Project Isuzu VehiCross Part 1: What Are We Getting Ourselves Into?

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4) Brakes.  The rotors looked fine, but the pads were down to 25%.  The VX and Trooper share the same brakes as the Honda Passport.  This might mean we can upgrade the caliper to something with more pistons or larger pads.  We would like to avoid rotors for now to keep costs down.  We would also like to move from 18″ wheels to 15 or 16″ wheels in the future if we decide to off-road this truck seriously.  The tire selection in the smaller wheel size is much larger and will give us more flexibility in the sidewall, important when off-roading.  We can also have a set of hardcore off-road tires for the dirt and a set of reasonable street tires for commuting.  Smaller wheels will dictate how much brake we can cram in.  There is also an issue with the brake booster.  The booster loses pressure off-throttle and the pedal will drop rather uncomfortably and the brakes become wooden and hard.  Left foot braking and tipping the throttle slightly keeps the pressure up.  We're not sure if this is the brake booster or the relief valve in valve cover, but it need to be addressed.  The brakes are the single worst part of the VX and they will have to be repaired and upgraded before we even think about towing.

5) Lights.  The map lights were completely dead on our VX when we bought it.  The dome light occasionally worked, but the bulb was damaged and usually cut out.  We also had two dead marker lights up front.  We are going to swap in as many LEDs as possible.  LED replacement lights are now available in your local auto parts store and they are brighter than the stock lights.  We'll pass on the turn signal lights (because the fast blinking is annoying as hell!), but the running lights, marker lights, brake lights, and reversing lights will all be swapped, as will the interior lights.  The headlights are also pathetic and we will be upgrading those bulbs.  Since we have a nice safari bar already installed, we will also look at some extra fog lights for night driving.

 

A rare shot of our dome light's incandescent bulb working.  Edison technology be gone!

6) Check Engine Light.  A scan at the local parts store we bought our battery from showed the CEL was on for a bad EGR valve (and was later confirmed by a service receipt we found in the glovebox).  The light occasionally goes away and comes back, so we're hoping we can repair the EGR instead of replacing it.  Considering this is a $200 part, it would be awesome if we could repair it.

 

The VX engine bay is surprisingly tight.  Working on the EGR is not going to be easy.  Add in the fact that the VX engine bay gets exceptionally hot (that stylish front end does not let a lot of air in), and you end up with lots of swearing, burnt forearms, and busted knuckles.  Lovely.

7) Maintenance.  This poor truck has not been well maintained.  The spare tire cover is missing all of its securing knobs.  The spark plugs looked like they had seen all 140,000 miles this truck had covered.  When we had our truck inspected, the shop said all of the fluids (other than the engine oil) looked to be at least 5 years old.  Some TLC all around will do wonders for our old, unloved truck.

8) Bodywork: The clearcoat on the hood was peeling.  Because the Ironman logo was missing from the hood insert, this leads us to believe that at some point the hood was damaged and repainted.  None of the other body panels are peeling and the panel gaps are all even around the rest of the truck.  There are a few other nicks and scractches that need attention and we did notice the top of the driver's side fender is bent where it meets the windshield.  Since only the hood is bad, we will have to get that repainted at some point.  The rest can just be touched up with a bit of sanding, self etching primer, and a dash of gloss white on top.  We will also repaint the cowl cover and windshield wiper arms, which are both peeling and rusting  (flat black Rustoleum in a rattle can will do the job).  Finally, the plastic cladding is faded and will require some cleaning and polishing to bring the color back.  The passenger door is also missing one of the hard to find Torx head screws that secures the lower door cladding in place.

9) Speakers:  While our VX has a nice Alpine headunit preinstalled (with iPod plugin!), the speakers are dead.  We don't need a massive stereo install, but dammnit, I want my Ziltoid and I want it loud and clear!  Fortunately we have some speakers kicking around from another car that will fit perfectly.  And they're even Alpines!

10) TOD Sticking: We heard this in the test drive, but didn't narrow it to a TOD problem until later.  It started as a very intermittent issue (the first two instances happened a month apart) that would pop up under tight turning.  The front of the truck would groan and the inner front wheel would start to skip as if something was jamming the front half shaft.  This is classic locked differential.  The rear end uses an LSD while the front is open.  The TOD check light would also come on.  This seemed to happen more often when it was cold and wet, leading us to believe it was a sensor issue.  What was it?  Well you'll just have to read the next installment…

And on top of everything you just read above, we do want to make a few mods to improve this truck as a workhorse and off-road toy.  Included in the purchase was a 3″ lift kit.  We also have that safari bar which is begging to have a few lights bolted to it.  The V6 was good in its day, but 215 hp is a bit anemic now.  We'll be looking at a few bolt ons to extract more power from it, along with some tuning and maybe a bit of custom work if we're really ambitious.  Finally, the entire reason for buying a truck/SUV was for towing.  We'll need a tow hitch that can handle the VX's 5,000 lb tow rating.  This will also require a transmission cooler so we don't accidentally fry our 4L30E transmission.  Whether any other cooling or brake additions will be necessary remains to be seen.

 

Real Recaro seats, not something you see in many trucks.  They are the best part of the interior.

As much as there is wrong with this truck, there's a lot that is right.  It really handles as well as the old reviews say it should.  There is tons of grip and very little body roll.  The amount of grip the TOD gives is truly amazing and for a 2 ton truck, it is very nimble.  The one real complaint is the steering; there's just no feel.  The wheel is heavy, but the feedback is minimal.  Maybe some more caster would help this situation?  It is a wormgear steering system, so there are lots more linkages to create slop and isolation.  The brakes are also way too small for this truck.  And there is the aforementioned booster problem, which makes heavy braking a pants soiling experience as pressure comes and goes. 

 

The Isuzu was our trusty steed for our many trips to Indianapolis.  In fact for the GP we actually slept overnight in the backseat (gee isn't the world of reporting so glamorous?).  We actually got a good night's sleep if you can believe it.  We are getting asked about it constantly, by curious onlookers who have never heard of it, or by fans who love it and haven't seen one in a decade.  The response 15 yers on is still overwhelmingly positive.  OEMs, why don't you make anything like this anymore?  It will sell!

If you haven't guessed yet, this isn't going to be the typical MotoIQ project car.  While most of our projects feature tons and tons of custom work to go wickedy fast, this project will be more about maintaining a rare and quirky vehicle.  Isuzu stopped selling passenger vehicles in 2008: their dealer network is long gone.  Some parts are shared with Hondas, some shared with GMs, and others are completely bespoke.  The nearest Isuzu truck place is 50 miles away.  How do you keep something like this running when nobody even knows what it is?  Better yet, how do you do that on a college grad budget?  Well that's the challenge of owning a VehiCross.  Taking something as quirky as this and using it as a daily driver is probably quite stupid.  But hey, that just adds to the story, right?

1 comment

  1. I an original owner of a 2000 silver Vehicross. Very fun vehicle to drive. Handles more like a sports car on the road. Does not seem top heavy, and can go off road better almost any stock SUV or Truck. I will never part with mine. It now has 120000 miles and looking to try and find another low mileage one or one to do a complete frame up rebuild as a project. Thanks for posting your project and look forward to your updates.
    I have noticed that Used Vehicross are going up in value. seeing prices $6000 higher than last year. Guess that if there were only 4000 made a fair percentage have been crashed or totaled by now. My guess is there are less than 2500 left. Best of luck with your project!

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