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1970 Isuzu Bellett MX1600II motor show photo 
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At the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show Isuzu displayed the first of three concept vehicles styled by Tom Tjaarda of Ghia. Known previously for the 1965 Fiat 124 Spider and a host of other concepts during his time at Pininfaria, and known later for the aggressive DeTomaso Pantera, Tjaarda's Isuzu show car had striking but realistic styling and looked ready for production.

Mechanically the 1600cc DOHC twin-carb engine was lifted straight from the Isuzu Bellett GT-R, however it was mid-mounted for the MX1600.

Following on from the 1969 Bellett MX1600 concept car shown at the Tokyo Motor Show was the update version, the Bellett MX1600II of 1970.

The MX1600II was notable in that the revised front-end styling did, in some ways, reflect the twin-headlight front of the regular production Bellett, although at the expense of looking less resolved around the front end than the original design.

These photos bought from eBay appear to be original photographs from the era taken at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1970.

Of interest in the background of the first photo is an Isuzu Florian and what could be the Isuzu Bellett R6 Spider race car (to be confirmed), while in the background of the second photo is an early Toyota Hiace and some serious Japanese spectators.

The third Tom Tjaarda-styled show car was the Bellett Sportswagon of 1971, but that's a different story....

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1970 Isuzu Bellett MX1600II motor show photo - photo 01.jpg
1970 Isuzu Bellett MX1600II motor show photo - photo 01.jpg [ 51.21 KiB | Viewed 22495 times ]


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1970 Isuzu Bellett MX1600II motor show photo - photo 02.jpg
1970 Isuzu Bellett MX1600II motor show photo - photo 02.jpg [ 65.15 KiB | Viewed 22494 times ]


Sat Nov 01, 2008 6:14 am
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Interestingly, a member of another forum (117coupe of the Isuzone.org forum) stated in a post in 2005 the following:

"There were two models, the MX1600-I with pop up headlights was released in 1969 and the MX1600-II with quad round headlights was released in 1970.

The MX1600-I was designed at Ghia design by Tom Tjaarda who replaced Giugiaro when he left Ghia in 1967. Tjaarda also designed the mid-engined DeTomaso Pantera. The MX1600-I was the first Japanese mid-engined sports car, it had an aluminium body and only 5 were ever made.

The MX1600-II was designed by Isuzu and only 3 were made. Both models used the G161W DOHC motor from the Isuzu Bellet GTR."

I don't know if he's correct, but he's from Japan (or at least in Japan) so he may know something we don't, especially if he can actually speak and read Japanese.

Anyway, I ofted wondered how many were built as I have seen them in more than two colours, so unless one of the was resprayed, I figured that they'd be more than 1 of each. So this guy may be correct!

Cheers,

Dave

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Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:43 am
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Makes you wonder where we would be today if they were produced and retailed, ISUZU may be still making cars today!!
How many years ahead was their thinking??

Absolutely BRILLIANT.

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Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:39 am
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Just amazing..... How do you come up with this ...StUfF...LOL!! My two very young sons have some history on their bedroom doors, courtesy of youself. They have collaged it into some amazing visuals of the "Isz's".

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Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:10 pm
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1968GT wrote:
Makes you wonder where we would be today if they were produced and retailed...


The written descriptions of the car say that it was a wedge shaped coupe body on top of a R6 spider/coupe frame. To a car nut, that sounds great. But if it were sold to the public as a car to be driven on the street, that would be a problem.

Race cars are built to last just as long as the race, and intended to be torn down and rebuilt between races. The longest events would be 24 and 12 hour endurance races. R6s, just like every other car of that time, retired from races with mechanical problems. They weren't indestructible. And the 1.6 DOHC engines were tuned out for as much power as it could make with a 12 or 24 hour life expectancy would need a rebuild at least once a week if used in a street car. Suspension travel for a circuit car is extremely short and not meant for bumps and pot holes.

