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'!

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