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Junkyard Trooper, Part 3: She Runs!

I’m going to get in front of some potential disappointment right now and tell you this: I don’t have a video of my junkyard Trooper running. Blame it on the Georgia heat, but I neglected to document the truck firing up when I was visiting my in-laws this past Memorial Day weekend, and I returned to shoot some video when the shop was closed. Apologies, but the good news is, after ten years sitting in a mess of pricker bushes and brambles (and bees’ nests), the 1986 junkyard find Isuzu Trooper runs. It just doesn’t stop, at the moment.

As some of you might recall in my last installment about the Trooper, we determined that the original engine had been sitting idle for too many years to justify resuscitating. The 2.3L four-cylinder was locked up solid, and this is an engine that had a tendency to have headgasket issues on a good day. Although I normally prefer to rebuild the original mills, this project really fell outside the justifiable lines of going down that expensive rabbit hole, especially given the current values of an old Japanese SUV like this. Still, square body trucks are on the rise value-wise, so I feel good about the path we chose of sourcing a good replacement engine (but I’ll hold onto the original for a future rebuild).

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without having a trusted shop to do the work. I live in Rhode Island and visit Georgia roughly every other month, so a local mechanic was a must. I found a place called Mr. Fix It in Blue Ridge, and they’ve been awesome partners so far. They handled the engine swap, which included refreshing the replacement mill with a new water pump, thermostat, timing belt and tensioner, oil pan gasket, new hoses, and more, along with the nasty work of draining the gas tank and radiator. They also fixed a busted door hinge on the passenger side, and are currently tackling the non-existent brakes.

What’s next? Well, I hope to have a Trooper I trust when I return sometime this summer, at least to the point that I can drive it down some gravel roads and dirt paths without too much fear of leaving it behind. I suspect the suspension will need a full overhaul, but that’s where it starts to get fun on old trucks like this. I’ve already scoped out Old Man Emu and determined they have endless ways to take my money, so hopefully, the junkyard Trooper proves it’s reliable enough to justify such an expense. Check out the latest Barn Finds video above to hear more of my thoughts on this “free” Trooper pulled from a Georgia junkyard.

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  1. Mike leyshon

    “He’s lying” as the mid 80’s Joe Isuzu commercial goes… Reliability was solid on all of the Isuzu line in this era. Typically rust on everything was the issue…Just the same as foriegn/domestic makes alike at this time.

    Trooper was a pretty capable 4×4.
    Don’t forget the 70’s to 90s

    GM/Chevy = Isuzu
    Ford = Mazda
    Chrysler = Mitsubishi

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  2. Gregg Manges

    Had an 86 for 18 years drove it everyday for12 years water pump two timing belts valve job at 122,500 and heater core leak. 200,000 miles frame rusted here in Pa. I took it off the road put on a Fisher snow plow and plowed for 6 years sat all summer. The air conditioning was ice cold
    and never charged the whole time I owned. Loved it but rusted frame was an issue.

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  3. Mountainwoodie

    Jeff…I admire your spirit in taking on the junkyards…….but you’re either a vehicular masochist or have unlimited funds available to spend on resurrecting these left-for-deads.

    I’d be interested in your discussing your philosophy in choosing this or the Cosworth ( though I can understand the Cosworth) to resurrect. Also I’d love to see a walk around of the 320 in your last Cosworth video.

    Just curious.

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    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Not unlimited funds, but the cost of free makes it easier to swallow the ensuing bills….

      I chose one of these because a.) they are extinct in the northeast; b.) square body SUVs are gaining momentum; c.) I need a trail rig in Georgia; and d.) content for YouTube. I couldn’t much do that if I just bought someone else’s completely redone rig. ;-)

      It doesn’t make sense. But that’s OK with me.

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  4. mike leyshon

    Have some honest insight on these. Not claiming to an expert by any means. The neighbor across the street bought a “Trooper” new in ’84. My dad and others passed friendly jokes about Toms new “I-ZOO-ZOO” . I’m sure Tom was snickering during those nasty winter days of the mid – ’80’s in Ohio. Dad trying to start the Volare as I helped push others out of the snow. Dad & Tom are grumpy old guys together today !

    As a young man, I was parts delivery driver at the local Dodge dealer. We had our decorated new 1993/4 Ram trucks to deliver parts and promote the brand. I liked them a lot, but they came with their glitches. One of the two were often out of service and we had to satisfy our demands. Bought an ’86 Isuzu “Pup” from our used car dept. as a back up…NO A/C (4cyl, carbed, 5 speed) , so I had to drive it. 60,000 miles over a spring/summer of abuse. Oil changed a few times. It was at 300k when wholesaled off.

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  5. David Ulrey

    Way to go Jeff! I’ve never owned one personally but sure have had a lot of fun in one. Although not my absolute first choice if I were car shopping, I sure as heck wouldn’t turn down one at the right price either. I really love it when someone revives what many would consider an underdog. They did come with the right stuff to do a respectable job for what they were intended for. I got a 93 Dakota Sport with a 3.9 V6 and a 5spd that ran great and had been put up wet a few times. Got it very reasonable and have felt good about every penny I’ve dropped in it and have enjoyed my many little trips to the junkyard getting things to make it better. You go boy! Long live the underdogs and the people that maintain them or revive them because it just feels good to do so!!!!

    Like 1
  6. M vickery

    I’ve always wondered, when these first came out they were tagged “Trooper II” when, at least in the U.S., there was no Trooper. Does anyone know why that was?

    Like 1

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