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Hooniverse Lost Car Weekend – The 1976-79 Buick Opel by Isuzu

Here at Hooniverse we try and entertain you with though provoking content, and that is what this weekend is for, to make you aware of some rather obscure vehicles that were sold in North America that you may have never known about. Our next Lost Car is the 1976 to 1979 Buick Opel by Isuzu. This was an update of the Opel Kadette, and spawned such cars as the Isuzu Gemini in Japan, and the Chevrolet Chevette here on these shores. GM decided that it was getting expensive to import proper Opels from Germany to North America, so it was decided to import the Isuzu Gemini and simply rebadge the car as an Opel for Buick Dealers. Let’s all get reacquainted with the Buick Opel by Isuzu…

According to Jeff Koch from Hemmings:

The tale of this smartly styled coupe starts with the T-car platform. In 1976, back in the days when Opels were still sold through Buick dealers, currency exchange fluctuations worked to make the taut little Manta coupe a bit more expensive than the showroom competition–not the sort of thing you want from your loss-leader captive-import brand. Enter Isuzu: Their fastback version of the GM T-car kinda looked the same as the Manta, filled the same niche in the showroom, and was ten to fifteen percent cheaper than the German.

You can read the rest of Jeffs article here. This was a derivitave of the T-platform with the same engine used in the Chevy LUV Pickup Truck. It was perky, and it was small, but it never sold as well as the real Opel here in this country, and this experiment was put to rest by 1980 just in time for Isuzu to bring it back here as the Isuzu I-Mark for 1981.

You would think that any survivors would be nothing but iron oxide by now, but there are a couple that I found in the listings that are Craig. Here is a 1976 version, finished in a color that the seller calls Banana Yellow. It is not currently running, but it was once a California Car (Like that is a selling feature, right?). It has a stick, and very little information on anything else about the car. The price is $900, which you could coax down into LeMons territory. See the listing here.

From Minnesota comes this 1978 version that runs and drives. It has under 50,000 miles, and it seems to be running good. Oh Look, here’s a video of the car…

$1,800 is the asking price for this rare, yet somewhat interesting car. See the listing here.

Be honest, did you ever see one of these cars, and are you amazed by the back-story of these beasts? Would you ever want to own such a car? Remember, one of these is currently running the 24 Hours-of-LeMons circut in Petty Blue…

Lead Image: Hemmings

  • Joe Dunlap

    Yes, Ive seen a few of these too. (God Im old) A friend of mine working his way through college sold (or at least attempted to) these things at the local Buick dealer as a part time job. He brought one by my shop one day and took me for a ride in it. My first comment was, "This aint no Opel." My second comment was "Let me out, now!" Side note: The engine in this thing had the crank to intermediate shaft to camshaft 2-chain setup that made for some hilarious wear conditions. I once saw one of these in a Chevy LUV truck that had so much slack it the chain, it had completely blown out the entire side of the chain cover from the intermediate to the camshaft, and was still running! Poorly and noisly, but running. I wonder what that says about its reliability?

  • facelvega

    Though the sedan looks like so many European and Japanese me-too cars that followed in the wake of the '68 European Ford Escort, the fastback is interesting– I see a little Fiat 850 coupe in its proportions. But I don't know the Japanese market at this time well enough– were others already cribbing this look?

    <img src="http://www.carproductions.com.au/garage/mem22m.jpg"&gt;

    • tonyola

      Don't blame the Japanese for the styling of the car outside of grilles and other trim bits. The basic look was established by Opel for the 1973 Kadett.
      <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/17/Opel_Kadett_C_Coupe_front_20080206.jpg/800px-Opel_Kadett_C_Coupe_front_20080206.jpg&quot; width="400/">
      The Chevrolet Vega used some of the same basic styling themes, though on a slightly larger scale.
      <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/03/73_Millionth_Vega.jpg/758px-73_Millionth_Vega.jpg&quot; width="400/">

      • facelvega

        Oh no I mean specifically the fastback body type, which from what I'm reading it seems didn't appear in Germany until later in the 74 model year, i.e. after the Japanese production and alterations were already on the table. It could very well be that the changes we see in Japan were coming from German drafting tables, but they do depart from the more American-looking lines of earlier Opel fastbacks like the Kadett B, or the in my eyes hideous bodies done on the Kadett C platform by the brits with the Vauxhall Chevette.

        • tonyola

          The fastback Kadett C coupe was offered right from the start in late 1973. Here's an early press photo. The only things that were changed in the early Isuzu versions were bolt-on bits like grilles and taillights. Any substantial sheetmetal changes from the Opel originals didn't occur until much later.

