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Suzuki's 4x4 History


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Suzuki Suzulight1955 Suzuki Suzulight
Suzuki has been building vehicles longer than most people realize. 90 years ago when the company was founded, textile looms were their business, but in 1937 plans were begun for a compact automobile. Postponed because of World War II, plans for a motorized vehicle did not resurface until the cotton market collapsed in 1951. However, this time Suzuki began selling motorized bicycles while designing another automobile, unveiled in 1955 as the Suzulight.

Although the first Suzuki 4x4 to be made widely available in the U.S. was in 1985--the 1986 model year Samurai--it was far from being Suzuki's first 4x4. In fact, our beloved Samurais, Sidekicks, and Vitaras roots go all the way back to the 1960's and have a rich history all over the world.

1968: LJ-Series Suzuki Jimny, Brute

1965-67 HopeStar ON360The first 4x4 Suzuki built had its origin with another small Japanese truck from the Hope Motor Company. The HopeStar ON360 began development in 1965 as a basic, reliable 4 wheel drive. It did without such frills as doors and needed nothing more than hammock seats. It was powered by a 21hp 360cc air-cooled Mitsubishi two-stroke engine. However, the company met with difficulties after selling only a handful of these trucks. Suzuki purchased the production rights for the ON360 in 1968

1968-71 Suzuki LJ10Setting out to make a good vehicle even better, Suzuki used the HopeStar as the basis for their Jimny 360, otherwise known as the LJ10 or the Brute IV. Replacing the engine with one of Suzuki's own design was just one of many modifications, which included a restyled but immediately recognizable body. They needed to keep it within Japan's mini-car class for tax reasons, so its spare tire could not be mounted to the traditional position on the tailgate, but rather inside next to the one rear seat to keep the overall length less than 3 meters. This rendered the LJ10 a three-passenger vehicle. In 1970 after two years of development, it became the first mass-produced 4x4 in Japan's domestic mini-car class.

1968-71 Suzuki LJ10Although not officially sold by Suzuki in the United States, a few of these LJ-series Suzukis were sold by importers in California, Nevada, and Arizona beginning in 1971. While the air-cooled, 25hp, 359cc, two stroke, two cylinder engine was perfect for its intended Japanese market, especially considering the truck's paltry 1300lb weight, it was severely underpowered for American buyers, working hard to reach its mere 45mph top speed.

By 1972, the LJ20 -- a mildly updated version of the LJ10 -- was released with such changes as water cooling for the 359cc engine, along with a power increase to 32hp and a top speed of 47mph. Probably the biggest improvement seen by the few Americans who got their hands on one was the switch to left-hand-drive. In 1973, a minor styling update consisted of a changeover from horizontal to vertical grille slats and a replacement of the single front marker and turn signal lights on each corner with twin vertical lights.

1974-76 Suzuki LJ50
1974 brought the LJ50 (Jimny 550, SJ10), another incremental improvement in the LJ lineup. With the changes in the Japanese automobile class specifications, Suzuki was able to increase the size of the engine. By adding a third cylinder, the new 539cc water cooled 2-stroke engine produced 33 horsepower available a bit lower in the rpm band, addressing one of the biggest complaints about the LJ series from markets outside of Japan. This engine was known for being very torquey for its size. Though still underpowered by American standards, the truck was at least now capable of reaching 60mph despite a 100lb weight gain. Along with engine size allowances, the class rules allowed the spare tire to be mounted to the rear of the truck on the tailgate, providing room for a fourth seat.

1978-1983 LJ-81 PickupBuilt alongside the LJ50, the last, most powerful, and best of the LJ series was the 1700lb 1977 Suzuki LJ80 (SJ20). It boasted the biggest improvements in the course of the series' lifespan, and was designed with the intention of worldwide export. Rumors of its larger engine for the LJ persisted for years but were constantly denied by Suzuki, who wanted to keep their development of the all-new engine a secret. As Suzuki's first four-stroke engine, it underwent years of testing and development before its engineers were satisfied. The new 797cc SOHC four cylinder produced 41hp and a tremendous improvement in torque delivery, better fuel efficiency, and much cleaner emissions over its predecessors.

1977-81 Suzuki LJ80
Complimenting the increased power were higher differential and high range ratios for more relaxed highway cruising, a stiffened chassis, improved handling coming from relocated rear shocks and a widening of the front and rear axles by about 4 inches. More up market features included nicer seats, a new steering wheel, a 130km/h speedo (up from 100km/h), a fuel tank capacity increase from 26 to 40 liters, and additional warning lights for brake wear. External cues to the newfound power were slight, with the flared wheel fenders, raised hood line with new air ducts on its leading edge, and a rear bumper and taillights integral with the body. In 1979 a slight styling update was given to the LJ80, with the headlights positioned wider and lower to each side of the restyled grille. Metal doors were also offered for the first time. Also, a new LJ81 pickup truck model joined the convertible and hardtop models in the lineup. The LJ series was in production until 1983.

  1977-81 Suzuki LJ80 model lineup

--Geoff Beasley

Continued…


Suzuki Section Copyright ©1995-2002 by Petroglyph Computing, William Johnston, Geoff Beasley, Adam Leach, John Gehring, Aaron Andrews and the various contributors.
Suzuki, Samurai, Sidekick, Vitara, and the Suzuki 'S' logo, are registered trademarks of Suzuki Motor Corporation.
09 Jan 2001 09:56

SCORE Laughlin
January 12 - 15, 2006

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