1988 Isuzu LS SpaceCab Pickup Truck

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Several months after I finished rebuilding the engine of my 1977 Chevy Luv, I decided it was really time to get a new truck. My wife agreed with me, perhaps because she was tired of seeing me out in the garage and driveway nearly every day tinkering with the engine.

One weekday evening in late August 1998 we decided to go down to the local South Bay, San Diego, Chevy / Isuzu dealer “just to check out what they had.” We drove my Luv down to the same dealer we purchased our Chevette from a year earlier, walked in, and saw what to me was about the most beautiful baby pickup ever sitting in the middle of the showroom. It was a brand new 1988 Isuzu “LS” model pickup, black with lots of chrome trim and red accent decals. I pretty much knew what I wanted in a pickup after 11 years of driving (and working on) my Luv and this truck had it all.

We looked at it, was accosted by several salespeople who quickly offered to roll it outside for a test drive. I agreed to the drive, and while we waited for them to get it outside looked at the lineup of P’up trucks Isuzu was cranking out at that time. They were nice, but did not have the features I was looking for. The salespeople got the LS outside, I drove it around the block a few times, and that was it. I had found my new truck.

We did the paperwork that evening using my Luv as a trade-in. My wife was much better than me at haggling so I let her do the talking. We ended up with top dollar for my Luv and a good price on the LS with a 4 year loan, and drove my new truck off the lot about 10:30 PM that night. It had 88 miles on the odometer

During the one year warranty period the only problem I had was the starter motor coming loose. It handled well and had plenty of interior room with the half-cab and rear bench seat. With the automatic transmission my wife was not afraid to drive it, so now we had two cars she could drive. It looked sharp, had great air conditioning, and with the sun roof opened I felt like I was back in a convertible again.

I ended up keeping this truck sixteen years and never had any regrets about buying it. I also made the decision that with this truck my days as a shade-tree mechanic were over. I decided that any significant engine work, including oil changes, would be done by real mechanics. This was another decision I never regretted.

I was still assigned to a submarine tender at this time, but six months after the purchase I received transfer orders to Naples, Italy. The transfer was to be the following September, just days after the truck’s one year warranty expired. I began to hear horror stories about driving in Italy (which turned out to be understated), and was concerned about getting any needed maintenance parts overseas on a US spec truck. There were also some legal issues with shipping a car overseas while making payments on it. After a lot of discussion, my wife and I decided to put the truck into long-term storage, at our expense, during the three years we would be in Italy.

There were several auto storage companies in San Diego, all catering to the local Military. I made the rounds and selected one in downtown San Diego with indoor storage facilities. The week before leaving San Diego I drove my beautiful truck to the facility with just about 12,000 miles on the odometer. I paid for indoor storage and monthly engine starts on a three year fixed rate. I would not see my truck again for three years.

During the time we were in Italy we continued making payments and actually paid off the loan the month before leaving Italy. My orders had me in San Diego for only a few weeks prior to catching a new construction ship in Pascagoula Mississippi, then returning to San Diego for the newly commissioned ship’s homeport. My wife and I flew directly back to San Diego from Italy in February 1993. The morning after arriving in San Diego we went down to the local DMV to get new registration.

When I left San Diego, there was no requirement to keep active registration on a vehicle in long-term storage. At the DMV, I discovered the law had changed during the time we were gone. The DMV official demanded over $800 in back registration and penalties to gain new plates. She was completely unmoved by the fact that being out of the country meant I had no way of knowing about the change in requirement. I needed the truck so I paid.

My next shock was getting the truck out of storage.

My cousin drove us down to the storage facility after leaving the DMV. I had mailed the facility when to expect me, and had no indications there would be any problems. There were. When I arrived, I was told that during the time I had the truck stored there, the monthly fees had increased and I owed an additional $800. I argued that the contract was a fixed rate, but it didn’t matter. The manager demanded cash if I wanted to get my truck out. I decided to pay and take the SOB to small claims court after the fact. I paid, and then was told my truck was at a repair shop. It seemed that the manager had “just discovered” that the truck would not start due to a faulty fuel pump. He helpfully explained that fuel pumps typically failed after several years of non-starting. I pointed out that my contract called for monthly engine starts, and the manager just shrugged.

I ended up paying about $800 more to get the truck fixed, and when I finally reclaimed it noticed right away there were more problems. There was an additional 180 miles on the odometer over what I had bringing her in. One vent window had been replaced, the console tray was badly scuffed (indicating a lot of usage) exterior decals were faded, and the tires were nearly bald. I also discovered that the keys they gave me back were not the same as the original. I guessed that the keys had gotten lost during the years my truck was in storage.

