The Bellett GT - what to look for
Whilst a number of Bellett GT cars were produced over the 10 year production period there is a clear choice of models to seek as a classic drive. Two models stand out as classic choices, the early GT and the late GT/R. A third but more challenging choice is to take the best on offer and then to chose an update path that maintains the classic look and feel but discretely improves the vehicle utility and usability for the modern day. The Bellett GT lends itself to classic update, particularly the café racer GT/R.
PR90 Bellett GT
The Bellett GT was the first ever Japanese GT production car and was FIA homologated in October 1963. Early PR90 series III Bellett GT cars were made from 1965 to 1966 and over 2,000 cars were produced in this series before a major facelift. These were exported around the world and were a “go to” sports vehicle in the day as they were way advanced by market standards (expensive - dearer than many 6 cylinder sedans of the era), were genuine high performance sports cars (160kph+) with good heater and demisters, independent suspension all round, disc bakes with a classic sports car dash, wood rim wheel, semi competition seats and upmarket but vinyl interior.
A Bellett GT can seat 4 at a pinch with rear room restricted and the later cars came with lap belts in the back, market depending. Early in the series was the option of 14inch wheels but most were equipped with 13inch wheels and only the last of the series have an all synchromesh close ratio gear box with most having a non-synchromesh first gear on the close ratio gear set. This later PR90 series ran from chassis number PR90 4201738 to PR90 4203750 when the model changed to a PR91 with a revised power train, grille and dash, but the chassis numbers continued on unbroken from car no 001.
Isuzu ran the Yamato dealer reporting system and fed back field reports into Fujisawa production so there were running revisions to improve small items during production with the general aim to be backward compatible so common parts interchanged. They had learned a bitter lesson from the earlier Bellel production that they never wanted to repeat.
Buying a PR90 car requires just a few visual checks if it drives and stops ok and makes no unusual noises. The majority of early PR90 cars were either painted silver grey, olive or muse white with beige and blue the minor colours. Interior trim is either black or red. That’s the original colours and if its another colour then it had a colour change or has been painted a later colour. Few PR90 early cars are now available in Japan but a number were exported in the day to markets like South Africa, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Finland and Papua New Guinea. Isuzu exported to over 30 countries and there are probably more early cars surviving abroad than in Japan.
Driving the PR90 should be fun and it is spritely for its age if all is well. It has direct rack and pinion steering with precise feel and can be driven relatively briskly as the engine is a short stroke oversquare design and revs well. Original cars could do the standing quarter mile in just over 18 seconds and top speed of 100mph … which is what the speedo will be calibrated in mostly outside of Japan.
Check for rust stains at the lower front windscreen corners as the rubbers, unless replaced over the last 50 or so years gradually harden and leak which causes the top of the A pillar to rot and then the bottom of the pillar likewise. Its not a difficult fix if found as the front guards just unbolt to provide access but in this modern, remove and replace only world you will need a real panel person to fix it, not a plastic jockey. The body is unitary construction you should check for rust in the rocker panels and the bottom of the rear guards. That’s the extent of the typical rust except for the panel under the battery tray where acid from old vented open batteries can accumulate. All are not difficult issues to correct and the major structural items are generally rust free.
Bright work is mostly stainless steel except for the chrome bumpers front and rear.
Mechanically, if there is no smoke, rattles and whines then the mechanical bits are good and usually pretty reliable if kept serviced and will run for many years. The rear half shafts in the drive line do wear when not serviced but the bit that wears is a readily available universal joint that fits a number of vehicles.
Prices are still reasonable for good cars but have been rising as this generally undiscovered sports classic is starting to be appreciated for its leading edge design.