I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve been learning a lot about BIG trucks this week! As your parents told you though, too much of a good thing can lead to indigestion! So, if you’re feeling a little Big Trucked-out, let me offer you an antidote in the form of the little truck that thinks it’s big, the Suzuki Jimny SJ40 trucklette. Now known as the Suzuki Farm Worker, the SJ is still available new here in
Middle Earth uh New Zealand. And the LOTR reference is apt, as the SJ does look and feel like it’s been around since Frodo was a little Hobbitkins. So gather ’round the Party Tree CCers, let’s go for a journey into Suzukishire, postcode SJ.
The tale of little Jimny the SJ40 began in Japan in 1968, when the Hope Motor Company released their HopeStar ON360. Shown here is a pre-production ON360 with Hope’s entire workforce–note how the entire Marketing Department, carrying the extensive marketing equipment, is kitted out in red. You’ll also observe that the entire After-Sales Department at the right is brandishing the ON360’s standard comprehensive repair kit.
Initially Mitsubishi-based, the HopeStar ON360 sales were hope
Starless, and Suzuki bought the design late in 1968. In later years Suzuki swapped the HopeStar ON360 brand name with GM, receiving a couple of lightly used Daewoos in return. GM then rearranged the brand name to create their much-vaunted OnStar Hope360 (“Giving You Hope, 360 Days Of The Year!“) system, known more commonly as OnStar. I may have made that up. Something that isn’t made up though, is the instant recognition and success brought to Suzuki by 1969’s HopeStar, now known as the Suzuki LJ. The LJ featured a Hope-free body and an 18kW Suzuki powerhouse treadmill in place of the 15.4kW Mitsi power plant hamster wheel.
As the 1970s progressed, the LJ likewise progressed, gaining a variety of different body styles and larger engines. The final iteration of the LJ was 1977’s LJ80. It boasted a whole 31kW (41hp) and was finally able to win traffic-light races against elderly ladies on Raleigh 20 bicycles. Downhill. With a tailwind. If there was an ‘r’ in the month. And the headlights weren’t draining the battery.
David Saunders found the multi-indicatored LJ80 above back in 2011/12, and gave us an interesting post on it here. It was a 1980 model, right at the tail-end of gen 1 production.
The LJ’s successor, the SJ series, was launched in 1981. As with its predecessor, the SJ was available in a very wide array of variations. To add to the confusion, the SJ was also offered under a wider variety of names, including the well-known Samurai, the less-well-known Sierra, and the I’ve-never-heard-of-them Caribbean, Katana, Potohar and Santana. In some parts of the world the SJ was also sold as a Chevrolet; in Australia and here in NZ it could be had as a Holden Drover; in India it was the Maruti Gypsy.
Cher wrote about her Indian experiences with the Maruti variants in the song “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves.” Did anyone fall for that? If you did, I Got You (Babe)!
An SJ has featured on CC previously, in 2013, when Gonzalo Tampier wrote about his 1988 Suzuki Jimny SJ413 LWB hardtop. Pictured above, it was his first car, and carried him around Chile and Argentina.
Gonzalo wrote that the LWB variants were never as popular as the SWB, and that’s something that was true for most of the world. The exception was the Indian market, where the only Jimny built by Maruti-Suzuki was the LWB. Regardless of wheelbase, wikipedia would have you believe the SJ shuffled off this mortal coil in 1998. They lie through words!! In actual fact, Maruti-Suzuki is still producing the LWB SJ trucklette in India. Targeted at South East Asia, it’s also offered in New Zealand as the Suzuki Farm Worker.
The SJ has always been popular with Kiwi farmers, who use them like a large quad bike or a small tractor. Some farmers I knew had an 80s SJ which I drove a couple of times in the mid 2000s. It was light yet tough, and I completely underestimated how easily it could laugh its way through the muddy quagmires we pointed it at. I ended up deeply impressed by how seriously capable it was off-road. The words “off-road” are key nowadays, as the Farm Worker trucklette is no longer allowed on New Zealand roads. Changing regulations mean the new models are for off-road use only. Consequently the target market is restricted, yet sales still tick along.
The Mazda dealer 300 metres from my house also does a nice sideline in Suzuki farm bikes and the Farm Worker. On the lot earlier this week were this silver Wellside…
…this white Flatdeck (with MG413 badging, an update from the original SJ413), and the Flatdeck at the top of the page.
Also available is the NZ$14K Versatile trucklette (above left) that has longitudinal bench seats in the back, no roof and a fold-flat windscreen. If sir or m’am would prefer a steel bulkhead and no rear seats with your folding windscreen, the Multi Purpose (above right) is an extra NZ$1.5K. So for 1,500 bucks more you get less seats, someone in marketing scored a double bonus for pulling that off!
One thing that all the trucklette variations have in common is the somewhat basic interior, minus carpet and radio. It does come with a decent sized ashtray, but BYO lighter. But look how easy it would be to hose out! Note the material strap serving as the door stay in the Farm Worker above. Although the strap looks cheap, judge ye not, as it actually un-clips, allowing the doors to be removed quickly and easily.
I don’t know how long the Farm Worker will remain on the market, considering that it’s illegal for on road use. But whatever your trucklette needs, Suzuki has an SJ Farm Worker to suit, so I suspect it’ll be pounding the paddocks for a while yet! Let’s face it: quad bikes don’t have windscreen wipers.
When Suzuki rolled out the SJ in May 1981, Kim Carnes was #1 on the music charts with “Bette Davis Eyes”. The song stayed at the top for 9 weeks. The Jimny SJ has hung around the car sales charts for 33 years and counting. That sort of longevity proves it’s still the Little Trucklette That Can.