If the MX1600 were put out on the street built for the performance level of the R6, it would be a maintenance and durability nightmare easily eclipsing the Jaguar V12 engines of old.

If they detuned it, used the 130 HP GTR stock trim engine, and beefed everything up for road use, it would be as heavy as a GTR, and have the power output of a four cylinder engine. It would be reliable, but Pantera would be using the same shape with a V8 engine only a few years later. At best, it might have been the template for the Delorean. At worst, it would have repeated the Piazza story only two decades earlier. The public would see such a beautiful design and expect super car performance.

We might be better off that they did not put the car into production, it could have been a reputation destroyer. Isuzu always managed to squeeze more power out of a small engine than most others could, and with high reliability in street tune. But the lack of big displacement engines with gobs of horsepower makes it difficult to get into the super car business.


Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:46 pm
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I don't think anybody mentioned that the MX1600 had to have R6-levels of performance and handling; the vehicles are two very different tools and were (or would have been) used for two very different applications. Clearly if a production MX1600 had been built, it would have to have been built out of a pressed monocoque chassis rather than a Bellett R6 spaceframe, or if it was based on a race car frame, several cruicial modifications would have to have been made in order for it to be production-ready.

I'm sure Isuzu would have put the MX1600 on the R6 frame as they had jigs for them and could build them fairly easily (well, for a hand-built race-car space frame) plus it would have meant that their concept cars were fully working and drive-able machines, rather than simply showpieces.

Sure the MX1600 may have repeated the Piazza story in reverse (ie before the Piazza) but only if the handling was as faulty as the Piazza's! Also while the 1600cc was fairly tune-able, there would have been nothing stopping Isuzu from fitting an 1800 or 2000cc over the course of a 10-year model cycle.

Toyota proved that an affordable mid-engined, 4 cylinder sports car could be sustainable in their three generations of MR2-model, so a production-ready MX1600 appearing in 1971 or 1972 could probably have been a good thing during the 1970s and with some engine upgrades and some updated bumpers it could have lasted until the 1980s with no problems.

However if that car did occur, I have no doubt the 117 coupe would not have lasted until 1979 as there would have been some cannibalisation of sales, especially if there was no export market. Building two sports coupes would have been pretty hard work in the sales department, not to mention the sedan-based Bellett GT and Gemini coupes as well!

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Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:47 am
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dave wrote:
the MX1600 may have repeated the Piazza story in reverse (ie before the Piazza) but only if the handling was as faulty as the Piazza's!


That criticism must have been unique to the Australian market. The comments in the rest of the world seemed more centered around the lack of a V6 engine to match the looks of the vehicle. One of the more notable comments was something like "designer jeans looks without the engine power to back them up".

Having logged almost two hundred thousand miles in a Piazza, I can comment that I have not found another vehicle with comparable road holding and high speed stability. I've run 12+ hours straight at 90-100 MPH. I've run it up to its 143 MPH terminal speed. More than a few white knuckled drivers of higher horsepower cars have given up chasing it on mountain roads. The car handles several times better than the power level the engine is capable of pushing.

But the shape of the MX1600 puts it clearly as an exotic car which an MR2 is not. The Pantera was introduced in 1971 with a 330 HP, 380 lb-ft of torque, 5.8 liter, V8, and nearly identical appearance to the MX1600. 5.5 seconds to 60 MPH. 159 MPH top speed. That engine power level is well above anything ever achieved by the engines found in the 117 Coupes or even the Piazza which had ten additional years of development. A four cylinder "Pantera Lite" like the MX1600 could not possibly have received a positive review in the shadow of such an over achieving twin.

If you have details on the production specs for the MX1600, please post them. My comments were based on what has been written about the cars that were built, not on what might have been changed for a production model which was never built.


Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:02 am
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JT191 wrote:

If you have details on the production specs for the MX1600, please post them. My comments were based on what has been written about the cars that were built, not on what might have been changed for a production model which was never built.


