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Category: badge engineering

Junkyard Gem: 2006 Isuzu Ascender

Things got a little unsettled with the lesser-known players in the GM Empire during the years leading up to the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with plenty of mix-and-match branding efforts. Suzuki badges on Daewoos? Sure thing! Rebadged Subarus for Saab? Why not? One of the sadder stories during this era was the fate of once-proud Isuzu, which was down to just two rebadged Chevrolet passenger vehicles for its final few years in the United States: the I-Series pickup (Colorado) and Ascender midsize SUV (Trailblazer). Here’s an example of the latter type, found in a Silicon Valley self-service car graveyard recently.

Isuzus first entered the American automotive mainstream in 1972, when GM started bringing over Isuzu Faster pickups and selling them with Chevrolet LUV badges. Isuzu began selling I-Marks, P’ups and Troopers here in 1981, followed by Impulses and Styluses (and their Chevrolet/Geo-badged siblings). Isuzu’s real sales success here proved to be with its well-priced trucks; the final U.S.-market Isuzu cars were 1993 models but Rodeos, Troopers and Amigos continued to fly out of American Isuzu showrooms during the decade.

Then sales slumped as the 2000s dawned. The aging Trooper couldn’t compete against a bunch of fresh new rivals and got the axe after 2002. The VehiCROSS was too radical to succeed and was done after 2001. The Amigo (aka Rodeo Sport) went away after 2003, leaving just the Rodeo and the Axiom in the Isuzu lineup. For the 2005 model year, there were no genuine Isuzus left here, just rebadged Chevrolets (Isuzu commercial trucks continued to be sold, of course, and you can still buy a new one today).

GM introduced its new GMT360 SUV platform with the 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada. Sales of those trucks were brisk, and American Isuzu dealers got their own version starting with the following model year: the Ascender, which was supposed to replace the Trooper.

The only meaningful difference between the Ascender and its Chevy/GMC/Olds siblings was its generous Isuzu warranty. On the minus side, Isuzu was in obvious trouble here and potential Ascender buyers feared getting stuck with a truck lacking a dealer network (a genuine concern so soon after Daewoo owners had been directed to the Pep Boys for warranty service in the wake of Daewoo Motor America’s bankruptcy).

In the end, the Ascender and I-Series didn’t sell well. GM announced the discontinuation of the seven-seat Ascender for 2006, with rumors of the five-seater’s demise beginning soon after. 2008 ended up being the final year for new non-commercial Isuzu vehicles in the United States.

Buick and Saab also got their own versions of the Trailblazer, the Rainier and 9-7X.

The actress in this Ascender commercial did a fine job of sneering out the word “minivan” with the appropriate contempt.

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Junkyard Gem: 1997 Cadillac Catera

GM’s Cadillac Division was having a tough time in the early 1990s, with an onslaught of Lexuses and Infinitis pouring across the Pacific to steal their younger customers while high-end German manufacturers picked off their older customers. Flying an S-Class-priced model between assembly lines in Turin and Hamtramck hadn’t worked out, so why not look to the European outposts of the far-flung GM Empire for the next Cadillac? That’s how the Catera was born, and I have found a rare first-year example in a North Carolina car graveyard.

Across the Atlantic, GM’s Opel and Vauxhall were doing good business with prosperous European car buyers by selling them the sleek rear-wheel-drive Omega B (whose platform also lived beneath the Holden VT Commodore in Australia). Here was a genuine German design that competed with success against BMW and Audi on their home turf!

So, the Omega B was Americanized and renamed the Catera. Opel wasn’t a completely unknown brand to Americans at the time, since its cars were sold here with their own badging through Buick dealerships from the middle 1950s through the late 1970s (for a much shorter period, American Pontiac dealers attempted to sell Vauxhalls). Even after that, plenty of Opel DNA showed up in the products of U.S.-market GM divisions.

The Catera was by far the most affordable Cadillac for 1997, with an MSRP starting at $29,995 (about $59,113 in 2024 dollars). Being a genuine German car, it looked much more convincingly European than the DeVille ($36,995), Eldorado ($37,995) and Seville ($39,995).

