A legend with a giant heart
The Suzuki Jimny– and its proud line-up of predecessors – boasts a proud legacy that stretches back over more than 40 years to the launch of the Suzuki LJ series lightweight 4×4 in 1970.
The LJ10 was the first mass-production 4×4 in Japan’s domestic mini-car industry, and was designed as a simple vehicle with a ladder frame chassis and leaf springs to cope with comparatively big loads.
Power was derived from a twin-cylinder air-cooled two-stroke 360 cc engine, which produced 18,7 kW, which was reasonable considering it weighed a mere 600 kg. The LJ was updated in 1972 as the LJ20, with the benefit of a water-cooled 24 kW engine.
But with greater emphasis on expanding into world markets, Suzuki launched the extensively revised LJ50 in 1974. A three-cylinder 539 cc two-stroke engine was employed, delivering 25 kW and a significant improvement in torque.
The LJ50 gained an outstanding reputation around the world, and particularly in Australia, due to its exceptional agility and manoeuvrability in even the most demanding of driving environments.
Although it was never sold in South Africa, a pristine LJ50 has found its way onto local soil, owned by retired doctor, Giep Booysen, of Lynnwood in Pretoria. This unique vehicle enjoys pride of place on the Suzuki stand.
Renowned as the oldest Suzuki in the country, Dr Booysen acquired the LJ50 while serving in the SA Defence Force in Windhoek, South West Africa (now Namibia).
The 1974 model originally came from Angola, and was purchased by a farmer from Mariental in South West, who subsequently traded it in for a new Suzuki in Windhoek.
Dr Booysen bought the LJ50 from the Windhoek dealer in 1980, and used it extensively in Namibia until his tour of duty concluded at the end of 1983. He then brought it to South Africa and has owned it ever since.
The mustard yellow LJ50 is still totally original, despite being used regularly over the years for various hunting trips to Brits and Thabazimbi, and general driving around town. It was also been roped in to teach his two daughters and son how to drive.
While Dr Booysen admits that the tiny three-cylinder engine and low cruising speed limit it somewhat for longer trips, it has proved bullet-proof over the years.
“I bought spare pistons and other parts for the LJ50 but I’ve never used them, although I did somehow manage to lose the canvas canopy with its plastic windows.”
It has certainly been a reliable companion, and Dr Booysen is quick to point out how easy it is to drive, how capable it is off-road and the fact that it is far tougher than its diminutive dimensions may suggest.
BUILDING THE REPUTATION
The LJ series continued with the launch of the 797 cc four stroke-engined LJ80 from 1977 to 1981, but the world became most familiar with the SJ series that made its debut in 1982.
At launch, the SJ410 featured a 1,0-litre four-cylinder 34 kW engine, matched to a four-speed transmission, and it proved immensely popular around the world, and in South Africa too, where it was made available through General Motors from the mid-1980s.
By virtue of its low weight, rugged suspension and low-range gearbox, it was soon elevated to giant-beating status amongst the off-road fraternity.
The SJ410 was replaced by the SJ413 that featured a more powerful 1,3-litre engine and five-speed gearbox, and was sold locally by Delta Motor Corporation.
Subsequently, it developed into the much-loved Suzuki Samurai that boasted a 49 kW 1,3-litre engine, wider front and rear tracks, as well as coil springs for added comfort.
Although the remarkably capable and big-hearted 4×4 disappeared from the SA market for several years, it has maintained an extremely loyal and passionate following among local enthusiasts – and certainly kept the Suzuki flag flying.
THE SPIRIT CONTINUES
As the direct descendant of the LJ and SJ models, the Suzuki Jimny has been met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from Suzuki die-hards and new customers alike.
It retains the spirit of the original, with astonishing all-terrain capability and nimble reactions – along with the obvious charm of its purposeful and cheeky design.
However, the Jimny is thoroughly contemporary in every respect, from the fresh styling to the powerful and economical 1,3-litre VVT engine, the welcoming interior, the high level of safety and the sure-footed mechanicals.
Indeed, the legend lives on.
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