You know full well I don't have these. You were speculating that they'd be a hard thing to sell if they were built on an R6 chassis, which the show cars were built on. I was speculating that if there was a proper mass-produced production version, it probably would have been based on a conventional monocoque chassis and that the ride and NVH issues of basing it on a race car chassis would not have existed.

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Fri Mar 27, 2009 2:28 pm
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dave wrote:
Clearly if a production MX1600 had been built, it would have to have been built out of a pressed monocoque chassis rather than a Bellett R6 spaceframe


dave wrote:
JT191 wrote:
If you have details on the production specs for the MX1600, please post them. My comments were based on what has been written about the cars that were built, not on what might have been changed for a production model which was never built.


You know full well I don't have these. You were speculating that they'd be a hard thing to sell if they were built on an R6 chassis, which the show cars were built on. I was speculating that if there was a proper mass-produced production version, it probably would have been based on a conventional monocoque chassis and that the ride and NVH issues of basing it on a race car chassis would not have existed.


It didn't read as speculation, more like you had information that the rest of us did not.

One of the things that seemed to have been a central and important aspect of the MX1600, was that it was portrayed as a road going version of a R6. That would imply the same frame and similar performance capabilities.


Regarding the comment about an affordable mid engined sports car:
Porsche 911: 1963 to 1971 by Brian Long
He compares the cost of a 911 to the cost of a Bellett GT1600. He cites the price of the Bellett as 1,000,000 Yen, followed by the statement "hardly an inexpensive runabout". The author cites a 911 SC at 2,750,000 Yen.
The Neko Publishing book puts the Bellett GTR at 1,160,000 Yen. They put the 117 Coupe at 1,470,000 - 2,535,000 Yen.

The point being that in 1970, Isuzu cars were not inexpensive in the home market. In export markets, they benefited from favorable exchange rates. It wasn't until involvement in the GM world cars that the economy of numbers, high production quantities, and some compromising to keep costs down, that the company became involved in less expensive cars. But even then, the high trim level models, and non-world cars retained premium prices. The UK Piazza was pushing up into Porsche 928/944 prices by the time the distributor went into bankruptcy the second time.

A 1970 mid engined sports car from Isuzu, positioned above the 117 Coupe, would have been in the 3,000,000 Yen price range at best.
http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z255 ... ntera.aspx
"In 1971 a new Pantera sold for approximately $10,500, while a new Corvette sold for $5,496."
Several websites cite the 1971 exchange rate as 360 Yen per dollar, which puts a Pantera at 3,780,000 Yen, and a Corvette at 1,978,560 Yen.
A MX1600 would have been priced squarely in the middle of Porsche territory, one and a half times the cost of a Corvette, and for 20% more money, a Pantera could be bought. And this is assuming the lowest possible price above the top of the 117 Coupe price range. That price could easily be pushed up over 4,500,000 Yen based on the height of the step between the top 117 Coupe and whatever a MX1600 would justify above that mark.


Car companies build a lot of concept cars that never make it into production. Of the cars that do make it into production, many are very good cars, but relatively few gain legend status. The MX1600 is a beautiful car to dream about. But comparing it to it's Pantera twin, it just couldn't put out the power to hold up to the inevitable comparison, and even on the basis of price it comes up short.

Maybe some things are better left unbuilt.


Fri Mar 27, 2009 6:04 pm
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What both you and I are doing is speculating on a vehicle that did not make it into mass production and our opinions simply differ. I speculated (note: this is different to believing for certain) that the vehicle COULD have been a success in some sort of mass produced variant if based on a unique monocoque chassis rather than a race-prepared R6 chassis. Whether it would have been built in sustainable numbers, been a sales flop or, crucially, spelled the end of Isuzu is all theory and speculative guesswork from both of us.

