How fast was the Isuzu Impulse Turbo? “950 MPH,” said Joe Isuzu —In 1983, Michael Jackson wasn’t a pedophile (allegedly), Ronald Reagan was scaring the heck out of communists, and Chevy Chase was trying his best to find Wally World. It was a simpler time back then, and cars were simpler too. They didn’t have huge touchscreens, a million horsepower, or NASA-grade supercomputers. But what they had was style, and, if you were lucky, pop-up headlights. Oh, and the word “Turbo” actually meant “my car’s way cooler than yours”.
Although Isuzu was one of the oldest car makers in Japan, they were best known for making private-label trucks like the Chevy LUV. Following the prevailing ‘oil crisis’ protocol, General Motors had acquired a controlling stake in Isuzu. This allowed the tiny Japanese car firm to access technology and platforms that would’ve taken them years to develop on their own. So when they decided to build their sportscar, they simply rang up GM and ordered some RWD platforms that were being used for the Chevy Chevette. And atop that seemingly crappy base, they built the Isuzu Impulse. One of the most iconic sports coupes that nobody remembers.
Since Isuzu was primarily a truck firm, they asked legendary Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro to create something special. He obliged with a low-slung 3-door show car called the Ace of Spades. It won rave reviews on the 1979 auto show circuit, and Isuzu rushed it into production, mostly unchanged.
The little RWD sports coupe had the steepest raked windshield of the time, hidden body seams, flush-mounted glass, no exterior drip rails, a clamshell hood, pop-up headlight covers, and a single windshield wiper. The interior was equally dramatic, and it featured aircraft-style instruments, with lighting/HVAC controls mounted on pods that moved up & down with the steering wheel. All of this was revolutionary in the late-70s, and it was far more advanced than anything GM had to offer.
When it finally arrived in America in 1983, the Isuzu Impulse could be ordered with a 120-hp SOHC 2.0L or a 135-hp DOHC 2.0L. This put it on par with the Toyota Celica and Honda Prelude, but the Impulse’s slick styling and funk-tastic wheels made it look way cooler. 1985 saw a new turbo-2.0L that cranked out 140-hp and launched the little Zuzu into Porsche 944 / Mitsubishi Starion territory. GM’s Lotus division was commanded to tune the suspension in the Impulse for 1988-1989, adding to the little car’s exclusivity, and most importantly, it’s handling.
1989 was the last year for the RWD Isuzu Impulse. And it was also the last year that Isuzu made a car that was truly their own. Too bad GM badge-engineered Isuzu to death. They used to make cars that were bad to the bone. Tempted to make an Impulse purchase? Search online and you will soon know the level of difficulty involved in tracking down even ratty examples for sale let alone a relatively unmolested Isuzu Impulse. If you do, the owner would rather lose a kidney than part with it.