The 1987 Suzuki Samurai is probably one of the most adventurous and well-traveled four-wheelers in auto history and has taken numerous enthusiasts and owners through Chilean mountains, vast Canadian farms, majestic Japanese fields, and great Wisconsin winters. It may seem that this vehicle does it all – groceries, hauling, commuting, cruising, recreational trail rides, and high-altitude climbs. But there is more to learn about this little Spartan truck in this article.
Called the nonconformist’s Wrangler, the 1987 Suzuki Samurai was well-regarded for its durability and nimble weight, which helped it effortlessly climb the steepest inclines and crawl through deep mud and water. It had a rugged appeal and was easy to customize and repair.
The Samurai had its ups and downs but was generally considered a fantastic vehicle for the budding adventurer.
The Samurai’s specs and features, and its golden era and falling out with the U.S. market are just a few things you will uncover in this article. Read on and determine how well the 1987 Suzuki Samurai fits your goals, and decide whether it truly is a prized rock-crawling vehicle worthy of your investment or a disposable object of off-road abuse.
1987 Suzuki Samurai History
The 1987 Suzuki Samurai came from the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) stable of cars that the firm has been producing since 1958. Then known as the 360-cc Brute IV, the Samurai was imported by Tim Sharp and made available to California, Nevada, and Arizona in 1970.
This original model did not make it big in the U.S. as in other Asian and Australian markets until it evolved from a Jimny 8 to a Jimny 1300. This second-generation Jimny 1300 became the Suzuki Samurai, which shipped to the U.S. markets in 1985 for the 1986 model.
Priced at $6,200 for the base model and $7,500 for the top trim, the 1986 Suzuki Samurai (known in other parts of the world as Suzuki Santana and Maruti Gypsy) took the U.S. by storm. Demands shot up – soon, Suzuki was selling almost 8,000 Samurai trucks a month. The little bugger was such a success that in the first three years, 150,000 Samurai trucks got sold to eager Americans.
Worldwide, the vehicle reached 100 countries under various nameplates: Samurai (North and South America), Sierra (Europe, Australia, and New Zealand), and Jimny (Asia). Collectively, 206,419 Sammys were sold in the U.S. from 1986 to 1995 before it got withdrawn by Suzuki due to low sales.
After becoming a massive hit in the U.S., Suzuki Samurai suffered severe losses following a run-in with Consumer Reports. It implied that the Sammy easily rolls over during turns in normal driving conditions. This statement’s impact was so immense that not only did Samurai sales free-fall by 70 percent in 1989, but the launch of Suzuki Sidekick (a.k.a. Geo Tracker) also failed to take off.
The incident led Suzuki to press charges against Consumer Reports, angling for $60 million in damages. The lawsuit turned into an eight-year battle that eventually ended in a settlement between the two parties in 2004 and a clarification from the publication about how it presented the Suzuki Samurai in its published article.
The thing is, Suzuki was well-aware of the in-built flaw of its vehicle long before the article broke out. The company knew that its narrow wheelbase almost guaranteed it to turn over during sharp turns or a sudden swerve, but Suzuki was not going to turn a blind eye to the problem.
The firm wanted to develop a plan to address the roll factor issue permanently. While this has not happened yet, the manufacturer reinforced the Suzuki Samurai interior with a roll cage. It was just unfortunate that the test drive happened without the manufacturer coming up with a permanent fix to the “turn over” problem yet.
After Consumer Reports gave the Suzuki Samurai a “not acceptable” rating and called on the U.S. Federal Government to recall the 150,000 Samurai trucks on the road, no one thought much about the Samurai. The truck’s rollover propensity was inherent to its design.
Being short, light, and having a high center of gravity made it unstable for a driver making any evasive maneuver, even on dry pavements and at speeds less than 40 mph. No one guessed that it would break world records 19 years after.
World Record – Highest Altitude
On April 21, 2007, Gonzalo Bravo and Eduardo Canales Mayo bested the earlier world record of 6,646 meters set by Matthias Jeschke for the highest altitude driven by a car. The former record holder and his Extrem Events team drove a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon on the slopes of Ojos del Salado volcano in Atacama, Chile – and left behind a signpost that said: “Jeep Parking Only.” The same signpost later became a souvenir for the Chilean adventurer duo, who came back from the volcano with it after reaching 6,688 meters.
It was the third attempt for this winning tandem, who rode on a modded 1986 Suzuki Samurai. This feat was duly certified by the Guinness World Records three months after and became a testament to the Samurai’s mettle over and above the Jeepers. This accomplishment also made Bravo and Canales the longest-standing high-altitude world record champs until December 13, 2019, when Jeschke broke their 12-year winning streak after reaching an altitude of 6,694 MASL in a modified Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 5023.
Suzuki Samurai Specs & Features
- Engine – The U.S. version has a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder, in-line eight-valve SOHC engine. It has a bore of 73.91 millimeters and a stroke of 76.96 millimeters. Engine displacement is 80.8 cubic inches (1.3 liters), while the compression ratio is 8.9:1. Fuel tank capacity is 10.6 gallons/40.12 liters. 1986-1989 models had a Suzuki Samurai carburetor induction that was changed to throttle body fuel injection for ’90-’95 models.
- Powertrain – The Suzuki Samurai transfer case is a five-speed manual transmission with dry, single-disc diaphragm spring clutch and reverse. It spews 60 HP @ 6500 RPM (1986-1989) and 66 HP @ 6500 RPM (1990-1995). Fuel efficiency tops out at 25 MPG on the highway. Suzuki offered a 2WD version between 1991 and 1993.
- Tires – Suzuki Samurai wheels are made of steel and ride on 15×5 P205/70R15 all-season, steel-belted radial front, and rear tires. You can buy same-size replacement tires or go for 32-inch tires maximum when modding.
