ISUZUS ON THE MURRAY 2016
It’s dark and rainy, clouds of mist thrown up by the B-doubles mask lethal dangers; is that an Eastern Grey? Or just more mist? I strain my eyes against the spray, 1969 Isuzu Florian headlights struggling to pierce more than a few metres. Jim Morrison wails on the AM radio, barely audible above the road noise.
An Isuzu Bellett 1600GT trails me by several metres; Bruno’s headlights are mis-aimed thanks to a boot full of tools and spares; I duck to avoid the glare in the mirror. Is this madness?
Or passion? I don’t even care. We’re out on the open road in our ancient cars, hurtling through and hoping to outrun the ‘Once in 50 Years’ storm.
Suddenly Jim pipes up again; that bit in ‘Light My Fire’ when you realise you’re still listening to the same song. We just need to make it to Keith tonight, put our heads down in a roadside cabin and continue on to Albury tomorrow.
Covering an event like the 2016 Bellett Nationals can be daunting; eclectic people in their peculiar, forgotten little cars; footnotes in Australia’s motoring history. It takes a special breed to love these cars; but for me, it’s a homecoming. These people are not strangers; they are friends. And they will welcome us with open arms.
After a hiatus of several years, 2006 saw the Bellett Nationals rebirthed; enthusiasts Brett Wild and Steve Thompson are together credited with re-igniting the excitement in owners Australia-wide; that event drew 33 people and 13 cars. Held
annually since, the 2016 event sees 93 people converging on Albury with 44 cars and celebrates 100 Years of Isuzu.
Chief organiser Jim Grice and his team have set a cracker itinerary including dinner with guest speaker Barry Ferguson; second in the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial and, more importantly, 21st outright in the 1966 Gallaher 500 in an Isuzu Bellett, 50 years ago to the day!
The Nationals originally catered to owners of the Bellett sedan, 1600GT and Wasp pickup, but has gradually expanded along with participants’ enthusiasm for collecting and saving Isuzu’s pre-GM offerings. In addition to sixteen sedans, fifteen GTs and three Wasps, this year’s event including four Florians, three Isuzu 117 Coupes, an Elf flatbed truck and begrudgingly, a lone, Holden-built Gemini sedan.
Against all odds, Sunday rewarded us with a full day of glorious sunshine and beautiful roads. A Bellett in any guise is no Porsche, but their sporting prowess belies their humble, family-car origins; rack and pinion steering, coil-over double wishbone front end and an IRS rear mean pointing one through the hills is thoroughly enjoyable. Those of us in Florians, Isuzu’s upmarket mid-size Corona rival, simply held on for dear life as we floated and flopped through the flowing terrain.
Forty-eight hours later, it was over and we were heading home.
Trophies were earned by Steve Thompson for ‘Best Sedan’, Lewis Bolton for ‘Best GT’, Peter Betyounan for ‘Best Other’ (Isuzu 117 Coupe) and James Darvas for the coveted ‘People’s Choice’ award. My 62,000-mile Florian picked up second in the ‘Best Other’ category; the trophy now pride-of-place on the shelf next to its previous accolade; ‘Best Florian’ garnered in 2010; the year when no other Florians showed up!
I WAS having some exhaust problems; in that it had fallen off, when I was stopped by the police. I joked I was “Taking the horse out for its last strap” and the cop looked down his nose at me and said, “If you’re gonna race a horse you ride a stallion not a donkey!” and that’s how he got his name!
I removed the passenger seat and rear bench as I use the car as a daily driver for work, carrying tools, drop saws, bags of concreate, step-treads, painting planks; whatever. And when I road trip, I have a ply base with a mattress and use it as my motor home.
I house sit, so when I’m between houses I even live in Donkey. And I love it.
I’m not the driver of Donkey; whenever we travel, I’m the passenger.
This trip I got stuck down a narrow dirt road and ended up having to reverse for three miles! Donkey warmed up, but was fine with it.
The biggest trip I’ve done is 11,400k’s taking in Birdville, Isa and Tennant Creek. Very little highway; all backroads, dirt roads and mountain roads; anywhere that the scenery is beautiful and the roads are narrow and winding.
