What is it with my fascination with these little trucks? Sheer perversity? Or cold logic? More like an overstimulated imagination. But there’s something about a tiny 543cc truck with four wheel drive and a bed that can carry almost a half ton that somehow makes me think it could find a useful home with me. I could drive it right into the back yard with a load of compost. Maybe even attach a tiller to it. Or put a rack on it and run down to the lumberyard, which is only a couple of miles away on city streets. Or hook it behind the Chinook as a dingy and go off-roading in it. Or….
I first fell in love with these little kei pickup trucks when I was in Japan in 1982. There are tiny rice fields everywhere, even in highly urban areas; there’s no such thing as a barren empty lot in Japan. And everywhere, there are these little white trucks, and an elderly couple bent over tending to their little field nearby, or riding back to their house. Of course, these micro-fields wouldn’t be worth it with out Japan’s mostly-closed rice market. Or the kei trucks; and four wheel drive can come in handy in a muddy rice field.
They reminded me of the Steyr-Puch Haflinger, that Austrian mechanical mountain goat so beloved by Alpine farmers (and others). Well, the Haflinger is a but more rustic and perhaps less on-road friendly than the Carry, but then they were developed for slightly different purposes to start with. The Haflinger was originally designed for military purposes.
The Suzuki Carry family started in 1961, with the FB, caught here next to a rather contrasting Imperial in the 1966 movie “Walk; Don’t Run” (image:imcdb). These were of course two-strokes, with a 21 hp 359 cc twin, and a top speed of some 47 mph (maybe).
There have been numerous generations since, and starting in 1966, the Carry switched to a cab-over design, although that’s a bit of a misnomer since the engine is actually under the bed, in the middle of the truck. The one we see here is from the eighth generation, built between 1985-1991. And it presumably has the Japanese-market 543 cc three-cylinder four stroke engine. Export version typically had a 797 cc four cylinder version of the same basic engine.
There’s little doubt of the origin of this one, and since it’s now over 25 years old, getting it registered for street use is not a problem anymore. Plenty of new and more recent ones find there way here, to be used on ranches and farms and institutions of all kinds. The load capacity is listed at 350 kg, which equals 770 lbs. But other versions, including the Bedford Rascal, were rated up to 575 kg (1265 lbs).
Speaking of, not only has the Carry been a top seller in its class in Japan, but it may well have the distinction of having been re-badged more than any other vehicle ever. Some of the global names it’s carried include Chevrolet Carry/CMV, Ford Pronto, Mazda Scrum(!), Holden Scurry, Mitsubishi Colt, Bedford Rascal, Daewoo Damas, and GME Rascal. As such, it carries the distinction of being the only vehicle to have been badged both as Ford and Chevrolet. What an honor!
It proclaims its 4WD proudly, including an LSD.
I can’t resist checking that out. This is the front, an IFS with struts and a beefy steel cage to protect the working parts. Well designed and solidly built, to my eye. There’s a reason the trucks are built all over the world; Suzuki has a rep for them. Of course, that goes for its little cars too. Suzuki has become the world’s kei-car champion, although the extremely popular Marutis in India are mostly a bit larger than true kei-class.
Would I fit in that cab? Can’t tell, without trying it out. It doesn’t look too horribly cramped, but then I feel pretty scrunched up in typical Japanese mini-pickups. The shifter for rowing the gears seems well-placed, which is undoubtedly a good thing. One probably shifts at least twice before getting across an intersection from a stop.
A generation or two back, Suzuki went back to a configuration similar to the original Carry, with the wheels in front of the cabin. Undoubtedly, this was done primarily to improve safety. Carrys are available for export to the US (off road) by importers; this one lists it for $11,300 for a 2WD, and $13,300 for 4WD.
To get it fully street legal, an older one is the way to go. But then some folks seem to get around that 25 year-old restriction. But this one certainly looks well-kept for that age; those old-school Japanese rice farmers weren’t exactly abusing them, most likely.
