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Isuzu Impulse

ImpulseadThere was a time when the Isuzu Impulse was the height of fashion. When Giorgetto Giugiaro unveiled his Ace of Clubs show car in 1979, its futuristic styling drew rave reviews. When it debuted virtually unchanged as a road car in the early 1980s (named Piazza elsewhere in the world), it was a revelation.

In an angular automotive world, the Impulse had dramatic, swoopy styling, with the gentle curves, long, low hood, and smooth hatchback that would come to define sports coupes in the 1980s. On streets populated with Impalas, Fairmonts, and Gran Furys, the Impulse looked like a rocket ship.

Nearly 30 years down the line, it may be difficult to understand the fuss. Decades of me-too competitors have diluted the impact, and Impulses are now old enough that many of them are rusty and dented. It might be difficult to see that Isuzu with the faded and peeling paint as a revolutionary design.

To me, at least, it's a tragedy to see an Impulse's delicate lines sullied by ruined by fading paint, rust, or accident damage. The Impulse wasn't made in huge numbers compared to its competitors, but neither was it ever truly rare. That lack of rarity, combined with its low-prestige nameplate, means that most Impulses have been mistreated like any other disposable 1980s car.

Under the skin, the Impulse was nothing particularly special, although a turbo made an appearance later in the production cycle. Interestingly enough, and unlike some of its competition, the Impulse was a rear-wheel-drive car.

In its later years, the Impulse would capitalize on Isuzu's relationship with GM to leverage some suspension and chassis tuning from then- GM-affiliate Lotus--this helped make the Impulse an athlete as well as a beauty.

The Impulse is virtually unremembered today, and I think that's a shame. The Impulse was never a great car, but it was a good one, and it broke genuinely new stylistic ground. At the very least, it doesn't deserve its place in the dustbin of history.

Speaking of the dustbin of history, I'm also saddened by the recent news that Isuzu will be leaving the U.S. passenger car and light truck market completely in early 2009. The company recently had only offered rebadged GM trucks, and even in its heyday of the 1980s was never really more than a niche player, but it's always sad to lose another automaker from this market.

Along with the Impulse, Isuzu's other great contribution to American culture was the frequently hilarious string of Joe Isuzu commercials, which were early adopters of humor and self-parody in advertising. Below is the Joe Isuzu Impulse ad, followed by Joe Isuzu's comeback in the 1990s. As advertising goes, it's comedy gold--and, unlike many of the commercials I share in this space, the humor is intentional. I love when he drives right through the cones.

The burgundy '86 Impulse belongs to Bill Luton, and the red '89 Impulse Turbo (with the Lotus suspension tweaks!) belongs to Victor Dumeg. Somehow the the Starfleet Academy sticker on the back of Dumeg's Impulse fits nicely. I found both cars at, the existence of which makes it look as if there are still a few Impulse loyalists carrying the torch.

--Chris H.


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I totally agree, Chris. Bring back the Giorgetto Giugiaro creased-and-folded look!

Complete agreement with Chris and Cookie the Dog's Owner. This was a lovely piece of design - Giorgetto Giugiaro a true master. You have to respect the care that went into crafting the contours of this car. The fact that it went from prototype to production and retained its original integrity is a testament to the designer, the design, and the company vision at the time.

Joe Isuzu - not sure he elevated the brand - but he was a hoot.

I love my SVX, also penned by Guigiaro (or one of his underlings, with his name stamped on it), and .... I didn't know he did this car. Now that you mention it though, it looks VERY VERY similar to the Mk2 Scirocco. Like.... VERY VERY similar. Mk1 Sciroccos were designed by Guigiaro also, so I can definitely see the resemblance between the two.

PS: A Scirocco will probably be the next addition to my fleet, once I graduate. :)

I had one of these great machines. I have to say, I agree with you--the design was revolutionary at the time; sliding into the driver's seat was like assuming a seat in a cockpit. the Giugiaro design shined. On the downside, it was the mushiest gearbox I ever drove--years after I owned it, I still had trouble finding "reverse". It met its end in a parking garage, where a fender bender demolished it, given the value of the car. I now almost wish I'd repaired it and kept it for history's sake. On the upside, I now drive a Corvette...

Giugiaro tried to sell the Piazza to VW as the Scirocco successor but VW declined.

