Historic Car Brands
Isuzu Motors’ history began in 1916, when Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd planned a cooperation with the Tokyo Gas and Electric Industrial Co to build automobiles.
The next step was taken in 1918, when a technical cooperation with Wolseley Motors Limited was initiated, yielding exclusive rights to the production and sales of Wolseley vehicles in East Asia.
In 1922 came the first ever Japan-produced passenger car, a Wolseley model, the A9. Following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, cars and trucks played an important role in reconstruction. However, many vehicles in the market were imports from Europe and the USA and the growth of domestic vehicles was sluggish.
In 1933, Ishikawajima Automotive Works merged with DAT Automobile Manufacturing Inc – predecessor of Nissan – and changed its name to Automobile Industries Co Ltd.
Japan was involved in an invasive war in China by 1933, so the company developed a heavy-duty military passenger car, the Sumida Model J and a three-axle, seven-seat passenger vehicle, Sumida Model K.
The Model K was a 6X4, designed to tolerate bad roads and powered by a 4.4-litre, 70bhp petrol six. A novel design feature was the side location of the two spare wheels on duplicate stub axles, so that the load-bearing spare wheels could help the vehicle roll over obstacles.
In 1934, Sumida cars and Chiyoda trucks were branded Isuzu – named after the Isuzu River – following a meeting with the Japanese Government’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI). The word ‘Isuzu’ means ’50 bells’, hence the focus on ‘bell’ in both the later Isuzu Bellel and Bellett motor cars.
In 1937 Automobile Industries was reorganised and formed into a new company, Tokyo Automobile Industries Co Ltd.
After WWII, factory production started up again in 1945, as part of the US Marshall Plan and, in 1949, ‘Isuzu’ was adopted as the company name.
The Hillman Minx passenger car was produced by Isuzu, under license from the UK’s Rootes Group, until 1962, in parallel with the 1961 introduction of Isuzu’s first car, the Bellel.
The Bellel was quickly followed by the Bellett that was produced between 1963 and 1973. Designed by Isuzu, the Bellett displaced the Isuzu Hillman Minx.
Isuzu Bellett – Tommi Nummelin
The Bellett was available as a four-door or two-door sedan, a rare two-door station wagon marketed as a commercial vehicle, called the Bellett Express, and an even rarer one-ton commercial variant marketed as the Isuzu Wasp.
A total of 170,737 original Belletts were manufactured.
1966 Isuzu Bellett 1600GT – Mytho88
Launched in June 1963, the sedan was powered by a 1.5-litre, OHV petrol In-line, four-cylinder engine. In April 1964, a 1.3-litre, OHC in-line, four-cyinder engine was introduced.
In 1966, a mild facelift featured a revised front fascia and the Bellett B model was added. The B had a live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, which was cheaper and took up less space than the regular Bellett’s independent rear suspension. The Bellett B’s suspension was also used for the larger Florian, which appeared in 1967.
At the end of 1966, a 1.6-litre, 90bhp SOHC engine was employed to power the 1600 GT model.
In 1969 the GT’s engine power was increased to 94bhp, when the GT-R race-only model was added, and in 1970 it was replaced by a 115bhp, 1.8-litre SOHC engine.
A 1.6-litre sedan line was assembled in New Zealand by Campbell Industries at Thames from 1968 to 1970.
Isuzu couldn’t generate enough sales volume to get the retail pricing it needed and so followed a number of joint sales and service ventures with Subaru, Mitsubishi and Nissan, before a 1971 agreement with General Motors was signed. That soon resulted in GM taking a 34-percent stake in Isuzu.
Note the absence of any ‘Isuzu’ reference
The first fruit of this venture was seen in 1972, when the Chevrolet LUV – a development of the Bellett-based Wasp ute – was sold in many markets, including Australia. The LUV – light utility vehicle – was the predecessor of the Holden Rodeo and Isuzu Ute D-MAX models.
