Never This Nice: 1988 Suzuki Samurai

It seems the Suzuki Samurai is moving upmarket. Once considered disposable, preserved specimens like this one are popping up with greater regularity, seemingly responding to the demand for high-quality examples that haven’t been left for dead in a canyon or alongside a trail. This 1988 model here on eBay is claimed to be unmodified with under 60,000 miles on the clock, and certainly looks as good as it sounds. Bidding is to $2,625 at the moment. 

The Samurai was a commercial success in the U.S., thanks to its plethora of off-road hardware that came standard along with its respectable reliability and low cost of ownership. The options list was fairly simple and configurations were limited – it was either a convertible or a tintop, with the latter being a bit harder to find today. This one does feature a backseat, which was one of the other options available.

As many enthusiasts know, Suzuki was hit by a scathing report from Consumer Reports magazine that claimed the Samurai was prone to rolling over. I can remember this coverage on the news and the visual of the Samurai being throttled through a set of pylons with the camera showing how much the uncompressed side lifted off the ground. Though a settlement of sorts was reached between the two companies, Suzuki still made changes for 1988.5 models.

There’s no mention in the ad as to whether this is a mid-year refresh vehicle. Those changes included softer suspension settings and a thicker anti-roll bar to help quell any perceived handling faults. This Suzuki’s stock 1.3L with 63 b.h.p. may not seem like much, but it was enough for the Samurai to quickly establish its chops off-road. This one seems like a nicely preserved example that hasn’t lived off-road, but could be bought cheaply enough that you wouldn’t feel bad about it if you did.


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  1. Rock On

    Before anyone complains about how underpowered these are, yes a V8 will fit!!!

    • Steve65

      A Tracker is a completely different vehicle from the Samurai. Different frame, different sheetmetal, different suspension.

      A V8 might fit in a Samurai, but this isn’t evidence of it.

    • grant

      Geo’s and Suzuki’s are two different things, you know.

      • Steve65

        A Geo Tracker is a Suzuki Sidekick with trivial cosmetic differences. There’s not a single part which doesn’t interchange.

    • Metoo

      A V-8 in one of these seems almost like a death wish, but that’s just me.

      For all the more knowledgeable hear heads here. Wasn’t it determined that the Consumer Reports testing was a set up to make the vehicle roll prone?

      • Jerry S

        Consumer Reports ran some pole across one and hung weights about 3 ft out on ea side. Tipper in that configuration.

  2. Ken Carney

    My kid sister bought one of these new in
    ’87 (I think) It was her first car and she
    was understanably proud of it–until
    someone slit the top and swiped the
    stereo out of it. She traded it in for an
    Escort after the insurance company
    refused to insure it after the top and
    stereo were replaced. Neat, but no

    • JW

      Exactly why I’m not a convertible fan.

    • SMS

      Owned many a convertible. Tended to leave them unlocked if it looked like rain or the top down.

      Figured the top was expensive and less likely to try and take the head unit if it’s open for the world to see.

      • jdjonesdr

        I did the same with my Wrangler. Always left the doors unlocked. Thief didn’t bother to check before he slit the top.

  3. Alfie

    Welp, this happened. I used to see this vehicle all the times in real life, then I read about it on an internet site I frequent! This car was from my neighbourhood. Never knew the owner. I’d park my cars by this one. This wasn’t a garage queen, it was always outside. The paint was faded, but then it got shiny. I’m thinking a buff job. It disappeared a year or two ago. Mystery solved.

    • Francisco

      You must be from Pennsylvania, because only in PA do people say “welp.”
      I rented one of these during a trip to Costa Rica. I drove it from the Carribean to the Pacific, through jungles, swamps, and over some pretty high mountains. It took whatever that tropical country could throw at it. And the AC blew cold. I am forever impressed.

      • Alfie

        “welp” is pretty universal, but yes. The ‘burg.

        Never had or drove one of those cars. Back in the day, they were known as ‘hairdresser’s car’.

      • The_Driver

        Born in Puerto Rico, raised in West Central Florida and living in Denver. Until today, I never heard “welp”, so no, not that universal!

      • Metoo

        A V-8 in one of these seems almost like a death wish, but that’s just me.

        For all the more knowledgeable hear heads here. Wasn’t it determined that the Consumer Reports testing was a set up to make the vehicle roll prone?

      • Larry Ragans

        Welp, I was born and reared in north Florida. Friends and relatives all sa
        id “welp”.

  4. Mark in WNC

    I have one. Will go anywhere! Wish mine was half as nice. Great find. Not all were 4×4.

  5. John B

    I rode in one of these way back then. We went over a speed bump at about 10mph. My bladder and other interior parts moved around and have not gone back since.

  6. Wayne

    How are these barn finds?

  7. Beatnik Bedouin

    They would be in NZ, Wayne, as they were popular on farms, here, for their reliability, light weight and go-anywhere ability.

