In the 1960s, Toyota’s FJ40 Land Cruiser was enjoying tremendous global success, and soon other Japanese manufacturers wanted to get their piece of the rapidly expanding civilian 4x4 market. Nissan quickly followed Toyota’s lead with the six-cylinder Patrol, while Mitsubishi had been building their own version of the Willys Jeep since 1953. Suzuki was primarily known for their motorcycles and scooters, but they had been making small cars since the 1950s. In 1968, Suzuki purchased Hope Motor Company which had produced about 15 examples of a 4x4 miniature Jeep, powered by Mitsubishi engines. Suzuki adapted this design and ditched the Mistu engine in favor of their own air-cooled 360 c.c. parallel twin two-stroke. Named the Jimny LJ10 (“Light Jeep 10”), Suzuki’s little truck was built to conform to Japanese “Kei” car regulations which imposed strict rules on overall length, displacement, and power output. The 2-stroke twin made just 25 horsepower, but Jimny’s light weight of just 1,300 pounds and tiny size made it surprisingly capable off-road. It also had the distinction of being the only 4x4 car to qualify for Japan’s Kei car class.
In 1972, the Jimny was updated and renamed the LJ20. The styling was revised with vertical grille slats and some other minor cosmetic details. The two-stroke twin now featured water cooling and a small boost in power allowed for a 50 mph top speed. The Jimny (also called the Brute in some markets) was never officially imported to the United States by Suzuki, though a small number did find their way stateside via Intercontinental Equipment Corp which began importing them around 1970. Sales were a trickle at first but gradually grew to about 3,000 by 1974 – which was enough to attract Suzuki’s attention and prompt an official US version of the LJ20’s successor – the Samurai. The little Suzuki’s compact size and serious off-road capability made it a popular choice with farmers and landowners. However, as with any inexpensive utility vehicle, attrition rates were very high, and only a handful have survived today.
It is with great pleasure that we offer this wonderful example of Suzuki’s plucky and delightful 4x4. This 1972 Suzuki Jimny LJ20 is a truly outstanding example of the breed, a highly original and beautifully presented truck, recently from the collection of a dedicated Suzuki LJ enthusiast. It is believed this US-market specification LJ20 was sold new North Dakota and the original owner used it only sparingly. It was kept in storage in North Dakota and was eventually left unclaimed in the warehouse, along with two other hardtop LJs. The owner of the storage building was able to assume ownership, and he used the two hardtop versions to plow sidewalks and for other building maintenance tasks, keeping this convertible (less practical in North Dakota winters!) in case he needed spares.
Amazingly, he rarely touched this truck except to keep it in running order and for occasional use in local parades. The third and most recent owner bought approximately 20 years ago and performed a minimal service and some light cosmetic freshening to bring it up to the current standard it currently wears. Some paintwork was done to protect it from corrosion and lift the appearance, but it otherwise remains very original and factory correct. This LJ20 is a “zero options” example, with just a pair of simple spring, loaded metal bars to perform the task of keeping occupants in place. Aside from fitting a factory-style roll bar for safety, the owner simply serviced and enjoyed the Suzi, even driving it to work on occasion.
It is currently in its correct US-specification, with a rear mounted spare wheel carrier (omitted on home-market trucks due to length restrictions), and the distinct 15-inch white-painted “wagon wheels” which were a fashionable truck accessory in the 1970s. The paint is outstanding, in the original shade of dark green. Since the Jimny was a pure utility vehicle, chrome was eschewed in favor of painted bumpers and mirrors, and the original plastic grille and other minor trim pieces are all in excellent condition.
The seats are trimmed in hard-wearing vinyl as original, and the painted metal floors are protected with simple, factory original rubber mats. Shift levers for the 4-speed gearbox and 2-speed transfer case wear correct accordion-style rubber boots, and even the instruction decal for the transfer case is intact. Original gauges are simple but clear – monitoring just speed, fuel, and engine temp while the odometer shows 11,309 miles. The speedo reads to a somewhat optimistic 80mph, although, according to the last owner, the Suzuki is good for a storming 53 miles per hour.
The exceptional presentation continues under the hood – with Suzuki’s 359 c.c. "twin" appearing very well-detailed and highly original, with factory labels and tags still in place and much of the hardware still in its original cadmium plating. Original wiring and plumbing all appear in excellent condition.
We absolutely love driving this little Suzuki. The twin emits a signature two-stroke rasp as it revs freely, feeling far livelier than its factory rating of 32 horsepower might suggest. The slick shifting gearbox, feather-light unassisted steering, and ultra-short wheelbase make driving the Jimny a joy. The engine starts with ease, and the 2-speed transfer case works as it should. An original tool kit and pouch are included, along with a reprint service manual in English. Rarely do we encounter Japanese cars of this era so exceptionally well presented and with so many original features – particularly those from the tiny Kei-class. This fantastic Suzuki has outsized character packed into a small package and is sure to delight its next keeper for many years to come.