- Brakes – It uses a power-assisted hydraulic brake system with lever-hand operated front discs and rear drum brakes.
- Suspension – Leaf springs and solid axles provide both front and rear suspension. In 1990, the front axle was changed to a two-pinion type and will not fit the available lockers.
- Dimensions – The overall length is 135 inches, and the width is 60.2 inches. Its height is 65.6 inches; minimum ground clearance is 8.1 inches; wheelbase is 79.9 inches. Manual ball nut steering makes the 16.7-foot turning radius possible. The Suzuki Samurai weight is 2,094 lbs. while its GVWR is 2923 lbs.
- Exterior – It is a two-door narrow, boxy vehicle made of a steel chassis frame. It initially has a seating capacity of four but later reduced to two in 1994 to conform to safety regulations. The Suzuki Samurai hardtop model and new style convertible returned in 1999 – it continues to see strong sales worldwide and trades under Mazda (AZ-Offroad) and Chevrolet (Holden Drover) badges.
The 1987 Suzuki Samurai is a killer 4×4. This mountain goat is unbeatable on country roads and trails and does some pretty wicked stuff in the mud and snow. It has superb gas mileage, runs great, starts on the first crank at any temperature, and always gets you home. In mint condition, it requires very minimal maintenance – mostly consisting of oil changes and fluid checks at 3,000-mile intervals. But for second-hand purchases, this may not always be the case – which is why there are some upgrades you can do to not only enjoy your Sammy but also keep it in perfect shape.
- To avoid drivability problems, upgrade the stock carburetor by switching over to a Toyota or a Suzuki Sidekick carb. Add in a rotor, cap, wires, coolant flush, plugs, and valve job upgrades.
- Check the windshield frame and body mounts under the floors as they tend to rust out around this area. Should rust start to build up, weld in new metal, or replace fenders with Pocket Style Fender Flares.
- You may have to replace your exhaust system at least twice every three years. Getting a new universal catalytic converter will do the job for you, which should be stainless steel and California emissions compliant.
- Suzuki Samurai seats are also highly recommended if you want your ride to be more comfortable. Premium choices would include bucket seats out of an ’89 Prelude Si or Toyota Celica or modified Swift seats from Hawk – brackets sold separately. Another great option would be NRG FRP-310 Racing Seats (view on Amazon).
- Get yourself a good pair of speakers. Nothing beats your favorite music cranking loud and clear while you enjoy your Suzuki Samurai off road adventure!
- Personalize your truck’s look and feel by getting new Suzuki Samurai accessories like a Leather Steering Wheel. Protect it from the elements with a Rampage Products 98535 Soft Top for 1986-1994 Suzuki Samurai (view on Amazon).
Knowing the Samurai
- What is the value of a 1987 Suzuki Samurai? The current value of a used 1987 Suzuki Samurai ranges from $269 to $3,525, based on vehicle condition, mileage, and options. The 1986 model was initially priced between $6,200 and $7,500, while 1987 models and up were between $6,895 and $8,865 depending on the trim package.
- What is high mileage for a Suzuki Samurai? Depending on modifications done, maintenance, and use, a second-hand Samurai mileage could range from 90,000 to 200,000 miles. Usually, gearing is spot on for these brutes as a modified Sammy will kill the longevity of an engine if not geared correctly.
- How fast does a Suzuki Samurai go? The top speed of a stock Suzuki Samurai is 60-65 mph (GPS real speed), although some owners reported 80 mph in 5th gear. With a Mikuni carb and 32″ tires, you can hit 85-90 mph with no wind. But for an extensively upgraded truck, it can reach up to 104 mph on flat ground.
- What size tires fit in my Samurai? Any tire size up to 33 inches can reliably run with a Samurai provided there is an ARB locker that will save your axles and take off the strain from the drivetrain when traction is not needed. Just avoid using too much power as 33″ tires are near the limit of the stock axles. For a Spartan style locker or spool, you can only go as far as 30″ tires.
- What is the best engine swap for a Suzuki Samurai? The best Suzuki Samurai engine swap is dependent on driver preferences. Some would go for s a 16V Vitara engine. Others would put in a rotary engine from an RX-7.
Suzuki is a multinational corporation based in Hamamatsu, Japan, and is the maker of Suzuki Samurai. The company manufactures automobiles, 4WD vehicles, motorcycles, ATVs, and various other small internal combustion engines, and has over 133 distributors in 192 countries. Suzuki ranks third for motor reliability in the U.K. and continues to ride the crest of consumer sentiment for affordable, class transportation.
Conclusion – 1987 Suzuki Samurai
The 1987 Suzuki Samurai is a unique, subcompact SUV that was a smash hit out of the gate but concurrently a short-lived success in auto history. Its small frame and dinky dimensions set the fire for its demise. And yet, it’s these same qualities that tickle the ingenuity of enthusiasts and beginner mechanics.
Although not for interstate driving, it is perfect for zipping around the city and picking its way around obstacles that have hindered its competition. It is fun to customize as an off-road beast as there is concrete aftermarket support for this vehicle, and is very forgiving of the neophyte owner.
It didn’t matter that the American public went crazy over this four-wheeler and discriminated it after. It didn’t matter that its original purpose was for highway use. It didn’t matter that American Suzuki won the majority of the jury trials proving allegations about its rollover propensity were at fault.
The contrast between its auspicious launch and its debilitating brand derailment doesn’t define the be-all and and-all of this vehicle. It may have been removed from the U.S. too early. But the rest of the world has embraced it with open arms. The 1987 Suzuki Samurai was a blockbuster for its owners and strong following – and given the right modifications and proper care, it still is.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.