          The 1975 Vauxhall Chevette might not have been a thing of beauty, but it had more aerodynamic nose styling than the Kadett and it was a huge sales success in the UK, something that Vauxhall desperately needed at the time.
          <img src="http://www.opelkadettc.net/media/6180/coupe-c2-berlinetta-beige-2_450x224.jpg&quot; width="400/">

          • facelvega

            Ah, so it was just the fuel-injected 1.9 fastback that came later, and not the body type. That clarifies the timeline for me, thanks. But ugh, those Vauxhalls.

  • dukeisduke

    Craptastic, though reliable cars. But, a poor substitute for the German ones. I considered a Manta or fuel injected 1900 before I bought my first car, a '75 Vega (this was in '77).

  • dukeisduke

    Weird feature about the T-Cars (at least the Chevette)? The off-center placement (compared to the driver's seat) of the steering wheel.

  • tonyola

    I do remember these cars. They weren't uncommon in Florida at the time. The final 1979 version had rectangular headlights. The same basic car was sold in the US under the Isuzu I-mark name beginning in 1980.
    <img src="http://i52.tinypic.com/6hnx4i.jpg&quot; width="400/">

  • Jimmy7

    I had one of these, and my wife had an F10 wagon when we met. Later we bought an '85 Nissan Stanza wagon/van and a '91 Mercury Capri convertible and we shopped for an even-more-obscure Nissan Axxess; I expect that these strange choices will be showing up here shortly. This Isuzu, by the way, had the single worst interior vinyl of any car I've ever been inside. Getting out of the car on a hot day wearing shorts was like ripping off a scab.

  • brazilreporter

    Curious fact, the Kadett C was launched six month before Europe in Brazil as the Chevrolet Chevette, though didn't had the same engines.
    My favourit was the Opel Kadett Rally GT/E
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3013/2717525426_f6c58089d0.jpg"&gt;

  • theTokenGreek

    did somebody say Isuzu Gemini? [youtube GveDVITQ5H4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GveDVITQ5H4 youtube]

  • Mr. Smee

    Hideous, and re-badged 3-times? Isuzu-Opel-Buick?! When I worked at a GM dealers we had the "Asuna" line of Pontiacs, which were re-badged Daewoos I think. We called them "As-soon-as." as in, "As soon as you drive this off the lot it's worth nothing."
    I can think of little that shows more contempt for customers than this kind of crassness. This from companies that supposedly live and breath their precious "brands." What a load of crap, glad I left the car biz behind.

    • Devin

      They didn't last very long, the Asünas, did they? I haven't ever seen one in person, if there's a Canadian How Many Left equivalent I'd be interested to seem how many actually exist today.

    • tonyola

      There was also the Passport Optima, which came along before the Asuna. Just another rebadged Daewoo/Opel.
      <img src="http://www.cartype.com/pics/7718/small/passport_optima_86.jpg&quot; width=500>

      • Devin

        But the Asüna GT was more hardcore. Because it had an umlaut, obviously, and an umlaut makes things hardcore. Scientific fact.

        <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/54/Asuna_GT.jpg/400px-Asuna_GT.jpg"&gt;

        I think GM Canada's marketing department was on some sweet, sweet crack at this point, none of the branding made any sense and nobody bought Passports or Asünas. The GM dealer where I lived didn't even bring them in. They did sell the Isuzu Impulse as the Sunfire for a year though, and contributed to the 8 billion rebadges of the Suzuki Sidekick so it wasn't all Daewoos.

        • tonyola

          GM Canada did all sorts of crass things that were too much even for the Americans. For instance, how about an Isuzu I-mark with a vaguely Pontiac grille and the Pontiac Sunburst name? This one never made it south of the border.
          <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3076/2716843785_552b8712cd_z.jpg?zz=1&quot; width="500/">

          • Devin

            I didn't even know this existed, but Isuzu didn't actually have a dealer network in Canada at the time so it makes a little sense.

            Not the most shameless rebadge GM did though, witness the Pontiac Tempest. I'm not sure why Pontiac wanted a Corsica, but there it was.
            <img src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5029/5559947122_67f4cb5689.jpg"&gt;

            Part of the problem was GM had, for some reason, divided the dealers into Pontiac-Buick-GMC and Chevrolet-Oldsmobile, and then distributed them arbitrarily – where I grew up, it was a Pontiac dealer, no Chevrolet unless you went to a different town. So Pontiac dealers would get pissy every time that Chevrolet got a model they didn't, since it'd put them at a disadvantage – this went on until Pontiac was killed. So we'd get all sorts of bizarre Pontiacs nobody else did.

            • tonyola

              The Isuzu I posted was sold in the US both as a Chevrolet Spectrum and an Isuzu I-mark and there were some trim differences. For 1989, the Chevrolet version was renamed Geo Spectrum but that only lasted one year.

