Camper Companion: 1987 Suzuki Samurai

The Samurai was the first 4-wheel-drive vehicle that Suzuki sold in the U.S. In Japan it was known as the Jimny and the company began exporting them to America in 1986, badged as the Samurai. They were cool little vehicles akin to what would be a mini-Jeep. This 1987 edition has spent most of its life on the back of a motorhome, so the mileage of 61,500 is said to be mostly rolling miles. Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, this little gem is available here on eBay where the bidding has reached $7,600.

Roots of the Samurai begin in the late 1960s with Hope Motor Co. in Japan who had a kei-class 4X4 called the ON360. Suzuki bought Hope and the ON360 became the Jimny. U.S. versions came with a carbureted 1.3-liter overhead-cam inline-4 that put out just 63 hp. They weren’t exactly quiet or fast but would tool around town just fine and really shined in off-road situations. Manual-locking front hubs were standard, although auto-lockers were available at the dealer. The Samurai was priced one-third lower than the Jeep Wrangler and sold 47,000 copies in the U.S. in its first year here. The following year, 1987, cumulative sales would pass the 100,000 mark. Demand for the little vehicles would eventually taper off and 1995 models were the last imported.

While we don’t know how long this ’87 Samurai JX has been owned by the seller, it’s said to have mostly seen the back of a motorhome for the past 34 years. That means its mileage doesn’t reflect how much time the engine was required to make the wheels turn. The seller says it’s in pristine condition with only a nick here and there to prevent perfection. We’re told if you go looking for rust on this Japanese Jeep, you won’t find any. It doesn’t have a hardtop, but a full tub bikini instead. The Suzuki is still sporting its original paint and striping, which came with the JX package. It comes with a front tow bar in case you have your own RV.

We’re told the Samurai runs and drives like it should with no mechanical issues. The engine compartment looks squeaky clean with no sign of leaks. These little vehicles aren’t common sights these days because they were used up and then put out to pasture. This one looks like a pleasant survivor that might be one of the nicest left. For the Samurai’s currently offered online, the asking prices look to be between $5-10,000. These vehicles look to be a lot of fun for not a whole lot of coin.

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  1. nycbjr Member

    I want it!

    Like 1
  2. angliagt angliagt Member

    The first one was called a Brute here in the US.

    I wonder how the transmission fared,being towed
    behind an RV?

  3. Fred Seelig

    Actually, the first 4WD Suzuki officially sold in the US was called the LJ, either in the late 60s or early 70s for a few years. If memory serves, it was a two-stroke and very much looked like a forerunner to the Samurai, as much as a CJ3A looked like a forerunner to the Wrangler.

    Like 2
  4. morrisangelo

    Rode in one of these from DC to the Maryland shores many years ago through a heavy rain storm and high winds, while being tossed around by every vehicle passing by.

    One of the most unstable, poor-riding-on-a-long-trip, easily tossed around, aluminum foil-thin sheet metal death traps I’ve ever been in.

    A miserable, uncomfortable, unsafe experience. My friend and I had white knuckles and soiled underwear after that ride.

    Like 4
  5. Matt C

    Bought a few of these at the car auctions over the years, wish I had them now as they are worth more than $900 , the #3 cylinder had design problems with the head and valves, can be fixed but definitely not a bullet proof engine, The first ones that came here were grey market with the 3 cylinder motor. A ton were brought in though Florida.

  6. Steve Clinton

    When we vacationed in Hawaii in the late 1980s, these were the go-to rental cars. We ended up leaving it at the hotel and using ‘Da bus’. What a horrible sorry excuse for a Jeep-type vehicle. A real P.O.S.!

    Like 2
  7. Sidney Speiden Member

    These were also known as “Suzuki suicides” due to their propensity to flip over in sudden lane changes! One of the most unstable vehicles ever made!

  8. Doug

    I owned a Suzuki LJ-10, which was the grandfather of the Samurai. It had a360cc 2 cylinder 2 stroke engine, 2 speed transfer case, 4 speed trans, and a final drive ratio of 6.12 :1. Top speed at redline was a tick over 45 mph…..with no wind… The windshield would fold flat to the hood, like the early Jeeps. It was delivered to my house in the back of a squarebody 70’s GM 3/4 ton pickup. The guy removed the tailgate of the truck, drove the Suzuki up a couple of planks, set the e-brake and then strapped it in. The center of the rear axle was about an inch ahead of the end of the floor of the pickup box. It was fun driving it around in the hills outside of Reno-Sparks. I sold it after the crank seals had given up and it would no longer run properly. The fellows I sold it to were planning to put a Honda 500cc V twin shaft drive motorcycle engine in it, since the engine parts were no longer available from US Suzuki. Their plan was to use it as a hunting vehicle , since it would go places jeeps were to big to get into. I don’t know how successful they were.

    Like 1
  9. Gray Wolf

    Back in the day we use to take our sand rail to Glamis sand dunes. A bunch of us were deep in the sand dunes and I blew the rear end at the worst place. We put up the umbrella and waited for my friend to come back with a t-trailer hooked to his buggy. As we waited, a group of Suzuki’s came rolling over the dunes and stopped to see if we needed help. Remember, we were way the hell out in the dunes and these little cars were rolling thru the dunes with no problems! They then proceeded to roll further into the dunes! Impressive! We had more money in our buggies then they had in their little vehicles!

    Like 2
  10. roland schoenke

    For those who said they are horrible long trip cars, dahhh. They weren’t designed for that…you picked the wrong car.

    • morrisangelo

      Unfortunately, it was our only option short of renting something…

  11. Howard A Member

    Gak! Just shows, you can sugar coat a cow turd, and someone will buy it. I’m sorry, ( not sure what I’m sorry about), but the “Jeep quest” is off. I’m finding, there’s still a market for this stuff, and people with more money than brains will unsuspectingly go for this stuff, “because it’s cute”, that and nothing else is offered like this today, how bad could it be? I try and keep my opinions to vehicles I’ve actually dealt with, and I had a friend, bought one new, after the 3rd motor ( in 3 years, Suzuki refused to honor the 3rd replacement) blew, and the rust had already taken it’s toll, 3 years, mind you, I know what I’m talking about. But don’t listen to me, by all means, bid away,,,fools.

    • Rant Winters

      I think you might have insulted cow turds…..

      Like 1
  12. Rant Winters

    Little death trap. Back when imwas a wee rant I saw the results of one of these rolling without a fatality, and it was ugly, and I’m told that was a “good” crash. I’d stay well the hell away from one of these, seeing one crinkled around a old stump like a crushed beer can was convincing

  13. chrlsful

    look @ Japan (where most live)
    look @ this vehicle.

    Nxt do what we do for a lota fun – SAS, 6:1 1st gear (80:1 final drive ratio), bigger engine, etc, etc – and go out in the way-back, narrow paths, mud, rock, etc.
    Keep as is and use for simple grocery getter.
    (noneadez begin at 10K$ tho…3 is more like it…

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