Holden has always been known as an “Australian” car, but since the 1950’s Holdens have been exported to New Zealand and south-east Asian countries. There have also been examples of where Holdens have been exported to other countries, but rebadged as another make of car. This blog post highlights one of the more unusual examples of this – the 1973 Isuzu Statesman De Ville.
The reason why an Australian car was sent to Japan and badged differently is due to the “limousine/luxury” class of cars that are built in Japan for the use of company executives, senior government officials, the Prime Minister of Japan and the Japanese Imperial Family. These cars are generally larger than the models used by the general public, both in engine size and wheelbase, and are luxuriously equipped. Examples include the Toyota Century, which has been produced in various models since 1967, the Nissan President, which was manufactured between 1965 and 2010, and the Mitsubishi Debonair, which was manufactured between 1964 and 1998.
While sales and revenue for such cars is minimal compared to other models, the prestige and publicity gained is sought by Japanese manufacturers, in the hope that sales of their “bread and butter” models will increase. This what happened in 1973, when Isuzu decided to enter the limousine/luxury market. They faced one major problem – the range of cars that they were producing in Japan did not include a model in the size required for a limousine/luxury car. A solution was at hand, though. Since 1972 General Motors had taken a 34% ownership stake, which meant that Isuzu had access to GM products sold elsewhere around the world, including Australia. Isuzu decided that the recently introduced Statesman De Ville, based on the 1971 HQ Holden chassis, would form the basis for their car in the limousine/luxury market.
The De Villes were sent to Japan in completely knocked down (CKD) form, and were reassembled at the Isuzu factory. The only changes to the car were the fitting of exterior rear-view mirrors on the front mudguards, side indicator lights below the “Statesman De Ville” badges on the mudguards, power windows being standard, some rather flashy and glitzy embroidery on the seats and different hubcap emblems.
Only 246 were sold between 1973 and 1976, before Isuzu exited the limousine/luxury class. Maybe the conservative types who used these cars wanted to keep with tradition and use a Toyota Century or the Nissan President.
I have no idea if any De Villes still survive in Japan. Interestingly, when Holden in Australia wanted a small-car model to challenge the highly successful Toyota Corolla, who did they turn to? Isuzu – the first model Holden TX Gemini from 1975 was based on the Isuzu Gemini, and featured the Isuzu’s 1.6 litre engine.
The other interesting part of the Isuzu Statesman De Ville is how golfing great Jack Nicklaus was used as a celebrity endorsement of the car. I can only presume that at this time, the “Golden Bear” was at the peak of his popularity around the world, and that by having his name attached to the car, Isuzu hoped to build up the prestige of the Statesman De Ville. As far as I know, Nicklaus never endorsed a car for the Japanese market again.