I did a complete examination of the truck back at my relative’s house and discovered an oil change sticker on the inside door frame showing an oil change at 30,000 miles. I took the truck to the dealer repair shop where I bought it and learned the front brake pads had been replaced with non-factory pads, and the rear pads were nearly worn down. It was obvious the truck had been used extensively and the odometer rolled back, then stored outdoors for an extended period of time. That raised the issue of license and insurance on a vehicle being operated that the storage lot had no title for.

By this point I was seriously pissed. I contacted the local fraud department of the San Diego police, and they just brushed me off. I contacted the local Better Business Bureau, of which this storage facility claimed to be a member of, and was told the BBB did not intervene in disputes. I even contacted the California State fraud unit, pointing out that my vehicle had obviously been driven with invalid registration, no insurance, and the odometer had been illegally changed, and I could prove all of that. Once again there was no interest in investigating.

I also spoke with a Navy attorney about the penalty fees I was charged by the DMV. The lawyer determined I had actually been charged with a misdemeanor for which I was entitled to a court hearing. He wrote a formal letter to the state of California requesting that I be refunded the fine due to my overseas posting. The state never replied.

I prepared the paperwork to take the storage facility to small claims court after returning to San Diego from Pascagoula. At that time, the maximum small claims limit was $10,000 and I had my claim maxed out.

My wife and I drove our truck across country to Pascagoula, Mississippi in June, 1993, for what we expected would be a six month stay. Before we left San Diego I had a tonneau cover installed and the interior of the bed lined with a polyurethane coating going by the brand name “Rhino Lining.” Adding the cover and bed lining was about the best decision I had made since buying the truck in the first place.

The drive across country was a leisurely four days with sight-seeing. After we arrived in Pascagoula, the ship I was assigned to was delayed in construction for six more months, then the homeport was changed from San Diego to Hawaii. We ultimately purchased a house near Pascagoula, sold our house in San Diego, and I went with the ship to Hawaii while my wife stayed behind in Mississippi. I never returned to San Diego for anything more than short visits and never had my day in court. Not having the chance to take that storage facility to court continues to irritate me to this day.

I never actually knew how many miles the facility had actually put on my truck, but I guessed at about 35,000. I can also say that the viciousness of the California DMV, and the complete lack of interest by any city or state agency in going after the storage facility, were factors in my decision to take up residency in Mississippi.

My truck would be a Mississippi vehicle for the rest of the time I owned it. I finished up my Navy career in Hawaii while my wife stayed behind in Mississippi. I knew I would be retiring and coming back to Mississippi, and that I really didn’t need a vehicle while in Hawaii. We decided to wait on buying a second vehicle until after I returned.

My wife kept the truck in good condition during the next two years. I finally returned home for good in February, 1996, as a civilian. My wife was waiting for me at the airport, with the truck, and I was extremely happy to see both of them again. By now, we had owned the truck for seven years and I had personally put about two years worth of driving time on her.

The next few years passed quickly. We purchased a 1991 Volvo Sedan for my wife a few months after I returned from Hawaii, so the truck was now all mine to drive. I never took it on long (more than one days driving distance) trips, but I put on a lot of miles driving around the Gulf Coast. For almost five years, I never needed to perform any maintenance other than routine oil changes and normal inspections.

In November 2001 my wife and I divorced. There was no discussion on who was getting the truck – she got her Volvo. Now I was down to a single car and didn’t have money to even think about buying another vehicle. My truck was twelve years old and beginning to demand some care and attention.

Small things began to need fixing, mostly as a result of the years of long service. I quickly discovered that the only Isuzu dealer on the Mississippi coast would not touch my truck as it was more than ten years old. (Refusing me service would later cost this dealership a new car sale). I finally located a small foreign car repair shop that had mechanics who were actually honest and knew what they were doing. Over the next several years they got to know me and my truck extremely well.

The disadvantage of this repair shop was that it was about 18 miles from the house, away from where I worked, and I didn’t know anyone I worked with living in that area. So every time I needed to take my truck in for repairs, I would make arrangements with the nearby Enterprise Rental Agency to pick me up at the shop, then rent a car while my truck was in for repairs. Sometimes parts were hard to find so occasionally the truck would be in the shop several days. Even though the mechanical systems were failing, the body was still in near-perfect condition excepting a few nicks and dings. When the truck was cleaned and polished she still looked sharp, and the interior upholstery was also in near perfect condition.

By September 2004 the one thing I could still say about my truck was that for the now fifteen years I had owned her, she always got me home. Not once had the truck ever broken down and stranded me on the highway, even with about 215,000 actual miles. That changed on September 14, 2005.

Hurricane Ivan was approaching landfall on the Gulf Coast. On Monday September 12, the storm was a category four and expected landfall was more or less at my front door. I decided to listen to the numerous “experts” screaming about evacuation and made arrangements to spend a few days with my Nephew’s family in Tennessee.

