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Reviving a Derelict Suzuki Samurai

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 18, 2019
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Ah yes, the infamous Suzuki Samurai. I’ve wanted one since before I could drive, yet the stars hadn’t aligned to make it happen until recently. I took trade on a well-worn and partially complete 1987 Samurai with lots of good bits and pieces. It currently stands tall, but the plan is to build it into one light, low, and nimble trail rig. Something perfect to be driven to just about any local road or trail.

The Samurai came with a Sky’s Offroad Design Jeep YJ leaf spring conversion that rests on Toyota axles. The Toyota axles are a common upgrade that we can work with, although in a perfect world the Suzuki would have stock(ish) suspension and axles. The front springs are 2 1/2-inch BDS YJ springs, while the rear seem to be Crown reproduction front YJ springs. The plan right now is to swap the flatter springs up front and do a spring-under conversion with some YJ lift springs in the rear.

As for the axles, they are both geared at 4.88:1. The front has a Lock-Right and the rear is welded, but nestled in the back of the tub was a milk crate with a Toyota E-locker. Yummy!

Also in the rig was a full new exhaust system from Trail Tough with MagnaFlow mufflers and a Doug Thorley header, and a rebuilt T-case with TrailGear 6.5:1 low range gears. Also in the deal were some parts to convert the manual steering to power, some fancy tie rods and drag links, brake lines (and a rear disc conversion for the narrowed IFS Toyota 8-inch axle), TJ flares, super-cool 35x10.50/15 take-off BFG race tires, and more.

The good news is it runs. I need to build a cage, add seats of some sorts, and do a bunch of assembly. The plan is to try to channel a little Tim Hardy, a little Randy Ellis, and more. The first step is to clear a spot in the shop and get to work. Oh, and if you don’t understand this story’s title, google it and watch the video.

The venerable 1.3L carbureted engine in a Samurai isn’t a powerhouse, but it gets the job done. I secretly hoped that an engine swap would be in the Suzuki’s future, but with a little work, some new fuel hose, a new cap and rotor, plug wires, some caps on the vacuum ports, and a charged battery, this one fired up pretty easily. The temp gauge went up uncomfortably fast, but since the cooling system was full and I could feel the thermostat housing was warm to the touch but not yet hot, I suspect the gauge or sender. Luckily replacement parts are cheap for this thing.
The suspension leaves a bit to be desired, but with a few changes we think we can build this thing into a low and stable, yet flexy wheeler. Just have to get time to play with different spring combinations. The Samurai lacks shocks, but did come with some nice shock mounts for us to use when the time comes.
The Dough Thorley header and exhaust with a muffler and cat from MagnaFlow assembled by Trail Tough looks like it might be worth about as much as the rest of the Samurai. The stock exhaust manifold on the 1.3L engine has a crack, so we’ll start with the header and assemble the bits going back from there.
The 6.5:1 gearing from Trail-Gear seems comically low, but were betting the little mill can use all the torque multiplication it can get. This older cradle from Low Range Off Road looks pretty well thought out, and since it’s here we’re gonna use it. With the exhaust and transfer case back in the Samurai and a bit of suspension fine tuning, we’ll be ready for driveshafts, a rollcage, and seats. Should be a fun little trail rig for pennies on the dollar compared to what a side-by-side costs.

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