The Isuzu Bellett GT at over 56 years old is now well into Classic car middle age. The builder’s, Isuzu Japan, have been building motor vehicles, trucks, busses, engines for over 100 years and for the majority of that time Isuzu has built passenger vehicles. Post the second world war Isuzu worked with Rootes Ltd of the UK under a tightly administered Japanese Government cooperation agreement, first to build Hillmans and then other lesser Rootes products. Nissan had a similar arrangement with British Motor Corp and many others also had such agreements. Isuzu recommenced building their own design vehicles starting in 1962 after a number of years of design and prototyping.
It should come as no surprise that Isuzu built upon the post war reconstruction period time to produce some truly amazing new Japanese designed vehicles that were well ahead of what was still being generally volume produced throughout Europe where other post war designs were still mostly boxy and of mediocre performance. Japan had the opportunity of a retool with a new start and Isuzu, as one of Japans oldest auto manufacturer, seized the opportunity.
In February 1963 Isuzu embarked upon the Bellett GT program, constructing a fully running prototype that was displayed at the October 1963 10th Tokyo Motor Show. It was the first ever Japanese GT (Gran Turismo) and was built by the race team (Team Isuzu) supported by Isuzu Advanced Engineering for the President of Isuzu to show what could be achieved when the brief was to build a free spirit design and not down to a market. At this time no clear Japanese market existed for volume passenger cars let alone sports cars and the roads that formed the highways and byways were harsh with many unmade or poorly maintained. Any new vehicle needed to be robust to deal with the harsh conditions and have style to create the demand with no consumer finance.
In anticipation of a major vehicle demand growth over the 1960’s decade Isuzu had just completed a brand new factory at Fujisawa with full test track and the modern production technology to mass build the Bellel and Bellett sedan. The factory build had sapped Isuzu financial resources but it had also forged a dedicated team who had a vision. The Bellett GT prototype was built in steel by master craftsman Yoshio Suzuki at Suzuki Bankin to an Innouchi Isuzu design with the new competition division, Team Isuzu providing key design inputs. You have to remember that Isuzu Engineering had a number of ex Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp (Zero fighter infamy) engineers who post war had moved to the new auto industry and brought with them the aircraft concepts of low drag, aero dynamics and weight reduction for automobiles. That input had a major impact on the new design.
Bellett GT Show car - Built by Suzuki Bankin and race Team Isuzu on display at 1963 Tokyo Motor Show
By March 1964 over 130 Bellett GT’s and derivatives had been produced and sold by Isuzu, most in full FIA homologated form that included 120bhp competition engine and gearboxes, all independent sports suspension, competition disc brakes and wheels. These were built so the Bellett GT could be admitted to competition as a certified and homologated Group 4 FIA sports car and race at the FIA sanctioned events including the May 1964 Japanese GP 2 and elsewhere. The new Bellett GT in both 1500cc and 1600cc form went on full sale in April 1964 and there just under 700 cars built in 1964.
By the end of production in 1973 over 17,000 Bellett GTs and variants had been built at Fujisawa with a long and successful competition history both on the track and in rallying. It was, by any standards, a very long production run for a single design that started as the market leader and then gradually faded as newer and competitive investments came on stream in the fast growing market. That meant more advanced models as direct competition, particularly in Japan in the last part of the 1960’s when Nissan introduced the Datsun 1600 and Toyota expanded its range for export.