There are three of these in The small town I live in. I always woundered if the diffs on these things had the same problem with seals as the suzuki king quad of the same era. If the quads where parked outside after a ride through water the diff would freeze up and you couldnt ride it, people who forced the issue would grenade the rear diff buy locking the bike in bull low and giving it the beans. In the big city (Halifax) I have seen these equipped with snow plows, and have been told they are exellent at that task because of their short narrow track. It sure beats my old suzuki vinson 500 simply because you are enclosed in a heated cab, and Im sure the diff lock would be a huge help in heavier snow.
Sold as both a Ford and a GM! I love it – that’s the sort of trivia my mind loves to learn, thanks Paul. I’ve been away from CC for a month now on a holiday of a lifetime to Europe, it’s good to be home now and catch up with my favourite website and learn cool stuff like that! 🙂
I always thought “GME (General Motors Europe) Rascal” must have an interesting story behind it, as to why didn’t Opel want their name on it…
These are actually street legal in Oklahoma, even new ones can be registered. We have tons of them that farmers and ranchers use, and a state legislator got the bright idea that it’d be convenient if farmers could also drive them into town instead of firing up the F-350. A Chinese company, Tiger trucks, actually manufactures these in state now, in electric and gas versions, they’ve become so popular.
They’ve become pretty popular in van form for small businesses, and as trucks for hunters. Here’s one I photographed the other day done up as a hunting rig:
Turning a Kei Truck into a Budget Critter-Gitter. Only in America!
The Japanese Sha-ken inspection system keeps cars in good shape. The first one is after three years and thereafter every two and the inspection is so rigourous, many people just trade their car in for a new one. For example, any wear on the brakes means the replacement of the whole shebag. Sha-ken costs are a major topic of conversation.
These little trucks are all over rural Japan. Gasoline and road taxes are expensive in Japan, roads narrow, parking difficult and speed limits strictly enforced. There isn’t much of a need for a 6 litre V-8 “truck” to schlep your bag of fertiliser to your farm. Besides, Japanese would reject things as silly, garish and low-class. The values of frugality and modesty are still a big part of Japanese culture. For these reason, Japanese tend to have enormous wads of cash in the bank, unlike most North Americans. Perhaps there is something to be learned from this.
The 4WD thing was all the rage when these things came out, and are very popular in the snowy area of Japan north of Morioka. When I was in Aomori to enjoy the Nebuta Festival in 1994, there were loads of these and other 4WD vans and such around due to their heavy snowfall and less than fast snow clearance, which is made even harder due to narrow streets. In fact, the city of Aomori pumps seawater onto the streets to let the salt melt the snow. This creates a lot rusty cars!
Is this a delivery vehicle for the wig shop in the background?
I’ve often thought based on my experience with government shipyard Daihatsu kei pickups that there are places for them in the US. Since the shipyard speed limit is 20 mph, their rigs had top gear locked out so I don’t have any actual traffic experiences with them – in-shipyard use only – but they were tough little beasts able to survive a lot of abuse from drivers who were driving Someone Else’s Vehicle. Their size conferred a huge advantage in driving through and parking in crowded industrial areas. A 4×4 version could get between trees around here where nothing else could go. Well, except trailbikes and such….
Would a pick-up truck camper fit in that bed with the gate removed??
Nope, a Japanese would be smart enough to save a pile of dough and stay in a five star resort. Like I said, they are good with saving money.
I love the IDEA of a camper rig…and one on this kind of truck would be so cute and cuddly. But I’ve done it; and – aside from the odd evening with a firepit, Jim Beam Black Label, congenial company but not too much, and nobody else around…aside from those singular evenings, camper-camping ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Mountain touring to me, today, is to load up a lightweight tent and selected gear on the cycle…and head out. It’s hotels, nine nights out of ten. Which makes the occasional evening out under the stars, all the more memorable.
Absolutely! Every year my wife and I take my Acura into the mountains. This year is Ainsworth Hotsprings via Hope-Princeton Highway, then up the Columbia Valley to Lucier Hotsprings, to Radium Hotsprings, then to Banff Hotspings We’ll stay in nice places and buy local produce and cook it ourselves, since we hate road food. A gorgeous drive and lots of twisty-windy Acura fun. It’s really excellent on highway trips.
