There was a time when social media was more social than media. I remember, 15-odd years ago, we had #carchat and #MotoramaLIVE. And we had VehiCross Tag. Somewhere, somehow, along the way, it was agreed that we should start playing tag online, around the world.
The way it worked was, when you saw an Isuzu VehiCross, you’d snap a picture, post it to Twitter, and tag a fellow gearhead. Boom. That person was now it—and everyone else knew it. To this day, in the rare instances I see a VehiCross in the wild, I feel an urgent need to snap a picture and tag someone.
What was the Isuzu VehiCross?
If you’re reading this, you probably know, but it’s such an interesting vehicle to think about. At a time when many OEMs were looking back to retro designs like the PT Cruiser, Thunderbird, and Mini (Cooper) and tooling up assembly lines for many, many years of small changes to largely static underpinnings, Isuzu pretty much said, “Hold my beer.”
The VehiCross went from 1993 Auto Show Concept to dealer lots in about four years. They used ceramic body stamping dies (instead of the usual, longer lasting metal ones), and only 5,958 were made before said dies crapped out. 1,800 or so stayed in Japan. The rest were sold in the United States.
Under all that futuristic sheetmetal and custom upholstery were many of the things that made the rest of the Isuzu 4WD line great—a 6VD1 (3.2L) or 6VE1 (3.5L) V6 and the “much loved” GM 4L30E automatic. Of course, the VehiCross got fancier bits under the hood, too, like remote reservoir struts and a fancy, BorgWarner Torque-On-Demand AWD system.
So what do you call a rapidly produced, limited production, SUV with advanced technology adapted to proven, legacy hardware, all wrapped in a body that STILL looks like it’s from the future 20 years later?
It’s an amazing machine!
[tgp] My understanding is you really, really like the Isuzu Vehicross. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?
[Julian] That’s a complete utter lie!!! Everyone knows I LOVE my Vehicles-Cross or as some people have come to call them, my Vehi-Cri. ( I have two.) It’s just such an unassuming off-roader.
On the Vehicross…
[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As a VX owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about them? What do you not love about them?
[Julian] Well, I picked up my first one back in 2010 out in Arizona and the second one just a few years later (both 2001 models). Funny enough, the owner at the time owned three himself. (I get it now.)
When I think about what I really love about these classics—I mean where do I start?—is that they are a diamond in the rough. They were very well ahead of their time and to date have held up in time. It’s hard to believe that 20 years later they still look like concept lunar vehicles. However, if I really have to pinpoint one thing I truly love, it’s the baffled stares I get on the road. The looks and stares just never get old. To be able to do so much with so little is quite the treat. Honestly, the list just continues from there.
I REALLY love how unassuming it is. At first glance, it’s immediately underestimated. I can’t tell you how many trails I’ve hit where the question is, “Do you think it can make it up there?” Then the looks I get when they see I’m the first one up top. HAHA
What do I not love? Again, if I had to pick one thing, I’d say maybe that they didn’t think of putting in a more powerful engine. It’s a good workhorse as it is, but a little more would have been perfect.
[tgp] How did you end up in this camp? Why have you stuck around as long as you have?
[Julian] It was a complete accident. At the time, I was looking for an SUV I could beat up and take anywhere. Those who know me know that I march to the beat of my own drum. I have a fond appreciation for automobiles. In 2020, with all the new tech out there, there’s come a whole new breed of car enthusiasts, but nothing that really has that one of a kind feel until you come across a “custom” overlander.
[tgp] How’s the Isuzu community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot? (Is Planet Isuzoo still going?)
[Julian] The Isuzu “Zu” community is very much alive and strong, but they like to lay low ‘till game day. I couldn’t tell you when they all hangout, but the majority are into the Rodeos and Troopers these days. The Vehi-Cri population is scattered worldwide. Planet Zu is also very much alive. It’s become the Zu Bible for most of us when we come to mechanical problems.
This gearhead life…
[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?
[Julian] This is a great question! I think the biggest issue we have with car culture is understanding the responsibilities that come with it. Kind of a learn to stand before you can walk and walk before you can run mentality. It’s true—sometimes you have to run first. However, it’s just not always the case. We put so much money into our rides and rigs, but if the driver isn’t up to par, one small mistake can change all of that.
I have been part of both the street race and the off-road community and I see more safety first awareness when wheeling than on the street. We can all have fun and enjoy the competition and creativity, but safety has to come first. That’s something that can’t be stressed enough.
I don’t care to attack the young drivers because we were all there at some point in our lives, but lately it’s been less responsible about the surroundings and others. I think the only thing we can do is keep the communities strong and going and look for better locations to enjoy the madness. Cars and Coffee has been doing it right for some time now. We can all have our fun as long as we don’t jeopardize others along the way.
[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?
[Julian] Well, this is a two part answer. I grew up watching my dad working on his ‘68 Mercury Cougar and my moms ‘68 Mustang GT/CS. I used to get mad because I was always voluntold to help out. (Which really meant, “Pass me the farking wrench”.) Funny enough, the bug bit me not long after and my love for cars grew and grew. It’s debatable to say that maybe it’s genetic.
My second influence was the late and great Paul Walker. We were friends for some time just prior to the Fast and Furious days and kept it going. We were always looking for rarity which is what created our friendship. One thing we agreed on was that there is always a story to be told about rarity.
From there, the passion just kept growing. I know it’s cliche’ to say the bond between man and machine is special, but let’s face it—deep down, we all have that kid in us that just gets behind the wheel of that one car that always makes us smile from ear to ear. For me it’s either speed or the trails where few can follow.
The VehiCross is one of the classic, polarizing vehicle designs. People love it. People hate it. (Kinda like the Aztek.) But it’s rare—and not just because there are likely only a couple thousand of them left in the world. They’re rare in that they stand out as something unique in a world fast becoming homogenous to a fault.
The VehiCross was a surprisingly good performer both on and off-road. It was an experiment in how far into the future a car maker could go with existing technology back in the days when car makers still took big chances on new and different things.
And hey, some people are STILL playing #VehiCrossTag on Twitter. Looks like @DougDeMuro and @BoziTatarevic are currently it.