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Dave's Buick Opel by Isuzu 
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Joined: Thu Sep 11, 2008 9:15 am
Posts: 1971
Car(s): 1965 Wasp, 1966 Bellett sedan, 1966 RatBellett sedan, 1967 Bellett GT, 1978 Gemini van, 1994 LS400, 2004 VY SS Sandman
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Ok so I thought it was time to update my Buick Opel by Isuzu thread, only to realise that I don't think I've ever started one.... oh, what a faux pas!

So I aim to right this wrong!

And now you're going, "Buick? But this section is for non-Bellett ISUZUS!"

Well, I know that. It IS an Isuzu. And it's a Buick. And it's also an Opel. And what model is it? Well, it's, uh...er yes. That's something they didn't bother with; three brand names meant that there really was no point on a model name. It's like having three surnames and no first name!!

To give you some background...

Back in the late 1960s, Buick were selling Opels imported from Germany.

I think imports started officially in 1964, when they brought in the 2-door sedan, 4-door sedan, 2-door coupe and a 3-door wagon. They were good cars, but they were expensive; apparently $1618...compared to $2343 for Buick's next-'smallest' car, the Buick Special. The Special also weighed TWICE as much! But more importantly, the dealers' capacity to discount and offset costs via trade-ins was greater with the domestic market Buicks and while the Opel enjoyed a niche, it did not sell overly strongly.

For 1965, Volkswagen sold 383,978 units, while Buick shifted 16,216 Opels, placing it in 5th place for imports for that year, however, by 1966, Buick moved 31,555 Opels; a pittance compared to the 420,000 shifted by Volkswagen, but enough to cement it as the second most popular import!!! The numbers are boggling!

So the niche, while far from epic, was certainly a niche and car makers are not in the business of giving away money!

Gradually most Buick dealers ended up with Buick-Opel signage and Opels became relatively well known for their nippiness and quality.

I think Buick were importing Kadetts (the "B"), Asconas and the cool Opel GT, however by the time the Opel Kadett C came out in 1973, the Deutschmark was sitting pretty good against the US Greenback, making the importation of the small cars looking decidedly unprofitable.

Rather than ditch the whole arrangement, someone in GM got the brainwave of importing not the Opel Kadett C, but it's stylistically-similar-but-mechanically-different Isuzu PF50/PF60 Gemini out of Japan.

Obstensibly similar to ours, the Isuzu Gemini shared bumpers, basic interior design, sheet metal, engine and gearbox with the Aussie Gemini (exceptions include some interior bits, brakes, rear axles and auto trans where fitted).

Strangely, GM already had their own version of the T-body World Car project going on; Chevrolet released the Chevette, which went on to become their largest selling car during the fuel crises, while Pontiac had their own version sold as the T1000. Although the underbody was similar, the Chevette and our Gemini different greatly; rear doors, wheelbase and their use of a 3-door and 5-door hatch rather than any sedan variants. I'm fairly certain their only common part is the windscreen!

Anyway, Isuzu dutifully built a LHD version of the Isuzu Gemini for sale via Buick dealers. As an Opel. Hence....

Buick Opel by Isuzu!

Actually, it's not even that simple. When released in 1976 (with a grille the same as the "TC"-model Gemini here), it was badged as the Opel by Isuzu in the brochures and Opel/Isuzu on the actual car. The nose and steering wheel badges were Isuzu, same as the JDM versions (ours had Holden badges) and the cars came with a fat black stripe down each side with the world OPEL emblazoned. I have a Certificate of Title for my car and the US authorities registered it as an Opel.

This carried over to 1977, however I'm not certain they were selling very well. Write-ups weren't favourable, citing issues with quality (from Isuzu?!?!? Compared to stuff build in the US at the time!??!?) and handling (30kg's of 5mph bumpers at each end probably didn't help).

For 1978, the word "Buick" was added to the vehicle, with Buick badges replacing the Isuzu badges on the nose and steering wheel; I'm yet to see one of these for sale (always thought it would be kitsch to fit one to a V6-powered Gemini!), and the big black stripe now featuring Buick/Opel script. These also ran the same grille as our "TD" model, albeit with cutouts for the US-spec orange marker lights. These were the only ones officially known as Buick Opel by Isuzu.

In 1979, the grille remained the same as our "TD", however square headlights were introduced. These were smaller than those on our "TD"-model and included a surround. For this model year, "Isuzu" was dropped altogether; the car was now a Buick/Opel. Clear as mud!

