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Elegant Unicorn: 1986 Isuzu Impulse


This super rare number is a 1986 Isuzu Impulse, when was the last time you’ve seen one of these? A couple of decades, I bet. This one is in Jacksonville, Florida and is listed on eBay with a low bid price of just over $300, but of course the reserve isn’t met.


The Impulse, known as the Piazza in Japan and sold as the Holden Piazza in Australia, was sold for a little over a decade, from 1981 to 1992. This is a first-generation car and it sure looks great! I think this was, and is, one of the most elegant small car designs to come out of Japan in this era, if not the most elegant to come from any country or any manufacturer. Some folks may say that it’s too derivative of the VW Scirocco, but the Impulse, I think, is so much more crisp, clean, smooth, elegant, and tailored. There isn’t a single bad angle or view of this design, in my opinion. Famous Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, penned the Impulse and the late-1970s/early-1980s Lotus Esprit and DeLorean were also his work; the wedge was hot in that era!


This car has 189,900 miles on it but it sure doesn’t look like it. I spied an Arizona plate on the last photo, maybe that’s how it came to stay so unbelievably rust-free over the last three decades. There isn’t any rust or even surface rust on top or underneath, according to the seller. And, there are no dings or dents, just a couple of chips such as you can see on the right front here. This car has the original paint but it’s starting to fade on the hood, again, probably due to the Arizona climate that helped to preserve it, rust-wise.


The interior is fantastic, other than needing to have the carpets cleaned and the headliner worked on a bit, it’s starting to sag in places. The seats, dash, door panelsrear seats, rear compartment stuff hider, and everything else looks great; and especially great looking is that third pedal! This is a 5-speed car which is nice. The Impulse was marketed as “everything standard”, and they came with everything available in two basic configurations: turbo and non-turbo.


You guessed it, this is the non-turbo! NOO!! That’s a drawback for sure, at least as far as collectibility goes. But, the 90 hp available here will still make this a fun car to drive with the 5-speed manual. A 140 hp turbo would be fantastic but, as Mick says, you can’t always get what you wa-aant. These are rear-wheel-drive cars so that just adds to the driving enjoyment, turbo or no turbo. A Lotus-tuned suspension gives a bit of mystique and driving pleasure to the Impulse. This engine is Isuzu’s 1.9L inline-four and the seller says that it’s very smooth once under way but it idles rough sometimes. Hopefully that’s an easy fix, I can’t imagine that it’s a major problem. I know that this isn’t a car that a lot of folks will jump up and down over, especially in non-turbo form. But, I love it. It’s like seeing a unicorn in the wild, you just never, ever see an Isuzu Impulse anymore. Have any of you ever driven one of these elegant unicorns?


  1. Jim

    Not much there for a collector, basic 4 cylinder econo box. Looks like the owner took very good care of it. Would make a nice driver

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  2. edh

    90hp with a 5 speed does not make a rear wheel drive car enjoyable, ask any GM H body owner if their 90HP Iron Duke with 5 speed was a good time.

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  3. Dan h

    The only thing that comes to mind from this era in regards to Isuzu is: lots of oil leaks, lots of blow-by and lots of engine rebuilds. My skin would curdle whenever they rolled into the shop.
    Oh, and don’t think a poorly engineered car is good for us mechanics, actually, they are a liability.

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  4. Brad C

    It may not be terribly sporty, but for a 16 year old in 1989, it sure had more sex appeal than my brand new Hyundai Excel coupe.

    Looking back almost 30 years later… they don’t seem all that different.

    Like 1
  5. Jeff Lavery Staff

    Scotty, if I didn’t find the surprise I have waiting from Fuji Heavy Industries, an Impulse was the other target. Believe it or not, I suspect the parts support is even worse! But it does have a clamshell hood….

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  6. Telly Black

    I bought a 1987 Isuzu Impulse turbo RS brand new. The car drove and handled nicely. The interior was world-class…awesome seats and dash! They only came in white that year and was a very attractive car. I drove the car for 90,000 trouble-free miles! It was one of the better cars I’ve owned.

    Like 4
  7. Brady

    The same engine in Japan is about 110 to 120hp, wonder what they did for the US market that sucked so much power out of it?

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  8. AutoArcheologist

    Isn’t this what Jackie Chan drove in one of the Cannonball Run movies? Or was that a Subaru..? Rocket powered with a slew of computer devices and lots of flashing red lcd’s and led’s…LOL

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    • RichS


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  9. RichS

    There is a super clean one silver with black stripes (turbo!) roaming around Sacramento. Spotted it about a month ago and about broke my neck gawking at it as it drove by.

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  10. Richard Brown

    I thought the Lotus suspension didnt come out till 1988? Strange that this car has Arizona plates, but is in Florida. If the seller took Paypal, at least there would be recourse should the car not be as stated. My guess, he is flipping it…

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  11. Bruce Best

    I tried to purchase a couple of these and yes the Lotus suspension was only available on the last couple of years of production. These cars compare very favorably with the 944 Porsche except that there is more room in the back and the controls while funky, The side pods have all the switches and move are very easy to get right.

    I do not know about the mechanicals but from the people I have met that have owned them none of them had any complaints about engine, transmission or drive train. Parts and electrical parts in particular were horrendous in both trying to obtain them and the cost.

    But beautiful, the one I came closest to buying was a black turbo with gray interior. Stunning to say the least. What few realize is that this was to have been an ALFA replacement for the Alfetta but the company did not want to shell out the Lira to pay for the royalty on the design nor the up front costs. The designer Giugiaro needed to pay off all the work and Isuzu needed a sports car and this was the result.