In a week I might spend $1000. It’s peanuts compared to owning a RV and and Acura TL is a load of fun in the mountains.
To me, these Kei trucks don’t make a lot of sense due to high purchase price and miniscule payload. Unless you are just looking at the novelty factor, a decent used F150 or Silverado is a much better value proposition.
Most versions have a 500kg load limit. This is more than some 6000 lb trucks here.
What are these things like to drive?
Slow but adequate for most conditions in Japan. This is the reason kei are not permitted on Japanese expressways.
I had a 550 cc Suzuki Alto in Japan. It got me around Kyushu just fine, thanks!
Ah, so this is what I could have shot you shooting. I’d love one of these to haul music gear around. I still can’t believe how hard it was to load/unload a Fender Rhodes into the roommates Carolla wagon.
Hey at least its not a B3. Had the workout of my life putting a B3 in my Safari.
You got me beat there, although this is no ordinary Rhodes. Over 200 pounds, and it is NOT detachable.
Still on sale new here as farm vehicles tractor type tyres etc good little bombs off road with dogs or hay bales in back these little suckers go where crap like jeeps fear to tread.
I have seen one in Tigard and one in Hillsboro (Oregon) area with for sale signs although neither were Suzukis. For maximum utility you should track down one with a 3 way dump body. Personally My favorite Kei trucks are the motorhomes like the ones Roma Home used to build on Bedford Rascals.
Not a single comment about the awesome black Imperial in the pictures?
Hey, been away a couple days! 🙂
Maybe the Canuck can enlighten us, but I believe any Imp in Japan would have belonged to the local yakuza capo. Probably best to look away when you saw one coming.
There are a growing number of these types of vehicles on the streets in Vancouver, imported by a company called Japanoid. Their website (japanoid.com) has some good info.
I don’t know how useful an actual kei sized truck might be. I think probably very useful. I do know I would surely like one of the old 1200cc datsuns or even a homemade vw beetle 1200. We are way oversized today.
Young fellow I knew in Panama had flatbedded a vw from about 63-64. The light weight made it seem to be a 40mpg hotrod. Todays engineering could dwarf that.
Paul’s problem in trying to get inside these little trucks would be height, I think. Their seats are pretty high off the floor due to the engine and wheel well below them, so his head might be brushing against the ceiling. I’m surprised that these can be made street legal in the US.
From your resident expat here in Japan, I can assure you that these kei class cars are still very popular here – besides lower Japanese Compulsory Insurance (sha-ken) costs and decreased taxes, they also have significantly lower registration fees than larger cars. And one additional advantage – to register your car in any large major city; Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, etc,. you have to have proof of a parking space – which involves a retired Japanese policeman coming to your residence and confirming your space – kei class cars, due to their size, do not require this registration step.
Which is why you don’t see many Smart cars here – with an 800 cc engine, they’re categorized (and taxed) as a regular car – even though they have less interior space than a kei model.
And believe it or not, at 6’6″, I can fit in most kei models (the pick up like this one can be a little tight due to the seat not going back far enough). The current generation are very sophisticated with nice interiors and good power (turbocharged models).
My only concern with them is their crash-worthiness – they’re well made but extremely light with very little metal between you and the 10 ton Hino dump truck coming in the opposite direction – any accident beyond 10 mph is going to result in injuries – likely fatal.
For many years, the van version of the Suzuki Carry has been the vehicle of choice for driving instructors in my neck of the woods. It’s small, cheap to buy and run, and it can truly test your driving skills – if you can drive one of these without overturning it, you can pretty much manage any other vehicle out there!
We used to own 1 of these but I think its Suzuki Landy Plus.It is identical to the Carry but with a longer front.For safety purposes I think.We got a van version that can carry 7 people in relative comfort.Our van had full air conditioning for all passengers,sunroof and twin sliding doors.It is a 1.3 litre engine with 4-speed auto.The drivetrains are the only letdown.Engine need TLC and the gearbox would not tolerate abuse.Btw I am from Malaysia and our weather is partly to be blamed for the engine which is prone to overheating.We bought it used and sold it after 6 months due to the issues i’ve mentioned.Still loved it though…