Turbocharging the Suzuki Samurai 1.3L

Turbo Samurai

Jay KopycinskiPhotographer, Writer

Samurais started out as small, budget 4WD vehicles with smallish tires by today’s standards. The factory 1.3L engine is a rugged little powerplant and has proven its reliability. However, many of these Suzukis have been extensively modified and now turn much bigger tires. Many of their owners long for more power and the ability to cruise comfortably at highway speeds with the bigger meats. Some owners opt for engine swaps to increase displacement under the hood, but a good, reliable swap can run into the thousands of dollars and requires skill. Zuks Off Road (ZOR) now offers an alternative for Samurai owners looking for more torque and horsepower.

ZOR offers a turbocharger kit for the 1.3L engine to encourage more ponies from the four-cylinder powerplant. The kit comes with all the hardware needed for the upgrade. It uses the same proven Keihin CV (constant velocity) carburetor as was used on Harley-Davidson motorcycles before they were converted to fuel injection. ZOR offers a conversion kit called the My-Side, which installs this 40mm or 44mm carb in place of the factory one to provide quicker throttle response, better off-road drivability, and improved fuel economy. The My-Turbo kit uses this same proven carb setup but adds a KO3 turbocharger to boost the intake air charge and add considerably more power.

A replacement exhaust manifold with a heavy, 1/2-inch flange is provided to direct output to the mounted KO3 unit where it spins the turbine. Intake air enters a filter connected to the input of the turbo and is then pressurized by the turbo with boost pressure of about 5 to 6 psi. That boosted intake air is piped across the engine compartment and into the intake of the Keihin carb. The turbo is pressure lubricated from an engine oil feed line and then returns the oil to the engine oil pan. A new electric fuel pump and all related plumbing components are provided, along with a boost-controlled fuel pressure regulator.

The kit can be installed in a home garage with mostly common mechanic tools. Some welding is required to complete the downpipe from the turbo and connect to the existing exhaust system. We visited the ZOR shop in Camp Verde, Arizona, to watch as a My-Turbo kit was installed on a Samurai owned by a customer in Alabama. Jessie White and Chris Kane installed the kit over the course of a day.

Once the installation was complete and tuned, rear-wheel peak power at about 4,500 rpm jumped from 37 hp to 75 hp, or double with the turbocharger. This is greater horsepower than most 1.6L 16-valve Suzuki engines can produce running small tires. Maximum torque went from about 54 lb-ft stock to about 98 lb-ft under boost, with peak torque occurring at about 3,200 rpm. The little Suzuki was far more spirited on the road, and the turbo spun up the power quickly.