Inspired by the ducks on the Cadillac emblem (they were really supposed to be martlets, mythical birds with no feet and occasionally lacking beaks), Cadillac’s marketers went after youthful car shoppers with a whimsical animated duck named Ziggy. For the 21st century, the birds were removed from the Cadillac emblem in order to attract California buyers under 45 years of age.

As we all know, the Catera flopped hard in the marketplace. What sold well in Europe turned out not to translate so well in in North America, especially when bearing the badges of such a historically prestigious brand.

The Catera’s engine was a 54-degree 3.0-liter V6 rated at 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet.

Just as had been the case with its predecessor, the Allanté, no manual transmission was available.

Americans tend to not maintain their cars as meticulously as their European counterparts, and they drive much longer distances in harsher weather conditions on worse roads, so the Catera proved much less reliable than its Omega counterparts across the ocean.

A Holden-ized version of the Catera’s chassis returned to our shores in 2004, underpinning the Pontiac GTO. This means that LS swaps into Cateras shouldn’t be too difficult…

After 2001, the Catera was gone. However, the suits at Cadillac had learned by then that pasting their badges on the GMC Yukon Denali was like having a license to print money. Rappers were rhyming about the new Cadillac truck, and the under-80 crowd flocked to Cadillac showrooms. During the 2000s, new Cadillac car models (some using members of the Catera’s 54° V6 engine family) continued the Cadillac revival, and the shameful memories of Ziggy faded.

But the junkyard never forgets, so let’s watch some more Catera commercials.

Hey, Cindy Crawford listened to Ziggy the Duck!

Ziggy also worked as a personal trainer.

Isn’t it time you took a test drive?

Wait, Opel says it should survive 10,000 miles of abuse in Arizona.

Those Omega owners sure have fun.

The Vauxhall version had 69 billion possibilities in its security codes, and it was pronounced “OH-muh-guh.”

Just the thing to drive around a surreal desert.

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Junkyard Gem: 1995 Mazda B4000 LE Cab Plus

Starting in 1972, Ford began selling Mazda Proceed pickups with Courier badges in the United States. At the same time, Mazda was selling the same trucks here as the B-Series. Then the Ranger replaced the Courier in 1983, while the B-Series remained available in North America through 1993. For 1994, the Mazda/Ford pickup world got flipped on its head, with a Mazda-ized Ranger taking over the B-Series name here. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of the early Ford-built Mazda pickups, found in a North Carolina car graveyard recently.

The precedent for slapping Mazda badges on U.S.-market Ford trucks began with the 1991 model year, when the brand-new Explorer went on sale as the Mazda Navajo. During the 1990s, plenty of Mazda-derived Ford and Mercury models were being sold here, including the Ford Festiva, Ford Probe, Ford Escort, Mercury Tracer and Mercury Capri, so it made sense to deepen the relationship by moving some Dearborn iron in the other direction.

But still, some in Hiroshima must have been saddened by the replacement of the proud B-Series with Ford products.

The four digits after the B in B-Series model designations referred to engine displacement in cubic centimeters, with the 1971 B1600 beginning that tradition. This truck being a B4000, it has the 4.0-liter version of the pushrod Cologne V6 engine. Output was 160 horsepower and 225 pound-feet. B2300s and B3000s were available as well.

The first appearance of the Cologne V6 in new cars sold in the United States was in the 1969 Capri, which was sold through Mercury dealers here but never given Mercury badging. The SOHC version of the Cologne 4.0 was bolted into various new U.S.-market Fords all the way through the early 2010s.

This truck is the most expensive rear-wheel-drive Mazda B-Series available for the 1995 model year, with the long wheelbase, the biggest engine, the top LE trim level and the extended Cab Plus.

Its MSRP was $16,035, or about $33,322 in 2024 dollars.

It’s in pretty good condition, with just over 100,000 miles on the clock.

The final model year for the Ranger-based Mazda B-Series pickups in the United States was 2009.

“I think I’ve shoveled more species of manure than anyone in the country.”

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