The 1990s were the shorty era. What had started as a tiny niche with the Suzuki LJ/SJ in the seventies, and took root in the US with the Samurai starting in 1986, became a full-on fad in the nineties. Just about every Asian CUV was available in a short version (Honda CRV excepted), until the fad wore itself out, or folks got tired of the jiggly rides. But they’re still out there, especially around here, like this fine example of a Geo Tracker, a badge-engineered Suzuki Sidekick.
Ostensibly, GM had some direct input in these, as they are the product of CAMI, the joint venture between Suzuki and GM Canada. The Trackers were built in the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, although some of the early Sidekicks were imported from Japan. And unlike the short RAV4 from Toyota, these were built on separate frames, in the Suzuki tradition for its 4x4s.
Power came from a 95 hp 1.6L Suzuki four, adequate for the times and expectations. These vehicles became very popular dinghies behind big motor homes for a number of obvious reasons.
Stick shifts are the key to keeping these fun. This one has the automatic, which would be the venerable THM180, a design that was originally built for European cars, and widely used there from the late 60s on, in a variety of brands including Fiat, Peugeot, Rover, etc, and even in the evergreen Grumman LLV postal van. Later versions had a GM/Aisin four-speed.
Purple makes such a nice addition to the fall colors.
That reminds me of that ad broadcasted in Quebec, Canada during the 1st years of the Tracker. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO0H0EdH-94
During the first years of the Tracker in Canada it was sold as Chevrolet and GMC Tracker. Then as a Geo Tracker and Asuna Sunrunner (rebadged as Pontiac once GM Canada dropped Asuna).
Oregon has such cool, old cars still humming along!!! This was a nice, small 4×4. Not the most comfortable but cheap to buy and maintain. I miss Suzuki now that they’re gone.
These were primarily used as newspaper household delivery vehicles in suburban Detroit. Cheap, plentiful, and built well.
This one is close to being perfect in my book, just missing the 5-speed manual. These would be great winter beaters around here with manual hubs, shiftable 4×4, and the addition of one of the many aftermarket hardtops. Although I rarely see them around here anymore and only see them on eBay if they survived being towed behind a RV.
Ah, the Suzuki Vitara Mk1. Very popular in the nineties, typical “hairdressers’ jeep”.
(What’s the generic name for such vehicles in the US ?)
I’ve heard that these are much more capable off road than they are given credit for. The departure and approach angles are quite good. Apparently GM even made a prototype with a V6 and Smartrac AWD system out of an Oldsmobile Bravada. I don’t think anyone would have called that a “cute ute.”
Oh it’s not about the off-road capabilities, I’m sure they’re good.
But the 3-door version had that hairdressers image, just like the Toyota RAV4 3-door
and the Audi TT as a matter a fact….and Gem confirmed it right away….
About the V6 prototype. There actually was a Suzuki Vitara with a 2.5 liter V6
in the nineties, but I think it was only available in the 5-door version, called the “Grand Vitara” here.
In the USA you could get a Tracker from 1999-2004(aka the second gen Tracker with the 2.5 V6. It was offered in 5 door and 3 door guise
Unfortunately the most popular colors on the 1st gen were purple, bright yellow and a teal color. So the car was considered “girly” even though it was very good off road.
My hairdresser has one in a pinky purple colour
I still see these around here too, since I too live where rust forgot, and still forgets existed, so cars of this vintage if here most, if not all its life would be generally rust free.
I think there is at least one, or two that park on the streets around my neighborhood.
I miss this color as purple has always had a place in my heart since I was a wee lad.
Plenty of these in NZ in Suzuki flavour quite capable off road as long as you dont get too adventurous rubbish on road at highway speeds but ok in town, the bigger 4door Vitara model are more popular and the V6 version is nearly a real car.
I still see so many of these in Manhattan, as well as a few Samurais and tons of 2nd generation Trackers/Vitaras. Might seem like an odd vehicle for that environment, but when you think about it (and I have thought about this) that’s probably the best kind of setting for them, on pavement anyway. Very easy to park, good visibility, great gas mileage and you’re rarely going fast enough to be bothered by the darty-ness of it’s short wheelbase. I bet riding around the city in the back of one of the semi-convertibles with the top down is pretty neat, too.
Here’s a rare Suzuki Vitara (non-Grand) convertible hanging out on the Upper East Side:
The swb is still on sale over here in hard or soft top version. I agree with you completely re the city vehicle aspect – there is also the benefit of clearance to disregard speed humps, wheel chocks plus it will shrug off potholes.
Regarding the feature vehicle, I’m surprised that someone in the rainy PNW would not have tracked down a hard top to replace what must be a leaky soft-top.
