Clean Tin Top: 1985 Suzuki Samurai

Lately, I can’t help but notice that 1980s SUVs are among the hottest-selling collector cars at the moment. While some aspects of the collector car market are cooling, vintage SUVs have seemingly continued on unabated, and it’s not hard to see why. They have great looks; plenty of utility; and are pretty cheap to run once fully sorted. This 1985 Suzuki Samurai is a desirable “tin top” example that has never been modified and appears to be free of any major rust. The seller has listed it here on craigslist in Medford, Oregon for $5,000 firm.

I can’t say I blame the seller for holding firm on that number. I recently was watching an auction that had a non-running Samurai convertible listed that seemed like a potentially good buy at $500. To my dismay, bidding was already over $1,000 with four days left in the auction. I didn’t see where it ended up, but I really had no interest at that point; while I do love these trucks, I have a hard time spending that kind of money on a non-runner. Of course, these days, a Samurai that isn’t rusty may be the driving force behind the sale price, taking precedence over whether it runs. The interior of this tin top Samurai looks to be in excellent condition with the exception of some tears on the passenger bucket seat.

And, truth be told, these are such simple trucks that even as a non-runner, there isn’t likely much to be worried about from a bad news perspective. I can’t recall if Samurais had issues with headgaskets or overheating, but we’re talking about a very simple, very small engine that likely doesn’t require much heavy lifting to diagnose and repair. The seller claims his truck runs well and that the 1.6L 16-valve engine is in excellent running condition. The cleanliness of the engine bay is encouraging and one would hope that the Suzuki has had some preventative maintenance addressed at some point, like belts and hoses and fluid changes.

The seller notes there is a dent in the front bumper from a tow bar, and this could be an indication that the Samurai was previously towed behind a motorhome. Many of these compact SUVs were used in that manner, just like many Bronco IIs and Jeep Wranglers, as their compact size made them a manageable extra passenger strapped to the back of an RV and their utility was appreciated when the long-wheelbase motorhome was parked for the night in some rural canyon or remote camping site. If the mileage indicated is accurate, it’s quite low at just 85K. For the price, I’d be all over this one if the undersides are as clean as the upper portions of the body.


  1. Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

    This is froggin’ awesome! I was going to hop on this until I read that it was loaded with toad miles.

    Like 6
  2. Howard A Member

    I simply must disagree with the author, worst vehicle EVER, at least in the SUV market. Not Suzukis fault really, the SUV market was wide open, and we were still grappling with fuel costs, so the logical solution was the Samari. A good friend bought one new like this, same color, hardtop, right off the bat, it was horribly anemic, noisy, poor seats, rode awful, “tin roof” as in “tin CAN ” would be correct. About a year in the motor puked, spun a rod bearing. Suzuki replaced the original motor, after a lengthy wait, a year later, the 2nd motor puked, same thing, rod( or crank) bearing, Suzuki reluctantly replaced the 2nd motor, about 6 months later THAT motor puked, and Suzuki refused to replace it. By then( 3 years) it had already begun to rust, and she parked it in the backyard, where it probably resides to this day. These have the distinction of being the worst SUV in a rollover,,,worst SUV ever.
    Now, my nephew bought an XL7, and had great luck, even though he had to dismantle the front grill to replace a headlight bulb, it was a great car. $500 seems spot on,,,,

    Like 3
    • Desert Rat

      I strongly disagree with you , my friend had one and for a stock 4×4 that little suv 4wheeled great . In fact I had a stock cj7 with 3o4 v8 with 273 gears which really hurt the performance and in the sand his samurai would run circles around me, until I got 410 gears, still it was one of the best stock 4x4s I have seem and I’ve been wheeling since the early 70s.

      Like 5
    • theGasHole

      I think everyone knows someone who had a car like that. My dad’s first minivan, an ’87 Plymouth Voyager, went though 4 engines in the first couple of years. Fortunately they were all replaced under warranty, but we had a courtesy van (a Grand Voyager) more often than we had our actual Voyager during that time. After the 4th engine it was fine.

  3. Bob C.

    IIRC they went for less than five grand when new.

    Like 1
  4. nlpnt

    I’m not sure how the prices run on these, hardtops are rarer than ragtops but I suspect the latter is more sought-after.

    The thing that stands out about their safety record to me was not anything Consumer Reports did but the last couple model years in the ’90s, when rear-seat shoulder belts became a requirement for SUVs Suzuki simply deleted the back seat entirely and sold the ’93 and ’94 models (iirc) as 2-seaters. By that time the hardtop model was gone too.

    Like 2
  5. Russell

    I came within minutes of buying a tintop. I was impressed with everything except the lack of power. This one has the 1.6 16v so a big upgrade. Glad I missed out, because I bought a Cherokee. Although fuel mileage isn’t as good as a Samurai it has more room, the 4.0, and is still light.

    Like 4
  6. wally

    absolutely unsafe in the slightest cross wind on the highway …can be sucked over a couple of feet by a passing tractor trailer ..had to drive one once and it scared me

    Like 3

    Lotta puking going on

    Like 1
  8. Sterling

    my sis had one for 20 years and on weekend she was betting everyone in the mud. week days she put street tires back on and it was her go every place car. even if you had to fix it it was cheap and still is cheap to fix. she got 30 MPG and this was with racing it on weekends. that 4cy would never stop and yes she had the older on but same motor.

    Like 6
  9. Wayne

    I had an ’84 SJ410 for over 10 years; drove it everyday and it never once let me down or made me think it was going to roll over; it was never the first direction change that would upset it, but the second one if you tried to do it too fast. These were never offered with the 1.6, so that motor came out of a later Sidekick/Tracker. Fun fact: in 1987 these outsold the Jeep Wrangler by 2:1.

    Like 4
  10. Steve

    May have been ok off-roading but were terrible on the highway, crosswinds, trucks passing would move them all over. Snow, just plain awful.

  11. chrlsful

    one’s gettin turboed in the shop right now (well Geo Tracker. It’s got the ‘gash out the top’ – a vert only over the back, rear, sides (back there). Fella wants something to show off to his buddies. It IS fi but the kit (no machining to the motor but we entirely rebuilt it) just pep’s it up a lill (4, 5 lbs boost).

    I like these much better (just the look anyway).

    Like 2
  12. gaspumpchas

    these were such a POS that no insurance company in NY state would insure them. Run, Forrest, Run……

    Like 2
  13. John

    These are so cool. Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh PA had a fleet of these to pull floats and what-not. They scrapped the lot a few years ago by plunking them in a roll-off. much sadness

    Like 1

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