Suzuki today celebrates it’s 100th birthday, and I’ve gotta say, for 100 years of age Suzuki looks pretty good.
Having built itself on providing excellent value for money and exceptional reliability, the Suzuki brand has grown to incorporate cars, motorcycles, 4WDs and marine products while also boasting a string of motor racing successes, and is now one of the world’s top ten largest automotive brands.
Built on humble beginnings in 1909, Suzuki was founded by Michio Suzuki as a loom company on the small seacoast village of Hamamatsu, Japan, building weaving looms for the country’s silk industry. The company quickly diversified.
By 1939 Suzuki had completed several compact car prototypes which were powered by then-innovative liquid cooled, four stroke, sub-800cc four cylinder engines. These early engines featured a cast aluminium crankcase and generted around 10kW.
After the war Suzuki again made looms for a time until the country was faced with a need for affordable, reliable personal transportation. A number of Suzuki’s competitors were offering ‘clip-on’ petrol engines that could be attached to a bicycle, from this basic idea came Suzuki’s first two-wheel effort, a motorised bicycle called the Power Free.
Designed to be inexpensive and simple to build and maintain, the 1952 Power Free featured a 36cc two-stroke engine and an ingenious double sprocket gear system which was an unprecedented feature for its time.
The gear system enabled the rider to either pedal with the engine assisting, pedal without engine assist, or simply disconnect the pedals and run on engine power alone. From this invention the patent office of the new Japanese democratic government granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research in motorcycle engineering and so the Suzuki Motor Corporation was born.
By 1954, Suzuki was producing 6,000 motorcycles per month and by 1955 Michio had created an even more successful automobile – the 1955 Suzulight. Advanced for its time, the Suzulight included front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering.
In 1957, Michio stepped down after nearly 50 years at the helm, handing over the reigns to son-in-law Shunzo who adopted his wife’s surname.
Over the next decade Suzuki continued to develop its motorcycle range began to export its wares overseas. Australia was one of the first countries to import Suzukis (motorcycles) in 1960.
The first compact 4×4, known as the LJ10, was introduced in 1968 and was to become a staple formula of the Suzuki model range right up to this very day. The original compact 4×4 was powered by a tiny 360cc two-stroke engine developing just 18kW.
In spite of the lack of mechanical power, the combination of a lightweight body, compact dimensions and full-time 4×4 gearing made the LJ10 an exceptional performer in tough, off-road conditions, and a natural choice for the Australian market.
By 1974 the LJ20 had made its official Australian debut at the 1974 Melbourne Motor Show. It quickly garnered a legion of fans, with its exceptional value for money and ability to leave bigger, more expensive 4WDs in its wake.
It was upgraded in 1978 by the LJ80, now boasting an 800cc four-cylinder engine, and a ute variant designated LJ81 (known as the Stockman). That same year Jitsujiro took over as chairman of the company, with Osamu Suzuki promoted to the president’s role.
Suzuki Australia was incorporated in 1980, as a motorcycle and marine product distributor, responsible for importing, marketing and selling the growing Suzuki range. In 1988 the Vitara was launched and quickly became a success here in Australia.
Built on a new platform and boasting more room and power than its Sierra sibling, the Vitara had a ladder frame chassis and dual range gearing.
Throughout the years the Suzuki range continued to grow, including cult favourites such as the Swift GTi and the Cappuccino, and perennial favourites such as the Grand Vitara and current Swift.
Since 2004, Suzuki has grown exponentially in Australia, to be the fastest growing brand in the country. Sales have increased 200 per cent, with the company on track to record its seventh successive record sales year in 2009.
The CarAdvice team wishes Suzuki many more happy returns.