Isuzu Como

Car of the Day #52: 1991 Isuzu Como

Isuzu Como
Keep reading to hear this engine… • via Isuzu

Ah, to dream. Let us.

British designer Simon Cox should be known to at least one Isuzu VehiCROSS-owning reader out there, who I'm sure sent Cox a box of chocolate for his work on the crazy three-door SUV.

It was one of the first production cars he worked on, and was lifted straight from the concept that auto show visitors loved. Before the VehiCROSS, however, Cox designed a number of interesting concepts for Isuzu—but none as awesome as the Como.

I've decided that it's also the Most Unlikely Isuzu Concept of the 1990s (as if I could award such things), for reasons you’ll soon understand.

Is the Isuzu Como a rare beauty or expensive no-no? • via Isuzu

The '80s and '90s were a strange time for Isuzu, as it saw its share of the passenger car market shrink precipitously even though its products were generally quite good. In Japan, it was sort of a sportier, youth-oriented brand, like if Scion had the gall to make a rear-drive, turbocharged hatchback…designed by Giugiaro. (I’m talking about the Isuzu Piazza.)

As a smaller company, it tried to find volume for its products by engaging in a dangerous badge engineering dance: let another automaker build the car, add Isuzu badges, job done!

Go back and check out the company's road car timeline, and you'll see that it stopped making its own passenger cars by 1995—choosing instead to rebadge other makes' cars as Isuzu models. (For more context, consider that Isuzu was also particularly hard hit by Japan's asset price bubble crash in the early 1990s.)

While this was all shaking out, the company knew it still had a successful truck, SUV, and commercial line to work with, and decided to focus on those aspects of the range — creating a truck-first company. Eat your heart out, RAM & Jeep.

In public, the Isuzu became known as the "Sport Utility Specialists," and, for a while, this paid off.

There was a transition period, however, where the company had no clue what it was doing. It was throwing things at the wall and hoping they'd stick—and it should be thankful that Cox was on board to take full advantage of this by spending company money on an outrageously complex vehicle, then painting it an anonymous shade of pearl white.

F1 test: skip to just before the 2 min mark

Forget the car/truck thing for a second. Did you know that Isuzu spent hard-earned research and development budget on a Formula 1 engine? For Lotus? That was used in a single test in 1991 year and then ditched? Diversion over.

The ISUZU 'Sport' 3.5-litre V12 engine • source unknown

Well, well, well, it turned up later in the year inside today's car, the "grand sports-utility vehicle" Isuzu Como concept at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show. Named after Lake Como, the picturesque Italian playground that's home to George Clooney, the concept ute promised to do it all.

What better illustration of a company at the car-truck crossroads than a car-based truck with a 3.5-litre 740-horsepower Formula 1 V12 mounted in the middle…and 2+2 seating…accessed by scissor ("Lambo") doors?

Deep teal interior? Power retractable rear tailgate?

No? Not interested?

Well f*** you too…is what Isuzu should have said and built 10 of them in order to forever live rent free in the minds of automotive otaku everywhere.

Sadly, the Isuzu concept was quickly forgotten about, and only traces of it can be found online. The engine is still talked about in Formula 1 circles, which is where I learned that the Lotus test driver tasked with putting the Isuzu V12 through its paces was the future two-time World Champion Mika Häkkinen.

Do you miss this era of 1990s showstoppers, or are you simply relieved automakers no longer spend millions to get our hopes up with wild concept cars?


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam L., Wiley H.