As this car was, in the minds of the few Yanks that knew about them, a replacement for Buick's Opel line, they often seem to fall under "Opel" when being discussed. I spoke to a guy who ran a specialists wreckers called "Opels Unlimited" out of California, and he saw the Isuzu version as the last model of Opels sold there, albeit 'inferior' ones.

Of course, for us, they were actually the replacement for the stopgap TA-model Torana and in Japan, they replaced the mighty Isuzu Bellett! They are, quite possibly, the most confused car on the planet.

And I own one!

Mine is a 1976, so it's from the first year they sold them and is, by rights, an Opel by Isuzu (sold by Buick).

Here are the pics of it still in Michigan.

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I was in the US when I bought it, but I was nowhere near Michigan! Yes, that's a snowy state, but I spoke to the owner; he had one of these he'd bought new as a sedan back in the day. Like the initial run of the Gemini, they were available in 4-door sedan and 2-door coupe, however in a bizarre twist, the sedan seems to be the rare one!!! I've seen a couple of coupes for sale, but I've seen almost no sedans, although I'm sure there are some out there.

I guess back then people didn't care about practicality like they do now and kids didn't have to be bolted into baby seats until they turn 27 years old, so life was easier. The brochures pitched them at young kids (first car) and wives (second car) and, with the Gemini's cavernously deep boot (trunk) intact, they were pretty good at carrying shopping and makeup or whatever 1970s women used to carry.

Anyway, Alan Wandrei had bought one new and decided to relive his youth, so he found this coupe in Texas and got it shipped up to Michigan. It still sports the Texas rego sticker! He had the interior retrimmed (an excellent job) and hoarded a bunch of parts, mainly Gemini parts he bought from Australia but also some NOS badges, then got over the whole thing and decided to sell it.

It's got about 75,000 miles on the odometer and I'm thinking that is relatively accurate; it's not been abused and still wears the original paint, albeit with some touch-ups.

Here are some pics of it locally...

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Anyway, I've owned it now since 2010 and it arrived in early 2011, but I've never ACTUALLY gotten it registered. This is a convoluted process in SA as there is some negativity towards the safety of using LHD cars on local roads....

Fingers crossed it passes first go; I have the day off booked and have to hack across town to do it. In the last month it's had the front and rear brakes rebuilt (fronts were same as Aussie Gemini...rears were same as Gemini Diesel!!), some suspension rubbers replaced, trans serviced, some stuff tightened up and the aircon re-gassed! Yeah! Air con!

Like all Buick Opel models, it is running a G180Z 1817cc SOHC motor that is visually identical to the 1584cc G161Z we saw in the Gemini... so I'm madly scanning brochures and evidence, as the SA rego department will not allow a modified LHD car to be registered and I want to ensure they understand that it's 110% stock-standard!

I might put some of the brochures up on Bellett.net in due course; it's an Isuzu product after all and the benefit is that we can actually read these brochures! They're in English! And it even makes sense!


Cheers,


Dave

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 6:50 am
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Here's the post of when it hit the Just a Car Geek blog:

http://www.justacargeek.com/2010/09/197 ... isuzu.html

And here's the update post:

http://www.justacargeek.com/2011/03/bui ... under.html

I really miss that guy's posts! He was a legend!

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 7:26 am
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Great story Dave and even better, that you have one.

Good luck on rego. Club reg i guess?

You don't even have to take the car here to reg branch for Club Reg (which i think is silly and probably resulted in all the modified cars on H plates here)

With that history, you probably could get away with taking it to a All Japan Day ;) ;)

UPDATE: I see that you did !

Wasn't the Aus Gemini fitted with a Trimatic trans in auto mode?

glenn

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 7:32 am
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re: rego; nah the car has to have an "ID inspection" to ensure that it's not been stolen, THEN it has to have a full roadworthy.

The only real benefit of getting it historically registered, aside from the registration being dirt cheap, is that I don't have to pay stamp duty on the purchase price of the car.

I had it inspected, but about 2.5 years ago when I had every intention of getting it registered straight away, but life got complicated and I'm only just getting to it.

In some ways, the Bellett GTR being off the road has started the ball rolling, as the GTR was the only old car I had that I could legally take Joseph in; the Ratter has only one rear seat belt (was never fitted with a fourth one!!!) and no baby points, the Florian has no rear belts and the Wasp has NO belts at all!

I'm a stickler for originality so I don't really want to fit them, but I wanted the GTR to be safe and drivable, so I got rear belts and a rear point put in that, plus I had new front seat belts put in as the factory fitted items were lap-only.

So if/when this gets registered, I'll be able to put the baby seat in it (must be in it until he's 4 I think, then a booster seat) and we can go cruising! AND we can rock the aircon!

