In 1963, Isuzu Motors launched their subcompact car named the Isuzu Bellett. It remained in production until 1973. The car was basically an in house replacement of the Hillman Minx, assembled under a license agreement by Isuzu. The selection of the name ‘Bellett’ was perhaps to symbolize ‘a smaller Bellel’.
Generally, the car was offered as 2- or 4-door sedan, there were some rare 2-door station wagon, named the Bellett Express and 2-door pickup truck, called the Isuzu Wasp versions also seen. General Motors when acquired a part of Isuzu, the Bellett transformed into GM’s ‘global’ T-car. It was initially marketed as Isuzu Bellet Gemini, but later renamed as Isuzu Gemini. Isuzu manufactured about 170,737 units of original Bellett.
In June 1963, the Bellett sedan appeared in the market. It was powered by a 1.5-L OHV gasoline I4 and a 1.8-L diesel engine. A new 1.3-L OHC I4 engine was released in April 1964. The front fascia was revised in 1966 followed by yet another 1.6-L SOHC engine. The 1971 facelift model used the 1.8-L SOHC engine dropping the 1.6-L SOHC. With the addition of 1.8-L SOHC engine, the era of diesel-powered Belletts ended.
The Isuzu Bellett GT was introduced by Isuzu in April 1964. It was available as a 2-door coupe having 400 mm (1.6-inch) lower height compared to sedan. It was equipped with a twin-carbureted 1.6-L OHV gasoline engine. It was considered the first Japanese vehicle to be advertised as ‘GT” (Gran Turismo). A 1.5-L version of GT was added in the lineup in September 1964 along with other minor tweaks like front disc brakes, and revised front fascia. The base engine power was upgraded in September 1967. The engine was upgraded to SOHC in 1969 followed by an engine replacement with 1.8-L SOHC in 1970.
The racing version of the GT, the GT-R or GT Type-R was first introduced in September 1969. It was equipped with a 1.6-L DOHC engine taken from 117 Coupe. It also featured power brakes and several other improvements and enhancements. Its unique paint scheme with entirely black hood made it look different from other Belletts. Its fan community grew over time by increasing graph of its successes. Total of 1400 units of GT-R was produced by Isuzu.
Although, Isuzu GT-R was ranked one of the first Japanese vehicles to be called GT-R, but as a matter of fact, the Nissan Skyline GT-R was launched six months earlier with PGC10GT-R in March. In October 1969, the Holden Torana GTR was introduced. Prior to all these, there was present a Bridgestone GTR motorbike. Also, it is important to note here that Isuzu used the designation Type-R way before Honda.
The Bellet GT-R was ranked 10th in a list of the 50 greatest Japanese cars by the readers of the Japanese collector car magazine Nostalgic Hero in 2006.
A concept car named the Isuzu Bellett MX1600 was unleashed by Isuzu at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1969. Tom Tjaarda was the designer of this mid-engined, rear-wheel drive and 2-seater super sports car. Except for sharing the 1.6-L engine with GT-R, the concept vehicle had nothing much to do with Belletts. The MX1600 never went into production but certainly led the basis for the De Tomaso Pantera design by same designer.