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2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS Final Update: Saying Goodbye

Ross Ballot August 15, 2016 Featured, Project Cars 45 Comments

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Once again the written counterpart is lagging well behind real-life happenings, with the following catching us up from the tail-end of the most recent Update. Unfortunately for Project VX, this marks the end of the road. It was a fun, albeit short-lived, period having it as a second car, but life changes and sometimes your vehicle(s) have to do so accordingly. Without further ado, Project VX’s Final Update…

When we last left off Project VehiCROSS had just been out on the road for the first time under my care. It was an overwhelming experience: exhilarating and nerve-racking and laugh-inducing all at the same time. I drove the VX intermittently for a few months between then and now, had my fun, and realized the inevitable: wrong vehicle, wrong time. The cliché scenario– a lack of space, time, and disposable income– eventually reigned supreme, putting the VX in a bad spot when it came to prioritizing. I hinted at it in the post-script of my two Project Car SOTU pieces (Update II / Update III), but it’s for real: the VX is gone.

It was a dream vehicle of mine, an offbeat oddball that had me mesmerized since laying eyes on the little Japanese 4×4 for the first time as a kid, and I’m lucky to have owned one for the short while that I did. But to experience something and know it’s not right for you or for the moment is better than to not experience it at all, and such is exactly what happened here. Keep reading to see how and why things played out the way they did, and also to see how I felt about the Isuzu VehiCROSS after the dust settled and I’ve had time to look back on everything.

It was March of this year when the seemingly perfect VehiCROSS turned up. I’d been searching passively for one for years, hunting more intensely over the prior months. I test-drove a 1999 in Victory White two and a half years ago, did so with another of the same color this past January. Looked at tens of them on the internet, never found the right one. Then in February a beautiful Ebony Black example, fitted with extensive off-road modifications, just barely slipped away. I was crushed. It was in Chicago, had a price tag higher than was ideal, and, most crucially, fell through due to poor timing. But then along came a single-owner 2001 in Kaiser Silver, odometer showing just 93k miles, interior cleaner than any I’d come across, and a price that fit my bank account nicely. It all happened in a perfectly natural way and, after a couple test-drives and a look-over from the local mechanic, it was mine. I was ecstatic.

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The VX in the condition I bought it (w/old wheels&tires)

Things went fairly smoothly with the VehiCROSS over the following months. Aside from a few issues it ran well and drove in a passable manner, and was fun enough to garner my attention and time. But what proved most important to the story was that I loved it blindly as most do with a newfound obsession. Despite its imperfections I saw it as perfect, and nobody could get my mind off that. And then over time reality finally hit me: it was flawed. Deeply, truly flawed. Not just this exact VX with its own slew of problems, but in how the vehicle as a whole didn’t fit my life. I tried to make it work but ultimately couldn’t. And, as I was reminded merely months later, most good things come to an end.

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Unfortunately for the fate of Project VX, I need one all-weather capable, fun but efficient and safe and reliable vehicle—with emphasis on the singular part. No room, finances, or space to do the two-car juggle right now. I moved, going from a house with a driveway to an apartment complex with a lone space in a parking garage. Meanwhile the VehiCROSS suddenly, and with shocking force, had become a liability and of questionable integrity that made me nervous to own long-term and, in some cases, nervous to drive. But that whole moving thing hit me hard: it’s one thing to juggle a summer and a winter car when you have a driveway to take advantage of, but it’s another when you simply don’t have the space or time for it. A VehiCROSS needs to be driven and tended to, and I just couldn’t give the VX what it needed to not feel bad about keeping it around. To add insult to injury, my Challenger was shaping up to fit my needs poorly and also showing a pretty negative outlook for long-term ownership. It was time for a change but first, the VX, as the toy and second car it was serving as, had to go.

