Rare 80s Hot Hatch: 1988 Isuzu Impulse

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There comes a point in every car enthusiast’s life where you have to draw a line. It’s surprisingly easy to acquire cars once people know you like a certain type of vehicle, and given my odd preference for old Isuzu Troopers, it’s only natural that some folks think I’d love to pair the one I have with the most notable non-truck Isuzu ever made. This particular Impulse belongs to an enthusiast as I’ve seen the car in one of the predominant Isuzu Facebook groups, and it looks like a solid driver with lots of recent maintenance performed. The asking price is $5,500 and it’s located in Cave Spring, Virginia.

The Impulse is one of the bigger curiosities of the 1980s. This was a Giugiaro-designed, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe that came with optional turbocharged power and a Lotus-tuned suspension. Now, this might be the sort of thing you’d expect from a seasoned performance car builder, not a company known almost exclusively for selling trucks, 4x4s, and the occasional econobox. The Impulse was a bit of an answer to a question no one asked, which may explain why it wasn’t a hot seller when new. But it certainly worked its way into the hearts of a certain group of enthusiasts from the 1980s, and cars like this one are truly a labor of love.

This Impulse is a naturally-aspirated example with the Lotus-tuned suspension. The standard engine was the 2.0 L SOHC inline-four, good for about 90 horsepower. Thankfully, this one has the standard 5-speed manual and not the optional Aisin automatic. The interior was like the Subaru XT6, a similar experiment in obscure coupe-building. The Impulse and the XT6 both the “floating” controls that resided on stalks jutting off of the steering column as opposed to being spread across the dash. The steering wheel is familiar to me, as it’s almost identical to the one found in my 1989 Trooper RS.

Now, despite the obscurity of the Impulse, parts availability isn’t as bad as you might think; still, there’s inevitably some trim piece or other surprisingly standard mechanical component that will have long since gone out of production on a car like this. Fortunately, the seller has thrown a bunch of new parts at this Impulse which is apparently only up for sale due to failing inspection because of a faulty turn signal. The  list of recent work includes shocks, brakes, ball joints, power steering rack, shifter boot, clutch cylinders, accessory belts, and more. Tempted? Find it here on craigslist, and thanks to Barn Finds reader Tony Primo for the find.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Big C

    I never had the Impulse to buy an Izuzu.

    Like 11
    • Jack M.


      Like 6
    • RSK

      You didn’t miss much. I had a 1984 Impulse, replacing a 1979 Mazda RX-7. The Impulse was a nice looking car, but a non-performer as far as a driving experience.

      Like 0
  2. Brent

    Fun little car with the 5 speed and the Lotus handling package. I had a 1989 non turbo.

    Like 10
  3. Nevada1/2rack Nevada1/2rackMember

    Well priced, great handling, terrific packaging, good MPG, fun power to weight performance but overshadowed by the bigger car companies that depended on the “brand name only!” shopper and their ignorance therein.

    Like 9
    • bone

      And the fact that they rusted away fairly fast and couldn’t take much abuse before they blew up and the cost of repairs relegated them to the junkyards

      Like 0
      • Nevada1/2rack Nevada1/2rackMember

        Interesting! Must be a regional thing, as the ones people bought out our way ran until the parts weren’t available anymore, about 7-8 years after they quit selling them.
        See a few around here still.

        Like 1
  4. Gary

    I remember these when I was stationed in Japan as the Isuzu Piazza.

    Like 3
  5. Troy

    Didn’t these things have like 20 relays in the engine bay and it only takes one to go bad so it doesn’t run

    Like 4
  6. Nelson C

    Kind of the other end of the dream car spectrum. The Ital-Design Ace of Clubs concept became reality. Isuzu made a fun and affordable car for those wanting something unique. Hatchbacks were still all the rage. Somehow a CUV/SUV will never be quite the same.

    Like 6
  7. Joel Collins

    I always thought this design was a rejected Scirocco concept penned by G. Guigaro/

    Like 1
    • SubGothius

      Not exactly. From what I gather, Giugiaro never had a chance to even propose designing a successor to his Mk1 Scirocco before finding out VW already had their own Mk2 Scirocco design in development.

      We can only speculate he might have started initial sketches of this design privately thinking of it as a possible successor to his Mk1 Scirocco, then turned it into an Isuzu project when they commissioned him to design a successor to his Isuzu 117 Coupe design. It’s clear his final Asso di Fiori (“Ace of Clubs”) concept car was meant to be on Isuzu’s GM T-platform from the outset, which then went into production as the Piazza/Impulse with minimal changes.

      That said, this was a significant design bellwether for Giugiaro and the industry overall in what he called his “fifth Copernican revolution”, incorporating multiple innovations of his into a single, production-ready car for the first time, which ultimately became common practice across the industry, notably: flush-mounted windows, monolithic clamshell doors and rear hatch fully integrated with the body contours, drip rails eliminated and replaced with gutters molded into the door gasket concealed by the upper door frame.

      Like 6
  8. Bob C.

