Hooniverse Fastback Friday – Did Someone Say Isuzu? The 1st and 2nd Generation Impulse

Hey look, its Hooniverse Fastback Friday. Yes, I am still referring back to this weeks podcast, in which each of the participants discussed the car or truck they would like to see brought back, and my choice was the first generation Isuzu Piazza, otherwise known as the Isuzu Impulse here in the US.

In 1978, Isuzu commissioned Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign to come up with a new sporty car to replace their 117 Coupe, which was also penned by the legendary designer. The company delivered several T Series South American Chevettes to the Italdesign studio in Italy and gave Giugiaro a free rein over the design. The result of this effort was the wedge-shaped, three-door hatchback called the Ace of Clubs. It made its debut at the 1979 Tokyo Motor Show, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Reports state that within 48 hours of its unveiling, Isuzu fast tracked the vehicle into production with minimal changes to the design.

For the USDM market, this vehicle was introduced as the Impulse in 1983 with only one engine made available during the first two years. It was the 2.0 L SOHC I4 engine, rated at 90 hp, and 108 lb·ft of torque. A turbocharged model was introduced for the 1985 model year rated at 140 hp and 166 lb·ft of torque. All Impulses came with virtually no options for each model year, and only two trim levels offered: non-turbo and Turbo. There were some special edition models, most notably the RS model of the 1987 model year. This model was available only in white body color with pewter color trim, and featuring the stiffest suspension available on any Impulse.

By the 1988 Model Year the Impulse saw several minor adjustments. Mild exterior and interior changes were made to the appearance of the vehicle (a larger rear spoiler, fixed headlights without pop up covers, etc.). The 2.0 L non-turbo engine was replaced with a 2.3 L SOHC I4 engine for the North American Market, rated at 110 hp, 127 ft·lb of torque. All Impulses received a Lotus-tuned suspension beginning in the 1988 model year, which consisted of redesigned sway bars, stiffer dampers, and a change in previous spring rates. The last production year for this version of the Impulse was 1989.

For the 1990 model year, the second generation Impulse was introduced. This version was designed on General Motors’ second generation R-body “world car” platform. GM had commissioned Isuzu to build a replacement for the Spectrum, this time a sportier model called the Storm (Gemini Coupe in Japan). The body design of the Storm was strongly influenced by GM and drew heavily from GM Europe’s design submission for the Lotus Elan M100.

Starting with the Storm, alternative front and rear treatments were made, retaining the lozenge theme of the Gemini sedan, and drawing heavy influence from the rear-wheel drive Impulse (semi-concealed headlights with integrated grille as well as hood and taillight styling) while also expanding on the “European look”, whatever that means.

The three-door hatchback debuted as the Impulse XS for the 1990 model year. It was offered only in front-wheel drive with a DOHC 1.6L I4 engine which produced 130 hp. The suspension consisted of MacPherson struts both front and rear, with a rigid trailing arm front suspension and a multi-link rear suspension. For 1991 the Impulse RS was introduced with a 160hp turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive which featured front and rear viscous differentials and center helical differential. The wagonback model was also introduced for the 1991 model year, only available with the normally-aspirated 1.6 L engine.

For 1992, the Turbo model was discontinued and the base engine was replaced with a 1.8L engine, and was good for 140hp and 125 ft·lb of torque. Both body styles continued into 1992, but very few were produced. In Canada, no Impulses were made for Canada for the 1992 model year. However, in 1993 the 1.8 L model was sold in Canada as the Asüna Sunfire, but only with the hatchback body, and quickly disappeared after only one year.

The question is this: Do you agree with me about reviving the Isuzu Piazza? It has everything that the Hoons here on Hooniverse crave; Turbo Power, smooth shifting stick, rear wheel drive, drop dead looks, hatchback body style, tunable performance, and of course, great commercials featuring Joe Isuzu. And what about the second generation Impulse? Uhhhh, not so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

  1. muthalovin Avatar

    Isuzu did make quite a few interesting choices with the Impulse and Piazza. I am sure it was mostly do to market pressures, but, for me, they both fall flat. Sure, times was tough back then, but none have the "oh wow!" factor for me. Mostly, meh.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    I considered an Impulse back in late '83. I loved the slick, ultra-stylish looks. However, a test drive was disappointing. The engine wasn't smooth, performance and handling were mediocre, the interior quality wasn't very good, the controls felt coarse, and there was an air of cost-cutting cheapness about the whole car that left me unimpressed. Too much parts-bin stuff and Chevette bits underneath, I suppose. I bought a CRX instead and never looked back. As for the second generation Impulse – yuck. Far more contrived styling than its Storm cousin. I didn't know the Impulse had the wagonback option – I've never seen one so equipped, but then second-gen Impulses weren't exactly thick on the ground anyway.

  3. Maxichamp Avatar

    1. The first generation Impulse was my first car. It was an SE (Special Edition), which supposedly is rarer than a Ferrari. (See ebay ad for ad): http://cgi.ebay.com/1984-ISUZU-IMPULSE-SPECIAL-ED
    2. It was anemic, had a slushbox, and handled poorly (this is before the Handling By Lotus era).
    3. The coolest thing about the car is that it lacked any turn signal/wiper stocks. As you can see, all of the controls are situated on two pods to either side of the gauge cluster. The turn signal was activated with a plastic flipper/toggle switch.
    4. Everyone should read In Search of the Holden Piazza. It's a book about two guys in an Australian Impulse driving around Oz looking for every surviving first gen Impulse. Fun read.
    5. An animated Impulse was in the intro to Fight Back, an 80s consumer rights TV show hosted by David Horowitz.
    6. I Armor All'd the heck out of the interior and tires every weekend.