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As usually is the case with trying to sell a car via the internet there was quite a bit of BS along the way. Once again Craigslist proved to bring about many interested parties, yet none actually interested enough to dole out the cash. One potential buyer turned out to be a mechanic and nitpicked over the smallest of things, asking me questions I had no knowledge of how to even answer. Another would-be-buyer turned out to be a massive disappointment, a complete and utter failure. Failure as in: had met with him for a look-around and test-drive, had negotiated price and settled on a figure, had made plans to transfer money, had discussed which bank we would do so at, had gotten multiple texts and phone calls confirming his want for the VX and readiness to purchase it, had been carrying the title around with me for when all was to be done. Something seemed iffy from the get-go, but cash talks and I was ready to get it over with and off my conscience. Long story short, the sale didn’t happen.

He strung me out, possibly probably attempted to scam me, and all-in-all straight-up lied. It ended when I called his phone and was met with a dead-end message saying, “This number has been disconnected. Goodbye.” It sucked but getting scammed would have sucked a whole lot more, so all things considered it could have been worse. Craigslist transactions can really be miserable.

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Anyways, I ended up trading in the VehiCROSS along with my Challenger on a single car to serve as a replacement for both. I’ll be finishing up its own Introduction shortly, but here’s a few hints: more doors than the VX or Challenger, same number of driven wheels as the VX, half the cylinders of the Challenger, less ground clearance than either, 6-speed, very blue. Correct guess wins an internet cookie.

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Up to and through its final moments in my ownership, the VehiCROSS never ceased to turn heads and drop jaws. At Cars & Coffee it garnered confused glances, and in a supermarket parking lot it had the relative effect of leaving a spaceship next to the common boredom-mobiles. Parked in a lot among other “normal” cars it stands out almost hilariously. It’s such an unusual and eccentric thing that it’s hard to believe it was actually produced. Even next to small/midsize CUVs the VX is small, but it’s so unusual that you can’t not love it. So ugly it’s cute, if you will. As we signed the papers at the dealership the day it left my care, the finance guy laughed as he looked over how much they were giving me as much for it, and used the phrase “[…]and the VehiCROSS, whatever the hell that thing is […]” in reference to the wildly outlandish vehicle he had never heard of.

But there was weight in his feelings toward the amount which I was receiving on trade for the VX, and such is something I learned first-hand in this situation: a rare vehicle is not always worth a lot because it’s rare, and even more so, perceived value is not the same as actual worth.

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Try selling a rare vehicle on Craigslist or a forum or in a Facebook group and you’re bound to be told how it’s not worth what you think it is or what you want it to be worth. It may be rare, it may be in (relatively) decent condition, and it may be semi-desirable to a small group of people in the world of niche vehicles, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to it being worth a lot when it comes to selling it. Maybe worth more emotionally, but that’s about it. Find the right buyer and sure, you’ll get decent change for it, but finding that buyer is going to take so much time that in most cases you’re better off skipping the hassle altogether. The process takes so long and causes so much frustration that it’s simply not worth it when you’re talking relatively low-cost ordeals.

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If you have a sub-100k mile single-owner VehiCROSS in good running condition with no notable issues then it’s worth maybe $6500-7000, and you can deduct by the thousand from there for anything substantially wrong. When it comes time to sell a vehicle like this it’s an entirely optimistic and hopeful selling process, and you’ll almost never get what you want for it. You might think it’s worth a lot but that doesn’t mean anyone else will, or that someone who does actually has the money for it or actually wants to buy it. My VX was in much better condition when I traded it in than when I bought it so luckily I made out alright on the financial side, but my hopes and dreams of selling the VX in a few years at a huge profit after prices skyrocketed went down the drain.

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And so did many of my other VX-related dreams. Bringing it back to near-new condition glory would never happen. Off-roading it? Nope, never even did so over the few months I had it. That may have been a blessing in disguise though seeing as I have another, more attention-needy, off-road project—my ten-year-old Kawasaki Brute Force ATV– which is my passion and vehicular love above all else. Speaking of which, getting rid of the VX was undoubtedly in a way doing it a justice. For me, it was another project that I didn’t have the time or money to properly take care of. Oh, and there’s also the MR2 which will hopefully see some attention this fall, so the VX would have had nothing to do but look on while that car and the quad were played with. A life of little attention the VX most definitely would have lived, and that’s just not right for the vehicle’s sake.

