isuzu’s new rear-drive coupe debuted as the Impulse in North America for 1983. Impulse was a direct replacement for the Giugiaro-designed luxury 117 Coupe, which started out looking very pretty in 1968, then got a little less so after facelift action in the late 1970s. Isuzu learned a lesson about small-scale production and luxury features with the 117 and didn’t make the same mistake again with the Impulse: The new car was decidedly more downmarket, oriented toward the economic sports driving enthusiast.

Isuzu liked Giugiaro’s work on the 117, so it turned to him again for the new Impulse. In bed with General Motors at the time, Isuzu sent over some Brazilian Chevrolet Chevettes to Italy and said “Have at it!” — leaving Giorgetto to complete the design without interference. Things got really wedgy, and the resulting Ace of Clubs prototype was ready for debut at the 1979 Tokyo Motor Show.

It proved a crowd favorite, so the brass at Isuzu sent it (mostly unchanged) into production shortly thereafter. Factories were churning out shiny new Impulses by 1980, and they were on dealer lots for 1981. Incidentally, that year was the first time Isuzu had dealers with their own branding on North American shores. Previously, the company’s efforts were relegated to Chevrolet dealers with vehicles like the LUV pickup. As it was a new experiment in North America, customers there waited a bit to get hold of their Impulses.

Initially, the Impulse was available with two different inline-four engines, of single- or dual-overhead cam variety. North American customers had only one choice — the single-overhead cam version, producing 90 horsepower. 1985 saw the introduction of a turbocharged engine generating a much more interesting 140 horsepower. The hottest version, the RS, arrived in 1987. It had a 4CZ1 2.0-liter engine boasting an additional 10 horsepower over standard turbo versions. North American Impulse shoppers were subject to a much simpler lineup than other countries: All Impulses had all equipment fitted as standard. Options to the consumer included choice of manual or automatic transmission, naturally aspirated or turbo power, and the color. “Suspension by Lotus” badges arrived (as standard) in 1988.

The first generation Impulse was available around the globe through 1991, but again North America was an exception. Here, the Impulse was finished after 1989. Isuzu replaced it with a new-for-’90 generation — now called the Asuna Sunfire in Canada. The new model was front-drive or four-wheel drive and related to the popular Geo Storm. But Geo’s popularity did not warm customers to the second Impulse, and the model went out of production in 1993 with no replacement.

Today’s Rare Ride is located in suburban Downtown Illinois, a place called Elgin. It has the 2.0-liter engine, paired with a four-speed automatic transmission (the ad incorrectly cites a three-speed). With an overall clean appearance, a bit of rust, and a crazy interior design that’s just not seen nowadays, the Impulse asks $2,600.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • HotPotato HotPotato on Jan 05, 2019

    Pretty funny how Giugiaro sold the same design to Isuzu and VW. This bad boy looks very much like the ‘82 “wedge” Scirocco. Great looking car with either badge. Honestly 90-110 hp in these isn’t a bad start; IIRC the 1.7 liter engine in my ‘82 Scirocco had 76 hp, and I had to replace it with 1.8 liter “hot” GTI engine to get a monstrous 91 hp. It was still slow as hell (and road noise was epic). Must say, the VW was far better looking inside though.

  • Yvettehuntdesigns Yvettehuntdesigns on Aug 14, 2020

    I had one of these! It was a great car in its day. Mine looked just like this one, wheels and all. The biggest (and highly important difference) is that mine was a 1.9 litre and had a 5-speed manual transmission. So much fun! And it handled like a dream. My father had a 1984 V6 Pontiac Firebird, and this little jewel could keep up with his car easily. At 125 MPH, the odometer never read over 3500 RPMs. Mine had 136,000 miles on it, no rust, and everything worked perfectly. I was rear-ended on the freeway, and that was the end of one of my all-time fave cars. Still looking for another one just like it.

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