Hagerty.com

The Suzuki Samurai is a sub-$10K 4x4 with a quirky personality

Small and capable 4x4s have exploded in the collector market recently. It started a few years ago with the Toyota FJ40, which went from a cheap farm tool—you could pick up one on Craigslist for less than $5000—to custom restorations by boutique shops, whose prices cleared $200,000. Collectors looking for cool, low-value 4x4s then moved on to Broncos. When they were priced out of Broncos, they turned to Cherokees and FJ60s. Now, even Cherokees and late-model Land Cruisers are out of budget for drivers who want a cheap, charismatic 4x4 to cruise around town and occasionally take off-road.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2020/03/26/suzuki-samurai-sub-10k-4x4

I bought one. A brand new 1988 1/2…baby blue with a white top and grey interior. Took off the silly stripes right away. They came out with some half year changes, although I don’t remember what they were. It was perfect for the summer at the shore, with the soft top that I had modified so that the side curtains rolled up and snapped just like the back curtain did. Took it on the beach…the 4 wheel drive with the dealer installed auto locking hubs worked well. And it even had great AC, dealer installed as well… Then I bought a jet ski and used the Samurai to tow it… it worked fine. In the winter it was up at my ski house, as an extra car. Great heater, good 4WD, and tiny enough to get into and out of too small parking spots. Added large dual exhaust tips to the stock exhaust too. Got a few odd questions about them…I put ‘monster truck’ tires on it- 235/70/15’s. Same size that came on my S10 Blazer…They were sooo big, lol, that I had to cut large pieces off the corners of the front bumper to allow them to fit. One fun memory was driving it up north each season. Once on the highway, I put the gas pedal (squirrel prodder) to the floor, and didn’t take it off again until the exit. I remember that it never broke or caused me any trouble at all. Gave it to my nephew after I had it for about 10 years, and he enjoyed it too. Had a Defender 90 for a few years after the Samurai, but that was a very fun and very huge piece of British garbage

I also had a 1988 1/2. Black with rear seat, AND removable hard top. Of all the cars I’ve owned over the years, it’s the one I wish I still had, especially after reading this article! The car never gave me any problems whatsoever, and one cold winter (was below 0 for several days) was the only car in the family that started. Other times, it pulled me though the snow, with ease. One time, after dropping my wife off at work, I had a bit of an issue trying to climb over the mound of snow to get back onto the road. Well, the car parked directly in front of me was several feet out from the parking meter, so I just drove in between the car and the meter, and got out that way!

Since I’m not a fan foreign cars I’ve never owned one of these. But I have done some work on the earlier models and was impressed with the simple design and ease of making repairs. With that in mind, when I was looking for a 4WD utility vehicle to use on my property, I was considering buying one of these if, 1st, I could have found one and, 2nd, at a reasonable price (cheap). Hard enough to find one but unless they’re trashed, they’re pricey for what I needed. I also found it to be nonsense the phony rollover tests made on these and other 4WD vehicles like the Bronco II. These cars are not Ferraris and not designed for high speed cornering. Geesh! So if you have one, drive it like it was meant to be driven and enjoy.

1 Like

My wife is on her 4th one (Tracker/Samurai/Sidekick, their only weakness is rust) and they’ve won me over as well.

I bought a new 1989 4x4 in Kalamazoo. I first test drove one in Grand Rapids but the dealer there also sold BMW’s and I didn’t look like I had enough cash for a beemer so the salesmen ignored me. Anyway the top speed with mine was 85 mph down hill. It got around 28-29 mpg and was great on the local trails and in snow. But one night slush on the road grabbed it and with the short wheelbase I knew that I could not get tit straightened out. So heading for the ditch I tried to go in backward because I did not want to roll it. It almost worked. I did not quite go in straight so when I hit the ditch it was a slow motion tip onto it’s side. bent the body & poped out the windsheild. Two cars behind me stopped and we flipped it back onto it’s wheels and we had a cold drive home.

I had a Pontiac Firefly that was made by Suzuki. It had the “bigger” 1.3L 4 cylinder engine (1.0L 3 cylinder was standard). It was a really good car and as the posters before me have mentioned, I had no real issues with it. Highway driving with it (even tho it had the bigger engine) was always a bit sketchy. I’m sure the howl of the engine at 110kmph on Highway 401 in Toronto made some fellow drivers laugh as it sounded like a Firefly also.

I bought one of these brand new in 1986. Used it as a daily driver through college (met my future wife in it!), and then I began modifying it slowly for offroad use. I had it for 28 years until I rolled it… not Consumer Reports style - I was going up a very steep hill (I had swapped 6:1 transfer case gears in) and it slowly went over backwards, landing on it’s top. We winched it back on it’s wheels, used a hi-lift jack to bend the fender so the tire wouldn’t rub, and I drove it back to the campground. When I bought my second one, I just swapped the drivetrain over from the first, and parted out the leftovers.

All these years later, I still do not understand why anyone would seriously want one of these.

@rchottea - Simple and for the reasons mentioned in the article: they are very capable off road, they are easy to work on, they can be driven easily on US highways, it makes for a great tow vehicle behind a motorhome and they generate a lot of parking lot conversations.

The photographer and BAT seller shared this article with me since I am the new owner of the pictured tin top Samurai. I love having it and surprised how it garnishes almost as much attention as my 1929 Ford Model A Sport Coupe. Every time - and, I mean, literally… every time - I have taken it out it has either resulted in a thumbs up from someone or started a conversation in a parking lot.

It is easy, safe and fun to drive on southern California freeways. Most of all, it is a nice reminder of how enjoyable a simple, basic and capable vehicle can be.

My plan was to enjoy it with a small group of LR enthusiasts that get together for annual gathering this year and before it was canceled due to local events. In the meantime, it is still a fantastic rig that brings joy each time I can take the time to take it out.