Little Ninja: 1987 Suzuki Samurai

This tough little bruiser just has fun written all over it. Rugged, 4X4, economical, shaped like a Lego, worn in enough to be able to enjoy and not worry about. Beach, trail, commute, it can do it all. Find this 1987 Suzuki Samurai for $6200 in Redding, CA here on Craigslist or here.

Consumer Reports sure gave these off-road ninjas a bad wrap. Allegedly prone to rolling over in certain driving situations, Suzuki found these tall, short wheelbase trucklets a tough sell once the bad press hit the streets. A libel lawsuit against the magazine couldn’t reverse the damage done. Regardless of their reliability, being perceived as unsafe will kill a model in one generation. Ask Pinto and Corvair how that story turns out!

This Suzuki is said to be an original, 88K mile rig. It is optioned with a back seat and sports great period teal paint and oh-so ‘80s stripes. The white painted wheels and white soft top gives a bit of a Barbie vibe, but a little mud should take care of any image issues. Not sure why they felt the need to spray bed liner material on the hood, as my Datsun was pulled behind an RV for years and only need small paint touch ups, but it does match the rugged bumpers.

A newer aluminum radiator is front and center inside the clean engine bay. All the bright yellow factory stickers are still intact along with the under hood mounted jack. Said to run well and has passed California smog testing, which isn’t easy for a carbureted engine, but the four wheel drive was rarely used, so better see if it still engages. Inside, the vinyl seats still have their original cool diamond and checkered pattern and are still clean and intact, with just a couple of splits. A detachable face radio has been mounted at the bottom of the dash, which has a camo dash cover on top. Overall, this is a very clean Samurai, a model that is usually modified for hunting and dune duty. The price is a bit high, but usually nice things aren’t cheap. Have you ever experienced driving a Samurai? Did Consumer Reports get it wrong or right?

Comments

  1. Paul Danos

    I had an ‘87. Loved it. You did have to be cautious with curves, you could feel the urge to flip but that 4×4 could where larger 4×4’s couldn’t.

  2. Gaspumpchas

    These things were so dangerous they wouldn’t insure them here in New Yawk….

    • MarshMountaineers

      Gaspumpchas… Would not insure in NY??

      Says who?

      Their have been numerous Samurai’s on the roads here in NY… And you can’t register a vehicle in NY without insurance, so I believe you are mis-informed. Now if someone was a risky driver, with numerous points on his/her license then it’s likely that they could not get anything insured, or it would be too expensive to insure due to being in the high risk.

      • Jon Hellinga

        I daily drive one, they are rough, but I haven’t felt even close to rolling over. They became a “fall” vehicle, and other vehicles seemed even more top heavy and unstable.

  3. RayT Member

    I actually have driven a Samurai, back when they were new. Three of them, in fact. Can’t say as I put many miles on them, though, as the performance was so lackluster and the ride/handling so awful that the one I had in my possession longest simply sat in the driveway until it was time to return it….

    With plenty of on- and off-road experience in various Jeeps, Landies and Toyotas, I wasn’t expecting the thing to ride like a ’59 Cadillac, but was still dismayed. Yes, they could crawl around on rocks, slowly, but I never pushed that either.

    I suppose they were/are all right for around-town driving, but why? Later Suzukis could do more, rode better, and were far more civilized. Everyone to their own taste, but this wouldn’t be for me if the decimal point on the price was moved two places to the left. Someone else might enjoy it; I certainly won’t feel bad if they snatch it away….

  4. Steve

    This price seems stupid high to me.

  5. Miguel

    The guy puts 88K on it and then asks almost the original sale price for it?

  6. Jeff

    Saw one for sale a couple years back on CL & asked my dad to test drive it for me, then report. He’s retired & lived closer to its location. Said it “wouldn’t pull the hat off ya head!” I passed…

    • Miguel

      I had a few back when they were just annoying used cars.

      The fastest one I had had a ton of miles on it and no exhaust system.

      All the others were just for putting around town.

      I don’t see why anybody would pay this kind of money for this. It was made to be a cheap form of transportation and be disposed of.

      Most people obliged that. Somehow this one slipped through.

  7. Mark in WNC

    Xx

  8. Martin Sparkes

    They are extremely popular here. They will crawl anywhere. That would be gone in a flash if it was on a bc 4×4 site. I watched a video of one a while ago winning a mud drag by just floating over the top on 40 inch tires while all the big mud trucks sank.

    I remember hiking a local mountain when I was a teen and one came up the trail. It was moving marginally faster than two healthy teens with overnight backpacks. Ww were able to keep it in sight for quite a while before it dissapeared up the road. I also met an old guy who converted one into an amphibian. He pulled the body off and sealed a tub around the frame and ran a propeller off the transfer case. He would drive it down to the fraser river and boat over to the other side for fun. I am sure that thing is still in his shed in Dogwood Valley.

