The Isuzu Piazza Turbo is a cool 1980s coupé you’ve never heard of
Hidden among the boxy delights of Eighties Sunday Breakfast Club lurked an unassuming coupé. Low to the ground with replica RS Watanabe wheels, it’s every boy’s dream retro drift car – they just don’t know it yet.
For this was Matthew Abela’s Isuzu Piazza Turbo, a car so rare that only 15 remain on the road – two in this exact ‘handling by Lotus’, automatic configuration. Dating from 1989, the rear-wheel-drive Piazza Turbo is powered by a 2.0-litre, turbocharged inline-four. Putting out 150 horsepower, it’s neither the fastest of its kind, but it holds a special place in owner Matthew Abela’s heart.
Electrical Engineer Abela is an active member of Driven Escape, a mental health support group on Facebook and Instagram, which encourages motoring fans to get involved in driving and working on their cars in order to ‘escape from reality’. The Facebook page, which boasts more than 1,100 likes, sells stickers in aid of Mental Health research UK.
“Driven Escape has helped me massively when I’ve been struggling,” Abela explained, admitting that he bought the Piazza Turbo for that very reason. “I used to own a Toyota AE86 Corolla – I used it for drifting – and made a massive mistake and sold it. About a year on, I really missed and it messed me up mentally, so my mate offered me a Piazza Turbo £500 just to keep me busy – as a distraction from real life.”
As it turned out, Abela ended up buying not one, but two Turbos – the rusty one his friend offered him, and another, in immaculate condition, that had sat in a garage gathering dust for the past 16 years.
It was the latter that caught our eye’s at the final Breakfast Club of 2019 , and apparently too at ‘Oh So Retro’ earlier this year, where it was chosen as one of the top 20 in show, not long after 27-year-old Abela had got in back on the road. So what exactly did he have to do to turn the barn find into a prize winner, I wondered?
“We got it running within a few weeks, but then had a few teething issues – the fuel tank was all clogged up so it wasn’t sucking enough fuel it – it would sit in idle but then as soon as you went to drive it, it would just die,” he commented. “So we put a new cambelt on it, new fuel in it and it started straight up – that was it.
“I’m going to take the five-speed manual box from my other Piazza, and overhaul the engine bay because that’s a bit of a mess at the moment."
Continuing, he added: “It’s lowered about 3 or 4 inches, but because there’s nothing about for modifying them, the rear is Mk.2 escort front lowering springs – they just fit right in – and the front is a bodge up – it’s just cut springs, purely because I haven’t found anything to work on it. You can’t get front disks for it either – my mate used Subaru Impreza calipers, made a bracket and used Ford Escort disks.
“I had a ceramic coating put on it last week because beforehand it was a faded pink kind of colour and as I was coming here, I wanted it to look its best. The replica wheels cost me about £300 – that’s probably the most expensive bit of the car – and then the steering wheel.
“I spent £500 on the car,” he continues. “And with everything else, I’ve spent less than £1500, all in.”
And what’s it like to drive? “It’s like driving a normal car,” Matt explains. “When you’ve got the windows up its completely quiet inside. It’s a four-speed auto and the overdrive in it only works when it gets up to temperature, but it runs really cold, so you can’t have the heaters on, because as soon as you turn the heaters on it comes out of overdrive and sits in third on the motorway. So basically, if it starts raining it just mists up on the inside and you have to open a window.”
And finally, plans for the future? Would he drift the finished product? “This is the longest drive I’ve done with it and I’m just getting a feel for it,” he admitted, “so I haven’t done anything silly in it yet!”
And what about shows? “Everything I can get it to, I will, just because no-one’s seen them – I’m going to put miles on it! If you take it places you get people of an older generation who haven’t seen one of these in forever, or you get those who are slightly younger who’re like ‘I’ve never seen one of these in my life, what is it?’
“Most importantly, I’m going to keep it,” he laughed. “It’s definitely a keeper…”