By on January 2, 2019

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]

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43 Comments on “Rare Rides: Control Yourself With the 1985 Isuzu Impulse...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This was on my short list of cars to buy when I graduated from college (Jesus, was that REALLY almost 34 years ago?). Loved it until I drove it (insert barking dog sound here). The turbo was far better, but it was more than I was looking to spend.

    Isuzu made interesting stuff back in the day. Too bad they couldn’t cut it.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    Growing up in Northern NJ – there was a dealership not too far from where I lived that was a Pontiac dealership – which subsequently added Isuzus – so I got to see a lot of the weird stuff over the years – including the VehiCross.
    I loved the look of the Impulse when it first came out – and went to this particular Isuzu dealership and test drove a 5-speed version. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a single thing about the test drive – other than taking it for a rather long spin and feeling the sales guy was getting a bit annoyed.
    These still look good to me.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I so wanted one of these Giugiaro designed beauties in 1984, especially in the light silver/blue. My Giugiaro designed ’75 Scirocco had run out of life, somewhat thanks to the salt used on the roads in Ithaca. Unfortunately, the Turbo would not be available until 1985, and the base model was indeed somewhat of a dog. In any case, I could not wait. I think these were going for around $11,400, and I instead got a blue ’84 Chrysler Laser Turbo for around $10,400, the only car I have ever bought new.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Were the stickers “suspension by Lotus” or were they “handling by Lotus?” (Honest question- I can’t remember which, I never owned one, and it’s been almost thirty years since seeing one in the wild was commonplace!)

    Anybody remember the Asüna short films? If you went to the movies a lot then those were the best part of the having to sit through the previews. I think they used Pixar for the animation and they ran like a silent movie- no dialogue or sound effects, just music. I remember one with a Bobby McFerrin a cappella song and a couple of snow globes on a shelf- one with a pretty mermaid and one with a lovestruck snowman. At the end of these shorts it seemed like half the people in the theater would whisper-read “Asoooooonaaaa” off the movie screen, exaggerating the pronunciation. Something else about the Asüna brand, and I might be mixing this up with another brand, but I think the name might have been a computer-generated sound. Sort of like GM wanted a name for the brand, some consultant produced a list of names that a computer randomly generated, and they picked that one (probably adding the nonsensical umlaut to make it even more “hip”).

    The Asüna brand was a running joke to any knowledgable car person, a fake competitor for the Geo brand (and an identical business model), which itself was a fake brand that they came up with to appeal to former GM customers who had sworn off the General for “foreign” brands, trick them into buying one more GM vehicle, and the hopefully winning them back to the brand… you know, as opposed to a business strategy of simply building quality products and supporting them with quality customer service.

    The 1970s and 1980s Canadian car market was sometimes used as a test for new ideas. Canadian buyers were generally frugal and practical and less interested in brash, fancy luxury for its own sake- so there was less business risk in trial sales of downmarket car models and brands. Hyundai Canada was moderately successful before most Americans had ever heard of the brand, successful enough to give the parent company the investing confidence to go forward with their U.S. plans. The bargain bottom communist imports had somewhat less success (Lada, Skoda, Dacia, etc.) and that put the writing was on the wall for the infamously mixed success of Yugo in the United Sates All this is why I say that Asüna was a punchline, even at the time and especially at the time, to anybody who understood the car market up there.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      A good summary. The Canadian market had many such examples of ‘frugal’ badge engineered cars, such as Canadian Pontiacs which were Chevs with Pontiac bodies and Meteors which were Fords with Mercury grills/brightwork. Later the Pontiac version of the Chevette. Believe that there was even a Pontiac version of the Aveo?

      Lada was quite successful in Canada, for a few years. Their ex-Head Office building on Steeles Avenue West still has the Lada logoed sign on the top floors.

      Hyundai entered Canada with the Pony which was not sold in the USA. It was so successful that Hyundai then brought in the mid-size Stellar and opened a manufacturing facility in Bromont Quebec. About a 1/2 billion dollars invested in it in the late 1980’s.

      Dacia and Skoda as you mentioned were also sold in Canada. Dacia not very successfully. Thankfully the Yugo was never officially sold in Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        There was a Pontiac version of the Aveo called the G3 introduced when they went full alphanumerical names before the brands demise. It was only offered as a 5 door. I’ve seen one here in the states parked in Jersey City.
        There was also a Pontiac version of the Geo Metro named Firefly; get it smaller than a Sunfire or Firebird.

      • 0 avatar
        Lightspeed

        It’s wonder Hyundai survived the Pony, horrible rust-buckets they were.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          They were rust buckets, but they were right-priced rust buckets and folks got what they expected and paid for… easy to achieve in a bargain-priced hatchback. I don’t think they were any better or worse choices than contemporary Ford Escorts, Dodge Omnis, and so on… twenty-somethings bought them for their first new cars and families bought them as their second cars for their teens to drive. Everybody had at least a few friends or acquaintances who drove a Pony.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Until about 2 years ago, most weekends in the summer would regularly see a red Pony driven by an older gentleman, at our local plaza/grocery store.

