Friday, 10 April 2015


The Original of The Species

The LJ10 was Suzuki’s first ever 4x4 model, and also the world’s first mini 4x4 ever to be mass-produced. In this post we’ll be exploring the story behind the LJ10 and how it pioneered the mini 4x4 segment.


Today’s SUVs and 4x4s can be traced back to their pioneering ancestor, the World War II Jeeps from Bantam, Willys-Overland, and Ford originally designed to be a general purpose vehicle used for various functions in the war.

As the war ended, the WWII Jeeps spawned civilian versions intended for non-military use. The Jeep quickly grabbed the attention of other car manufacturers around the world who all wanted to make vehicles of the same kind. The Land Rover Series, Toyota Land Cruiser, and Nissan Patrol are some of the early examples of Jeep-inspired 4x4 vehicles that emerged in the 1950s. Most of those vehicles were around the same size of the Willys Jeep, while some were even bigger.

In 1950s Japan, Suzuki was already known as a manufacturer of light vehicles (Keijidosha or Kei car). Kei car is a category of automobiles designed to comply with the Japanese government tax policy. The cars were obliged to meet standards set by the Japanese government, which included dimensions and engine size limitations. In return, models in the Kei car segment are given lower excise tax and automobile weight tax, resulting in lower prices and higher value for money. Initially developed to promote popular motorization for the people of post-WWII Japan, the Kei car category developed into a whole new class of vehicles, and by mid-1950s, Suzuki had became one of the leading Kei-car manufacturers.

As the Kei car market continued to grow, Suzuki had the idea of taking the Jeep-like 4x4 vehicle concept into the Kei car category. The final product of Suzuki’s idea was the LJ10, sold in the Japanese Domestic Market under the name “Jimny”.

The HopeStar ON360

The story of the LJ10 began with the HopeStar ON360, a 4x4 model designed by a small Japanese car manufacturer called the Hope Motor Company.

The two-seater vehicle was developed in 1967, and was available on the market from April 1968. A 359cc Mitsubishi engine powered the car. Other mechanicals of the car, such as the rear axles and the wheels were sourced from Mitsubishi as well.

The HopeStar ON360 didn’t sell very well. It was said that only as few as 15 units found its buyers, while 100 ME24 engines were already ordered from Mitsubishi, who then declined to take over production of the model. Having very bad luck for the model, Hope Motor Company then sold the design to Suzuki.

The ON360 underwent serious testings (left) HopeStar ON360 next to an LJ10 (right)

Model: HopeStar ON360
Dimensions (LxWxH): 2995x1295x1765mm
Engine: Mitsubishi ME24, 2 cylinders, 2-stroke, 359cc, air-cooled
Max.power/max.torque: 21PS @5500rpm / 3.2kgM @ 3500rpm
Transmission: 4MT, Part-Time 4WD
Weight: 620 kg

The LJ10

Suzuki then developed a new 4x4 model based on the HopeStar ON360. They gave it a completely new bodywork with a much more distinctive look, a more powerful Suzuki engine, and new mechanicals. The result was the LJ10.

Suzuki launched the LJ10 on the Japanese Domestic Market in April 1970, and it became the first mass produced 4x4 in the Japanese Kei car category.

To comply with the limitations of external dimensions in the Kei car category, the spare tire had to be fitted behind the front passenger seat, making the LJ10 a 3-seater.

The LJ10 was available with canvas top and doors

Only one version of the LJ10 was available, and it was a canvas top model with zipped canvas doors. The LJ10 used a separate ladder frame chassis, allowing the use of lightweight body panels, making it even lighter than the HopeStar ON360. Leaf springs were used for maximum weight-carrying ability.

The name Jimny originated from a word that Suzuki executives discovered during their trip to Scotland. They originally intended to call the model “Jimmy”, but due to some linguistic errors, they ended up calling it “Jimny”.

While the LJ10 proved to be very successful in the Japanese Domestic Market, only few of them were imported and sold in other countries under the name Jimny 360 and Brute IV.

In 1971, Suzuki gave the LJ10 some minor improvements, the engine was given a little bit more power (27PS, compared to 25PS of the 1970 model).

In August 1971, US automotive magazine Motor Trend did a review on the LJ10 (called the Brute IV), comparing it to bigger cars such as the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, Jeep CJ-5, and International Scout II. They were very impressed with the ability of the lightweight LJ10, especially given that it has a very small engine to the other three. The international acknowledgement of the LJ10 gave Suzuki the confidence to further improve their lightweight 4x4.

Here is a quote from the 1971 Motor Trend magazine article titled "The Great RV Binge". Below is what they said about the Suzuki Brute IV:
"Perhaps the most intriguing of our four tests vehicles and the one which amazed all of us on the trip is the Suzuki brute IV. When I learned of this car, I must frankly admit to being skeptical. It's 359cc engine and 55 mph top speed seemed to militate against its usefulness, but after experiencing it's performance in the desert, I can say that the Suzuki Brute IV is one of the most enjoyable cars I have ever driven. The Brute's engine is a two-stroke affair which looks and sounds much the same as Suzuki's 360cc motorcycle power plant. With a compression ratio of 7.3:1 and a bore/stroke of 2.40/2.42 inches, the engine produces 32 hp at 6000 rpm and 26.9 lbs.-ft. of torque may appear to come in at rather high revs, the power band is broad with good power available at most any rpm level."

"Just entering the US market is the Suzuki Brute IV and despite its miniscule size and engine, it provided to be the most enjoyable of our four test cars. Huge 16-inch wheels and a stiff springing made skid plates unneeded and it went where the others went, sometimes with a lot more ease."

Click here to view the August 1971 Motor Trend article

Model: LJ10/Jimny 360/Brute IV
Engine: 2-stroke, air-cooled, in-line, 2-cylinder (type FB)
Displacement: 359cc
Max. output: 25PS/5,500rpm
Max. torque: 3.7kgm/5,000rpm
Suspension: leaf spring
Dimensions (L x W x H): 2,995mm x 1,295mm x 1,670mm
Wheelbase: 1,930mm

Suzuki Jimny 40 Years Global Website
Suzuki Jimny Japanese Website
History of Suzuki 4x4 - Global Suzuki


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