              • Devin

                Yep, and we never got the I-mark here, though we did get the Spectrum. We didn't get any Isuzus called Isuzus until after Passport turned into Asuna – or was it Passport died and then was resurrected as Asuna because Pontiac dealers were jealous of Geo – and god damn GM Canada branding is confusing.

    • Stumack

      I recall the gag as "Ad-soona walk".

  • west_coaster

    My aunt got one of the later ones (with the rectangular headlights), and it was the "sport" version in red with a bunch of stripes and some rather nice wheels. One problem: she got the automatic.

    The car went to my cousin soon afterward, and he was insisent on converting it to a 5-speed manual, spending a small fortune in the process. He ended up with the most expensive Buick-Opel-Isuzu in the world.

  • dukeisduke

    I remember the first Car and Driver road test of the Chevy Chevette, where they called it a rear-wheel-drive shitbox. Keep in mind that the VW Rabbit had already been around for a year, and its technology was light-years ahead of the Chevette.

  • rosseggers

    I may be the only person in the world to have owned 2 of these. I bought a red 1976 in Indianapolis while I was on my 1st leave aftre navy boot camp. It was my 1st car ever. Bought it new and couldn't drive a stick (the salesman had to get it back to the dealer). It was stripped down. No radio, ac, or carpet. Just a plain car. I traded it in San Diego in Aug of 1978 for a white, more "deluxe" model. AC, carpet, and an indash 8track. I had very little trouble with either. I got rid of the later one in 1982. I wish I could find one now, just for old times sake.

    • Rod Irwin

      I just bought a 77 Opel ( by Isuzu ) 3 months ago, with 145k miles (yes original motor and mileage), 2 owners from new , last 1 from 1980! I had never heard of this model until I spotted this one on craigslist. I already have 2 Opel Kadett coupes in Ireland but I have to say……..I don't think as well made as the German made cars but I am V. happy to own this 1 , I just cant believe people are bitching about this car rusting when every other 70,s US car rusted as bad!!! My car is a base model with AC which still works after 37 yrs, has some rust but not much. I drove this car 2 1/2 hrs home after I bought it , ( no problems at all) and it did 33 mpg which is better than most modern day pieces of crap, car was origionally red but was resprayed white ( International Harvester white to be exact ) plus its rare in the US……….. I see 100,s of Corvettes and Mustangs ETC, my car is the only Opel at most car shows I got to, this was my first car in Ireland, although mine was a 4 door saloon with serious engine mods, tried to download pics and site wont let me

  • Chains

    My parents bought a yellow 1976. It listed for $4200 new. The gas shortage was hitting and we traded our 1968 Lincoln Continental with the suicide rear doors for this car that got better gas mileage. It eventually became my car and it was loyal right up to the end. The only thing that doomed it was the body. It fell apart. Every fendor and door rusted totally out. I loved this car and learned how to adjust points on her. I still wish I could find one today.

    • dcangelo

      You would have loved the Lincoln with suicide doors more.

  • Dave Maher

    [ ://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSCx9JPk9TE youtube] Yes , this car is still running in the Lemons series, I run it. Here it is in a Penalty video we had to make for poor driving. I will post video shot from other cars that show some of these trips.

  • Dave Maher

    [youtube ZftnXXWzGy8&feature=youtu.be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZftnXXWzGy8&feature=youtu.be youtube] Here we are not staying on the track.

  • ozcar75

    ha yeah they do have their critics. in australia we have a strong following and our clubs have linked up with other T-series cars worldwide. we currently do not have any contacts in north america. if there are any 1975-1985 t-series owners looking for parts, pictures or a friendly chat check out these sites. http://www.gemswa.com.au http://www.ozgemini.com.au

    or facebook

  • JJF

    Owned one! My "first" car, bought for me at age 14 by my dad as a project. It was nearly rust-free '79 silver over black 2 door, base model, 4 cyl. 4 speed and only had 69K original miles. It had been family owned and sat several years before it became mine. Dad grew frustrated with it after it needed fuel pump and other minor work, and sold it out form under me in less than a year. Had I known what I really had I would have begged to keep it. Did have the opportunity to drive it a few times, and though no pocket rocket, it was a lot of fun.

  • brad reyes

    Drove 1978 Gemini back in college,had it for 9 years,4 speed 1600cc,originally yellow,stock except for scavenger side pipes w/headers no muffler

  • I had one in college. 1.8 liter and added a new intake manifold and weber carb. Decent power to weight ratio with four speed and I drove the hell out of it and it held up pretty well. Gave it to my brother four years later with 110000 miles still going string. Floorboard rotted out passenger side. I riveted in old sheet metal from a hot water heater. Good car.