1992 Isuzu Gemini Irmscher R: On the Road!

With the engine in, it was time to start hooking everything up and getting it ready. I started with the clutch and shifter linkage.  While the shifter linkage went on with ease, the clutch linkage was giving me a hard time. Even fully adjusted to the end stop, I wasn’t able to disengage the clutch.  My theory is that when I had the clutch resurfaced, they ground away a bit too much, moving the pressure plate further away from the throwout bearing and making it impossible to push the pedal far enough.  So, I turned up a quick spacer to sit on the end of the cable, giving me about 20mm of extra pull.  This seemed to fix the problem!

Next up, I got the spark plug wires installed, although I had to consult the internet to find out what order they hooked up to the coils on (turns out it’s 2 – 3 – 1 – 4).  With the wiring starting to fall into place, I got the call from Spencer at Dashbuilt Performance saying that my oil lines were finished.  He ended up welding AN fittings to the end of the factory pipes and then made up new braided lines to run between the fittings.  With those in my possession, I could really press on to the first start!

With oil in the engine, all that was left was to finish hooking up the wiring, toss the intercooler and intake piping on and then turn the key!

As you can see, even though the exhaust wasn’t hooked up, it fired right up and purred like a kitten.  Knowing that the engine was solid, it was time to start finishing it up and getting it ready for the first drive.  The intake piping and wiring was all finalized, the axles were put back in, the suspension and brakes reinstalled, the exhaust hooked up and the wheels thrown back on.

I dropped her off the stands and went for the first test drive up and down the driveway!

It was smooth as smooth can be and everything felt tight and perfect!  There was a small oil leak that took a bit of effort to get to, but with it sorted and the undercovers thrown back on, it was surprisingly solid.  I started venturing further and further, putting more kilometers on and getting the engine break-in going on in earnest.  I even drove it up to Dallas and back to visit some friends, which put about 600 km on the engine, and it ran flawlessly the whole way!  With the engine sorted, I started to turn to taking care of a few other things that were bothering me on the car.  Starting with the stereo.  It was held in with double sided tape, so I mounted it properly and tossed an old Zyklus boost gauge I had floating around in.

But, it turned out that the gauge had a busted membrane or something and made a terrible rattle on boost and the radio was shot as well.  So, I ripped the stereo out, tossed in a new Kenwood unit, threw in four new Kenwood 4-inch speakers, and bolted in a new Lamco boost gauge.

And of course now that it was running and driving well, I couldn’t help but get the Bellett out for a group picture!

With the engine fully broken in it was time to go through the rigamarole of getting it registered.  If you want more info on that, check out my Honda Beat, I go into much more detail there.  With plates on it I’ve put just about 3,600 km on the new engine and I’m absolutely loving driving it around!

1992 Isuzu Gemini Irmscher R: The Engine is In!

Work and life often get in the way of our progress on cars, but whenever I could steal a chance, I’d get out to the garage and work on bolting more and more stuff to the engine. Keep in mind, originally, this engine was meant to come out the bottom of the car with drivetrain, subframe, suspension, turbo, intake, etc. all attached. Since I’m going in through the top, I’ve got a hard road ahead.

Still, I wanted to get as much bolted to the engine/drivetrain as possible because access in the engine bay is extremely limited. So, all sensors, wiring, vacuum hoses, turbo, intake, downpipe, CAS, coils, etc. got bolted up. The only thing remaining to be attached is the intercooler and the vacuum hose to the cansiter. Now, some of the stuff will need to be dismantled a little to allow me to hook up the clutch cable and shifter cables, but for the most part, it’s good to go!

So, into the air she goes! Before I could slot it in however, I had to attach a final transmission brace and front engine mount bolt. I couldn’t install those while it was sitting on the ground because they kept running into my wooden blocks that were keeping the whole thing upright. It took us about an hour of fiddling, kicking and shoving to get it slotted in. One of the hardest parts was getting the output shaft for the rear drive slotted into the driveshaft while clearing the front A/C condenser. In the process, we smashed up my Intake Air Temperature sensor.

Fortunately, those are still available and a new one is on order! With some more kicking and pushing and swearing, the engine finally dropped into place and we started doing up motor mounts! There are three mounts that hold it in place, one on each side, one up front and one in the back mounted to the transfer case. I got all but the transfer case mount installed and the engine sitting in place on it’s own weight. The transfer case mount is going to be an entirely different battle though!

After the t-case mount, I’ve gotta hook up the wiring for the alternator and starter, then install the A/C compressor and power steering pump, pop on some new belts, throw in new plugs and wires, install the clutch and shifter cables, throw on the intercooler, and… oh… I’ve got to fix the oil cooler lines. One was broken from the previous owner. Fortunately, those are at Dashbuilt Performance getting AN fittings welded on!

More to come as I make more progress!

