The Isuzu Bellett was a subcompact car manufactured by Isuzu Motors Ltd. in Japan from 1963 to 1973. It was an in-house designed replacement for the Hillman Minx, assembled previously by Isuzu under a license agreement. The name "Bellett" was supposedly to represent "a smaller Bellel".
The car was available as a 4-door or 2-door sedan, a rare 2-door station wagon, called the Bellett Express, and an even rarer 2-door pickup truck known as the Isuzu Wasp. After General Motors acquired a stake in Isuzu, the Bellett was replaced by GM's "global" T-car, initially called Isuzu Bellett Gemini and later simply Isuzu Gemini, which technically had little to do with its predecessor. A total of 170,737 of original Belletts were manufactured.
Launched in June 1963, the sedan began life with a 1.5 L OHV gasoline I4 engine and a 1.8 L diesel engine. In April 1964, they were joined by a 1.3 L OHC I4 engine. In 1966, the front fascia was facelifted, and in 1967, a 1.6 L SOHC engine was added. It was replaced by a 1.8 L SOHC engine after the 1971 face lift, which also marked the end of diesel-powered Belletts.
A 1.6-litre sedan line was assembled in New Zealand by Campbell Industries at Thames from 1968-1970. Initial production had a silver grille and squared tail lamps; a facelift brought a new black grille and longer, rectangular tail lamps. The car was imported under '300 club' rules which encouraged assembly of up to 300 units a year. Isuzu car assembly stopped after GM took its stake; the next Isuzu to be built and sold in New Zealand was the 1977 Gemini, marketed by GMNZ as an Isuzu rather than a Holden as in Australia.
The Isuzu Bellett GT, launched in April 1964, was a 2-door coupe with a 40 mm (1.6 in) lower height than the sedan, fitted with a twin-carbureted 1.6 L OHV gasoline engine. It was the first Japanese car to be billed "GT" (Gran Turismo). September 1964 saw the arrival of a 1.5 L version of the GT, front disc brakes and some slight modifications to the front fascia. In September 1967, the base engine's power was increased, along with the addition of a fastback body style. Two years later, the 1.6 L engine was upgraded to a SOHC design, and in 1970 it was replaced by a 1.8 L SOHC engine.
The GT-R, more specifically GT Type-R (for "racing"), was a racing version of the GT, also available to individual customers. First presented in September 1969, the GT-R featured a 1.6 L DOHC engine from the 117 Coupe, power brakes and numerous other modifications. It was visually different from other Belletts primarily by a specific paint scheme, which included a completely black hood. The GT-R achieved many successes in racing, and has gained its own fan community. Only about 1,400 GT-Rs were manufactured.
Though the GT-R was one of the first cars to be called "GT-R", the Nissan Skyline GT-R was in fact earlier, with the PGC10 GT-R being released six months beforehand, in March 1969. The Holden Torana GTR was released in October 1969. However, there was a Bridgestone GTR motorbike which predates all of these. It is also worth noting that Isuzu used the Type-R designation long before Honda adopted it.
In 2006, readers of Japanese collector car magazine Nostalgic Hero ranked the Bellett GT-R 10th in a list of the 50 greatest Japanese cars. Results were published in issue 116 (August 2006) as well as a Nostalgic Hero Extra Edition (Geibun Mooks No. 555) published April 20, 2007.
At the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show, Isuzu presented a concept car called Isuzu Bellett MX1600, designed by Tom Tjaarda. It was a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive 2-seater super sports car. Apart from sharing the 1.6 L engine with the GT-R, the MX1600 had little to do with any production Bellett, and it never materialized into a production vehicle, but it is said to have inspired the De Tomaso Pantera by the same stylist.
The 1969 Bellett GT-R is a playable car in the Polyphony Digital video game Gran Turismo 4 for the PlayStation 2. In simulation mode, it is available as a used car only (even though it is at the Isuzu showroom, but not able to be bought there) and comes in three colors: white, gold and orange. It can also be played in the Polyphony Digital video game Gran Turismo 5 for the PlayStation 3. Now equipped with a horn and can only be purchased as a used Standard car.