There are certain categories of discarded vehicles that I search for before all others during my junkyard travels. French cars and extreme-high-mile machinery are on my list, of course, plus Sawzall roadsters/ pickups, art cars and oddball special editions. But my favorite Junkyard Finds are obscure examples of what-could-they-have-been-thinking badge engineering, and today's truck has lived atop my wish list for nearly 15 years.
What was the most fuel-efficient (mass-produced, internal combustion-powered, highway-legal, non-gray-market, four-wheeled, et freakin' cetera) new car available in the United States during the 1980s? No, not the Toyota Starlet or Corolla Tercel, not the Honda CRX HF, not the Subaru Justy. It was the Chevrolet Sprint ER, and I've found a nicely intact example in a car graveyard just east of Sacramento.
Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha have just collectively promised to develop a slew of hydrogen-reliant engines designed to power small vehicles. While this is supposed to encompass construction equipment, small boats, airborne drones, and even motorcycles, the scheme doesn’t seem to focus on automobiles. However, Japanese automakers have already been working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for years and Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda has even been championing the development of hydrogen-burning motors for some of the brand's racing applications.
It’s largely counter to what the rest of the world is doing and begs the question of why Japan seems so intent on making hydrogen power work. What exactly makes the scheme so appealing to the island nation?
If you’re into tackling off-road challenges on a budget or have an unhealthy amount of nostalgia for the Suzuki Samurai that was taken from us in the 1990s, you were probably disheartened to learn that the Jimny (which is what the Samurai is called globally) wouldn’t be coming to North America. Suzuki had already exited our market and the logic at the time was that a super-small ORV probably wouldn’t see a lot of takers in the land where full-sized pickups reign supreme. While Europe was given access to the Jimny, sweeping emission laws have spelled trouble for the K15B engine it uses there. However, Suzuki now seems to have figured out how to get around that problem and indirectly announced on Thursday that the model would eventually become an EV.
Because of all the rebadged Daewoos sold in North America via the Suzuki brand during the 2000s (as well as actual Suzukis), you'll find no shortage of cars bearing the big S logo in most car graveyards these days. But what about the first highway-legal four-wheeled Suzuki sold on our shores, the Jimny?
The General began selling rebadged Suzukis on our shores for the 1985 model year, with a Chevrolet-badged Cultus called the Sprint. A few years later, GM's Geo brand came into being, with the Cultus becoming the Metro and the Escudo aka Vitara, rolling into Geo dealerships bearing Tracker badging. Meanwhile, Suzuki began selling its own versions of both vehicles here, with the Tracker's sibling known as the Sidekick. Here's one of those trucks, a rusty '93 in a Denver car graveyard.
Even though everything in the General Motors universe looked pretty shaky in 2009 and GM-affiliated Suzuki gave up on its attempts to sell Suzuki-badged cars in America in 2013, somehow an interesting new Suzuki midsize sedan managed to appear on our shores for the 2010 model year: The Kizashi. Just under 23,000 Kizashis were sold in the United States and Canada during the car’s 2010-2013 sales run, and I’ve found this clean ’11 in a yard just south of Denver, Colorado.
The Suzuki Kizashi was not a great car. That said, it certainly wasn’t a bad car – and I don’t think I’ll court controversy by saying that the car, launched nearly in tandem with news that Suzuki was withdrawing from the U.S. market, never really got a fair shake. It was a car that, for a reasonable-ish $27,000, could be had with a manual transmission and all-wheel-drive. That, along with a willing chassis and some “ drivers’ car” marketing, makes for a great story. “I coulda been a contender,” and all that.
There was another marketing pitch for the little Suzuki Kizashi that lives rent-free in my brain, though. It’s the one where Suzuki compares the Kizashi to its racy GSX-R sport bikes and all-conquering, big-bore hyperbike, the Hayabusa, and makes the case that the Kizashi might just be a four-wheeled Suzuki motorcycle that you can strap some child seats into.
Would a simple engine swap be enough to make the Kizashi a sports car for the ages? Let’s find out.
After the Daewoo brand fled these shores in 2002 (leaving Manny, Moe, and Jack in charge of warranty service and the company’s founder on the run from the long arm of the South Korean law), the sprawling GM Empire found a means to continue selling the Leganza and Nubira here: as the Suzuki Verona and Suzuki Forenza/Reno, respectively. Here’s a banged-up Forenza in a Denver yard with the extremely rare five-speed manual transmission.
Buy/Drive/Burn has focused solely on Japanese trucks lately, and thus far covered the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. Today we turn to the new century and take a look at three midsize Japanese pickups. They have something in common: All them are pretending to be a different brand than they actually are.
Badge games, activate!
Would you consider a special-edition version of the Daewoo Nubira’s successor to be worthy of inclusion in this series, even as I walk by 99 out of 100 junked BMW E30s? Hey, if I’m willing to photograph every Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally and Geo Storm GSi that I find in the junkyard, then of course a genuine, numbers-matching Suzuki Reno SWT makes the cut!
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