    The turbo I drove was a great deal of fun, fast and very easy to drive near the limit which for what it was, was pretty high. I do not know if it had the reliability but it felt a lot like a 325i that did not look like the box it came in. As for comfort there are few cars with as lovely an interior or as comfortable an interior. As beautiful as it is on the outside the inside is just as good if not better.

    Save this one and treat it well. If I was not right in the middle of a restoration I would jump on this one for myself.

    Like 0
  12. Paul B

    I was unaware of the Alfa connection. That’s an interesting story. I recall admiring these from afar when they came out, and now I know why they were so unexpectedly attractive for a Japanese car.

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  13. Mark

    I had a late-model turbo in red with the Lotus suspension. Unfortunately, it had not been well-maintained by its prior owner, so my driving experience differed from the others mentioned. Instead of shelling out the thousands needed to make it right, I sold it at a loss and moved on. Interestingly, I can now see the Alfa influence in the later model 156, which is seen here in Panama, but never sold in the US:

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  14. Paul

    I bought an 88 turbo with lotus tuned suspension. Loved it. Lived in up state NY at the time, lots of nice twisty roads.

    Paint was awful on it. Pealed off the mirrors in big chunks. The turbo eclipse had a lot more power at the same time.

    I sold it after a year in Minnesota. Even with snow tires, it wasn’t good in winter.

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  15. Bryan

    I was going to buy a brand new 1986 Impulse in Kennewick, Washington when I was 22. The car was silver , gorgeous, and retailed for $10,500. Unfortunately, this car didn’t have air conditioning, which killed the deal for me in hot eastern washington. It was too expensive for me at the time anyway, with or without A/C.

    These cars were beautiful at the time, and I think they still hold up very well. I was really impressed with the single wiper blade…like a Ferrari! The dash was ultra modern then.

    Don’t forget this cars humble origins……same platform as the Chevette (hard to believe)! GM owned a chunk of Isuzu and Lotus during this car’s production, so not surprising the Lotus suspension appeared later on.

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  16. Richard Brown

    A/C was standard on the Impulse… The only option was automatic, and floor mats.

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  17. Bryan

    About the A/C… was not standard in 86 (non-turbo) Impulse models, regardless of what you find on the internet. It was not a figment of my imagination…..the sale literally fell through because it DID’NT have air conditioning.

    The Isuzu salesman reminded me that A/C was hardly needed in the winter (when I was looking to buy), and said not to worry about it until summer….when the dealer could add the A/C for a mere $800. I didn’t bite.

    I was contacted months later by the dealership….they offered to sell me the car with dealer installed A/C at the same $10,500 price. I declined again…still too expensive for me.

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  18. Richard Brown

    That is really strange! I bought a new 1985.5 Turbo Impulse in 1986. And have found my original 1986 manufacture brochure, and it lists A/C as standard in both Turbo and non Turbo. I wish I could find a way to scan the manufacture brochure. I wonder why your selling dealer had the odd car? Here is a picture of my then new Impulse Turbo.

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    • Bryan

      I like your old Impulse Richard….nice car and probably quite rare in black!

      I can’t explain the A/C issue either, other than maybe it was an option on the entry level non-turbos. Also, this small (and new) dealership had no other new Impulses on the lot…only pickups and I-Marks. Kennewick, Washington is very hot and dry in the summer…hard to sell a non-A/C car there, even in 1986!

      Like 0
  19. Bob C.

    Anyone Remember the funny commercial with Joe Isuzu racing a bullet and catching it with his teeth?

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    • Richard Brown

      Yes! I bought one new in 1986, a Turbo with the 5 speed. When I went into have mine serviced in 1988, they had a video with that commercial running, with a short movie about the Impulse. The salesman gave me the video tape, I still have it and watch it sometimes.

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  20. YTushka

    I bought an ’85 Isuzu Impulse in ’89. When I bought it, it had 64K miles on it. It drove like a dream and even kept up with my father’s 85′ Firebird! At 125 MPH (yes, much faster than the specs say it will go), it did not get over 3500 RPMs and was smooth, smooth, smooth! I got way too many tickets because it almost drove itself. It got 35 MPG everywhere I went, and I took it all over the country. I am a very petite woman, and all the adjustments available in the interior made this car comfortable for any driver. My Impulse was the 1.9L, 5-speed, non-turbo, non-Lotus, but it took tight curves at 85 MPH like it was on rails. Getting it sideways was easy enough too, due to its short wheel base. I had so many people offer to buy the car and even one offered to race me for it. Nope! I was not going to part with it. It was a gold-colored head turner. It met its demise on TX HWY 75 N when I was rear-ended by a guy trying to drink his morning coffee and merge into 65 MPH traffic in a blind construction zone. Quite possibly the BEST car I’ve ever owned, and I owned a lot of cars.

    Like 1
  21. edward mikula

    I also bought the Impulse when it first came out. I loved it!! Never had a problem. Wish I had kept it. Beautiful styling and the dashboard was futuristic!

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  22. Yvette Hunt

    I love love love this car! I had an ’85 in the same configuration as this one, and it was lightning fast without the turbo but with the amazing 5-speed transmission. My father had a v8 Firebird of the same year, and my little gem would keep up with his massive muscle car – 120mph without getting over 3K RPM! The only reason I sold it was because I was rear-ended and it knocked the undercarriage silly and caused backflow into the engine. I was also 8 months pregnant with out first child and needed something that would fit a car seat. Otherwise, I would probably still have that car along with my ’65 Beetle, ’81 Camaro Z28, and ’84 T-bird 5-spd Turbo coupe.

    Like 0

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