I drove north with my truck loaded with essentials, leaving my house about 8:00 AM on Wednesday September 14. I was twelve hours ahead of the storm’s landfall, the roads were empty, all I-65 highway lanes were opened for northbound evacuation traffic, and it was a beautiful “calm before the storm” morning. About 10:00 that morning, north of Mobile, Alabama, driving north in the normal southbound lane, I was feeling so good I reached behind me and patted myself on the back for just once doing a storm evacuation right.

At that moment, the truck died.

I coasted over to the side of the highway and stopped. I checked the engine but could not see anything obviously wrong. A highway patrolman guarding the on-ramp quickly spotted me and came over. We managed to get the truck started and I drove up to a gas station by the ramp. It was the only building for as far as my eyes could see. I soon figured out that I had no radiator water. Then I discovered the cause was a massive rupture in one of my water hoses. I was now stranded in the middle of no where with a broken truck right in the path of an approaching category four hurricane. I called AAA for help.

Two hours later there was still no tow truck in sight. By now, the gas station had already closed for storm evacuation and the nearby highway patrolmen, still guarding the on-ramp, were concerned about me. I was also concerned about me. After several more calls to AAA, the dispatcher finally admitted they could not get any tow truck out to me due to the storm evacuations. Now extremely concerned about me, I talked with the patrolmen and they agreed to get me a tow.

A local tow truck from the nearby town of Brewton, Alabama, arrived about one hour later. The driver was extremely grumpy about being called out. I really didn’t care – the local cops had ordered him to get me. Once hitched up and away from the gas station, he informed me the tow would cost $100 – cash – “storm prices.” I told him he’d have to take a credit card, as I didn’t have that much cash on me. This made him even grumpier. I still didn’t care; I was going to a town with people.

The driver got me to the (only) auto repair shop in Brewton about 2:00PM. The shop was still open and much to the credit of the owner and mechanics they actually tried to get my truck running again. They made up a replacement hose, filled up the cooling system, and then discovered the head had warped from overheating. The shop owner, three mechanics and I stood around my truck looking at the leaking head in silence for a few moments.

By now it was 5:00PM, the storm winds picking up, and the mechanics had to get home. The owner closed up and took me to the town storm shelter.

That night the storm literally wrecked Brewton. I couldn’t even make contact with the shop owner for two days as we had no power or phone service. Finally, I made arrangements with a person I met at the shelter to get me home, and contacted the owner’s son to open up the shop so I could at least get my possessions out of my poor old truck.

It took nearly six weeks to get my truck repaired and back home. I had no way of contacting the mechanics for several weeks, and by the time I did learned that the mechanics machined down the head instead of simply replacing it, which would have been my choice. The truck was never the same again.

I actually purchased my new 2004 Isuzu Rodeo before getting my truck back home, which was just as well as the truck simply didn’t run the way she used to. The mechanics had machined 20 thousandths off the head to get it back in true, which is a lot; for an engine head normal machining skims off one to two thousandths. The engine had poor power afterward, ran rough and used a lot of fuel. For the last year I owned her, I kept her for local travel only.

I also started a vending machine route in March 2005, and my old truck was perfect for use in servicing the route. Using the truck also kept miles down on my new Rodeo. On the flip side, the truck air conditioner was about gone and would have had to be replaced with a completely different type using the newer refrigerant. The work was expensive, so I kept thinking about it, along with considering an engine rebuilt. Then the decision was taken out of my hands.

My new wife had finally arrived from China July 15, 2005. On Saturday, August 6, we were out driving around the Mississippi Gulf Coast showing her the sights. I got so busy showing her the sights that I forgot to watch the road – and ended up rear ending another car with my nearly new Rodeo.

The damage was not significant as collision damage goes, but meant putting the Rodeo in the body shop for repairs. My truck once again became our only means of transportation. My Rodeo was still in the body shop on August 27, when we had to make a determination on evacuating for Hurricane Katrina.

Knowing my truck was not even in as good a condition as the previous year, when it left me stranded in Hurricane Ivan, helped me decide to ride out the storm at home. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the storm surge floodwater rose up to just about the top of the dashboard (from underneath), ruining literally every electrical component in the truck. She never ran again.

The very last service my truck provided was as a fuel supply. As standard storm preps I had filled her up the day before the storm. In the week following, when fuel was not available anywhere locally, I drained the gas tank into a friends truck so he had enough fuel to go up north for supplies.

My truck sat in my driveway for several weeks waiting for the insurance adjusters to do their paperwork. In late October, the insurance company sent over a tow truck to pull her away. I watched my pretty little pickup towed away for the last time.

Several weeks later, a friend told me he spotted my truck sitting in salvage lot over in Gulfport, Mississippi, apparently waiting to be scrapped.

Ron Charest

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Updated: January 4, 2022. Added links to related content, converted to blocks format.

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