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Suzuki Weekend – Will the Suzuki Samurai and the Suzuki Sidekick become collectible?

Jim Brennan November 10, 2012 Hooniverse Asks

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

Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. Devin says:

    One thing I've noticed is Sidekicks and their many rebadged siblings don't seem to age that well. All the ones I've seen recently are a showcase of oxidation.

  2. Alcology says:

    Definitely collectible! The first-gen samurai will come into its own soon outside of 4×4 groups just like the daihatsu rocky. Big group of collectors? Nope. Die-hards. I always wanted an X-90 even though my friend and I referred to it as the pig. I'm a huge fan of the crappy decals on the tracker too.

  3. Felis_Concolor says:

    There is no doubt the first generation Samurai will become a collectible, restorable automobile through sheer simplicity of its chassis. It already has great desirability in today's market simply for its compact size and fuel sipping engine, both of which endear it to city dwellers who need the occasional reminder of just why they enjoy living where they do.

    Later versions will still rank high on the desirability list, although I don't see them moving from the "I found a clean example; this'll be a great winter car" realm into the "let's do a frame-off" category. Having spent most of my first 3 decades in HI, I experienced the earlier LJ80 models in the 70s, so to my tastes even the diminutive Samurai felt oversize and bloated.

    I'm getting a special kick out of this thread, as a full complement of Haflinger parts and service manuals arrived on my doorstep this morning. To use the vernacular of the youth: Tiny 4WD 4TW!

  4. Preludacris says:

    They're already pretty desirable around here. Though more as a good little off-roader than a collector vehicle.
    The novelty factor means the X-90 will be collectible soon. The rest will join a few years later.

  5. boostedlegowgn says:

    Samurais are very popular here as they're long-lived and extremely maneuverable for narrower trails – quite popular for fishermen.

    I think the short-lived GTi (maybe not the GT so much) will be very collectible in a manual, as many of them haven't survived owners who bought them as commuters second and third-hand. Really lovely-looking little car.

  6. bostondairypig says:

    I don't really see how Suzuki going away will make vehicles that have been out of production for years any more desireable. I've always loved the Samurai, and would love a nice clean soft top version, but haven't wanted one enough to get terribly serious about looking. Besides, since I have to pick only one toy, it won't be a small 4WD, it's going to be something way more fun, and far less punishing to drive.

  7. Mr. Smee says:

    The Samurai is already collectable, not so much for restoring as modifying. Samurai guys could care less if Suzuki is around though.

  8. P161911 says:

    Yep, as others have said, the Samurai already is. My neighbor up the street has a pre-Samurai J30 or J410, I'm not sure which, it is old and sort of an odd ball. I really do need to put in dibs if he ever wants sell it. I think he mostly uses it to haul the kids up to the neighborhood pool. I know he got it fairly cheap, mainly because it doesn't quite use Samurai parts so the off road guys weren't interested.

  9. CptSevere says:

    They're great little jeeps (using the generic term). My parents had a Sidekick, then a Vitara, which they towed behind their motorhome when they were full time RVers, and they weren't shy about wheeling them offroad throughout the West on all kinds of sketchy terrain. I've put my share of miles on both of their Suzukis, on and off road, and enjoyed both of the little things. They were essentially stock, but due to their light weight and just plain being teeny, they would go to some amazing places, the limiting factor being lack of ground clearance. The 'Rents still have a Suzuki Grand Vitara, a few years old, and it's a nice and serviceable small SUV. They love it. Regarding Samurais, they're already a classic among rock climber freaks. There's a guy who has a welding shop not two blocks away who has this real sick rock climber Samurai with all manner of suspension tweaks, huge mudder tires, roll cage, etc. that is just ridiculous to look at and you want to climb into it and do stupid things. The off roaders love the Samurais, and the RVers love the Vitaras and Sidekicks, for different reasons. They're getting hard to find.

  10. Rust-MyEnemy says:

    I'd say sought after, but not collectible. To me that term means numbers-matching limited-edition blue chip classics. SJs and Vitaras are dwindling in number, and if you want one it's wise to act quickly, but I can't imagine Chris Evans or Jay Leno desparate for one to complete his collection…

  11. Van_Sarockin says:

    The Samurai was a decent little beast, a capable, rugged, simple, cheap little jeep. They'll be preserved and used. There were enough of them to have a good sized user base and support system, and they'll always have some utility, if only to crash through the potholes in the big city and nose into tiny parking spaces.

  12. toastnet says:

    In the US, Suzuki in general was always seen as a low quality "I couldn't afford anything else" brand. Don't think it will change anytime soon.

  13. vetteman61 says:

    I have a friend that loves these things. He's had several. Right now he's been working on one that he's put a VW diesel in, jacked up on something like 38" tires and something like 12" of lift. Not my thing but some people love it.

  14. gearz1 says:

    I owned a Samurai and it was bulletproof and I miss it still.Then later a Tracker with its crappy wiring and I could not get rid of it fast enough.

  15. Jon says:

    Loved the Sidekicks my parents had, first a '93 then a '97 Sport (my sister rolled the '93 4 door down a 150 foot hill, denting every single body panel but only breaking one small rear quarter window; everything still worked perfect when we finally got it back up to the road, it even tracked straight — it was just mangled). I used to take those things into some excellent off-road places. They'd go slightly farther than their heavier contemporaries, but I always felt they could use a little more power.

    Every now and again I toy with looking for one in the sub-$3000 range. The wife would kill me.

    Will they be classics? I doubt it. Which is fine for cheapskates like me.

  16. buzzboy7 says:

    My first "real" job was renting Samurais to tourists as beach vehicles. I love them. I want them to become "classics." Mainly I want a Tin-Top Sammy with an 8v Sidekick engine swap.

  17. russ stocker says:

    i own 2 86-87 bilt them up to use when i moved to hawaii. 1.6 16 v in both lifted both have fully funtioning a/c and killer sound systems. cup holders ..plush interior tinted windows ABS air lockers lifted rust free calif examples sound deadner modified front seat tracks allowing more leg room they get 24-31 mpg .on crappy e 10 ethonol .and are bullett proof cheap to fix cheap to regester and cheap to run..i would not sell them or trade them .and the line to buy them starts around the block.NOT FOR SALE OR TRADE..

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