Curbside Classic: 1986 Suzuki Carry KC 4WD – The Kei-sons Go Rolling Along

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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….

Suzuki Carry field

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.

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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.

Suzuki Carry FB

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).

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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.

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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).

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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!

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It proclaims its 4WD proudly, including an LSD.

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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.

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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.

Suzuki Carry new

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.

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