The Suzuki Jimny is celebrating its 50th anniversary – having made its debut in 1970.
Suzuki said the origins of the Jimny began in 1967, however, after Japanese car firm Hope launched its Hopestar ON360.
The car was a “tiny 4×4” built to meet Japanese Kei – small car – regulations.
“Unfortunately, there was to be no hope for it. The ON360 was a momentous commercial failure, with only 15 units eventually produced,” said Suzuki.
The small car was said to be unreliable and had a low build quality – with the fuel gauge “a clear plastic pipe that the driver had to keep an eye on”.
Following the failure of the car, Hope sold the design of its 4×4 to Suzuki.
Suzuki went about improving the design of the chassis and leaf springs of the ON360, and updating the vehicle so it could be mass-produced.
“A Suzuki 360cc two-stroke engine replaced the original Mitsubishi engine, and a new body rounded off the new design,” said Suzuki.
Following testing of the 4×4, it went on sale as the Suzuki LJ10 (LJ stood for Light Jeep) in 1970.
“The tough-as-nails little 4×4 could run with the big Japanese 4x4s like Toyota’s Land Cruiser and Nissan’s Patrol in an off-road environment, yet was much easier on the pocket to acquire and run.”
On the road, however, the LJ could only reach 70km/h and catered to a total of three passengers.
“The spare wheel was mounted where one of the rear seats would have been, so it was a three-seater only, with hardly any space for cargo,” said Suzuki.
In 1976, Suzuki then introduced the LJ50.
The new car was not built to the Japanese Kei regulations – and it packed a 539cc two-stroke engine, a spare wheel on the rear door, and a top speed of 100km/h.
The next version of the “Jimny” was the LJ80, which came onto the market in 1977.
The updated model featured a 797cc four-cylinder, four-stroke engine – as Suzuki said it was scaling down the production of its two-stroke motorcycle engines at the time.
“The fuel tank capacity was increased to a 40-litre unit to increase range – the same size still used today.”
Next to follow was the SJ410 model in 1981.
“It was a completely new vehicle, but the well-proven leaf-sprung suspension and live axles set-up was retained. The engine’s capacity was increased to 970cc, and power peaked at 33kW,” said Suzuki.
Suzuki then introduced the SJ413 two years later, which had a 1,324cc engine.
The new model coincided with Suzuki recognising that many drivers were using their little 4x4s as daily runners.
“So, there was a clear shift towards more on-road comfort, without sacrificing the lightweight Suzuki’s legendary off-road prowess,” said the company.
This resulted in the introduction of a coil-sprung front suspension in the 1990s, along with “in-cabin luxuries” such as air-conditioning, electric windows, and sound systems.
The third-generation of the Suzuki 4×4 was launched in 1998, and was the first model to be called the “Jimny”.
It featured a coil-sprung suspension, automatically locking front hubs, a dial to select between 2WD, 4WD High, and 4Low, and a new 16-valve 1.3-litre petrol engine producing 63kW.
“It was still very capable in an off-road environment and fared reasonably well in the city,” said the company.
This version was sold for 20 years, with very few changes along the way.
It was in 2018 that Suzuki introduced the current-generation Jimny – the JB74.
Featuring a modern exterior and interior, it is a far cry from the LJ10.
“The Jimny’s reliability, genuine off-road ability, comfortable cabin with all the modern amenities, and low running costs have clearly served to further bolster its reputation,” said Suzuki.
Since its launch in 1970, more than three million units of the compact 4×4 have been sold around the world.