Rad Project: 1986 Isuzu Impulse Turbo

We all have a car or truck in our past that still calls to us, despite knowing it’s likely a terrible idea (I’m sure there are a few members of the fairer sex that fall into that same category.) For me, the Isuzu Impulse is a car that continues to have a weird hold on my heart, which is probably why I bought its more sensible cousin over the summer, a Volkswagen Scirocco 16V. The Impulse shown here is much like the one I saw languishing behind a garage in my hometown as a child, turbocharged and all, just with more rust. This 1986 Impulse has seen better days for sure, but isn’t dead yet – and it’s listed here on Facebook Marketplace for $1,000 in Chester, Vermont.

Everything about it was cool to a 15 year old on the verge of getting his license, from the flip-up headlights to the rear hatch spoiler to the turbocharged powerplant under the hood. The clamshell hood only added to the excitement, along with the flat-face wheels that are perfectly suited to the era in which the Impulse was made. The problem was they weren’t terribly reliable, at least not enough to justify as competition for a Honda Civic in naturally aspirated form, and many journalists felt the other hot hatches of the era were simply better cars when stacked up against the high-zoot turbo models. That said, they were far sexier than many of its peers, a feature that makes them a standout today.

Sadly, many of them ended up in the same shape this one is in, if not taken off the road by rust than certainly by neglect. Compounding these obstacles is the fact that parts support is non-existent, and tuning one for better performance likely requires the owner to be competent at fabrication and junkyard experimentation. That said, clean, stock examples are getting the attention of the Radwood crowd, and spectators tend to stop and stare when a restored or preserved car comes rolling down the road. I’d say this one could be worth fixing, but only if the price drops by half.

It will always be a passion project, as values aren’t high enough (and likely never will be) to make a return of any level of bringing an Impulse back from the dead. Still, given this one looks like it’s parked next to a derby car, I hope it finds its way into the hands of an owner that will restore it or at least use it as a treasure trove of spare parts for one that’s less rusty. The seller notes the turbocharged engine still turns freely by hand, and if the interior isn’t a total dumpster fire, I’d say you could justify saving it with a purchase price of $500 or less. There’s likely less than 100 of these still on the road, so it will be a crowd pleaser wherever it goes.


  1. alphasud Member

    I agree these are good looking cars and like you said parts are practically non existent over here. I didn’t look but maybe sources could be found in Japan but that gets rather spendy. I kind of lumped this model with the Fuego Turbo. Again parts availability in America would be a challenge.
    Jeff like you I’m fixing up a recently acquired 16V Scirocco and body parts have all but dried up. Did the Impulse get the handling by Lotus or was that the I-Mark?

    • mike kalka

      Both the Impulse and I-Mark got Lotus love, starting in the 1988 model year.

  2. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    My second grade teacher had a brand new one of these. A silver 1987 and that car left a mark on me. We never see these anymore, but it was one sharp car. As a 7 year old kid I compared it to the Nissan Pulsar which was pretty cool in its day also.
    As far as the suspension question, as I remember it is the I-Mark that shared Lotus components.

  3. Moncton(was Winnipeg)carnut Member

    There was at least one year of the Impulse that featured “Handling by Lotus” badges. I think it was when they no longer had the eyelids because I recall thinking you cannot get both those features on the same car.

    Like 1
    • SubGothius

      True, ’88-89 were the “Handling by Lotus” years, which came with other revisions including simpler taillamps and compact sealed-beam headlamps that eliminated the eyelids.

      I’m not sure how readily, if at all, the Lotus bits could be transplanted to earlier cars, as it wasn’t just a springs-shocks-bushings suspension tune; they completely re-engineered the rear end geometry from a 3-bar to a 5-bar setup to eliminate spring wind-up and axle tramp. Might be easier to retrofit the earlier-style headlamps, hood and eyelids to a later car.

      Anyway, the rust on this example makes it a parts car at best, but a later Lotus-blessed car with a sound body but a bad engine could be well worth reviving with an engine swap to something with better power, reliability and parts availability, and fortunately the RWD live-axle setup would make that relatively straightforward.

      Like 2
  4. Fahrvergnugen Fahrvergnugen Member

    Paging Joe Isuzu. Your car has been located. Please remove it from where you parked it.

    Like 5
    • Bob C.

      I remember that commercial when he out ran a speeding bullet and caught it with his teeth.

  5. Mitchell Gildea Member

    Substitute “rad” for “rusty” and the description of this car will be spot on

    Like 3
  6. Bob B

    “Faster than a speeding…. well you know!”


  7. jf85tr88

    I can’t think this thing has spent its entire life in Vermont. I remember seeing one or two in New York in the last 90’s/early 2000’s. The rust worm got this era of cars really bad around here.

    Like 1
  8. Ben T.Spanner

    I worked with a guy who’s friend sold these from a used car lot/gas station “dealership.” They had mandatory rust proofing, and put tape on the rear axle vent. They neglected to remove the tape, and on the first long drive, a rear axle seal blew.
    He got another one several months later, and they repeated their mistake.
    He had a steep driveway and had problems in the winter. I doubt he knew these were rear wheel drive.

  9. Mike Hawke

    Am I the only one who dislikes the line “I’m testing the waters to see what people want to offer” that’s in his ad? It’s right up there with “ran when parked” and “a/c needs a charge.”

    I had one of these in the 90s. It was OK. Just remember any repairs seemed overly complicated with the need to remove a lot of hardware to fix something. However, there can’t be more than a few dozen of these left running in the US. I prefer the Scirocco 16V which I’m also restoring at this time.

    Like 2
  10. Dusty

    I have a 1988 impulse I’ve had since I was 18. Still runs. I love these cars

    Like 5
  11. ChunkE

    In had an 86 turbo in silver. Absolutely loved that car. Had head head gasket problems and let my dad use it as a trade in. Regret it to the day. Had the same rims as this one. I would snatch a decent one up today if I could find one.

Leave a Reply to Ben T.Spanner Cancel reply

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.


Keep me in the conversation via email. Or subscribe without commenting.