Welcome to the Hooniverse Suzuki Weekend Edition. I will be posting all weekend about Suzuki cars and trucks this weekend because of the collapse of American Suzuki Motor Corp this past week. Many have stated that the management style of American Suzuki was to blame for its demise, but I will leave that proclamation to people who are much smarter in th way these things work. In the meantime, we will celebrate (or not) the eclectic vehicles that were brought to the states by this very company. And let’s start with the question of the weekend… Will the diminutive Suzuki Samurai or the slightly larger Sidekick ever become collectible?
The Samurai was in all reality a Suzuki Jimny SJ30 that was massaged for the North American Market. The SJ30 version began production in May 1981 as a Japanese Kei car, and was produced with both 550 cc and 660 cc 3-cylinder engines. Later on, it received a bigger engine and was lengthened and widened for export purposes, where it was sold with a multitude of names. This one vehicle went by the mane of Suzuki SJ410/413, Suzuki Samurai, Suzuki Sierra, Suzuki Potohar, Suzuki Caribbean, Suzuki Katana, Chevrolet Samurai, Holden Drover, and Maruti Gypsy, depending on where it sold.
The SJ-Series was introduced to the United States for the 1986 model year. Over 47,000 were sold in its first year. The Samurai had a 1.3 liter, 63 hp 4-cylinder engine and was available as a convertible or a hardtop. The Suzuki Samurai became intensely popular for its good off road performance and reliability compared to other 4WDs of the time. It was a real 4WD vehicle equipped with a transfer case switchable 4WD and low range. Its lightness makes it a very nimble off roader, and was considered a great beginner off-roader due to its simple design and ease of engine and suspension modifications.
The 1988.5 model Samurai was re-tuned for better on-road use in the United States. This revision included softer suspension settings and a larger anti-sway bar to reduce body roll. Improved dashboard and seats made the Samurai more comfortable. This was also the year in which the infamous unfavorable review of the Samurai in Consumer Reports, as they pronounced the Samurai as being unsafe and prone to rollovers, which led to many controversial lawsuits.
A new 1.3 liter four-cylinder engine with throttle-body fuel injection was introduced with 66 hp in September 1991. The rear seat was removed from 1994 and 1995 Samurai models with rear shoulder safety belts becoming mandatory, and the partial roll cage did not have the required mounting provisions, unlike the larger Jeep Wrangler. Low sales and pending stricter safety legislation prompted the withdrawal of the Samurai from North America after 1995. The Jimny lives on in other parts of the world, and is currently in its 3rd generation. It still has a ladder type frame, and a dual ratio transfer case for 4WD versions.
The Samurai was supplemented in the North American Markets 1989 by the Suzuki Sidekick, which eventually replaced the Samurai in 1995. Continuing on with the Alphabet Soup naming convention, the Sidekick also carried the names Chevrolet Tracker, Chevrolet Vitara, Geo Tracker, GMC Tracker, Mazda Proceed Levante, Pontiac Sunrunner, Santana 300/350, Suzuki Vitara, Suzuki Escudo, and Asüna Sunrunner, depending on where the truck was sold. First introduced as the Escudo in the Japanese domestic market in May 1988, the North American Sidekick became available for 1989 as a 2-door convertible or hardtop.
In 1991, a 4-door Sidekick with a lengthened wheelbase was introduced and the following year a 95 hp, 1.6-litre, 16-valve engine was introduced. 1991 also brought the introduction of rear antilock brakes. The original Sidekick was updated in 1996 with a new Sport version available with 120 hp, 1.8-litre 16-valve 4-cylinder engine. The Sport also had dual airbags, 2-tone paint and 16-inch Alloy wheels. The production of the first generation model of the Tracker (and Sidekick) came to an end in Ontario after 1998 in order to make way for the second generation of Tracker/Vitara. However the first generation Sidekick continued in production in other countries until 2004.
In 1999, the Sidekick was discontinued, and a second generation Tracker was introduced, differing from the Sidekick’s successor, the Grand Vitara. A Suzuki version of this North American-exclusive Tracker was sold in the North American market as a Suzuki Vitara, followed by the Grand Vitara XL-7 in 1991.
One other oddity within the Suzuki Lineup was the Sidekick X-90 and was a short-lived small-SUV produced from April 1996 to May 1997. It was related to the Suzuki Sidekick, but had extremely rounded styling, two doors, seating for two and T-section removable roof. It was meant to replace the Samurai for the United States market.
So are any of these Suzuki Models on track to become collectible, or should they all be placed in the trash heap? Let me know what you think…
Images Sources: Wikipedia