Isuzu Aska Irmscher

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Talk about a bastard child, the Isuzu Aska. The third generation was just a Honda Accord. The second was a Subaru Legacy. And the first?

A General Motors J-Body car. As in it was based on the Chevrolet Cavalier. If it makes you feel better, we can say the Oldsmobile Firenza…or Cadillac Cimarron. 

In truth, the Isuzu Aska variant was closer to the "international" J-Bodies: Opel Ascona C, Holden Camira, and Daewoo Espero. 

What a group of winners, right? Yeah, they're just as dire as you'd expect.

But in the Japanese market, how better to sell customers on a performance division than to ask the German tuner Irmscher to make your compact car a little bit faster and a lot more bad-ass in the looks department?

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With decades spent tuning Opel models in Germany—with a heavy focus on sports car racing and rally—Irmscher was a great choice to breath some credibility onto the Aska.

Isuzu was certainly trying on the credibility front. Two years before the Irmscher was introduced, Isuzu entered an Aska Turbo into the 1983 RAC Rally, held in the United Kingdom. It finished 39th overall, winning its (sub) class within Group A.

Like the AMG-massaged Mitsubishis (don't worry, we'll get to those soon), Isuzu wanted to boost the car's street credibility by offering some European design flair, going so far as to fit the cars with a gigantic sticker in the rear window that says, "European Spirit by Isuzu."

Starting with the Aska Turbo, a 150 horsepower variant with a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive, the Irmscher parts add a simple—yet far from subtle—look. 

Dominated by its plate-like, colour-coded wheels, the subtle lower front and rear valance changes, and small rear spoiler make the car—to my eyes, anyway—the most attractive of all J-Body variants.

And probably the best-performing, too. At just 1070 kg (2350 lbs), there certainly wasn't much to haul around. With its turbocharged engine and five-speed manual transmission, the car would scoot to 100 km/h (62 mph) in about 8 seconds. Not bad.

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Inside, changes were subtle—a badge, slightly different trim, and period Recaro seats completed the package.

I wish I knew more about the car, but it seems to exist in a strange pre-internet time (and without a suitable number of followers) where it's like pulling teeth trying to get high-resolution photos or detailed specifications.

How many are left? Probably not many. And that's a shame.

Tomorrow's car at least has a fan site—and is one of the few British cars with superleggera bodywork.

Sources / Recommended reading