No Frills Fun: 1985 Suzuki Samurai SJ410

1985 Suzuki Samurai SJ410

My wife and I recently embarked on what has become an annual tradition: get the heck out of the cold and go somewhere warm with palm trees. In addition to plenty of sunshine, I always enjoy driving a native vehicle in whatever island nation we visit, and this most recent trip has me hunting for a Suzuki. Why? Cheap and proven four-wheel drive, narrow width for slicing between traffic, and that wonderful feeling of thin doors that leave little between you and the outside world. Hence, this 1985 Suzuki Samurai here on eBay with only 34,000 miles and bidding racing towards the $5,500 reserve caught my eye.

1985 Suzuki Samurai Interior

We rented the standard Avis runabout, a Suzuki Jimny. It was comfortable, quirky and unlike most Japanese vehicles, actually felt like it had something resembling a personality. Sure, the short wheel base meant it drove as if it might tip over at every roundabout, but that was half the fun! Since it wasn’t very powerful, you could keep the pedal down pretty much nonstop and never break any rules. Your arm wasn’t blocked by layers of airbags, making it possible to hang it out the window in a perfectly comfortable position. Small things, I know, but it made a big impression on me about how isolated we are in modern vehicles that push us away from the dashboard and window sills.

1985 Suzuki Samurai Engine

I’ve always held a bit of respect for Suzuki because I felt they put out decent vehicles. If they had been better capitalized or put a stronger push on marketing, they might have been a player here. To this day, the original Samurai is considered a formidable off-road vehicle, with many of the ones you find on Craigslist sporting lift kits, tow winches, larger tires and stripped-out interiors. It’s rare to find one that hasn’t lived a hard life after years of being sold cheaply and thrown away when the owner moved onto to a different trail rig or rock-hopper. This particular example has covered only 34,000 miles since new and is likely the first Samurai I’ve seen with a dash cover protecting it from the sun! Clearly, this one was cherished by the previous owner who towed it behind a motor home.

1985 Suzuki Samurai

Although the light at the end of the tunnel is still dim, I am hopeful we’re through the worst of the winter we’ve had in New England. And as those thoughts turn to warm summer days, I am truly digging the idea of a cheap, cheerful 4×4 that’s a little bit different than your standard Wrangler. The Samurai fits the bill and with a soft-top and fold-down windshield, it seems like a great choice as a budget-friendly beach buggy. And while it could lay to waste snow-covered hills with four-wheel drive and a manual transmission, I’d rather think about scrambling up some loose gravel trails for a secluded view of some warm ocean water. Would you ever consider a vintage 4×4 as your next project vehicle? Share your thoughts below.

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Comments

  1. Rich

    I had one while I lived in Japan. I got it for next to nothing and put a head gasket on it in my parking space, however it was in rougher shape than I thought and met it’s demise. I really enjoyed it though. very fun to drive and I agree that it actually had personality.

  2. jim s

    this one needs a good IP because of the use of ” great stuff “, 6 owners, extra wires, wood panels, and 5 not 6 place odometer. if it is all there this would be a lot of fun. i wish i had bought a ” tintop ” when they were new. if your looking at these keep in mind they made a 2WD model also. great find

  3. Horse Radish

    ….” the previous owner who towed it behind his motor home”…

    that probably means all front end bushings, steering knuckles tie rods have 100K + miles or more as it gets jarred hooked up to the RV….

    As with all neat and useful cars that don’t have a replacement in the market when they leave these will enjoy a decent following.
    I had a low mileage one of these that I sold for triple than what I paid for it, mind you, with a sun-fried interior…
    BUT they don’t hold up as well. My 50k-mile-car felt more like 100k when I sold it.

  4. Dennis

    http://danville.craigslist.org/cto/4895492207.html

    Here’s another 4×4 you might find interesting. Asking may be high, but these are getting to be pretty rare.

  5. grantp

    I worked for Suzuki from 1988 until 2011 – considering the steel used at the time this vehicle was produced, the body is in amazing condition. None in this condition in my neighbourhood. And local parts stores can get parts relatively easily. @Horse Radish is right though – front end will need attention

  6. RickyM

    This is in surprisingly good condition considering its age and looks good. Most would have rusted to pieces or been customised/changed by now. Would be a good car to have for the Winter too, with its good 4×4 ability.

  7. Leon P

    In 04 I got to rent in the Virgin Is a Jimny. Was lots of fun. BTW has anyone seen an 80s model Isuzu Trooper II ? I loved those. Haven’t seen one here in Louisiana in years

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Lavery Staff

      Leon, that’s what I had as well. It was an absolute blast! I attached a photo of the one we drove around the island.

  8. Bun Thomas

    Come on guys, this is NOT a barn find, please stick to the subject, regards, Bun.

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Lavery Staff

      Hey Bun! Thanks for the feedback. We’re always looking for good barn finds but occasionally something else interesting catches our eyes. We’ll keep looking for the best discoveries we can find!

      • gunningbar

        I like the odd and rare.. wherever found!

  9. Peregrine Lance

    It’s a year later, and I STILL get the “newbie” thrills out of my Sidekick. At first hesitating because it was 2WD, I was quickly won over by the–what?–80?–pounds I save the beastie from hauling around gear used 1/365 of the year. (Besides, FIVE on the floor is great, all by itself!) In that year, I’ve only encountered three or four versions of the Sidekick, which were then available from different brands, foreign and domestic. If the tops are a little heavy for one 74-year-old to lift by himself, the ‘Kick makes up for it as a triple-threat: Convertible; coupe; and, of course, pick-up! So far, replacing the water pump is its only need; I think these little guys got a very bad rap back when!

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