Isuzu Como

Ah, to dream.

British car designer Simon Cox should be known to at least the one Isuzu VehiCROSS-owning #bcotd subscriber, who I hope sent Cox a box of chocolate for his work on the crazy three-door SUV.

It was one of the first production cars he worked on, and was lifted straight from the concept that auto show visitors loved. Before the VehiCROSS, however, Cox designed a number of interesting concepts for Isuzu—but none as awesome as the Como.

I've decided that it's also the Most Jalopnik Concept of the 1990s (as if I could award such things), for reasons you will soon know.

The '80s and '90s were a strange time for Isuzu, as they saw their share of the passenger car market shrink precipitously even though their products were generally quite good. In Japan, they were sort of a sportier, youth-oriented brand, like if Scion had the gall to make a rear-drive, turbocharged hatchback…designed by Giugiaro—the Piazza.

As a smaller company, they tried to find volume for their products by engaging in a dangerous badge engineering dance; let another automaker rebadge your car and you'll be able to offer it more widely, but if it's successful the other brand gets all the love. 

Go back and check out the company's road car timeline, and you'll see that they stopped making them by 1995—choosing instead to rebadge other makes' cars as their own. (Isuzu was also particularly hard hit by Japan's asset price bubble crash in the early 1990s.)

As this was all shaking out, and knowing that they still had a successful truck, SUV, and commercial line to work with, the company decided to focus on those aspects of their range. In public, they became known as the "Sport Utility Specialists," and, for a while, this paid off.

There was a transition period, however, where the company had no clue what they were doing. They were throwing things at the wall and hoping they'd stick—and they should be thankful that Cox was on board to take full advantage of this.

Forget the car/truck thing for a second; did you know that Isuzu spent hard-earned research and development budget on a Formula 1 engine? For Lotus? That was used in a single test in 1991 year and then ditched?

Well well well, it turned up later in the year inside today's car, the "grand sports-utility vehicle" Isuzu Como concept. Named after Lake Como, the picturesque Italian playground that's home to George Clooney, the concept 'ute promised to do it all.

What better illustration of a company at the car-truck crossroads than a car-based truck with a 3.5-litre 740 horsepower Formula 1 V12 mounted in the middle…and 2+2 seating…accessed by scissor ("Lambo") doors?

Sadly, the concept was quickly forgotten about, and only traces of it can be found online. The engine is often talked about in Formula 1 circles, which is where I learned that the Lotus test driver tasked with putting the Isuzu V12 through its paces was the future two-time World Champion, Mika Häkkinen.

As for Cox, well, he's now at Infiniti—after a stint at General Motors where he designed the first "Art & Science" car, the Cadillac Cien. 

Let's hope he sees fit to revisit the "super ute" genre…I'll take mine with a GT-R motor, please.