As you saw, I did put the car in All Japan Day and I've had it parked on the oval at All American Day too! I snuck it there next to the work tent. I really wish I was able to get one with the big BUICK/OPEL emblazoned down the side, but for the condition, I can't really complain.

I might even sneak it into the Euro day they do here now too!

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 11:39 am
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Oh yeah I just found out something!

I'm just scanning a bunch of brochures to take in and prove that the car exists and what it is.... and I noticed the transmission is listed as a "Turbo Hydramatic 200".

I thought the Isuzu Gemini used a Jatco-built auto and yes, the Aussie Gemini used the Aussie-built Trimatic, however the Turbo 200 is definitely a Yank box; unless I'm mistaken? Or perhaps they put them in the Buick Opel for ease of servicing if sold thru a Buick dealer?

Either way, the Wikipedia write-up said that they were prone to failure when used behind V8s! Lucky the old G180Z ain't a V8!

Dave

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 11:43 am
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dave wrote:
Oh yeah I just found out something!

I'm just scanning a bunch of brochures to take in and prove that the car exists and what it is.... and I noticed the transmission is listed as a "Turbo Hydramatic 200".

I thought the Isuzu Gemini used a Jatco-built auto and yes, the Aussie Gemini used the Aussie-built Trimatic, however the Turbo 200 is definitely a Yank box; unless I'm mistaken? Or perhaps they put them in the Buick Opel for ease of servicing if sold thru a Buick dealer?

Either way, the Wikipedia write-up said that they were prone to failure when used behind V8s! Lucky the old G180Z ain't a V8!

Dave


the 200 is a very close relative to the 700 box i believe. Some people put the 200 in Hotrods as its a little lighter so rumour has it and just as strong? Probably much cheaper too as 'everybody' wants a 700.

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:27 pm
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dave wrote:
re:

In some ways, the Bellett GTR being off the road has started the ball rolling, as the GTR was the only old car I had that I could legally take Joseph in; the Ratter has only one rear seat belt (was never fitted with a fourth one!!!) and no baby points, the Florian has no rear belts and the Wasp has NO belts at all!


i think your GTR DOHC engine took a trip interstate on its own, Dave ?

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Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:29 pm
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That it did!

Looks like the process of fixing the clutch dooflicky (the linkage that goes next to the box) is going to be more complex that initially thought; it requires a full engine rebuild and rust repairs!

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Mon Nov 24, 2014 7:17 am
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dave wrote:
That it did!

Looks like the process of fixing the clutch dooflicky (the linkage that goes next to the box) is going to be more complex that initially thought; it requires a full engine rebuild and rust repairs!

one thing always leads to another !!

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Mon Nov 24, 2014 8:51 am
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Well DAVE WHAT A NICE EXAMPLE you have their, maybe you should bring it along to the Nationals when it is registered?
It would be for sure a car that our group would be very interested to see!! Very interesting story also!!

Sorry to hear you are having a few issues with the GTR, how long will it be off the road?
Dave M.

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Tue Nov 25, 2014 4:24 am
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HOW LONG IS A PIECE OF STRING, DAVE M!??

Yeah it'll be OK; as you guys may know, I've been doing some freelancing for Street Machine; it's not 'gonna quit my job money' but it's extra money nonetheless, so I've been throwing it directly at the GTR.

I could get it back on the road without the rust repairs, but they aren't going to fix themselves, so I estimate maybe 12 months??? Maybe 24 realistically given the tight cash flow? I just hope Street Machine keep throwing me projects!

The Buick is pretty nice to drive, but it's weird; it think it's sprung softer than a Gemini as it certainly doesn't feel sporty to throw around although I'm thinking the 20kg girders attached to each end don't help. My Gemini van is a freaking Porsche in the handling dept (Porsche owners will disagree) compared to the Buick!!

So what I mean to say is, while it's SUPER COOL, it's not fun to drive the way the Gemini or the GTR are to drive, so I really hope we can get it fixed up quick. I'm missing it greatly! I need to pull the trim out next month along with the lights, etc. I'm leaving most else in it; bumpers etc the restorer can do, so they can work out where they need to sit, etc.

Fingers crossed the Buick passes rego!!


Cheers,


Dave

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Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:43 pm
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Good luck Dave with the inspection.


Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:05 pm
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Re the Gemini van handling .......You are right Not a good comparison ,pretty wild statement ,actually!

KB

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Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:10 pm
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KJB I was hoping you'd bite!!

I know it's no Porsche, but with a set of Peddars, some 14" steelies and a set of 195/60 R14s, it knows how to hold on!!

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Wed Nov 26, 2014 11:15 am
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