26 February 2021

More than an old car #166: Isuzu Trooper

I don't know if you have ever heard of Isuzu, but you may have seen it on many trucks and lorries around the island. However, what if I told you that Isuzu actually made cars like this 1997 Isuzu Trooper LS

Isuzu was first established as the Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Ltd. in 1893, and it planned a cooperation with the Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Company to build automobiles in 1916. Early on, the company had a technical cooperation with Wolseley Motors, giving it exclusive rights to produce Wolseley cars in Japan. In 1934, it changed its name to Isuzu, named after the Isuzu River. Coincidentally, it also translates to 'fifty bells' in English. Isuzu was also one of the main primary manufacturers for the Japanese army during WW2. 

After the war, Isuzu restarted production of commercial vehicles. It was only in 1961 when it produced its first passenger car, the Bellel. Under pressure from the government (as it was a relatively small car maker), Isuzu jumped from mergers with Subaru, Mitsubishi and Nissan before experiencing moderate success with General Motors in 1972. During this period, the company entered into various agreements with related brands, resulting in some GM-family cars being rebadged to Isuzu. Isuzu withdrew from making passenger cars in the 1990s as it decided to focus exclusively on trucks and buses. In Singapore, some Isuzu cars did exist but all had disappeared after 2011.

The Bighorn/Trooper, also sold internationally under many names such as the Caribe 442 and the Holden Jackaroo, was first introduced in 1981 as a 3-door wagon followed by a 5-door variant. Interestingly, there was also a soft-top version which was not very popular. Initial reviews described it as a 'poor person's Range Rover' due to the underpowered engine and overall weak product competitiveness. While the Trooper heralded the rise of SUVs such as the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Hilux Surf, it was ironically left behind in the dust by the more well-known successors.

In 1991, the 2nd-generation Trooper was released with a series of grades, from the low-end Basic to the highest-spec Irmscher. It underwent a facelift in 1993, with changed headlights and grilles becoming less squarish. The LS spec experienced a reduction in seating capacity, from 3-row seats to 2-row seats in 1995. Another facelift occurred in 1998, with the grille and headlights becoming more rounded than before. Different types of engines were available which catered to the North American market, where it had become moderately popular. This unit was powered by a 3059 cc 4JG2 turbodiesel i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 170 km/h, with an acceleration of 13.1 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4671 mm long and weighed 1840 kg, with a fuel consumption of 14.4 litres / 100 km.

Production of the Trooper ended in 2002, about the same time when Isuzu decided to withdraw from the passenger car market in the US. The Trooper, especially the 1995-1996 models, were plagued with controversy when it was alleged that they could roll over under testing. However, Isuzu denied that the car was unsafe. Troopers existed in Singapore back in the 90s but it was only sold to the Civil Defence: it was deemed too expensive for the public. 

The market for classic Japanese SUVs has been increasing, but it takes a discerning eye and knowledge of its existence for someone to actually choose this obscurity. There are still a handful in Malaysia (where this unit came from) so if you are lucky, you may see one of these 'rare cars with a truck brand'!

20 February 2021

More than an old car #165: Sunbeam MKIII

Currently trying to cover the backlog of cars that I have and it's really not easy to have a quick turnaround time. However, I will try my best to bring you intriguing snippets of car history, such as this 1955 Sunbeam MKIII!

The Sunbeam Motor Car Company Limited was first established in 1888 by John Marston for his bicycle manufacturing business, and began motor car manufacturing in 1901. During WW1, it had a hand in producing aircraft engines and bomber planes. In 1934, the Sunbeam brand was sold to the Rootes Group, which had also acquired London-based car manufacturer Clement-Talbot. Both firms were combined and subsequent cars were produced under the Sunbeam-Talbot brand.

The Sunbeam-Talbot 90 was launched in 1948 and adopted features from the pre-war 2-Litre, while featuring the aesthetically pleasing 'Streamstyle' design with 'Opticurve' curved windscreen. It was available in both 4-door sedan and 2-door convertible coupe; the convertible coupe body shells were completed by Thrupp & Maberly coachbuilders (which also had a hand in designing some Rolls-Royce cars). 

