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1979 Isuzu SBR 422 truck review

Isuzu restored the classic eight-tonne SBR to celebrate its amazing milestone of 25 years as the best selling truck-maker in Australia. It is a brilliant rebuild, with the Isuzu Australia team going to great lengths to resurrect a sorry and tired truck into something close to the rig that was released a decade before Isuzu became the country's No. 1 brand.

Back then, the Isuzu truck operation was very much part of the General Motors empire. This truck was assembled at Holden's Dandenong plant. GM has since sold its Isuzu share and the trucks are fully imported from Japan. Back in the SBR, the traffic lights go green and I hit the accelerator and wait... and wait and wait. It seems to take an eternity for the old dear to get going. The speed just builds slowly, there is no burst of turbo power, because there is no turbocharger.

The engine below is a six-cylinder, with a displacement of 5.8 litres, so it does have size on its side. But without a turbo, the power is limited to 97kW and maximum torque pegged at 343Nm. To put this in perspective, modern small diesel cars achieve similar figures and they were never designed to carry anything but a family and their gear.

The gearbox is a five-speed manual with synchromesh. It is easy enough to use on the way up through the gears, but the worn state of the synchros makes it tough to nail the down-changes.

These days the trucks get a six-speed manual but there is also the option of an automated manual that operates like a full automatic. Driving a brand new NQR truck, the modern SBR equivalent, reveals just how much faster trucks have become. The new machine snorts off the line, with 139kW and a relatively huge 510Nm available from just 1600rpm as the turbo works its magic.

It is 600cc smaller than the old SBR engine and also has two fewer cylinders, but the technology makes up for it. It is worth noting how much cleaner the new truck is thanks to its Exhaust Gas Recirculation and Diesel Particulate Filter, which catches soot then burns it off at super-high temperatures.

The old truck is easy to steer at higher speeds, although low-speed work can be hard given there is no power steering. It feels lovely and precise, though. Interestingly, the new truck's steering feels vague in comparison, with too much play, although it is less work in tight spaces thanks to its hydraulic assistance.

Isuzu went to great lengths to replicate the original SBR's interior and it is beautiful in a minimalist retro way. The blue vinyl seats have been reupholstered. They look and feel great, but are not that thick and don't feel overly supportive. Many Isuzus these days get a suspended driver's seat as standard, which makes a day behind the wheel a lot less tiring.

The new truck is far safer too. Anti-lock brakes and traction control were a long way away from production back in 1979. The technology behind the safety structure of the cab is far more advanced these days and I'm sure the old SBR's cab would not pass the ECE R29 crash test that all Isuzus do these days.

The 1979 rig does have a radio, - which is great if you like talkback or listening to the football - and a heater, but that does it for the luxuries. These days, drivers are spoilt with digital radio, AM and FM, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth phone connection as well as optional satellite navigation.

Depite its relative lack of luxury, Isuzu's classic SBR has travelled the equivalent of all of Australia's long and winding roads during its working life.

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