All-wheel drive, handling by Lotus, 16-valve turbo motor, the Isuzu Impulse seemed to have it all, but it wasn't enough to ensure the company's eventual survival. Today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe '91, however, is Gloria Gaynor.
Benzedrine can get you high, but sadly yesterday's V8-powered 300 TDT Benz was a real downer, culminating in an 81% Crack Pipe loss. The combination of a bastard child engine dropped in a soccer mom wagon left pretty much everyone adopting an attitude of execration toward that beige Benz. One of the challenges of yesterday's car was the number of like-priced options that were similar, if not more compelling options, including some that also carried the three-pointed star. Today's candidate, on the other hand, stands pretty much alone.
The first time American consumers could lay hand to wheel with an Isuzu product was the 1976 Buick Opel by Isuzu which was also the first car I ever read Road & Track advocate not buying because of its overall ass-suckage-ness. Ah, but oh what a few years difference can make, and by the early eighties, Isuzu was selling its wares here in the states under its own brand, as well as part of GM's can't beat ‘em, join ‘em GEO brand (RIP). By the latter part of that decade, Isuzu's brand boat began to spring leaks, and their products - anonymous I-marks and decades-old platform-based Impulses - started bobbing in the water like dead pelicans. The last hurrah of Isuzu as a mainstream automaker (before an execution-stalling foray into an orgy of SUV production) was the GM ‘world car‘ R-body that begat the Stylus sedan and Impulse Coupe/Geo Storm. Around this same time, the company began a short fling with Britain's Lotus, a relationship that proves you really need to label your stuff for when the inevitable breakup occurs.
Today's 1991 Impulse coupe was birthed before that breakup, and shares its 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve base motor with the plastic fantastic Lotus Elan that everyone connected with the company would soon rather forget. In naturally aspirated form that engine put out 130-bhp, however here it's both turbocharged and intercooleed (air to air, fed by a NACA duct on the hood) to the tune of 30 more ponies. This RS feeds those 160 horses through a five-speed manual transmission and then an all-wheel drive system that employes a viscous diff at each end for those who like it viscous at both ends, as well as a torque-splitting diff in the middle.
In payback for all the peaky fours for their Elans, Lotus dropped by to teach the Impulse how to dance. Handling by Lotus isn't just a badge hitting below the beltline, it's a set of beefier sway bars, stiffer springs and other mods that make the Impulse impetuous. The car's 2,730-lb weight helps it giddyup from zero to sixty in about 8.4 seconds, a number that may not seem too impressive, but remember this car's more about carving corners than knocking off the quarters.
With just 116,000 miles on the clock, this Alabama getaway is claimed to be rust-free and nearly stock. That means it still has a quartet of round sealed beam headlamps you can pick up replacements for at your local Pep Boys. It also has managed to keep the same set of alloy shoes these past 19 years, although I'm sure those aren't its original tires. The rest of the black beauty body is clean and reasonably mar-free (cough*fart can*cough), and it's still amazing how small these cars really are.
Inside you get a better idea of why Isuzu didn't make it here, as it's a sea of hard, gray plastic and features prominently a shifter that looks like nothing more than a hippopotamus' John Denver. If you can get over wrapping your hands around that, as well as the scuffed driver's seat and dash toupee, then you might find this interior a good place to spend time throwing the car through the corners. And as it's an orphan -Isuzu having given up on the whole selling cars in America thing - you can treat it anyway you want, without fear of its dad coming after you.
Of course, before you can take advantage, you'd need to plunk down some cash, and in the case of this Impulse - claimed by the seller to be one of 800 imported - you'll need to plunk to the tune of $3,500. That's not too big a plunk, but is this Isuzu orphan worth that kind of plunk? Would you drop that kind of bank for this orphan? Or, would yo have to be Daddy Warbucks to spend that much?
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