The soft top on mine didn’t leak. The only vulnerability was from the local young criminals who would slice the vinyl windows and reach in to pull the door lock. I never left anything of value in there. There was a upholstery guy near me who started greeting me by name within a year. He’d take out the old window and sew in a new one in about an hour.
In Canada, before they succumbed to rust, I recall ladies primarily driving these.
Tape stripes and teal/magenta were common colour schemes on these.
The Suzuki x-90 kind of makes the Tracker look like a Ford F-150 in terms of cute utes. lol
I came to mention the x-90.
I wonder if the x-90 had any off road capability….
Could this Vitara/Tracker be considered the replacement for the Samurai then?
The X-90 was mechanically identical to the Sidekick under the sheetmetal, so it, too, is at least respectable off-road. The 2-door Sidekick/Tracker was essentially the replacement for the Samurai (in the US, at least) even though they were sold alongside one another for many years. In Japan and other markets, the two model lines continue to the present day as the Escudo (Sidekick/Vitara) and Jimny (Samurai). Here’s what a 2013 Suzuki Samurai would have looked like (the current Jimny). IMO, this is “cute” in a much better way than the X-90!!
the first gen Tracker was well renowned for its off road prowess. Since it was on a truck suspension with a recirculating ball steering system it was very rugged. The 2ng gen was built with a car like suspension and this not very off road like
The Vitara/Tracker was larger and more up-market than the Samurai/Jimny, not a replacement
In the US, it effectively became the replacement for the Samurai.
Back when SUVs were all the rage, the mini-Utes were an attempt to tap into a market that wanted a Jeep Wrangler, but with more manners. To an extent, they succeeded, with loads of Trackers and Sidekicks still out on the streets everyday. They might have been elemental, but they were built well enough (certainly better than the Wrangler), meaning that with simple, routine maintenance, they’d keep going for hundreds of thousands of miles. They were fun little vehicles and one of the cheapest ways to get an open-top experience.
Samurais were quite popular rentals in Maui when my wife and I vacationed there in 1983. I would have preferred the Samurai to the Datsun 210 that we rented but both were fine for the 45 mph speed limit that was the max at that time. I remember that Consumer Reports had a fit of apoplexy over the Samurai’s handling. I also recall having done a self-adhesive tape package for a New Jersey markings company in 1980.
I’d buy one tomorrow if someone brought back this style of vehicle. Not sure why they died off.
This is one of those weird cases where most of the manufacturers of these mini, SWB CUVs simply went belly-up. Suzuki, Daihatsu, Isuzu, they’re all gone from the domestic scene. When the only major manufacturer of these, Toyota, moved up-market with the RAV4, there wasn’t any room for the sawed-off, 2-door version.
There might have been some problem with meeting more stringent Federal side impact standards, too. These had thinner, car-like doors than the Wrangler. The Wrangler, with its much higher stance and body-on-frame construction, probably didn’t have the same trouble.
I had a ’98 model 2WD Tracker in Red with the five speed. It was fun to drive and got decent mileage and had tenacious handling. I put tires with aggressive tread on it and was able to go around curves & on/off-ramps at twice the caution sign speed without fail. It was fun to drive in the curves and up Highway 7 (The Arkansas Nürburgring, it was actually one of C/Ds top ten roads). Reliable, I never took it in for anything other than one warning light reset and regular oil changes. The only thing I didn’t like was the brittle hard plastic that was used in the back as fasteners for the top and rear window, they tended to fatigue fast and break. I sold it when I had a kid, I wanted something more substantial around him.
My first new car was a 1996 Geo Tracker! Not a good highway vehicle. It needed a few more gears at 65 mph I believe the engine was at 6500 rpm. Still I had a lot of fun with it and it never gave me any trouble.
+1 on the gearing. My MIL just gave my BIL her nice white Sidekick. She always took care of it and it was perfect for her run-around-town duties and her extremely steep driveway. Its automatic transmission failed & had to be rebuilt though — disappointing since it didn’t have that many miles on it.
State highways & interstates were a bit scary when I drove it. That little engine screamed @60mph. I’m not sure if the 5-speed cars were overdriven…I hope they were for the owners’ sakes.
The tops shrink over time and are nearly impossible to reinstall.
I had no idea these things had the THM180 transmission — later Chevettes had this transmission also. I wonder if engine swappages are possible here (from a Chevette-owner perspective). A 100hp FI Chevette would be fun!
I guess these would be fun if you lived in Hawaii or the Caribbean. Otherwise, I can imagine they were relatively uncomfortable and noisy at highway speeds, as well as quite cold in the winter. They always were kinda cute though, especially this one in purple.
Learned to drive in one of these back in 1992. I recall it being more than a little short on power.
I owned a “bought new” ’86 Samurai for 5 years. I’d had my fill of small “Jeeps” at least 3 years before I sold it.