The Carchive: The Suzuki Samurai

20140507_141037 Twice a week we take the foetid  sweepings from the farmyard of automotive history; dry them underneath the electric fan heater of time and scrutinise them through the microscope of wisdom. Today we gaze at a vehicle which introduced a great many Americans to the idea of something with a Suzuki emblem and two pairs of wheels, and introduced a great many cost-conscious Europeans to a way of cutting across country without having to buy something Russian or ancient. Or both. It’s the Suzuki Samurai. 20140507_141050 “How do we begin to describe the many virtues of the Samurai range” Practical, rugged, reliable. The three most prominent words to be found on the first page of this brochure. In fact, the engineering of the brochure, consisting three sheets of stiff A3 paper and a pair of staples, is only marginally more simple and robust than the actual car it represented. The Samurai belonged in a tool box, indeed it was small enough to fit into one. The regular-wheelbase model was 3.4 meters from end to end, and just 1.5 meters across those flared wheelarches. It was light enough to be pushed by hand with ease, which was fortunate for those people who skimped on maintenance as the car grew older. That means basically everybody. 20140507_141103 “Stylish? Undoubtedly. From the uncompromising exterior to the spacious interior, every model combines user practicality with individual style and character.” The question of stylishness is a difficult one to properly answer here, when we’re looking at a vehicle which was designed with stylishness right at the very bottom of the initial brief. That said, it’s all a question of context. Wellington boots are inherently not stylish, but with the addition of ludicrous graphics and when worn by an attractive female music festival attendee in a flyaway summer dress, they suddenly have an extended appeal. Seen as the workman’s tool that it really is, the stylishness of the Samurai ought to be a matter of total insignificance. Mind you, there are some really terrific looking MIG welders out there. I guess it’s all relative. I have always loved the way the Samurai looks; there was virtually no embellishment; you could see exactly what every shutline, grille or crease was for; from the exposed hinges to the hump on the bonnet to clear the carburettor. It was designed right. 20140507_141057 “For extra style, you’ll find the soft top with its tough, high quality hood is also available with a deluxe option featuring full vinyl rear trim panels, practical rear mats, wheel centre badges and stylish side stripes” The Samurai was, of course, developed from the SJ / Jimny series which had been plugging through mud using minimal power since 1969. The idea of applying colourful graphics along the side and marketing it as a lifestyle vehicle came rather later, but this brochure represents both the hard-working agricultural assistant and the roof-down beach-bum version. For me, as the impressionable poseur I probably am, it would be the soft-top version I would go for. Aside from the obvious fresh-air benefits, an additional bonus is that of noise dissipation. A closed-back Samurai, especially in tin-sided panel van configuration, is a noisy, echoic place to be when running at any degree of rev extension, at any constant on-road speed. Long-distance tourers these were not, unless the driver was of a masochistic bent. You certainly wouldn’t be getting anywhere with any degree of speed. The Samurai boasted an all alloy, overhead cam, 1.3 litre engine sucking through a twin choke carburettor. You got 63bhp at 6000 rpm. 73.7 lb.ft at 3500. I’m pretty sure I could arm wrestle more torque than that. But there was a five speed manual gearbox, Selectable 4X4 and dual ratio transfer case. This meant that, regardless how puny the power, it could all be put to use on whatever terrain you were trying to cross. It was an improvement over the SJ410, too, which made do with just a single litre’s worth of cubes. 20140507_141050 “Extremely manoeuvrable, giving accessibility to the more remote farms and forests of Britain.” For those people who used the Samurai for purposes more suitable than posing in the city centre, the small size and nimbleness were an asset; there are farms in England where a Land Rover is too big, and even if size wasn’t an issue the Samurai made loads of sense as a semi-disposable, use and abuse workhorse. Surviving Samurai’s and SJ’s are invariably in an appalling state, having been kept firmly off-road for years, and they’ll probably keep on going, being fixed with baler twine, forever. “Total Mobility? No problem. The Samurai range offers a world of complete freedom.” There are cars which should have never been allowed to leave production. The current Jimny, which itself seems to have survived for ages, has always been a bit too pretty, too sanitized. It’s actually a damn good little no-frills off-roader, but it’s not quite the hardy perennial that the Samurai was. The market for robust, wipe-clean road ‘n farm implements surely still exists, and not solely in the pre-owned sector. I guess things like Kawasaki Mule’s have taken over, and brilliant little things they are too. But the little Suzuki got there before. God speed you, little Suzi. (Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Suzuki. Damn it, I’ve got the Everly Brothers in my head now)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here