To a non-enthusiast this little Suzuki in the junkyard is no great loss. Just another little tin box disposed of after its useful life has come to an end. But for those of us who know better the loss of this special little car deserves to be mourned. While the MINI brand has done brisk business in recent times feeding off the image of the iconic Mini Cooper this little Suzuki GTi was more of a spiritual successor.
The original Mini Cooper was created in 1961 after John Cooper lobbied BMC to create a performance version of its Mini. The standard Mini 848cc engine was stroked to increase displacement to 997cc and together with dual SU carburetors horsepower was boosted from 34 to 55. Front disc brakes and a close ratio gearbox completed the performance package. Improvements were added over the years to boost horsepower as well as improve braking and handling but the recipe remained the same; a light weight and toss-able package with a useful increase in power over the standard car. The Mini had an impressive racing record with wins rallying at Monte Carlo in 1964, 1965 and 1967. The Minis technically came in first, second and third for 1966 but a questionable disqualification by French judges raised the Mini’s profile perhaps even more than any other race.
While the Swift GTi/GT perhaps lacks the high profile racing successes of the Mini Cooper I’d say it hits the mark on light, toss-able and, perhaps most importantly, the fun factor. Like the Mini Cooper a more humble car provides the base platform. In this case the Suzuki Swift (Cultus) hatchback which was fitted with a 1.0L three cylinder engine. In order to spice up the economical Swift platform Suzuki added a lusty 1.3L four cylinder motor. The G13B engine benefited from Suzuki’s motorbike technology as the DOHC engine had a very robust bottom end and revved to a 7,500 rpm red line. An even 100hp @6450 rpm and 83 lb-ft @ 4950 rpm was the result. The torque curve was surprisingly flat offering unexpected flexibility and excellent fuel economy. Aftermarket tuners have been able to double or triple this rating with the addition of a turbocharger.
Suzuki initially named its hot hatch GTi with a lowercase i in an (unsuccessful) attempt to stave of Volkswagen’s lawyers while channeling the success of the Golf GTI. The Suzuki GTi arrived in North America in 1989 at the time when the Volkswagen GTI was rapidly “growing up” with much more emphasis on refinement than raw performance. Suzuki positioned its GTi/GT as a smaller, more elemental hot hatch. What carried over from the base Swift was minimal sound deadening, a plain and basic interior with an almost complete lack of luxury extras. No power steering, no power locks and even power windows were unavailable on the earlier cars. It paid off however with wonderfully alive chassis feel and a feather weight of under 1,600 lbs initially.
Suspension was all independent MacPherson Struts with coil springs. Anti-roll bars were fitted to both ends. Steering is via an unpowered rack and pinion steering rack. Braking duties were handled by a four wheel disc system upgraded from the front disc, rear drum layout of the normal Swift.
Unfortunately the interior of this GT looks a bit grim with some missing and broken parts. The GTi/GT specific buckets seats still look sporty and supportive. The three spoke steering wheel is another GT/GTi upgrade. The rear with its bench seat looks just as much of a penalty box as the more pedestrian Swift. Only available with a precise five speed manual gearbox this shifter has been fitted with a slightly phallic looking knob. The interior saw a facelift late in the 1991 model year.
I would have been tempted to pull the 1.3L wonder motor for a future project except that empty oil bottle under the hood was a rather ominous sign. These engines can be converted to rear wheel drive by bolting to a Suzuki Samurai five speed although distributor placement can be a problem in some applications. I’ve always thought they’d be a fantastic motor to swap into a MG Midget or a Lotus Seven style roadster.
The no frills theme continues around the back with hubcaps rather than alloy wheels. At least the wheels and tires are a size larger than the base car. A factory fitted body kit gives it a bit of a sporty look. In addition the Twin Cam 16 Valve script lets you know this is no ordinary Swift. The poor little car looks well used up however. The VIN puts this one as a 1989 model but it must have been a late year build as Volkswagen forced Suzuki to rename the car from GTi to GT late in that year.
These days the Swift GT/GTi has a bit of cult following but for those in the know it offered the most raw hot hatch thrills. While the first Mini Cooper wasn’t a hatchback I’d argue its more of a spiritual descendant of the cheeky, fun and light original than the plus sized namesake that BMW sells today.