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My never-ending ATV project in the semi-disassembled state in which it spends the most time, parked by the VX (note that the Brute is about 10′ closer to the camera than the Isuzu)

It came down to a few very definitive reasons to let the VehiCROSS go. As I’ve said, I wasn’t ready financially to start repairing/replacing everything that broke— and because the VX is so rare, parts are incredibly hard to find and expensive to acquire when you do. Also, finding somebody to fix the quirks is tough. Keeping it around was an injustice to the VX itself. The parking space issue became nerve-racking, and driving the thing was even more so. The engine would eventually shit itself, as most all of the 3.5L V6 motors do. The ABS would inevitably go. The rust would rot through the frame without serious care. And then parts would prove difficult, if not impossible, to source, a never-ending anxiety-inducer. The VehiCROSS very quickly became a psychological burden in worrying about what would break next, as well as an inevitable financial burden. The signs were there…and it was the logical/responsible choice to say farewell. In the end, it didn’t make sense to keep around two vehicles that I liked driving 75% of the time and worried about 100% of the time when I could, for less money and stress, own and drive something I enjoy driving 100% of the time and that stresses me out almost none of the time.

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I really did, and still do, love the VehiCROSS. Maybe I still feel bad for getting rid of it. Maybe I felt worse about seeing the VX go than my Challenger. Maybe I’ll find another VX in the future, at a better time for me to own one. Maybe, just maybe. But for now, know this: the Isuzu VehiCROSS is an incredible, fun, quirky, unique, charismatic little thing that was way ahead of its time and deserves every stare it gets. It’s a fantastic, though flawed, little 4×4 and there’s nothing else like it, and I love it as much as the day I first laid eyes on one. It’s feelings like this that make project cars so great: you can have a so-so experience with one and come out the other side still loving it and appreciating it for what it is. Whether my experience with the Isuzu VehiCROSS was positive or not depends on how you look at it, but one thing’s for sure: I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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  • JayP

    I “sold” the boy’s project Passat last week… $50 check to haul it off to the breaker. Had it a year, no progress. I was happy to see it go.

    What was happening with the Challenger that made long-term ownership an issue?

    • Ross Ballot

      A number of things. The build quality was questionable, and every few weeks I’d find another rattle that I couldn’t pin down where it was coming from. The sunroof would shake, the frameless doors would leak, and interior bits seemed like they wouldn’t last all that long. I had also had transmission issues from day one, with gears 2 & 3 being replaced (synchros included) inside of 40k miles. The new gears were better but didn’t wholly fix everything; downshifting from 3rd to 2nd was still rough, and occasionally the upshift from 1st to 2nd would result in hitting what I can only describe as a “wall” or “rock” in the way of completely entering the gate. Then there were other things…like a number of different owners I’d come across had said their engines needed to be rebuilt/replaced between 100k-150k miles, which would have been where I was with mileage about two years from now. I do quite a bit of driving and also wasn’t thrilled that prices seem to plummer after 50k-75k miles, which I was right up against. All-in-all the long-term outlook wasn’t great, and the car itself didn’t fit my needs very well either. Made sense to let it go.

      • JayP

        The Challenger is a good looking car. Every few months I check for a used RT in white around here. I just can’t pull the trigger on a Chrysler. Thanks for putting of my want for an RT for another year.

        • Ross Ballot

          It seems like they’ve gotten better in aspects and worse in others. The interior is *much* improved but there’s still the FCA problems…electronic stuff going wrong, not holding tolerances on parts, etc. I can tell you that from the quality problems I had with my 2014 Challenger and that my parents have had with their 2014 Grand Cherokee, I’d be really, really hard pressed to buy another FCA product anytime soon.

