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1994 Suzuki Samurais - Off Road Notes

Posted in Features on November 1, 2007
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I've always liked Suzuki Samurais. The little vehicles are built well and can take incredible abuse. Back in 1994, we built two of them in 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility magazine. One was a red '94 model that ended up in Colorado with a happy owner. The other was a white '94 that Ken Francisco (ZUK) and I built. In Australia, the Samurai was called the Sierra. Just to be different, with the help of ARB, I ordered Sierra badges and called the project that. We built the Sierra project using 5.38 gears from Mario Raco at Victory Engineering in the stock Suzuki third members, 4.16:1 Low-range Rock Lobster transfer-case gearing also from Victory Engineering (later changed to a Petroworks GRS I transfer case), and a spring-over swap using the stock Samurai leaf packs with a shackle reversal. ZUK built a ladder bar in back to control axle wrap. Rancho RS9000 adjustable shocks were used at all four corners, and 31x11.50R15 Goodyear Wrangler MT tires were mounted on 15x8 Center Line HTII alloy rims. An ARB Bull Bar front winch bumper with a Warn 5,000-pound winch protected the front, while the rear sported a ZUK-fabricated bumper. For some reason I can't remember, we didn't do rocker protection. A 12-volt Thomas Ready Air compressor was mounted under the hood and a Cobra CB mounted inside, later changed to a Uniden CB with a Radio Shack external speaker. We also installed a fold-down windshield kit. The little white Sierra turned out pretty well.

I took that vehicle all over the West and went off-road in places like Farmington, Moab, Las Cruces, and of course, the Hammers, since I only lived 15 minutes from Johnson Valley. It was so much fun to drive up to an obstacle or hard trail and hear others moaning about the Samurai that was going to hold everyone up, then having no trouble and even helping others. For example, I went to Farmington, New Mexico, and did the Waterfall Trail during that week. After easily driving up Riff Raff (and the Waterfall), Harold Off exclaimed, "Well, we're going to have to rename the obstacle. The riffraff got up it!"

That was then. Samurais now get much more respect after showing what they can do for two decades. Ultimately, I sold the Sierra to Jerry Woodring, a fellow member of the Morongo Basin Search & Rescue Unit of the San Bernardino County (California) Sheriff's Office. Jerry added Sidekick power steering, named the Sierra "Gerbil," and used it sparingly for a few years. After purchasing a TJ Rubicon, he sold the Samurai to Charlie Wall, another member of the unit. Charlie didn't drive it much and then put it up for sale.

Enter me. I had been looking off and on for a Samurai since '95, as I had always missed my Sierra project. I had tried to pry one from a friend's hands and had no luck, so I went to eBay to see what was there. There weren't any '90-and-later Samurais (the fuel-injected ones), so I turned to AutoTrader.com. The very first Samurai listing was a white one with an ARB Bull Bar and a Joshua tree behind it in the photo. I called the number and told the person answering I was interested in the Samurai and then asked, "Who is this?"

They asked me who I was, and when I told them, they said, "This was your Samurai."

I then found out I was talking to Charlie. It turned out the Sierra only had 12,028 original miles on it and was pretty much as I had sold it, even with the original Goodyears and Center Lines still on it. We negotiated, made the deal, and I headed for Cali and picked up my new/old Sierra/Samurai.

The Sierra really is as I sold it except for the power steering, which is a nice addition. I plan on doing some upgrading, including getting rid of the stupid shackle reversal we performed way back when. The Sierra always crawled well. Can we make it crawl and also work at faster dirt speeds with today's technology? Watch Off-Road for the Sierra project.

With gas prices the way they are, Samurais make real sense today. They not only work well off-road, their fuel economy makes them frugal daily drivers. Plus, look at what you can buy a Samurai for and compare ATV and UTV prices! I'm happy my Sierra is back home with its original owner. I hope you enjoy the project as we update it.

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