In 1954, the MKIII version was launched at the Olympia Motor Show. The 'Talbot' part of the name was dropped and the car was officially known as the Sunbeam MKIII. External difference included a revised larger front side grilles incorporating the side lights and 3 portholes near the rear of the hood (as seen in the picture). Internally, the front seats were changed to include a new back rest and a centre arm rest enclosing the handbrake. Interestingly, the rear view mirror also had a clock fitted within it. The MKIII was fitted with a 2267 cc i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 150 km/h with an acceleration of 17.4 seconds [0-60 mph]. It was 4267 mm long and weighed 1367 kg, with a fuel consumption of 12.8 litres/100 km

Production of the MKIII ended in 1957 with about 2,250 made in the UK and Australia, although the drophead coupe was not made after 1955. Therefore, it is evident that this unit was one of a select few worldwide that had survived until recently. Why 'recently'? The very house which this neglected rarity was in was sold recently in an online auction for S$3.4 million, in just 8 minutes. As such, the various abandoned cars inside were removed and its fate is unknown, though it is believed that it is currently impounded by the traffic authorities. Whether it can be registered again, exported or (horrors of horrors!) scrapped is up in the air. 

I had known of its existence some years back when pictures of it surfaced online, and was able to track down the location. Based on stories that I have heard from others, this house, along with a few others were owned by 2 brothers. It seemed that both of them were into collecting classic cars: I have seen the houses and all the vehicles are in disrepair. One of the brothers passed away and the other one is currently living in the UK, allegedly on the run from creditors. 

The car had been deregistered in 2019 probably because it did not report for its biannual inspections. As to how the car ended up in the house, I am inclined to believe that it could be an original Singapore car that changed hands during the 70s. The MKIII coupe was sold here in 1955 by Lyons Motors Ltd, retailing for £1,198 at that time. A review in the local news praised its comfort and performance especially when the Laycock de Normanville overdrive was engaged, along with features such as two-speed windscreen wipers and a heater clearing the screen of mist in less than a minute. However, side visibility was somewhat impaired by the thick pillars.

This unit featured a two-tone Dove Grey/Claret exterior colour with Ascot Grey upholstery. However, the ravages of time have led to overall neglect and a restoration project may be a major strain on one's resources and sanity. While it would have been cool to have it grace the roads again, I'm not sure if anyone may ever see it. In the meantime, just enjoy this snapshot that I have which proves of this rarity's existence here! 

5 February 2021

More than an old car #164: Lancia Fulvia

Some time back, I went to ask my viewers about what cars they would like to see on this page. I'll start working on some of them soon, but please do forgive for the lower content output: sometimes one may not be in the mood for things, you know? This 1969 Lancia Fulvia Rallye 1.3 HF was one of the suggestions that popped up, and it was something that I wanted to write about for some time...

The Fulvia was first introduced in 1963 where it replaced the aging Appia. Named after Via Fulvia, an ancient Roman road leading from Tortona to Turin, it featured a front-wheel drive design and shared almost no components from its predecessor. Initially available only as a 4-door sedan (berlina), it was deemed to be rather plain an 'not elegant', although it found some success in rallying.  

The coupe was introduced in 1965, where it immediately became a huge commercial success due to its sporty look. Designed in-house by Pierro Castagnero, its design was inspired by the Riva brand of motorboats and is technically a 2+2 seater sports berlinetta. It was first available in a 1216 cc engine, which was enlarged to 1231 cc in 1967. During that time, Lancia introduced an enhanced version of the Fulvia known as the HF: it was visually distinguished by the removal of the bumpers and a yellow-blue painted stripe on the bonnet and roof. On top of that, the bodywork was lightened by the use of Peraluman alloy and Plexiglas for the rear window. 

The engine capacity was further increased to 1584 cc in 1969 under the direction of Cesare Florio, and these cars were known as 'Fanalones' due to the larger inner headlights. Fulvias after 1970 were facelifted, featuring a thinner grille and export versions had raised external headlights. A final facelift occured in 1974, known as the Fulvia 3 which featured matte black grilles and headlight frames. This Fulvia HF was powered by a 1298 cc Lancia V4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 180 km/h with an acceleration of 9.5 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 3935 mm long and weighed only 850 kg, with a fuel consumption of 12.8 litres / 100 km

Production of the Fulvia ended in 1976 with 140,054 coupes made, of which supposedly just 8 units were the 1.3 HF in RHD. This unit was imported from the UK and underwent some restoration, before it was sold to a well-known classic racing and motoring historian, who still owns it till this day. I am aware of another facelifted Fulvia here which was brought in by the same person: it was auctioned off recently. 

Fulvias in both sedan and coupe versions were sold here in the 1960s, first by Asia Motor Company Ltd and Olivetti (Singapore) Limited. As of 2019, there were only 9 Lancias registered here: the relative lack of understanding on a dead brand can be pretty daunting for someone who might want to bring one in. However, the fact that these have been imported shows the enthusiasm some people have on these rare machines. I haven't gotten a closer look ever since 2018 when these pictures were taken, perhaps you'll be lucky to see it soon!