In 1974, Isuzu introduced the Gemini, which was co-produced with General Motors as the T-Car and was sold in Australia as the Holden Gemini.
1977 Holden Gemini TC coupe – Gemini Greg
The original Holden Gemini model, the TX series, was introduced in February 1975. It was available as a four-door sedan in S and SL specification levels, and as a two-door SL coupe. The TX Gemini was built at Holden’s factory at Acacia Ridge, Queensland and contained a high percentage of Australian content. All TX models shared the same 1.6-litre SOHC Isuzu engine.
The TC Gemini was sold between March 1977 and April 1978 and a limited-edition ‘Sandpiper’ model was also offered in both sedan and coupe bodies.
The TD series was introduced in April 1978, with ‘radial tuned suspension’ and the option of a five-speed manual transmission – standard on the SL/E.
The TE series Gemini was introduced in October 1979 and, in February 1980, a panel van and station wagon were added to the line-up, but the coupé version was no longer available. In early 1981, the option of a 1.8-litre Isuzu diesel model was introduced.
1983 Holden Gemini ZZ/Z – Kytabu
The face-lifted TF series Gemini was released in March 1982, followed by the TG series in March 1983 and a performance model, named the ZZ/Z, was added.
Holden’s Acacia Ridge plant closed in October 1984 after all rear-wheel-drive Isuzu-based Gemini production had come to a halt.
In May 1985, the RB series Gemini – based on the front-wheel drive GM R platform – was released, but did not sell well and was discontinued in 1987.
The Gemini was sold side by side with the first generation hatch-only Holden Astra — a rebadged Nissan Pulsar — and the Astra effectively replaced the Gemini when its second generation, offered as both hatch and sedan, was launched in 1987.
1983 Holden Rodeo KB27 – OSX
The Holden Rodeo was a utility that was sold in Australia and New Zealand by Holden. Introduced in 1980, the Rodeo was built by Isuzu in three generations. The Rodeo succeeded the Chevrolet LUV model.
In August 1988, Holden launched the second generation TF series Rodeo. The TF had several designations over its lifespan.
2007 Holden Rodeo RA – OSX
The R9 arrived in 1998 and a V6 petrol engine was available, but the 4JB1T turbo-diesel engine was the most popular powerplant in 4×4 models.
In March 2003 came the third generation RA series Holden Rodeo, but it was rebranded Holden Colorado in July 2008, when Holden lost the rights to the ‘Rodeo’ name, following General Motors split with Isuzu.
Holden YB Piazza
The Isuzu Piazza was a small, sporty, three-door liftback coupé, manufactured by Isuzu from 1981 until 1992 in two generations. The Isuzu Piazza was marketed as the Isuzu Impulse in North America and as the Holden Piazza in Australia.
The Piazza was introduced in Australia, in April, 1986 in two-litre, 147bhp Turbo form only and was a good performer, rivalling the Mitsubishi Starion.
Another result of the GM-Isuzu collaboration was that certain GM products were sold to Japanese customers through Isuzu dealerships. Holden’s Statesman was briefly sold with Isuzu badging in Japan during the 1970s.
Isuzu exports increased considerably through GM’s international networks: from 0.7-percent of production in 1973 to 35.2-percent by 1976, but, in the domestic Japanese market, OEM deals with other manufacturers were needed to aid the poorly-performing passenger car arm.
Isuzu’s full-size 4WD wagon was produced by the Japanese automaker between 1981 and 2007. In the domestic Japanese market it was sold as the Isuzu Bighorn and was exported internationally as a Trooper, but it also received several other nameplates including Holden Jackaroo and Holden Monterey.
There were two generations of this vehicle: the first, produced between 1981 and 1991; and the second (UBS) produced between 1991 and 2007, with a substantial refresh in 1998. Production ended in 2007.