DAD CAME across Jack and Shirley’s Bellett Deluxe and he knew I’d love the colour as I love blue. I always wanted a Bellett and always claimed his 1600GT, but really I wanted one of my own.
I took one look at it and knew it had to be mine!
Shirley and I talked for a few hours while Jack showed Dad all the spare parts that came with it. Shirley explained that she special-ordered the colour as she didn’t like the Polynesian Blue that came on the regular sedans, but she liked the blue that came on the GTs. It’s called Royal Blue Metallic and we think there’s only one other sedan in the same colour.
It’s a 124,000-mile car, completely original with a full history. Shirley loved it and drove it around for 40-something years; her kids rode to and from school in it and everything. Then one day she just parked it in the shed.
It’s my baby; I’ve already told my grandad tonnes of times this trip “Break it and I’ll break you!” When I get my licence, I won’t daily it; it will be a club-cruise car and will get plenty of use, but plenty of love too!
GARY - I’m 70 years old! Our story started when our father bought a 1960-model Isuzu TX500 six-tonne truck in April 1963. My first Bellett was a brand new Wasp in January 1965. It could carry two-tonne of spuds, no problems. I now have about 14 or so Belletts, seven with club rego; one for every day of the week!
GREGORY – I’m 68. I bought Gary’s Wasp when I was 18 after he upgraded to a truck. I kept it two years but started a family, so I sold it for a Mitsubishi Colt. I don’t have a Bellett, but I do have another 1960s Colt!
DENNIS – I’m 66 and I bought a brand new, bright red column shift Bellett on 17 June 1966. I’ve now got a gold automatic and another in the chookyard for parts.
MATTHEW – I’m only 57 and got my first Bellett in 1976. My big brothers bought it for me and together we fixed it up. I now own one of twelve 1965-model automatics ever sold here, a Wasp and a Florian. There’s another brother between Dennis and myself, but he never got into Belletts or cars in general.
GARY – We don’t talk about him!
WHEN I was 17, I bought a navy blue Bellett sedan as my first car. When I decided to get back onto them in 2011, I found an ex-speedway Bellett 1600GT, but it was a wreck; just bits and pieces all over a workshop floor. There was a disassembled sedan with it and parts everywhere; a couple of gearboxes, multiple diffs, wheels; you name it. I didn’t know what bits went with what!
My son and I took a couple of loads to bring it all home and the first thing I did was install a hoist!
I’d never done anything like restore a car; I’ve been a farmer all my life, but I did the lot; I painted it, welded up the holes and floors; even the exhaust!
There was no conscious decision to paint it Isuzu Motorsport blue; total coincidence. Plus, I had no idea it was a rare PR90 version; around 55 were ever sold here and only a handful remain.
It’s got the wrong grille and bumpers, but because of the race heritage, it’s got tricky suspension, a hot cam and a lightened flywheel. It’s not 100% and it’s a bit hot-roddy but at least it’s on the road!
IN 1966, my father suggested I stop buying British crap and even though he’d fought against the Japanese, recommended I buy one of those “Mitsubishi-Ikimiki things!” He meant the Bellett of course, which was marketed by Mitsubishi at the time.
That car took me to Darwin, Ayers Rock; the whole joint. When I returned to Canberra, I traded it on a nice silver Bellett 1600GT and I kept that until I decided to buy a house.
I never thought much about Belletts again until 2006 when I met my new neighbour, a bearded gentleman named Matthew Smith, who was parked at my front gate in a Bellett sedan!
He invited me to the second Nationals and although I didn’t have a Bellett, I met all these crazy, passionate people! As luck would have it, Matt’s sister-in-law had a nice little automatic for sale at the right price, so I bought it.
Many years later, we happened to see on eBay my favourite car, a Giugiarodesigned Isuzu 117 Coupe. I bought it sight unseen and had it freighted up to Borowa and fortunately the seller was very honest; I’ve done thousands of trouble free kilometres in it; it’s my favourite car to drive.