Wednesday, February 18, 2015

5k: Mountain Goat: 1985 Suzuki Samurai

The ancient Samurai in Feudal Japan were a class of Warrior-nobles, the word Samurai actually a verb meaning "to wait upon the upper ranks of society."  The reign of the Samurai came to an official end in 1947 when the last remnants (the Shizoku) were outlawed in post war Japan, but their influence was reduced in the 19th century with the adoption of a Western style military.  The automotive version of the Samurai was a four-wheel-drive compact from Suzuki that ruled the lightweight off-road market segement from 1981 to 1998.  Find this low mile 1985 Suzuki Samurai here on eBay currently bidding for $4,450 reserve-not-met with $5,500 buy-it-now located in Salt Lake City, UT.

The second generation Samurai makes a miserable ride on road, but is legendary for its off-road capability, with one beating Jeep record for highest altitude achieved for a 4-wheeled vehicle at 21,942 ft in 2007.  This Samurai isn't a record breaker, but it does have only 34k on the odometer according to the seller...who gets defensive in the Q/A section about those miles and the amount of time it spent being towed behind an RV.

Power from the Samurai is a 1.3 liter boat-anchor inline4 that puts out 63 horsepower and 76 ft-lbs of torque.  The little engine is mated to a 5-spd manual - a slushbox would put this thing in motor-scooter-slow territory.  Thankfully the Samurai only weighs 2000 lbs - that is only a sophomore frat-boy more than a 1st generation Miata.  This light weight makes the Samurai surprisingly versatile in off-roading - and its small footprint allows it to make it through places that huge full sized pickups (and their anatomically challenged drivers) won't dare. 

Inside its obvious that the weight savings has created a bare-bones, no-frills interior -- the dash looks like a 60s Maytag dryer.  No need for fancy Alcantara headliners, wood-grain dashboards, cup holders, etc.  I've ridden in a few stock samurais and can report that it is like driving a fast  slow shopping kart.  The short wheel-base makes the horizon disappear when you hit a speed bump and the acoustics makes it sound like you are inside of a snare drum.

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  1. Also known as one of the most rollover-prone vehicles ever made, a good friend swears by his and often laments that there's no modern equivalent.

    1. Fleetwood T. BroughamFebruary 18, 2015 at 3:19 PM

      It might be "known" for that, B. Choate, but only by those who didn't know the whole story. What CR did to Suzuki was shameful, and was on par with what was done to Audi with the bogus "unintended acceleration" nonsense. If you're interested in reading more, here's a link:

    2. Hmmm, did some reading and it appears that you're right. In fact, saw some video that showed them cornering much better than what I'd expect based on their cg and narrow track. It's unfortunate that clowns like David Pittle get away with that sort of crap.

  2. Hmmm, so tow behind an RV miles are different than actual miles. Learn something new every day...

  3. When these were introduced to the US market, they weren't sold for their off-roadability, they were sold on the basis of being about the least expensive road legal car you could buy. Couldn't really complain about anything because you didn't pay much for it. As soon as you could afford a real car, you'd sell it to someone who would then offroad it until it died. They were so ubiquitous as tow-behind units that I thought RV dealers were giving them away free with every purchase.

    1. The early Saturns were the other typical RV tagalong 'cause the automatic transmissions had a fluid pump driven by the output side of the transmission, so unlike most automatics it wouldn't seize up after a hundred miles of being flat-towed at 65mph.

  4. That G13 engine is hardly a boat anchor. Too light to be an anchor. Your boat would just drift away.
    Also, as an engine they may not be powerful, but they rev freely and are virtually indestructible.

  5. This is not a Samurai. It is an SJ410. Think one less forward gear, about 20 less horsepower, slightly narrower fender flares and smaller wheels. On a positive note, fuelling is via side-draft.

  6. I always liked how they looked, but didn't get a chance to drive one before the rust got to 99.99% of them.


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