When my wife and I first met, I had a lowered Eagle Talon. She had an Isuzu Amigo. And oh, the places we would go in that thing. We almost got stuck in a sandy river bed out by Bouse, spectating a stage rally. We pulled a 2WD Montero Sport—and it’s two jet skis—out of Lake Pleasant when they spun their wheels. It was no Jeep, but it was excellent in almost every regard.
To this day, I still love Isuzu 4WD. Especially Amigos. Which is why I was so excited when Rob linked me to a local with a pretty incredible Amigo. It might not be as pretty or polished as some of the vehicles we’ve featured here, but it’s a beast deserving of recognition in its own right.
It’s an amazing machine!
[tgp] Introductions: We’re all about the respect and recognizing the people behind the amazing machines we feature. Can I get your real name? Maybe where you live and what you do for a living?
[dh] My name is Dave Hazak. I live in Phoenix, AZ, and I am a Mini Cooper technician at Mini of North Scottsdale.
[tgp] My understanding is you’ve got a hell of an Isuzu Amigo. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?
[dh] Thank you. It has definitely transformed into something pretty rad! I sold a 1960 Ford F100 to fund the build and my wife still gets mad at me for that, haha.
On Isuzu Amigos
[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As an Amigo 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?
[dh] I think Isuzus in general are grossly underrated. They had the most powerful engines available at that time in their respective market. Rodeo/Amigo/Honda Passport had a DOHC V6 with just over 200 horsepower and the Trooper had a 3.5V6 with around 215/220 HP. The one caveat is that the engines had a problem with consuming oil, so frequent top-offs are necessary.
The GM 4L30E auto transmission they used was the weak point and notorious for losing 1st gear. The manual transmissions MUA5 (Rodeo/Amigo) and AR5 (Trooper) are bulletproof. The 4×4 Amigo and Rodeo came stock with a Dana 44HD which uses a slightly larger ring gear than a standard 44 as well as 3.25″ diameter tubes.
[tgp] How did you end up with a SAS’d Amigo? Why did you decide to go this big on what is—speaking as a former, fellow owner who freaking loves Isuzus—a largely forgotten platform?
[dh] It was entirely by chance. My daily transportation was an adventure motorcycle that I had used to explore a ton of the state that is not accessible by road vehicles and I wanted to show my wife all the great things AZ has to offer. I talked to her about possibly getting a 4×4 and she agreed.
The next day I showed up to work and this little blue Isuzu Amigo had been traded in the night before. My manager sold it to me for $1,800 and after a few months of fighting with the notorious Calmini, I finally got my 3″ lift kit.
I spent about a year cruising the fire roads and a couple slightly harder trails. Then one of my coworkers took me on a crawling trail and I was hooked. The next time I went out, I broke a CV and knew I had no choice if I wanted to keep wheeling the harder trails.
[tgp] Isuzu had (has) some legit 4WD machines. Let’s say I’m reading this and am reminded how much I used to love an Isuzu 4WD of some type—an Amigo, a Trooper, a VehiCROSS—can you speak to something like which models are likely better suited to which kind of build? You know, what to look for (and look out for)?
[dh] They all have their own perks and drawbacks. I personally prefer the Rodeo and Amigo as the body is smaller and they come with that great rear axle. The Trooper and VX have a pretty stout Isuzu 12 bolt rear, but aftermarket support is far less than the Dana variant. Trooper and VX have more power. Some were all wheel drive rather than part-time 4wd. Rodeo and Amigo can be found for much cheaper also, so more money for modifications.
The Isuzu 4WD Community
[tgp] How’s the Isuzu 4WD community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot? (For the record, TGP loves Planet Isuzoo.)
[dh] The community is actually quite strong and is international. I don’t spend much time online, so I don’t know much about “The Planet”, but Isuzu Trader on Facebook is a HUGE community of Isuzu lovers. Not just offroad related either. Lots of minitruck guys as well as some Impulse owners.. Lots of shared tech, ideas, troubleshooting and just cool pictures. Maybe a goat picture every now and then. The unofficial mascot is Steevie the goat.
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?
[dh] The hate for other brands other than what any given person has. It’s not quite as bad in the offroad community as vintage cars/trucks, but still there. I think people need to focus more and appreciate the time, money, and passion put into any modified vehicle regardless of manufacturer. The one thing I don’t like is the recent trend of building a “shitbox”. Having an unsafe vehicle that is highly likely to break down is not cool.
[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?
[dh] My buddies Ben Unna and Keola Santiago who were the ones that introduced me to rock crawling. Also Joe Giuliano who did the axle swap and rear coil-to-leaf conversion.
Here’s to radical friends.
One of the nicest things about being a gearhead is how easily we can get out of our comfort zones when we want to. You get a chance to try something new, you give it a shot and maybe discover your next big idea.
Do you need to solid axle swap an Isuzu Amigo to go off-road? Not at all—but if you want to do the kind of rock crawling Dave does in the Radmigo, it’s probably a good idea.
Here’s to the lesser known, but still absolutely amazing machines of the world. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Dave! We’ll keep an eye out for you on the trails this summer.