1994 Jackaroo XS
The Trooper began as a rather basic and somewhat underpowered on- and off-road vehicle, offered only with four-cylinder motor, four-speed manual transmission and part-time four-wheel drive. It evolved to add both amenities and luxuries, including optional air-conditioning, power windows and more powerful V6 petrol and diesel engines. The second generation was even more refined and available in two-wheel drive as well as four-wheel drive.
The first-generation was available as a three-door wagon with independent front suspension, powered by a 73bhp, two-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel
In 1986, Isuzu introduced the five-door version and the 4ZD1, 97bhp, four-cylinder 2.3-litre petrol engine or 87bhp, 2.2-litre C223T turbocharged diesel engine.
For 1988, the 4ZD1 engine was upgraded to 110bhp. The turbocharged 2.8-litre diesel produced 95 bhp.
For 1991, Isuzu redesigned the vehicle and powered it with a 3.2 -litre, 175bhp SOHC petrol engine or pushrod overhead valve, 3.1-litre, in-line, four-cylinder, intercooled turbo diesel, producing 112bhp. After 1998, and the introduction of a new 3.0-litre, 159bhp diesel engine, a four-speed automatic transmission was made available in addition to the five-speed manual transmission.
1999 Holden Jackaroo SE 3.5 – OSX
The 1998 petrol model had the DOHC 3.5-litre engine from the Isuzu/Holden Rodeo producing 215bhp. (160 kW; 218 PS). European and Asian buyers could opt for the diesel engine option of the 4JG2 3.1-liter (later superseded by the 4JX1 3.0-liter of 159 PS or 117 kW). A Borg-Warner torque-on-demand (TOD) all-wheel-drive system was introduced, along with freshened styling. The grille was redesigned again for the 2000 model year.
The ‘Asian Meltdown’ financial crisis of the 1990s hit Isuzu very hard and severely curbed its product development plans.
The Holden Frontera was a 4WD wagon range, sold in Australia and New Zealand between 1995 and 2003. The original four-cylinder, manual-transmission, three-door model was based on a Tokyo Motor Show concept vehicle, called MU – ‘Mysterious Utility’ – but was made in the UK.
2000 Holden Frontera UE Sport – OSX
The second generation model, from February 1999, was the UE or MX series Frontera. Three- and five-door bodies were offered and were produced in the USA. The five-door models had the 3.2-litre petrol V6 engine rated at 202bhp and 290Nm with an optional automatic transmission, but the three-door Frontera Sport retained a four-cylinder engine and manual transmission only and was discontinued in 2002.
2001 Holden Frontera S
The five-door wagon offered base, S and SE trims. In late 2001, an upgrade with dirt road handling enhancement arrived. The five-door wagon continued until 2003, when it was replaced by the Adventra.
GM wanted Isuzu to focus exclusively on commercial vehicles and diesel engines, so, in Australia in 2001, after Isuzu had made the Holden-badged Rodeo a market success, GMH executives transferred responsibility for the LCV business to Holden, allowing I-GM to concentrate entirely on the truck business. (Had the Rodeo and subsequent D-Max products stayed with Isuzu, they would probably have sold in much greater numbers than Holden’s dismal efforts.)
In late 2002, Isuzu initiated a recapitalisation and debt-for-equity conversion plan to stave off a bankruptcy. Although GM ended its equity investment in Isuzu and sold all its shares to Mitsubishi Corporation, Itochu and Mizuho Corporate Bank, Isuzu and GM established a joint venture in 2006 to develop pickup trucks for the US market, but those products were discontinued in 2009.
In November 2006 Toyota purchased 5.9 percent of Isuzu, becoming the third largest shareholder. That shareholding was part of a proposed deal for Isuzu to produce diesel engines for Toyota’s European passenger cars and SUVs, but after VW’s ‘dieselgate’ scandal in the USA, those plans were shelved, and Toyota sold its equity in 2018.
In 2016, Isuzu and Mazda agreed to collaborate to produce the next-generation pickup trucks for Mazda outside of North America and Isuzu’s plant in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh began operations.