CC Capsule: 1980 Suzuki Jimny (SJ10) – Fishing For Keis

Cute though it may be, this little Jimny’s not going to have its big long-form CC post, sorry – just another CCapsule. When they’re too small, you have to throw them back. Well, maybe not throw it back, as that would be a shame, but definitely scale it down.

This is the third CCapsule on the original Jimny, but it’s the first from its home country and in its base configuration, i.e. as a kei car. The Jimny, which Suzuki produced (but did not design) since 1970, was a pioneer in its field. It was the first AWD in the kei class, originally with a 360cc air-cooled twin – a bit puny for this kind of vehicle, but as long as you knew to go off-road rather than on the highway, that was not a big issue.

Export models (LJ80) got a conventional 800cc 4-cyl., but those were not intended for Japanese consumption. Starting from 1976, the Japanese government pushed the kei car limit up to 550cc, so Suzuki came out with a new engine, a water-cooled 539cc 3-cyl. two-stroke, for the “Jimny 55,” as the SJ10 was nicknamed.

The redefinition of the kei class in the mid-’70s also allowed Suzuki to place the spare tyre on the back of the vehicle, thereby making the Jimny a 4-seater. Prior to that, the spare was behind the driver’s seat.

Because this is the third post on a very small (but very cool and now pretty rare) 4×4, there is not much I can really contribute aside from photos. Fortunately, the car I found seems to have had a restoration and was nice and clean, though not as pristine as some museum pieces I’ve seen around here.

That includes the interior, of course. Taking photos through plastic canvas windows was pretty suboptimal, but one does what one can. A little Photoshop magic helps, too.

The Jimny nameplate is still going strong today, having celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Current JDM Jimnys (the non-kei / global version featured on CC recently is called Sierra here) are all metal-topped, though they did keep a classic look – chiefly due to their squared-off body with old-fashioned rain gutters, à la Mercedes G-Wagen, but also thanks to a very bright and varied set of colour options. The engine is still a triple, but it’s now 658cc, turbocharged and – shock horror – it’s a four-stroke.

The present-day Jimnys do look better proportioned than their great-grandparent here. The oddest thing about these early ones is how tall they are, while simultaneously sitting quite low (there really is no need for a running board or anything). This is complemented by these big wheels, probably 15-in., shod with very thin tyres. It makes for a very bizarre set of parameters.

The end result is not unattractive, but there’s a strange feeling that something is not quite right. It’s just an impression, though. It seems these are extremely capable on rough terrain, which is their main mission in life. A secondary objective being that of playing the part of the cute kei, which this one does perfectly, down to the Jeep-like grille slats and matching gills on the side. An odd little two-stroke fish from the country that gave us sushi.


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CC Capsule: 1980 Suzuki Jimny LJ80, by David Saunders