    1. LTDScott Avatar

      And just like that, the theme song to "Fight Back" popped into my head.

  4. OA5599 Avatar

    My sister had a friend with one of these. When it was about 7 years old, it started having frequent bouts of inadequate oil pressure. She was offered significantly less than scrap value ($50, I think) from the dealer as trade in, so she continued driving it for another six months until it got wrecked.

  5. LTDScott Avatar

    I lived in Nacogdoches, TX for a few years back in the 90s. Nacogdoches is home to Foretravel motorhomes, and one of the weirder things about many of their motorhomes was their use of Isuzu Impulse rear tail lights.
    <img src="http://www.mascus.com/image/product/large/catauctions/FORETRAVEL-GRAND-VILLA,133278_3.jpg&quot; width=500>
    Then again I'm a weirdo and enjoy trying to figure out the original source of lights used on motorhomes.

    1. RichardKopf Avatar

      You've reminded me that it's been a long time since I have seen a motorhome with a set of Celebrity tail lights.

  6. P161911 Avatar

    Around here at least the Geo Storm seemed to outsell the second gen Isuzu 5 to 1. And probably a solid 40% of the Geo Storms were this teal green:
    <img src="http://www.featuredcars.com/images/full-1991-Geo-Storm_12171_1.jpg"width=500&gt;

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      One of those bastard things visits the apartment-complex-for-the-elderly out behind my house. (It's separated from my yard by an all-too-sparse thicket; in summer, the leaves are dense enough to block the eyesore.)
      I believe there's an ISO Standard Sex-Toy Purple example in town, too. I might be odd, but I wouldn't mind owning a five-speed wagon variant – so long as it was a less-common, more-tasteful colour.

      1. tonyola Avatar

        Teal and purple were vogue car colors for some reason during the early '90s. Fortunately it didn't last.

        1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

          Yep – and dark green (good) and periwinkle (why) a few years later.
          Oh, and this.
          <img src="http://i.imgur.com/XSlz7.jpg"&gt;
          I always think of the Storms as having the 1992-'93 NX2000-style nose rather than the '90-'91 version with the pop-ups. If the fog lights make it a GSi, it may be worth raiding for spares if I ever do go completely mad and end up with a wagonback.

  7. LTDScott Avatar

    I actually saw one of those the other day at O'Reillys. I live in an area with a large Filipino population and for some reason they love to hang onto old cars vehicles like this that have very little value. I also know where there's a Tredia parked on the street.

  8. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    As I've stated before, I was always fond of the Stylus/Gemini version. Yes, it's a rather ordinary 4-door compact, but something about the lines are nice.
    <img src="http://autopolis.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/92-stylus.jpg&quot; width="400">
    <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/isuzu_stylus_1993.jpg&quot; width="400">
    <img src="http://www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au/images/car_spotters_guide/Japan/1992/1992_Isuzu_Gemini.jpg"&gt;

    1. dwegmull Avatar

      Just make sure you drive carefully while in Paris…
      [youtube rMohpx3OoZ8&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMohpx3OoZ8&feature=related youtube]

    2. dwegmull Avatar

      Just make sure you drive carefully while in Paris…
      [youtube 3POaAPyUC_Y&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3POaAPyUC_Y&feature=related youtube]

  9. alcology Avatar

    I like how the ad removed the front seats to show the back seats.

  10. Maymar Avatar

    I'd prefer something akin to the 1rst gen Piazza/Impulse, but if econocar roots were required, well, I expect the ALL WHEEL DRIVE INTERCOOLED TURBO sticker stretching nearly the full width of the car (you know, with the bits underneath to justify that sticker).
    I'll second that up here, the Geo Storm was far more popular. Of course, Chevrolet dealers are pretty ubiquitous, the SaturnSaabIsuzu dealers (as GM Canada lumped them together) were a little more scarce. I'm not sure I've ever seen the Asuna model outside of pictures and the auto show, I think that whole brand suffered a yearlong hangover of "why did we do this again?"

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      The only Sunfire I'd ever buy, that.

  11. P161911 Avatar

    So the Impulse is T-body based. Wonder how hard it would be to transfer the go fast and good handling bits from a 1st gen Lotus Tuned Turbo onto a Chevette Scooter?

  12. gooseboy78 Avatar

    a few pieces of usless info the piazza engine will fit in a chevette. the 2nd gen shares its engine with a car called the lotus elise.

  13. impulsoren Avatar

    Slight correction: the 1991 AWD turbo had a viscous center differential, viscous rea diff, and open front.
    I've owned 3 of the 1991 turbos (one with a fully built engine and T3/T4 running 30psi) and I still have a 1989 turbo with a 2.6 liter block and GT-3076R running 20 psi. Small, powerful, fun.

    1. impulsoren Avatar

      Also, all first gen (RWD) turbo models had a clutch-type rear limited slip diff (somewhat rare in small japanese cars back then).