Automotive history

Ad Break: Nothing Puts You up Front Like a Suzuki

by Antony Ingram
11 June 2024 3 min read
Ad Break: Nothing Puts You up Front Like a Suzuki

The hunt doesn’t stand a chance. For once, the fox has the upper hand (upper paw?), because the only thing likely to stop that little SJ413 in its tracks is rust, and in this 1988 advertisement, that would still be a good few years away.

Okay, there was also a slim chance our furry hero would topple the thing over, which was even the subject of a libel lawsuit between Suzuki in the US (where the SJ was called the Samurai) and the publisher of Consumer Reports (it’s unclear whether any foxes were involved). But while the dogs and horses would eventually get tired and hungry, and the toffs in fancy dress would eventually get bored and turn their attention to treating their saddle sores, the fox would be, as the ad puts it, ‘up and away’ – albeit perhaps wishing the little Suzuki was as good on tarmac as it was off it.

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Amusingly, there is but one item in the ‘For’ column in Autocar’s 1987 road test of the SJ413, and that’s ‘off-road ability’. Ride, steering, and gearing were all in the ‘Against’ section, and if you read the same magazine’s test of the Jimny launched three decades later, all those issues were still present and correct in the very latest model, too.

That’s by design, of course. The SJ, just like its old LJ predecessor that arrived in 1970, and the third-generation Jimny of 1998, and the fourth-gen model of 2018, is one of those rare vehicles designed simply to do one job very well indeed. Plenty of manufacturers let you ponce around in things that look like off-roaders, but only Suzuki and a handful of others give you a device that’ll actually handle itself in the rough. And arguably only Suzuki makes the experience truly accessible, though throttled supply and high demand means the current car has moved the needle in the wrong direction.

Suzuki SJ413 ad

Our advertisement notes several changes to make the SJ a little more refined, which after you read the road tests makes you wonder just how bad it was before. But the SJ413 got softer springs and dampers, a five-speed gearbox, and a larger 1.3-litre engine than the 1-litre that lent its name to the earlier SJ410. Autocar noted that you’d want to remove the optional deep plastic floor mats aimed at protecting the cabin from muddy feet, as they were thick enough to prevent you using all of the SJ’s already limited performance.

Perhaps the best thing about the ad is seeing an SJ in such beautiful condition, all pristine red paintwork, glowing white wheels, and unmarked stripes. Most SJs led a pretty hard life and then led another – the first from the likes of farmers and rural folk who needed something cheap and capable, the second from off-road enthusiasts who picked them up for buttons, modified them, and bounced them between trees and rocks until the car died, before finding another and doing the same again.

That mantle has been taken up by the third-gen car for the last decade or so, perhaps giving the SJ a bit of a rest. The SJ hasn’t yet appeared in the Hagerty UK Price Guide, but predictably people are already flogging the things with phrases like ‘future classic’ in their listings, and it’s hard to imagine buyers paying ‘future classic’ prices for something they’re going to throw a set of mud tyres on and scrape the door mirrors off of.

If someone turns up with a suspiciously long nose and a bushy tail though, do them a favour and give them a few hundred quid off. They’re sure to make good use of it . . .

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