          • JayP

            Pop has a 2008 Grand Cherokee. It’s had heads replaced, trans replaced. Luckily he got the lifetime powertrain warranty.

            But the Challenger is sooooo good lookin’

            • Ross Ballot

              Sure is. Definitely didn’t suck to look at it every day.

      • ptschett

        That manual transmission was the single worst part of my 2010. I never had to have internals replaced, but I never liked how it shifted and I could never predict where the clutch take-up point was going to be within the pedal travel; my breaking point was when the clutch would sometimes, very randomly, stay slightly engaged even with the pedal all the way to the floor so I couldn’t shift to neutral in a parking spot without turning off the engine first. If it had been an automatic I’d probably still own it, but the 2015’s had just come out with the 8-speed and I was just past 50,000 miles so I decided to trade up a few years and 2 gears.

        • Ross Ballot

          I felt the exact same! The clutch was super easy but I never got 10000% comfortable with it. Your issues sound a little more clutch-related whereas mine were definitely more transmission-related, but the ZF 8-speed seems to be well matched to the Challenger. I had bought a Barton shifter for my ’14 but never installed it, fearing having to uninstall it for any warranty work.

  • GForce917

    I’m 99% sure the new car is a Subaru WRX or STI. The other 1% of me says Focus RS.

    • kogashiwa

      Has to be a WRX yes. Can I have half your internet cookie?

      • 0A5599

        I typically block third-party cookies.

    • Ross Ballot

      It might be…I was going to think of another hint but can’t without giving it away, so I’ll just leave you hanging until the Introduction piece is done :p

    • That’s much, much cooler than the first guess that came to my mind. Don’t blame me, a nearby Hyundai dealership has their whole front row consisting of Tucsons in this (rather nice) blue.

      • Ross Ballot

        Those are actually quite good looking. Seen a bunch recently and like the overall design (the wheels help)

    • engineerd

      Given his love of the oddball, I was thinking a Crosstrek:

      • Ross Ballot

        If they were selling a Crosstrek WRX/STI, it would have been a no-brainer.
        [It still blows my mind and hurts my soul that they don’t; it would be one of the few vehicles that would warrant “deposit in hand” upon announcement”]

    • Clawbrant

      “less ground clearance than either”

      • Ross Ballot

        No. No no no no. No stance for me, not now, not ever.
        [I truly, deeply dislike the whole Stance movement if you can’t tell]

  • We all know the feeling…

    • Ross Ballot

      Mother of god, that’s the most accurate description of a certain set of feelings I’ve ever seen.

    • EDIT: Oops, typo. Corrected version here:

      • Dean Bigglesworth

  • ptschett

    Phew! All this time I was worried that the combination of “crashing stop” and “one parking space, two vehicles” line in the previous update meant something like this had happened: (photo from the Fargo Fishwrap, oops I mean Forum)

    • Ross Ballot

      Haha luckily nothing of the sort happened

  • 0A5599

    I once went on a first date with a young lady, who, while on the date, told me where and when her wedding was going to be (about a year and a half in the future, at that point). That is not meant to imply she had a groom lined up yet.

    After the date ended, I never called her again.

    Don’t think of the VX as the one that got away. Think of yourself as getting away before things started getting complicated. It wasn’t a good fit, and you found out quickly and with a clean break.

    • Ross Ballot

      Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment. Been trying to buy into that way of thinking since I got rid of the VX, and this certainly helps.

      Also, mildly concerned about that way of looking for a husband…

      • 0A5599

        We did have some mutual friends. I was curious to ask them whether she had the wedding on the planned date or rescheduled her facility rental, but I didn’t want word getting back to her that I was even remotely interested in her marital status.

        • Ross Ballot

          That could go very poorly, sounds like you got out at the right time (from the near get-go)

  • nanoop

    Many of us here don’t have the strength to let go of even one car. (No irony there.) Get your patch “Car Nut but Grownup” from the scout group already. (Some winking.)