  9. Tony D

    I had an ‘87 tin top (hard top) bought new, put 95k miles on it before trading it in. Other than needing at least 15 more horsepower, it was very reliable. And no, no tipping issues (driving sensibly, of course…)

  10. Terry Stevens

    Owned one for 5 years or so. Was a terrific trail vehicle Perfect dimensions and weight for the toughest off road adventures. Would out perform my Jeep TJ in sand or mud as the Jeep would just sink and dig due to it’s weight. Would love to have another but this is a little spendy.

  11. Stu

    I purchased one many years ago just to flip. I was sad to see it go because it was a blast to drive around town. As part of the sale, I delivered it to the buyers home via the NYS thruway. After driving 2 hours @ 65 mph, it only took about and hour to pry my fingers from the steering wheel. With such a short wheelbase, it took all of your attention to keep it going straight.

  12. JW

    Didn’t these things roll over a lot back when they were new ???

  13. Adam T45 Staff

    I’ve always quite liked these. Yes, they could be prone to going ‘belly up”, but were fine if driven sensibly. The moment that I saw this one it reminded me of a now departed friend of mine, and his experience with one of these little guys.

    My friend was driving along a dirt road one day with his young son in the passenger seat of their near-new Suzuki. For reasons best known to himself, the son reached down and pulled on the park brake. The little Suzuki immediately spun around and rolled. After much haggling the insurance company came to the party and authorised for the car to be repaired. My friend had only had the car back for a couple of weeks when he was driving down exactly the same piece of road with another friend. This friend asked him how he’d managed to roll the Suzuki. My friend said, “My boy pulled on the park brake just like this!” I’m pretty sure that you can guess what happened next. My friend didn’t bother lodging a second insurance claim.

  14. Rube Goldberg Member

    I have a friend who bought one new, forget the year, just like this, it was ok, buzzed at highway speeds, needed a 5 speed, the 1st motor let go around 20K, Suzuki replaced it under warranty, the 2nd motor didn’t even last that long, and it sat at the dealer for weeks, claiming they couldn’t find another motor, when the 2nd motor was replaced, they refused to give her another warranty, and yep, after the 3rd motor went, she parked in the back yard. By then, it had already began to rust, terrible, and she junked it. And yes, I heard they were prone to rollovers, but not much worse than vehicles that passed the rollover test.

  15. Ken Carney

    My kid sister bought one new in ’86. It was cute and thankfully she didn’t
    roll it. However, security was a major issue with these things–especially
    when a burglar slit the top and stole her stereo and purse too. She sold
    it after the insurance company replaced the top. Dad wound up putting
    her into a Pontiac Fierro instead. All I could think of at the time was
    “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.”

  16. CanuckCarGuy

    After sales tanked on these, my brother picked up a brand new 1987….in 1989, for $2K off the sticker price and 0% financing. Great vehicle for the Canadian market, a reliable summer and winter commuter.

  17. Jos

    Lots of unwarranted complaints here. Of course it’s bumpy and loud, but it’s simple and reliable. We’ve used ours as a tow behind for years, which means we drive it a lot when camping. Going an hour or more on the highway isn’t in the greatest comfort, but certainly doable without any hesitation. I would not advise using one of these as your only driver, but they are much better than some here give them credit for.

  18. Loco Mikado

    The WW2 Jeeps were tippy too. My dad said he rolled one during the war. Used to go watch the mud races in Estacada,Oregon in the 70’s and saw a few jeeps roll there. They just put the back upright and continued racing.

  19. BBuckl

    I bought mine new in 1990 and put over 100,000 miles on it over a period of 10 years. Never came close to even feeling like she would tip and the only time she let me down was when the original fan belt broke at the 90,000 mile mark. I had to walk to pep boys to get a new one. The only knock for me was that she was too buzzy on the highway. You had to yell to talk to your passenger.

    Never spent one day in the shop besides getting oil changes. The original brakes and clutch even lasted until I sold her!

    I’d buy another one in a heartbeat!

  20. Kevin Lee

    It seems people collect these in multiples here in Texas. I’ve heard they can be great trail trucks. With the hood now covered in bed liner, it’s probably twice the weight it was originally.

  21. Joe Haska

    I have friends that were hit head on in one of these, they lived, their dog was killed. I think it was un believe-able that they lived. Understand they didn’t walk away, I am usually not that concerned ,but I don’t think this is what I want to drive.

  22. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    They sold a ton of these, I remember seeing them all over the place, but can’t remember the last time I saw one.

    The asking price must be close to what they cost new.

  23. Glenn Merithew

    I bougth one new in 1984 one day before the consumer report came out and I ended up losing four grand in a day. I remember it to be a fun driver but in the end its downfall was the transmission destroying itself and me having to trade it in on a 93 Toyota pickup. oh to be young again

  24. Vincent

    I miss my gen1 Geo Tracker (Suzuki Vitara). Age, however is not kind to these imports.

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.

*

Keep me in the conversation via email. Or subscribe without commenting.