1992 Isuzu Gemini Irmscher R: The Story So Far

This story starts with a good buddy of mine, Flavien at Amagasaki Motors. We met at a random Cars and Coffee in Nagoya when I had the Honda Beat there, and realizing we’re both like-minded idiots for cars, we became good friends. He works at a shop called Amagasaki Motors out in Osaka exporting cars to the US. He’s always bringing weird and cool stuff to send overseas. So, one day he sends me a picture of this:

He’s never really tried to sell me a car before because he knows I have too many as it is, but he also knows I have a soft spot for Isuzus. This one in particular is a 1992 Isuzu Gemini Irmscher R. In the US we got this bodystyle as the Isuzu Stylus, and normally I wouldn’t entertain importing a car that we got here. However, this being the Irmscher R model means it came equipped with the 180 HP, turbocharged 4XE1-W engine mated up to a 43% front 57% rear AWD drivetrain. Now we’re talking!

Now, that’s a pretty rare car and a pretty rare drivetrain. We actually got the drivetrain in the US in the 2nd generation Isuzu Impulse RS, but they only imported a very small number of those. It means that I can still find some parts though. However, while Americans tend to view Isuzus as cheap and sometimes disposable, Japanese view Isuzus in a different light – and as they should, their history with Isuzu was much more storied and filled with beautiful classics like the 117 Coupe and the Bellett. This means that while a Stylus may be cheap here, the Geminis tend to pull a pretty penny there.

Knowing that I shouldn’t be able to afford it, I asked him why he sent it to me. He told me the price and I then immediately asked what was wrong with it. He wasn’t 100% sure, but he thought it might be a headgasket. Essentially, it would be fine, but if you leaned on it a bit or took it for a long drive, it would start to puke up coolant and get a little warm. Either way, it meant the head had to come off at a minimum and well, just look at the engine bay.

Yeah, with the amount of labor involved to get the head off, they couldn’t really make money on the vehicle. Knowing I was an aficionado of Isuzus, he asked if I was interested. Indeed I was, but I wanted to see it in person. Fortunately, I was flying out to Japan a few months later for business and it would give me the perfect opportunity to check it out.

Once I saw it in person, I was sold – I needed it. However, I was at my spouse-imposed limit of nine cars in the stable. One of them had to go. I had a 1979 Mazda RX-7 at the time and it’s the one that left. I still miss that car on the occasion, but I sold it to an awesome kid nearby, so I still get to play with it on the occasion!

With the RX-7 sold, I started the long, arduous journey of getting it back to here. If you’re curious what’s involved, watch my Honda Beat videos. Although, keep in mind I made those before I had Flavien ship a car to me, he’s helped simplify the process quite a bit. A few months of fiddling about later and she landed in Galveston!

Once home, I drove it up and down the driveway a few times, then immediately pulled her in and started work. It took me three days of disconnecting and removing bits and pieces just to get the head off. The biggest problem was that I couldn’t get to either the turbocharger bolts or the intake manifold bolts to remove them. So, I just left them attached, slid the hoist over and pulled the cylinder head out with the turbo and intake manifold still attached.

The head looked surprisingly good for something that had been having troubles with getting hot. The block on the other hand needed some love. The coolant channels around cylinders three and four were completely clogged up and nasty. No wonder it would get hot, coolant was only smoothly flowing through half the engine. I probably could have cleaned it out and flushed the entire cooling system and been alright, but I’d come this far and figured I might as well do it right. So, another day worth of work and I had the bottom end out

With the engine fully out, I dropped it off at the rebuilders to have the block hot-tanked, decked, honed and new main /connecting rod bearings and rings put in. Additionally, the entire head got dismantled, decked, and fully rebuilt. Nothing but new parts went in except for the main bearings. The ones we pulled out looked like they barely had any miles on them (which makes sense, the whole car is pretty low mileage) and despite a few weeks of searching in America, Japan and England (for the Lotus Elan M100), we kept couldn’t find anyone that had new ones in stock.

While the engine was at the machine shop, I dismantled the front end to get at a bit of rust that I knew was going to need work from when I saw it in person. Japanese batteries tended to leak and the battery acid just ate away paint and metal, causing the underside of battery trays to rust out. Aside from bodged wiring by previous owners, rusted battery trays is the single most common thing I’ve found on old Japanese cars. So, I cut out the old rust, welded in some new steel and coated it. The tray itself unbolted, but it was past it. So, I bent up some new metal and built a new from scratch.

With the engine back and the rust fixed, it was time to start reassembling things. Now, here’s the right way to remove and install the transmission: Remove the axles, remove the transfer case, then remove the transmission; reverse for installation. However, my axles were so stubbornly attached that I actually disassembled the CV-joints on the car to be able to remove the engine and transmission as a unit. On the ground, I still couldn’t get the axles out. So, I removed the transmission the hard way – with the transfer still attached. Technically, not supposed to be doable, but big screwdrivers, a lot of kicking and a whole lot of swearing got it done. After installing the new clutch disc, pressure plated and resurfaced flywheel, it was time to put the transmission with transfer back on.

Done and done! Minus the fact that it took two of us and it beat the crap out of us for about an hour and a half, but we got it done.

And that brings us up to date! I’ve still got a lot of work to do from here, but here’s a rare picture of when all four of my Isuzus were running at the same time.