    • Sjalabais

      Looking at that patch about four times a week, it is not as pretty or entertaining as that other one, “still a hopeless child”.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    It sounds like you dodged a journey to project car heck, if not full on hell (I think that requires either epic rust or fiendishly complex systems).

    As an aside I saw a Yellow Vehicross outside Trader Joe’s on Saturday and was astonished at how narrow the interior was because the VX always looks so wide in pictures. Then again I am also occasionally surprised by how small an original RAV-4 two door is, which coincidentally is the only car I can think of that bears the slightest resemblance to a Vehicross.

    • Ross Ballot

      There’s a few others that are similar, but yeah, the 2-door Rav was somewhat similar in some ways. As for the interior, it is pretty tiny…pretty sure a full-size side-by-side (UTV) feels more spacious

  • Even though it’s sad to see it go, I’m sure it was a huge relief once it was over. I was very close to being in a similar parking situation with the Miata if we hadn’t found a house last year. It was a huge amount of stress from a combination of grad school, finding a place in a decent part of town that was affordable, and then worrying about retaining a garage on top of it. I still can’t afford to fix everything wrong with it, but at least I know it won’t be broken into or stolen in the mean time.

    • Ross Ballot

      Huge relief. HUGE. Project cars are a quick way to blow a lot of money as I’m sure you know…at least having a garage is a way to keep them safe while other stuff takes priority. For now the MR2 is going to have to occupy that void for me, but it needs a ton of work to be drivable let alone something worth driving (or what’s considered “safe to drive”). Sounds like your Miata splits the difference between the MR2 and the VehiCROSS…almost there, not quite, but not in a position just yet to dedicate the funds to get it to where it needs (or you want it) to be

      • That’s about right (on the Miata). It starts and runs reliably now. I’m just dealing with an annoying rear brake issue where I’m unsure whether the rear calipers need to be replaced or if I’m just not getting the adjustment on them right. There’s not much room to move, so I think finding the right tool to where I can move enough to know I have the specs right will be what settles it. I don’t really want to jump into $160 in parts, especially when it already could use new pads and rotors all around. It stops okay, just not as well as it really should and one side of the rear has locked up enough to smoke. So I’m trying to figure it out before I possibly end up ruining brand new pads and a new rotor.

        • Ross Ballot

          Yeah, I wouldn’t take a chance with brakes. Do it once and do it right…

  • engineerd

    Don’t tell my wife, because I’ll get a whole earful of “I told you so”, but next summer’s camping adventure may be the last for my Jeep XJ. It sits more than I feel comfortable and time to work on it is less and less available. It breaks my heart. So, I completely know what you’re going through. Come to Detroit and I’ll buy you a beer and we’ll cry over our cars.

    • Ross Ballot

      If/when you get rid of the XJ we can have a group mourning session for our gone-but-not-forgotten 4x4s. Beer sounds good though…getting to Detroit is another story…

    • Alff

      You will regret it. It’s the one vehicle I’ve got rid of in the last several years that I should have kept. You’ll not get for it what it’s worth and you’ll not be able to purchase its replacement for as little as you think you should.

      • Ross Ballot

        XJ or VX?

        • Alff

          This time I’m talking about XJ. I didn’t appreciate what a jewel I had in that shitbox.

  • Alff

    Don’t expect the Subaru to be much more reliable than the XV.

    • Ross Ballot

      You mean VX..?

      • Alff

        Yes, that. Don’t mind me – currently in full on Subie hating mode. Over seven years of ownership my Legacy has been no more reliable than my 30 year old Alfa Spider.

        • Ross Ballot

          Ouch. Different experiences for different people, I suppose…my uncle has owned Subarus and only Subarus my entire life and as far as I know has only had one major problem to speak of. Whereas I owned a Challenger for two years, and my parents have had a 2014 GC since new, and both have had major, significant problems. Seems like everything can be different car to car…

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