I enjoy an oddity as much as the next guy, but I especially LOVE Isuzu oddities because in their time building 4WDs they’ve made a few. When I made Beyond The Bitumen back in 1998 (the world’s first 4WD TV series seen on TEN and Foxtel) we used in one episode the seriously sexy and outrageous Vehicross. Never seen one before? Suggest you have a look at Google images because this is one futuristic beastie, with styling so far removed from typically bland Japanese shapes it rocked the boat big time!
Back in the day, Holden retailed Isuzu product, Jackaroo and Rodeo and they missed an opportunity with the Vehicross because that in their showrooms would have been a magnet for attention. Only available in the USA and Japan, the vehicle was essentially a SWB Jackaroo with a 3.5 litre V6, but it sported Borg Warner’s Torque-On-Demand 4WD system, a crude full-time system using an electro-magnetic clutch in the transfer case and the real scene-stealer were the remote reservoir shocks, the first fitment of this type of suspension commercially from a vehicle manufacturer and well before ARB’s brilliant BP51s arrived two years ago. There’s a few Vehicross on Aussie roads now, their owners having brought them in as a grey import.
Anyway Isuzu weren’t afraid to build funky and around the same time some of you might remember the Frontera Sport. Now the Frontera could’ve been OK but it was a POS mechanically because instead of running Isuzu’s venerable and indestructible 2.8L turbo-diesel or even the 3.1L turbo-diesel as they did in Asian markets, they engineered the fitment of an Opel 2.2L petrol four that was absolutely gutless, a present just for us in the Australian market. If it had to be petrol they could have used the 2.6L four seen in the Rodeo which was bulletproof, but the German motor was a joke. Is it any wonder Holden couldn’t quite get its head around its 4WD range with a shocker of a decision like that?
Anyway a bunch of variants spun out of the Frontera – the Isuzu MU (that’s Japanese-speak for Mysterious Utility) was one (isn’t there a wagon Isuzu market today using a very similar moniker, oh yes the MUX). Even more bizarre is the Isuzu MU “Wizard”, a four-door variant with the Jackaroo’s 3.1L diesel. What do they say sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction?
Back to the MU. In the States it needed a name that was better understood than MU, so in the vault of names that every manufacturer keeps out came Amigo, a name you’d call a friend and a pretty good one to describe a funky go-anywhere machine for the young-at-heart.
Launched in 1989 in two-door form, as either a four-seater with a folding fabric convertible rear roof (like early Vitaras), or as a two-seater with a fixed rear window and ute body (that being the rarer of the two). Mechanically it was a part-time 4WD with 2WD, 4WD HIGH and 4WD LOW, shift-on-the-fly with manually locking hubs, just like we saw on the TF series Rodeos. The motor was the previously mentioned 2.6L petrol four boasting 89kW. It had IFS with a leaf-sprung rear end.
Now the reason we’re writing this Loaded 4X4 history lesson is that I know where there’s an Amigo that has a bit of a cult following.
A good mate of mine Jeff Trewick lives over in WA and Jeffrey has been a fan of Isuzus for a long time. He’s travelled a bit too, having grown up on a sheep station near Thallon in outback QLD, where he first learnt to drive in a green Gemini. Later he got himself into the family’s Jackaroo and copped some stick with the circle work evidence left behind on the family driveway (as you do when you’re a young thing)! That, no not me Sir!
Jeff’s been working as an Isuzu sales professional at DVG Wanneroo for a number of years and wanted to find himself an old Isuzu and got lucky when an Amigo turned up in Gumtree in February 2016 down at Cape Naturaliste, a three-and-a-half hour drive south of Perth.
After work one Saturday afternoon Jeff high-tailed it down to the farm the Amigo had been bashed around on and whilst it wasn’t pretty, it was complete and with no evident rust. With a new battery the miracles kept rolling, yes the transfer case worked, yes it had a functioning clutch, yes the motor ran and lo and behold on a stinking hot summer’s day the air-conditioning was icy cold! It was a sub-$2,000 bargain.
Now those of you with partners know that spur-of-the-moment purchases like this can often result in some kickback but Jeff’s lucky having Fiona for company as Fiona LOVES 4WDing. Despite the bemused first look she’s become an Amigo devotee.
He drove it to work the following Monday and copped the derisory comments you’d expect upon seeing a tatty buggy for the first time but he won the DVG team over and before too long everyone from the spares and service department to the upper echelons of the sales team were lending support to see it renewed.
Jeff hit the phones calling every wrecker in Perth to scare up some body panels, securing a bonnet, left rear-quarter and doors off a Rodeo and amazingly a set of six factory alloys. That parts magic even extended to a brand new chrome grille that had been sitting on the shelves at SSS Auto parts for twenty years collecting dust. They were glad to be rid of it and Jeff glad to have bought a piece of unobtainium for a $100!
I saw the Amigo for the first time later in May on an I-Venture Club program I was running in Perth at the Lancelin sand dunes with my Isuzu colleagues Megan Rossi and Marc Scott. Whilst it wasn’t pretty it was capable even in its still unfettled form. I think we all took it in turns to cut some laps in a tricky bowl out in the hills, the funniest being those with passenger Robyn Phillis whose screams were audible over the roar of the Amigo as rooster tails poured off the wheels on every turn!
Now Jeff’s new chrome grille was going to stick out like a sore thumb on a vehicle that had blue and black coloured panels, so the decision was made to give it a new lick of colour. The dints and dents were pulled back into shape, some bog applied sparingly and then primer applied. The only bit of rust was under a windscreen trim, easily fixed.
This was never going to be a shy little thing, so the decision was made to go for “Gecko Green” but just in case you missed that feature the colour was mixed into a urethane product called Raptor, you know the stuff vendors like Rhino Linings spray into a ute tub!!!
The Amigo wears its new colour like a coat of armour all 3-4mm thick of it and tough is an understatement! You know how you cringe when you go down a track and drag some scrub down the side on the clear-coat on a new truck… no drama with this baby!
The paint process took Jeff a few weeks working back after work often to around eleven at night and he’s eternally grateful to his Sales Manager Mike Ryan and Dealer Principal Glenn Miller for the lend of one of the workshop bays at work to complete the job. Keeping the theme going Jeff’s installed a Fusion stereo, a nifty set of seat covers and mats, all featuring the lime green colour that the Amigo wears so proudly.
No sooner had the paint dried than Jeff and Fiona made another appearance on an I-Venture Club weekend in August 2016. Now looking the goods with new boots, a set of Achilles Desert Hawk muddies and exhaust and air filter pod for a bit more growl, the Amigo shone on the sand with great SWB capability.
Since its second appearance Jeff’s devoted some time to further improvements spending a whack of loose change on new drive-shafts, bearings, rotors and tickling up the master cylinder and hubs which were in need of some TLC. It now stops as good as it goes and looks set for a long career blasting around the coast of WA or even the 4WD show circuit in the west. You might even see it and Jeff at his new digs at TJM Kewdale in WA, as he’s moved on to err, greener pastures, a position guiding folk in their 4WD accessory purchases, something he’ll be really good at!
Kermit never looked this good!