What makes the Impulse/Piazza special is its "body panel cut line management." Most of the panel gaps are hidden by the upper and lower character lines on the sides. The clamshell hood and hatch end at the upper character line. The front and rear bumper caps meet the fenders at the lower character line. The only obvious "un-anchored" cut lines are the two vertical gaps each side for the doors. In this the Impulse is still unmatched more than a quarter century later.


Chris, I can't believe you mentioned not one but two cars I loved in the 80s, the Isuzu Impulse and the Renault Fuego. The styling of both cars was unparalled during the age when virtually every other car was of the 'two box' design. Glad to see someone else appreciates those style icons of a couple of decades ago.

Be careful! Lutton may want his Impulse picture removed for copyright infringements! He did this on several sites!

Heck! No mention of the later 90-93 Impulse / Asuna Sunfire!?! I love these cars, I have plenty of them here including the RS Turbo model!

I went from a '78 Datsun 280Z to an '88 Impulse Turbo (both bought new) and thought I was trading down. Oh, was I surprised! The power was phenominal; the clamshell hood was stunning; and the square angles gave it a DeLorean look on the front end. The wrap-around controls made the driver's seat feel like a jet cockpit. Everything but the radio and the stick was controlled with your hands on the wheel. I now drive an '02 Mercedes C230K and love it. But I still consider the Impulse one of my best cars.

I owned an 84 Impulse in red and later an 88 in burgundy. The cockpit design and instrument cluster were revolutionary and access to controls was easy. Never had an accident in one. I owned the 88 in Minnesota, later moved to Tennessee with it. In 1997 with over 260,00 miles on it, rust finally destroyed the frame from beneath, although the body had very little visible rust on it. I'd say I got my money's worth from it. I also loved the aluminum wheels with the square grid design on the 84, and the turbine wheels on the 88. They were reliable and stylish cars. I miss them both.


My name is Dave I live in the country I have A 1989 ISUZU 4ZC1 turbo IMPULSE..Handling by LOTUS...I take really good care of it.. Last year I overhaul the engine really not A lot of wear to the engine.After that I got it panted the interior has no wear to it.So far I havent seen A IMPULSE on the road here I live close to Orangeburg sc..Talk later Dave

Hey Chris, I am a very proud owner of an 88 Isuzu Impuls with handling by Lotus.. I'm the second owner and was so luck to get this car with only 88 thousand miles... Its an amazing car for it's time. Trutfuly it drives and handles better then any car I have owned... I take excellet care of my baby very clean but sad to say I had a fender bener and have a dent now... I have never seen another one the road I'm in San Diego.. But I do get shouts on the road IMPULSE! YEAH!! The people still remember the impulse.. I just wanted to share the love.. Sarah

Hi Chris! I am Victor, owner of that red Impulse. Great article! Amazingly, i still have her. She has been in my garage with an engine knock since 1998. I have taken the engine down to the block and just have not had the time or money to put into her yet. I keep saying this but I think this summer may be the time I can get her road worthy again. I may have the time but money is still an issue because I have been unemployed since Feb of 09! I am working part time during evenings and looking for a full time job in the mornings. If I can squeeze a few hours on her every day, i think I can get it done. Anyhow, I'll keep you folks posted.

And yes, except for the hood with the normal wear and tear, the paint is still as shiny as the day I bought her new in 1989! I just could not bare to let her go. She was our first new car.

Take care all!

I bought an Impulse in October, 1983, to celebrate my divorce. I loved it and drove it until 1997 when the electronics went bad. Since it was financially foolish to pay around $2,000 to fix it I reluctantly parted with it, but I still think of it fondly.

Anyone Interested in Buying my Impulse. I have an 1988 Isuzu Impulse handling by Lotus. I'm the second owner on this car and put a lot of love into it! I'm sad to have to sell it. It handles better then any car I have been in.. It has 90,000 miles and a lot of new work put into it including a new clutch. I'm pretty firm on 2000. I'm located in San Diego area. If interested please email me

I'm still looking for an Impulse lover to buy my car! I just cant see parting with such a rare car to just anyone. It's in great condition inside and out! It's in excellent running condition with 92,000 miles. I have all receipts for work done, around 2500. I'm parting for only 1500. email me if interested

I own a 1991 rs turbo 5 yrs ago I brought it to a garage in ford country for a ECM problem and a bad samaratin smashed all the glass including the quarters and sunroof with rocks . Pretty much finished the body. nice car though still have it for hopes of restoring. I bight the car when it was on the showroom floor with 3 miles on it.

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