    I’ve often though that a Samurai with a supercharged 1.6 Swift Sport engine (apparently, adding the blower increases HP to 200 and reliability is maintained) would make an interesting setup.

  8. Nevis Beeman

    It’ll probably end up on a Caribbean island….ideally suited.

    (Here on Nevis, 38 sq. miles, population about 11,000, we must already have about 50 of them !) They kind of replaced the Mini Moke (of which there are still about 10 on Nevis)

  9. The_Driver

    The 1.9 VW diesel engine, or the 1.6 twin cam from the Tracker are virtual bolt ons on this things. Samurai’s the national truck of Eastern Kentucky!

  10. JimmyJ

    Maybe Wayne can start his own barn finds site with ONLY barn finds and we can enjoy the 2 or 3 cars he can maybe manage to find a day…..

  11. Metoo

    Question. Did they ever make them with a removable hard top? Either from the factory or as after market item? It would seem to be a desirable thing to have. A bit more vandal proof, for sure.

    • The_Driver

      Yes, hard tops were available. They were two pieces, the “targa top” up front, and another one for the rear. Not sure if the attached to each piece, but one could drive it with either section removed.

      Good luck finding them though!

      • MDCustom

        They were actually THREE part hardtops… the targa over the front passengers, the main part over the rear passengers and the REAR GLASS.

        I owned an 88.5 purchased new at the freshly opened factory/assembly plant in Ontario Canada. Drove it until it was stolen 5 years later and trashed and left in the woods.
        This one for sale has been repainted. Firewall and door sills are still baby blue. The dash looks like an 88.5 (was quite different than previous model). The tires are all cracked between the treads- the buyer should bring a trailer! And that interior! What the??? Definitely not original.
        I will say that when I brought it to BC my friends laughed but this little bad-boy could go everywhere they could and because it was smaller- it would get less scratches on it!

  12. Metoo

    I spent the greater part of my life in Alaska and the past 15 in Arizona and have heard and used “welp” forever. Maybe, just maybe, It slowly made its way out of PA in popularity like Rolling Rock beer did.

    Darn! I screwed up! This is a car website, not a beer one. Me fix.

    I remember fondly driving my beat up second hand mustang back to NJ from PA and telling my road trip buddies, “Welp, we got more than enough Rolling Rock for the party”.

    Good enough?

  13. Rube Goldberg Member

    Many of these vehicles trigger certain memories, whether we owned one or not. I had a friend who bought a new one like this, with a removable hardtop, I just remember what tinny, cheap, rough riding thing it was, very uncomfortable. It hollered at 55mph. She got about a year out of the 1st motor, spun a rod bearing, the dealer had it for months, fixed it under warranty, the 2nd motor lasted about another 6 months, the dealer reluctantly fixed it again, but told her no more warranty, after about another year, it spun another rod bearing, the dealer refused to fix it, and by then, it had already begun to rust, and she parked in a field and I bet it’s still there to this day. I believe, this was the “tippiest” SUV that was ever tested.

  14. AF

    “Never this nice”? Looks beat up. A cheap aftermarket top, seat covers and chipped paint above the front windshield. Look at the angle of the back bumper. Who put “Sport” on door? Why? Something is wrong with the lower trim. Looks like a cheap aftermarket solution.

  15. joe

    A V6 fits.

  16. DaveT

    I’m going to bid on it, these are unicorns up here in salt country!
    And to join the internet: dated a girl from the burg and have friends over by Martinsburg(sp?) never heard the word welp…

  17. Rob Member

    I purchased one new in late 87 It was a lot of fun for a lot of years until it was time to pass it to a new owner at 135,000 trouble free miles. I purchased a hard top for the winter and bolted the ski racks onto the roof. I currently drive a 04 Rubicon with a 5 speed I leave it unlocked with the key in because evil doers can’t drive stick.

  18. Larry Ragans

    Welp, I was born and reared in north Florida. Friends and relatives all said “welp”.

  19. carsofchaos

    The 2 door Montero of the era is the one I am after, but these are definitely getting popular now as well. In the last couple of years the 2 door Montero was produced you could get a factory V6 which was plenty of power for these things.
    Now….let’s see if the X90 market is heating up yet…..

  20. Jim Roach

    Tires look like they are dry rotted

  21. Jon Hellinga

    4 spoke steering wheel means it’s an 1988.5(it looks like there is a 4 spoke). The other things that would be tell tale are the vents, if they are square or not.

  22. RicK

    I bought a brand new red Samurai JX Hardtop in 1986, cost was $7795.00 one only advertised special, this was right when they were first coming out was great in the snow even without putting in 4wd. Was small enough that you could drive on hiking trails that full size Jeeps couldn’t. The hardtop body design reminded me of my next door neighbor’s Nissan Patrol Malmborg im Plano that he acquired in the early 70s. But I digress. I drove the Zuki for three years and put 70,000 miles on it and noticed cuttings in the oil, so i sold it for $3500. Decent ones seem to go for around $4500 these days.

  23. Lawyer George

    Sold $4700.

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