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Isuzu's Unholy Unions, Part 1: The General Motors Connection

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author photo by Aaron Gold March 2017

Surely, some of you must remember Isuzu, a plucky Japanese manufacturer arguably best known for the Trooper and Rodeo SUVs (since moving to Los Angeles, I cannot help but pronounce the latter as "roh-DAY-oh"). They also had what may be the best made-up television huckster this side of Matthew McConaughey: Joe Isuzu. (Watch here. And here. And here.)

Although Isuzu sold cars at their own dealerships, they built lots of 'em for other manufacturers. The sale of their corporate soul started in 1972 when General Motors bought a 34 percent stake and had Isuzu build their first small pickup truck, the Chevrolet Luv (Hey, it was the early '70s).

Soon to follow was the "Opel by Isuzu" which, as the name implies, was a version of the German Opel Kadett -- except it was built by Isuzu. (This car as based on the GM T-platform, better known to us 'Muricans as the Chevette). Since the Isuzu by Opel was sold at Buick dealerships, and since there were still people not totally thrilled about the idea of buying a Japanese car, and since the name wasn't confusing enough, this car was renamed Buick Opel, with no credit for Isuzu. The car would be redesigned and shifted to Chevy dealerships as the Spectrum (and Isuzu dealerships as the I-Mark, and later as the Stylus).

The idea of Japanese-built American cars never did sit right with some folks, so in 1989 GM launched their Geo division to sell their imports. Think of what just happened to Scion, but in reverse: The Chevrolet Spectrum became the Geo Spectrum, the Chevrolet Nova (a rebadged Corolla) became the Geo Prizm, and the Suzuki-sourced Chevy Sprint became the Geo Metro. For those who wish to start a Geo trivia team, it's worth noting that the Spectrum was the only ex-Chevrolet not to be redesigned before joining the Geo brand. You're welcome.

In 1990, Geo introduced what I think is the most interesting of Isuzu's captive cars (and I'm sure that, if you could find anyone who cares even slightly about Isuzu or Geo, they'd agree with me): The Geo Storm, a cool, budget-priced two-door coupe that later spawned a wagon. This was a rebadged version of Isuzu's Impulse, which had cool round semi-concealed headlights, the 16-valve engine from the Storm GSi, and a suspension tuned by Lotus. Trivia: I once talked a car salesman into letting me test-drive one (I was flabbergasted when he fell for the "My grandmother wants to buy me a car" line). How was it? Phenomenal!

Sadly, the Storm only lasted through the 1992 model year (which seems insane to me, as my blue-collar home town of Rochester, New York, was crawling with the things, most of them painted yellow or teal with a pink neon stripe). And just like that, Isuzu was done building cars for GM, though GM would build a couple more for Isuzu, specifically the Hombre pickup and the Ascender SUV.

Of course, Isuzu would go on to other things: Rather than build cars for GM, the company that needed them the most, they would build cars for Honda, the company that needed them the least. We'll explore that unholy union in Part Two.

Photo courtesy of IFCAR, via Wikipedia

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Isuzu's Unholy Unions, Part 1: The General Motors Connection - Autotrader