Whether the car was built in massive numbers or small, exclusive number of units (eg like a De Tomaso) again is all speculation. When the fuel crisis hit in the 1970s, who is to say that an affordable (if it had been affordable given Isuzu's small economy of scale) 1600 to 2000cc mid-engine coupe with supercar looks and excellent performance for it's price and engine capacity (or capacaties should they have upgraded to a 2000cc) could not have been a success? With the late 1970s came the earliest vestiges of the turbo era, and a 1980-model 2000cc EFI DOHC turbo MX1600 (or would that have been an MX2000?) may have given an aging design a few more years. Lotus built the Esprit for four years in 2000cc non-turbo form, then followed it up with a turbo version as well in 1980. I don't know how their weights would have compared, but the MX1600 certainly looked smaller and more lithe than either the Esprit or the Pantera, which were both supercars in their styling and their wide-stance size.

You say that it would not have been a success and you may be right, especially given that the launch of a small sports car of any kind is fraught with danger and littered with failures whose manufacturers failed to adequately predict buyer tastes and expectations.

However if such a thing had been made on a purpose-built road-spec chassis and driveline with those excellent looks and good build quality, I can only theorize that even if it killed Isuzu and only a few hundred were made, they would be a revered classic now along side the Bellett GTR, Toyota 2000GT, Datsun 240Z/Fairlady, Mazda Cosmo L10A/L10B and the Prince Skyline GT-B sedan.

We can try to place bets on it, we can speculate on it and hell, we can even dream about it (and I did one night), but what we can't say for certain is that it would have been a bomb.

And I have to say, if they did build them, I wouldn't mind one, and I'm fairly certain that some other Bellett enthusiasts here wouldn't mind one either, but sadly it's not going to happen for any of us.

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Sat Mar 28, 2009 9:30 am
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We have the benefit of 20/20 hind site at looking at the market situation and other models of cars that did go into production, and how a production MX1600 would stack up. If we are brave enough to remove rose colored glasses and look.

“Lotus”? Isn’t that Brit-Speak for “The roof leaks, the electricals catch fire, and it has way too much body roll”?
But it draws an interesting, if not recurring, parallel. Both companies built cars that stressed handling over brute force. The Bellett could never have been such an adversary for the six cylinder Skylines without a serious handling advantage. Subsequent models always handled better than average in their class and some awards were received for horsepower output per liter of displacement for the four cylinder engines that never seemed to be above average in class for displacement. Lotus always leaned toward four cylinder engines, but resorted to V8 engines for the last half of the Esprit life.

But there are some important differences.
Lotus started out building race cars. Then sold race cars. Then evolved their race cars into road cars. Lotus always maintained a hand in several different high profile racing series. And by 1970, Lotus had built up a 25 year long racing history.
Isuzu built road cars. Isuzu’s involvement in racing was never really on the international stage. And they never really made their racing models widely available for sale. Isuzu would decide to go into a racing venue, and devote all their resources to that one effort, then succeed, and once seeing success, pull out believing they had proven their point and no longer needed to expend the effort or money.

The Esprit mentioned came into the market around 1975, at $12,000. It would have been a king’s ransom compared to the Pantera selling for less than $5,000 only a few years earlier. The S1 had a 160 HP 2 liter engine, backbone frame, fiberglass body, and a weight of 2,200 pounds. (That Pantera weighed 3,200 pounds). And the Esprit was never really accepted as a super car due to the lack of power compared to the V8, V10, and V12 offerings from the competition. The brand recognition and British origin got the car into a James Bond film, raising the model reputation, and increasing sales enough to keep the car from fading into obscurity and becoming a footnote of history. That saving hand from heaven would never have been extended to a production MX1600.
Guessing the weight of an MX1600, the Bellett GTR weighs 2,138-2,557 pounds and the 117 Coupes range from 2,535-3,053 pounds. That puts the MX1600 in the 2,400 pound range at best (and probably closer to 3,000 pounds, closer to the Pantera twin’s weight), with a street tuned GTR engine putting out 130 HP, compared to the Esprit’s 2,200 pounds and 160 HP. It would weigh more, have a smaller displacement engine, and a lower power output.

