Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: Suzuki SC100 (Cervo Coupe) – The Fronte Coupe Spawns Another Cult Classic

The Suzuki Fronte Coupe is a legend, and became one in its time already. It was a bold effort by Suzuki to make a truly distinctive (and hot-performing) kei-car sporty coupe with styling by Giugiaro. It’s not an easy task to design such a thing on the rigid limitations of the kei-class specifications. But the Fronte pulled it off, and then some.

The Fronte Coupe was built from 1971-1976, and was replaced by the Cervo (SC100 in Europe, as pictured here). It still used mostly the same body, but there were some fairly subtle differences that slightly spoiled the original’s lines. But not enough to keep us from appreciating a design classic.

What Corey Behrens has found here in the Netherlands is technically a Suzuki SC100 “Whizzkid”, a special variant for European export, where it became an instant cult classic.

Suzuki was the pioneer of the kei car, building the first one back in 1955. And with the Fronte Coupe in 1971, it once again was a pioneer, making the diminutive and boxy kei car sedans and vans into something quite desirable.  It featured a water-cooled 356cc two-stroke triple mounted in the rear.

I was curious as to what these little buzz-bomb engines looked like, so here it is. Base versions had some 23 hp, but soon a sizzling-hot 37 hp version arrived, which really made this the GTO of kei cars.

The kei car regulations changed in about 1975-1976, hence the transition to the somewhat larger Cervo. As is all-too obvious, one of the biggest changes was the bulge in the front grille, where the radiator for the rear water cooled engine resided. Just why it was pushed out is a bit of a mystery. I assume it was to take advantage of the somewhat longer maximum length allowed under the new regs, and by pushing the radiator forward, that facilitated a roomier front trunk. The Cervo also got larger bumpers front and rear.

The big change in the new regulations was to allow larger engines (550cc), and Suzuki wasted no time building a 539cc two-stroke triple. But just like it had been in the US, emission controls and more weight conspired to make the Cervo slower than its predecessor. Power was down to 28hp @5000 rpm. Top speed was in the 70-75 mph range.

Suzuki was well aware that the Cervo was no longer the pocket-rocket it had been, and now targeted its advertising more towards young women, as the Cervo was now more of a cute fashion accessory.

The pictured example is an SC100, nicknamed “Whizzkid”. And in the rear, a much larger 970cc four-stroke four-cylinder engine was mounted, making some 47 hp.

Square headlights distinguish the SC100, among other changes. The late LJK Setright was an enthusiastic owner, which certainly helped its reputation. Demand always outstripped supply, at least in the UK, and it became a serious cult classic.

The Cervo Coupe was built in Japan from 1977-1982, and the SC100 sold in Europe from 1979-1982.