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Friday, April 2, 2010

1965 Isuzu Bellett


Isuzu got its start in 1916 when the Tokyo Ishikawajiama Ship Building and Engineering Company merged with Tokyo Gas & Electric Industrial Company. Its goal was to build automobiles and two years later it procured the right to exclusively produce and market Wolseley passenger cars in Asia. The first Japanese-built Wolseley appeared in 1922. The company also built automobiles from original designs under the names Sumida and Chiyoda but both were dropped in favour of Isuzu—the name of a nearby river.

Cars were but a sideline for the company whose mainstay was diesel engines. Still, it introduced the large PA sedan in 1943. Throughout the war years workers built industrial vehicles. After the war, Isuzu was granted permission to sign an agreement with the Rootes group to build cars under license. The first Hillmans were assembled in 1953 and by 1957; the Hillman Minx was produced completely in Japan.

The all-Japanese designed Bellett appeared in 1963. It got very little attention in Canada and might never have been heard of but for Peter Munk and David Gilmour. These whiz kids owned Clairtone, one of the biggest and most technologically advanced stereo and television manufacturers in the world. They dreamt of owning an automobile empire and had gotten a taste of it while helping to bring Volvo to Canada.

With Ottawa’s blessing, Munk and Gilmour established Canadian Motor Industries on May 6, 1964. They promptly sent people to Japan who came back with signed deals to bring Toyota and Isuzu to Canada. At first, fully assembled cars would be shipped but with time a $4 million assembly plant would be established at an old naval base at Point Edward, Cape Breton Island, one of the most impoverished parts of Nova Scotia.

The first shipment of low-cost luxury Isuzus left Japan the last week of January 1965 and the Financial Times of Canada reported the story on February 1. The cars would be unloaded in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and would be unveiled to the public in March. The cost of shipping a fully completed Bellett to Canada was USD$926 for the fully equipped deluxe model, USD$891 for the same vehicle minus radio and clock and USD$840 for the stripper with a heater. 

In a bold move, CMI management on May 3, 1965, resolved to purchase Studebaker Canada Limited. The old-line company was breathing its death rattle and could be had for $2 million. CMI wanted the factory, the tooling, the 300 domestic dealers (1,100 more in the USA) and the factory. It would be able to re-launch Studebaker and introduce Isuzu products into the American market. 

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A 14-page report was drafted that read in part, “The Japanese cars would be assembled in Nova Scotia and the Studebaker line would continue to be produced in the Hamilton plant, providing a broader range of models and styles than either CMI or Studebaker alone would have. All models would be sold under the Studebaker name.” In another part of the report it showed that Studebaker models ranged from $2,550 to $3,800 in Canada, serving a very narrow segment of the market. By adding Isuzu-sourced vehicles to the Studebaker mix, the market would be broadened considerably as the lower-priced cars would retail at $1,895. Surprisingly, Isuzu officials agreed to the deal. Fearing that Studebaker would become a millstone around their corporate neck, CMI suddenly withdrew the offer to purchase Studebaker on Saturday, August 14, 1965.

In the meantime, Canada Track & Traffic had gotten its hands on a Bellett and put it through its paces. In the June issue, the boys wrote, “In our opinion the Bellett is one of the best cars in its price and class that we’ve tested.” High praise indeed but then standard equipment included a four-speed manual transmission, contoured bucket seats, whitewall tires, undercoating windshield washers, gasoline and oil filter, padded dash, four-wheel independent suspension and a complete tool kit—all for the unheard of price of $1,898. 


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CMI ran a full-page advertisement in Canada Track & Traffic. “Before you buy a Bug or a Beetle drive the Beautiful Bellett.”  CMI’s new Bellett will change your view about imported cars. Bellett costs about the same as the funny-looking imported cars. It’s just as economical to run. And it has the support of a full Canadian service network. End of Comparison.”

“CMI’s new Bellett has handsome, contemporary styling. (Your neighbours won’t make jokes about its looks—they may even envy you a little.) Bellett is all power. It has 71 horsepower and a butter-smooth four-speed transmission that lets you run circles around the other imports. Bellett is luxurious. Full carpeting, bucket seats, whitewalls, chrome wheel discs, padded dash, armrests, cigarette lighter are all standard equipment. Bellett makes many cars costing twice the price look undernourished. So, before you consider an imported car, treat yourself to a drive in the hot, luxurious new Bellett. See your CMI dealer today and drive home a bargain. 24-hour service protection.” The company listed head office addresses on Eglinton Avenue East in Toronto, Cote-des-Neiges Road in Montreal and West Georgia Street in Vancouver.

One of the early dealers was Onward Motors in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Lorimer-Moore in Toronto was another. The latter ran a large advert in Canada Track & Traffic in 1965. “Test drive this one! The Bellett has a 1500-cc engine that gives you superb sporting performance as well as 37 miles to the gallon.”

 A one-page double-sided colour flyer sold the Isuzu. Billed as a sporty family sedan, advertising introduced the Isuzu Bellett as “a compact family sporty sedan with such unexcelled features. Its independent four-wheel suspension system gives you reassuring stability at high speeds and reduces sway and roll when turning. Bellett’s rack-and-pinion steering and four-seed close-ratio transmission torque at low RPM for quick starts and quick acceleration for passing. All these features are combined into one compact form. This is Isuzu Bellett!”

 The back side of the sheet listed the Bellett’s stats, showed a picture of the factory in Japan and mentioned Isuzu’s activities in Japan, including the manufacture of diesel engines, buses and heavy-duty trucks up to ten tons.

  CMI imported and sold 991 Isuzu passenger cars in 1965 and that figure dropped to 564 in 1966, though it rebounded to 788 units delivered in 1967. Assembly began in Nova Scotia in 1968 and 585 Isuzu Belletts were produced.

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Visit my old car website at http://www.theoilspoteh.ca
Copyright James C. Mays 2007 All rights reserved.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had a Bellett and remember starting it with a hand crank, but haven't seen any mention of this. It was surprisingly easy to start this way in cold weather, or if the battery was weak.

James C. Mays said...

One of my adult education students had worked at the Isuzu-Toyota plant in Point Edward, Nova Scotia. She was a psychiatric patient in the mental hospital and was paid 35c an hour to install radios in Bellets and Toyota Canadians.

Misawa Navy said...

I was in the military in Japan in 68-70, and drove a 66 Bellet Deluxe, White with red interior, tough as nails, and peppy too. I wish that I could find one here in the U.S. today, I'd own it!

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