            It seemed to be well maintained and in good condition. Haven’t seen it in a while, not sure which ‘wore out’ first, the car or the driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Lotus was actually owned by GM at the time. The first model understeered like a pig, hence the makeover by Lotus for the second model.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I remember looking at one of these at the dealership. The salesman said they were the most aerodynamic car on the road…after dark. The Porsche 928 had a lower Cd…until its headlights popped up. You can see in the head-on photo the Impulse’s headlights pop up just slightly. I can’t recall any other car that had that feature.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “… headlights pop up just slightly. I can’t recall any other car that had that feature.”

      Do you mean new from the factory or something that the just randomly happened when the car got to be a few years old? :)

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I remember the press this car received in Car and Driver and Road & Track. The narrative of the day was that Isuzu had seen the Lancia Medusa and asked for a production-friendly version. I’m not sure why this story was created, considering that the Medusa wasn’t revealed until 1980, after the Ace of Clubs.

    It would be nice to have a ‘handling by Lotus’ Impulse equipped with a ‘head by Lotus’ Chevette HSR 2300 engine.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Still a good looking car. Except those control pods, I didn’t like them then and still don’t. I had a 1970 MGB and spent too much time repairing a horn stalk and was scared to death of having to fix something in those pods.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Isn’t this the Isuzu that could do zero to 60 in 2.1 seconds, get 108 mpg, and could comfortably carry a family of 12, all for $1,995? Just had to ask for Joe when you got to the dealership to get the special version.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I worked with someone who was in the market for a sporty coupe and cross shopped the Impluse along with the other popular cars of the era Daytona/Laser, 200SX, Celica, Sirocco etc. When he compared the insurance rates the Impulse was much higher due to the weaker 2.5 MPH bumpers vs the 5MPH standard and fragile pop up headlights.

    • 0 avatar

      Lookie at this Buy/Drive/Burn right here!

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Ya dared me.

        1985 RWD Japanese sport coupes. All with flip up lights.

        Buy: Celica- Its the final year of the RWD model. Nicely packaged with great seats, even better on the GTS.

        Drive: 200SX-Before drifting Slivia’s became a thing.

        Burn: Impulse-great styling just lacking in power and refinement. Later Lotus tuned models are better.

        Honorable mention: Mitsubishi Cordia- FWD space age dash but kind of forgotten about.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          The FWD Celica was a sharp handling car in its own right, as far as FWD cars go. The All-Trac turbo must have been a total blast. The 2.2 with the 4 speed, not so much. But it was a fun car in the corners.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’d say the 2nd gen RS AWD turbo is more rare than any other Italian styled exotic.In the end the 240sx of that era was a better car though.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I had an ’88 non-turbo version, and owned it for three years. It was a Car Lust of mine and it came up at the right time and price. The drivetrain really did let it down, it was the same 2.3 4-cylinder (110 HP IIRC) in the trucks.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    “Handling by Lotus” was on the badging. It really did handle like it was on rails.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Really gorgeous, sadly not much for performance. I love the sleepy-eyed look of the half-hidden headlamps. Hmmm, I love women with the same sleepy-eyed look too (Linda Fiorentino).

  • avatar
    spookiness

    This design has held up nicely. Not exactly timeless, but close. The headlights were not “pop-up” but they were fixed and the brows come up partially to fully reveal the lights. Later in the run (88?) a slight redesign eliminated the popup brows and incorporated low-profile quad headlamps which were then available. Much cleaner seamless front end and new hood. Hard to believe its a Chevette chassis, but then again I’ve never driven one.

  • avatar
    Roader

    “Today’s Rare Ride is located in suburban Downtown Illinois, a place called Elgin.”

    Elgin is a small- to mid-sized city founded in 1835. It’s not a suburb of Chicago. Most famous for Elgin Watch Company factory which used to be the largest watch making facility in the world.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I think it looks cleaner than a Celica, but the performance was a bit of a letdown. This one being an automatic kills it for me.

  • avatar
    HaveNissanWillTravel

    Elgin can only mean one thing… rust!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This is a special edition car for the year – a Bronze edition. The rims that came with it were replaced with the far more attractive “waffle” wheels.

    Fun fact. The Isuzu Impulse is the first production car in the world with flush-mounted glass and the door frame integrated into the A-pillar. They had 4-wheel disc brakes, fuel injection, 5-speed manual, and were RWD solid axle with limited slip differentials. 49/51 weight balance, they are surprisingly neutral and communicative.

    This is my all original 1985 at the Greenwood Car Show in 2016:

    https://www.instagram.com/p/BHKenuJjCrL/

  • avatar
    jatz

    Mmmm… ’80s Japanese switchgear.

    Ewww… ’80s rectangular headlights.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Anyone else digging the 80’s “space age” dash more than our current actual space age dashes?

    I’ve always hated wheels that look like this, angries up the trypophobia in me, but the rest of the styling is enjoyably clean.

    As many have mentioned, these didn’t last long in the Rust Belt. I have vague memories of them on the road and the “Handling by Lotus” badges. Same with the follow-up Geo Storm, but they lasted a bit longer.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I considered the Impulse when I was looking to buy my first new car in late 1983. It looked great but there was too much Chevette underneath plus the interior was kind of junky.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    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.


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