It was 1989, I was 16-and-a-half years old, and it was time to look for my first car. So, Dad and I ventured down to the golden mile in Osborne Park; a mecca for car enthusiasts and anyone looking for a car.
After looking at a multitude of small hatches, grey imports and becoming totally confused, we somehow ended up at the local Suzuki dealer, and before we knew it we were test-driving a demo Suzuki Sierra JX Hardtop (my dream car). The little JX was top of the range at the time, which meant you got carpet, velour seats and door trims, an FM radio and, wait for it, back seats!
I’d been on a few surfing trips with my cousins, who both owned these awesome little 4WDs, so I knew how capable and reliable these were, but that new-car smell and the luxury of velour had me hooked about two minutes into the test drive. So, after a couple of days thinking about it, my parents decided that rather than buy second hand, they’d bite the bullet and buy me a brand-spanking-new dark blue JX Hardtop (with stripes) for the princely sum of $13,500.
Later that week, we picked up my dark blue beauty and I sat in her for hours, tuning the radio, pressing all the buttons, taking in that intoxicating new-car smell and imagining I was on a sandy beach cruising along with the windows down. In actual fact, she sat there for three months while I failed my driver’s test three times (the first on my birthday). But eventually I got my licence, fitted some roof-racks, replaced that FM radio with a fully sick Alpine CD system, and I was off on many amazing adventures.
I was lucky to survive the first few weeks in Suzi, as I’ll never forget taking my mates for a spin after first getting my licence. Windows down, the music blaring, not a care in the world, and one of them turned to me and said, “You do realise you just went through a stop sign at 60?”… I think that taught me pretty quickly to concentrate.
On the bitumen, little Suzi was bumpy, skittish, zippy and oh so much fun! The five-speed manual transmission was easy to use with a notchy, light action that was just right. On the highway at 110km/h, you really had to concentrate just to keep it on the road, and overtaking involved forward planning that almost required a Gantt chart. You could hardly hear yourself think over the buzz of that sweet but underpowered 1.3-litre engine, and if it weren’t for Pink Floyd blaring through the speakers, I don’t think I could have made it the two hours down to Margaret River for the many surf trips we did in her.
Off-road was another story – this thing was absolutely unstoppable! The combination of an incredibly light vehicle, good ground clearance, a tractable, torquey little engine that loved to rev and a 17-year-old behind the wheel was the perfect recipe for off-road nirvana (while listening to Nirvana). I’ll never forget the journey to one particularly soft beach that we often frequented south of Margs to find impossibly perfect peaky barrels. (Honestly, we had this place so good!).
Getting to this place involved a frighteningly soft beach run at a 30–40 degree angle that, on more than one occasion, fully loaded with a few mates on-board, I had to yell “Quick, get over on the high side!” just to avoid tipping over. You then had to gun it and rev it all the way to 5000rpm just to make it up a steep, heavily corrugated dune that would shake your brain from left to right. You could then relax for a minute before another impossibly soft beach for one kilometre. Honestly, it was hard to walk along that beach, let alone drive along it.
The Suzuki handled all this with a minimum of fuss, and if you ever did get in trouble, you could just let the tyres down to 10 or 15psi, put it in low-range and she’d just crawl out like a little tractor. My mates still talk about those trips with reverence and admiration of that little Suzi.
It’s hard to think of a better first car for me at that time in my life. It was cheap to run, you couldn’t go too fast but there was just enough power to overtake, she was good looking, and took us all on some awesome adventures to find perfect waves that we’ll never forget.
After a few years I traded Suzi in on a V6 4Runner (that I really shouldn’t have bought) and got $13,300 as a trade-in, so Suzi cost me the grand sum of $200. It’s without doubt the best money I’ve ever spent. The 4Runner, on the other hand, well, it was an awesome car, but why didn’t I just keep Suzi and buy a block of land instead? (Answer – I was 20.)