Regarding shape and weight, the wedge shaped cars that came into being at that time did not start out with a heavy appearance. The Esprit, Countach, and Pantera all started out as sharp wedge shapes that gave the appearance of being very light weight. Scoops and fender flares were added to the original designs for cooling and to cover ever widening tires. Weight and appearance can’t really be equated outside styling. The comments regarding an MX1600 having a lighter weight look than an Esprit ignore the Esprit’s construction being fiberglass on a backbone frame, versus the proposal of the MX1600 being unibody steel, which is heavier.

You can make assumptions that the engine offerings in a MX1600 would progress through 1.8 liter and 2.0 liter, as did the 117 Coupe. But Isuzu was not using turbo charging early enough to suggest that any 1970’s model would have been offered in turbocharged form. The first Isuzu production cars to be turbocharged would date from 1985, long after the suggested end of an MX1600 production life, and well after it could have been of benefit to lifting the model’s reputation. Also, the W series engines were never offered in turbocharged form. These were instead the 4Z and 4X series engines. And the 4ZC1 was the first computer controlled turbocharged engine, which indicates the 1985 timeline for introduction of turbocharged engines puts them on the cutting edge of technology already, and makes a mid or late 1970’s turbocharged engine that much less likely.

Yes, there were small displacement mid/rear engine vehicles. The Toyota MR2 was already mentioned, and the Pontiac Fiero is worth mentioning. Both also had Lotus influence and both followed ten or more years after the time of the MX1600. Both were inexpensive. Very inexpensive compared to the Bellett or the 117 Coupe. The MR2 was available in turbo and supercharged form, the Fiero with a very unpopular inline four or a V6. All were higher displacement than 1.6 liters. Both Toyota and Pontiac had high name recognition at the times these cars were introduced, and Isuzu still didn’t even a decade after the time of the MX1600.

Trying to draw a parallel to the current time period is difficult.
Let’s say a modern MX1600 would weigh 3,000 pounds or a little less, and have a 220 HP naturally aspirated four cylinder engine.
Pantera is not making cars now. Let’s say that a mid to low level exotic/super car, such as a Lamborghini Gallardo, is in the $200,000 range, and accept that as what a Pantera would sell for if it was available today. The price comparison to the Corvette can be made, and take the average price of a Corvette as $80,000. If an MX1600 is double the price of a Corvette and 20% less than the super car mark, that puts it at $160,000.
How many people would line up to buy a super car appearing, mid engine, four cylinder, 220 HP car, that cost $160,000?

I like fiction, science fiction, etc. But I simply can not suspend disbelief enough to come up with a happy ending for a production MX1600 story. The only conceivable way this could have turned out well would be if Isuzu adopted the Isuzu R7 Chevrolet V8 engine for the MX1600, immediately developed it into a DOHC engine, and evolved it into a parallel and independent engine line, similar to Cadillac’s current Northstar engine line. That would be the only possible path to put enough brute force into that body to make it a success. Pantera with it’s Ford V8 and an Isuzu MX with a Chevy derived V8, and the rivalry between Ford and Chevy might have pushed both to the forefront.


Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:39 pm
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The May 2009 issue of J's Tipo has an article about the MX1600. I can't read Kanji, but it has specs for the II prototype:
Dimensions: 4100 mm x 1650 mm x 1100 mm
Wheel Base: 2450 mm
Track F/R: 1380 mm/1380 mm
900 kg (1,984 pounds)
4 Cylinder DOHC
1584cc displacement
140 ps@6400 RPM
17.0kg-m@5000 RPM
5 speed manual transmission
Disk Brakes
Tire Size 185/70/14

One of the drawings shows a steel girder type frame complete with holes in the mid line of the structural members to lighten the weight. It does not appear to be unibody.

The engine output rating puts it above the production GTR, but substantially below the 161W racing engine, either for GTR or for the R6.


