Friday, January 20, 2017

Jimny came to America to become a Samurai

Poor Suzuki. 
This little immigrant got caught up in a whirlwind of rumors and wild claims so pervasive that the first thing that comes to your mind is probably "that's the truck that tips over in corners". Well I'm here to defend the reputation of little Suzuki albeit 37 years too late.
This is a fuzzy picture of a 1988 Suzuki Samurai in Atlantic Blue. It is a supremely confident little 4-wheel drive vehicle kind of like a smaller yet taller Jeep. Being a Suzuki it boasts Swiss watch reliability and better than average fuel economy. It was a smash hit out of the gates selling 47,000 in the U.S. market debut 1986 model year. None of that carried as much water as a line in a Consumer Reports rating saying that it "easily rolls over in turns".
Not only did the Samurai garner an "unacceptable" rating in their review, but it was singled out in what was Consumer Reports 60th anniversary issue. This was obviously devastating to sales. Overnight the Suzuki was a punchline and all of its merits were forgotten. After hiring a firm called Failure Analysis Associates to independently investigate the rollover claims Suzuki filed a libel lawsuit against Consumer Reports in 1996. The lawsuit dragged on for 8 years, finally ending inconclusively. The one detail from the lawsuit I want to highlight is that CR doctored the test course to induce rollover in testing, and stated that they "never intended to imply that the Samurai easily rolls over in routine driving conditions". 

Tell that to anyone who glanced at their headline back in 1988.
Enough of that wordy history! 
The Samurai was available as a fixed or removable hardtop but you rarely see one with this fastback canvas rear. The wheels are aftermarket and look a bit goofy to me but the tires suggest that this is strictly an on-road ride.
As far as trucks or Jeep-like vehicles go this is the most parkable. The engine matched the tiny dimensions of this ride with a 1.3 liter 4 cylinder powering up to 4 wheels. This is a true 4-wheel drive with a transfer case and switchable low and high gearing.
You could order these without a backseat from the factory which makes sense with the top they have. In reality the backseat is a punishment anyway. I've sat in one and felt like my knees were pressed against my chest even though I'm 5 foot 8!
The interior is straightforward and well designed. The smaller gearshift engages the 4WD as well as selecting the range. Crank windows and manual locks round out the no-nonsense approach.
The factory name for the Samurai is the Jimny SJ413, but many names have applied over the years depending on the market. Some of the names used include Escudo, Sierra, Katana, Maruti Gypsy, and my favorite; Farm Worker. In the U.S. the name Katana was given to a Suzuki motorcycle.
Whatever you want to call it this little truck has been consistently manufactured from 1970 through today. The rest of the world still enjoys their capabilities and durability. It's a genuine shame that this ride joins the Corvair, Pinto, and Tucker as vehicles remembered for or pushed out of the market by a single salacious detail. 
- Pintos potentially blew up when rear ended due to a faulty fuel filler neck (more damning was a Ford company document showing that they calculated it would be cheaper to settle wrongful death lawsuits than fix every car).
- Corvairs were vilified by Ralph Nader for the potential of a rear wheel to fold under the car under sever cornering due to the transaxle. By the time his book came out the design was already fixed but that didn't change public opinion.
- Tucker was pushed out by the Big Three from basically the moment he started producing what was the safest, most advanced car the world had ever seen.
- Little Suzuki was framed! This is a great ride that was thrown harshly through very sharp corners on a course that was redesigned to encourage failure. Without that report I'm confident that we would still see Samurais in dealerships today. 

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