    Everytime I see one of these, I think of the 1980s Joe Isuzu commercial when he races a speeding bullet.

    Like 13
    • FireAxeGXP

      I too recall Joe Isuzu with great fondness. He’s lying. That’s a lie. Everything he says is a lie. But then Isuzu ran that great ad with one of these chasing down some krautmobile on zie autobahn. And the two German dudes look at each other as Joe blows past them.and the driver says I HATE Joe Isuzu.

      Like 9
    • Rumpledoorskin

      Running over the slalom cones, then caught the bullet in his teeth. It was hilarious.

      Like 6
  9. JDC

    A very reasonable price, and you’d have something very unique. Of course, finding parts might be an issue. I really hate the stripes, but at this price, who’s to complain?

    Like 4
    • Rick Shaw

      Haven’t seen one of these in, forever. Not fan of the stripes either. It will be an izzuisue to find parts.

      Like 1
  10. AzzuraMember

    I owned a Geo Storm, one of the best cars I ever owned. Quick, great MPG, slick looking and comfortable. This Isuzu seems like a good deal.

    Like 4
    • nlpnt

      That was basically the next generation of these. Styling by GM Design instead of Giugiaro (hence mini-Camaro looks, and the Geo-branded model was the “pure” version of it), FWD and wider availability with these.

      Like 0
  11. SubGothius

    Speaking of the Lotus suspension, there were two versions of that.

    Initially, it was only an optional suspension tuning package (basically just a change of shocks, bushings and anti-roll bar) that Isuzu offered alongside an even stiffer option by Irmscher, but both were still based on the standard GM T-platform (Chevette) suspension geometry.

    Then for the final two model years ’88-89, Lotus significantly re-engineered the standard Piazza/Impulse suspension geometry entirely, most notably replacing the original 3-link rear end with a more precise 5-link setup designed to reduce dive/squat and wheel hop.

    Like 5
    • TheGasHole

      Very interesting! 1988 was almost the same year that the Pontiac Fiero got Lotus suspension. I guess Lotus must have been branching out in that time.

      Like 0
  12. Wademo

    Wow Jeff, no disrespect intended, but if you want to pair this with a Trooper, you are a real glutten for punishment. I was a service tech at a dealership that sold Isuzus, along with a few other lines. Awful and good looking at the same time. The next generation Geo Storm/Impulse was a much better car. Even the service manuals for these cars were terrible. Good luck to the next owner, he/she is going to need it!

    Like 3
  13. angliagt angliagtMember

    Hey – that’s on our local craigslist!
    But I’ve never seen it here.

    Like 0
    • Beyfon

      Hey angliagt – we’re neighbors (I’m just down the road in Blacksburg) and I have never seen an Anglia around here either..!
      I did see this ad as I was looking for a fun stick shift car for my son but ended up buying a super nice Miata instead. I think I came out better.
      As for this car, could one really learn not to hate those motorized seat belts ?

      Like 4
      • Motorcityman

        I’m in GAFFNEY!

        Like 0
      • angliagt angliagtMember

        I have a Miata too! Sounds like we should get together
        sometime & hit the backroads.
        We were up to Mountain Lake a week ago.

        Like 0
  14. PRA4SNW PRA4SNWMember

    Coicidentally, I submitted one of these to BF a few days bacj, hoping that it would get featured so that we could talk about these.

    Definitely a unicorn these days because they were never a popular choice – just too many other sporty 2 door choices for Izusu to actively compete and be successful.

    However, I did have a friend who had one of these, and the more economically-minded Mitsu Cordia. Both were fun cars that could be had for a good price.

    Like 3
  15. TheGasHole

    In high school (early 90s) in Montana I had one friend with an Impulse, one with an XT (technically he had two as a totalled the first one), my mom had a Geo Storm and my dad had an Eagle Talon TSi. I was the oddball: I had a Chevy Malibu.

    Like 1
  16. jubrele

    When talking about Giugiaro designs of this era and including the MK1 Scirocco and Isuzu Impulse as breaking new design ground, one must also recall the Alfa Romeo GTV6, which paired Giugiaro’s innovation (De Dion suspension, transaxle) and design language with the amazing sound of the BUSSO 6 cylinder engine.

    Like 1
  17. nlpnt

    At launch it was a Chevette in an Italian suit. More cubes, turbocharging and Handling by Lotus was GM-style iteration where by the end of the run it was finally what it should’ve been all along.

    It was always a rare car in much of the country, a large percentage of Isuzu’s VRA car quota was absorbed by the Chevrolet Spectrum so dealerships were few and far between (eventually they expanded a bit via pickup-and-Trooper-only stores).

    Like 0
  18. peter

    Sorry to nit-pick, but this isn’t a hot-hatch, it’s a sports coupe.
    Even though it does have a hatchback.

    A hot-hatch is a faster/sporty version of an ordinary family hatchback.

    A VW GTI is a sporty version of a VW Golf, and is a hot-hatch.
    A Porsche 944 has a hatchback, but is not a hot-hatch.

    Like 0

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