Wed Apr 01, 2009 12:54 am
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JT191 wrote:
The May 2009 issue of J's Tipo has an article about the MX1600.


Deciphering this one has been more difficult than usual. A comment heard more than once has been "I really don't like this person's writing style".

In addition, this is the second in a two part series. The first half is in the April 2009 issue of J's Tipo.

I'm reluctant to try to piece together the details for posting before at least finishing the rest of the May article, if not the April article. But the actual history seems to take a hard turn away from anything that any of the rest of us had deduced.


Fri Jun 12, 2009 3:02 am
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hahahahahaha awesome.

Looks like an educated guess is, at the end of the day, a guess.

It would be fantastic to find out what it says. Keep us posted!

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Fri Jun 12, 2009 7:06 am
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JT191 wrote:
JT191 wrote:
The May 2009 issue of J's Tipo has an article about the MX1600.


Deciphering this one has been more difficult than usual. A comment heard more than once has been "I really don't like this person's writing style".

In addition, this is the second in a two part series. The first half is in the April 2009 issue of J's Tipo.

I'm reluctant to try to piece together the details for posting before at least finishing the rest of the May article, if not the April article. But the actual history seems to take a hard turn away from anything that any of the rest of us had deduced.


I have unfortunately not made any more progress on the articles, but would like to post the two key points I had found which lend a lot to understanding the MX1600.

The car was to be a high speed interstate vehicle intended for use on the newly opened Tomei highway.

They obtained and reverse engineered a Lotus Europa as the main inspiration and pattern for development of the vehicle.


Sun May 01, 2011 6:58 pm
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What a great read,which all came about by the posting of these photo's.Can still hear my Dad's words,these little jap's are either ahead of their time or damm good at copying other peoples stuff and improving,with no disrespect intended,Gerry


Mon May 02, 2011 10:58 am
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Well they sure as hell did a fantastic job of fixing up the Harley before giving it back to the USA.

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Mon May 02, 2011 12:17 pm
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In Lahti, Finland, there was a Classic Motor Show this weekend. Our Club had there one Bellett 4d sedan, one GT, one 117 Coupe and my Impulse. Tom Tjaarda was there and when he visited to see our Isuzus, I asked him about the MX 1600-II. He said that he had nothing to do with that round headlamp facelift design and he does´t know why Isuzu Motors even made that model. He also told that he never saw the MX 1600-I as a ready car.

I had made a Tom Tjaarda information board, where I had his photo, many photos of MX 1600-I and the Sports Wagon and the specs of Tom and the cars. Tom was surprised that from where I had found the photos of Sports Wagon, because he had no photos of it. I promised to email him those photos. He also wrote his signature to that information board. No, I will not sell it in ebay....


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This has so far been an interesting thread, not only for the content but for the way that JT191 and dave have conducted their conversation. I have been in many fora (ok, forums) but have seen few discussions where the participants are as civilised when the proponents hold such differing views and are not afraid to express them.

It's fascinating that Isuzu 'reverse engineered' the Lotus Europa. Doubtless had they decided to put the car into production it would not have suffered the Europa's reputation for self-imolation (we all know that LOTUS is actually an acronym for "Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious").

JT, you said "Both companies built cars that stressed handling over brute force." It has always been my understanding that Colin Chapman stressed light weight over brute force - because with light weight you not only need less brute horsepower, but you also stop and turn better.

In 1971, the world was still coming to grips with the fact that Japan could actually build regular cars that were equal to or better than the offerings of other nations. Almost 20 years later, Honda had trouble convincing the buyers of supercars that the NSX was worth considering against established brands like Ferrari - how much more difficult would it have been for Isuzu two decades earlier.

Cheers, and thanks, Vic

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Car(s): Isuzu D-Max
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The wedge shape body proves to be aerodynamically efficient. These were the designs to lessen the drag around the cars body, during this time cars were sculpted to improve airflow while matching the power of the engine.


Fri Dec 23, 2011 4:38 am
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