The new Suzuki Jimny might be stealing hearts and headlines at the moment, but there’s a long waiting list to get into one and it could be up to six months before you actually get your car. Thankfully, Suzuki has a long history of excellent and capable 4x4 vehicles, so there are plenty of options out there on the used car market that could be right for you.
Piranha Off Road’s Alan Johnson is bit of a Suzuki 4x4 fanatic, with part of the workshop at Piranha dedicated to a side business he calls Seriously Suzi (SS). While many of the tiny tots that pass through the shop are part of Alan’s own collection of Suzukis, he also creates a range of products, modifications, accessories and even turn key 4x4s for customers.
One such creation is this Suzuki Sierra, which copped a ground-up rebuild with the benefit of Alan’s years of experience with the brand. The grey and orange colour scheme has earned the Sierra the name ‘Jaffa’, and the end result was so good a customer made an offer too good to refuse – before Alan even got to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
“It was never intended that we would sell this car,” says Alan with his usual infectious enthusiasm. “But a customer wanted it and kept asking me how much it would take to get it. I threw a high figure at him and he took it!”
We managed to score a day with Jaffa just before it went for its final engineering and registration procedures and was delivered to its new owner. It also gave Alan a day to enjoy it on his property near Melbourne.
Custom 4x4s: Alan Johnson's modified Suzuki collection
The 1988 Sierra is a short wheelbase soft-top, which was stripped back to a bare chassis before work started on it. Suzuki 4x4s of this vintage are pure and purposeful, with little regard for safety and comfort and more focus on functionality and purpose. From their diminutive size to their ladder chassis and leaf-suspended live axles, the early Suzuki 4x4s have a lot in common with the first mass-produced 4x4 vehicle, the iconic Willys Jeep.
The Sierra’s chassis was cleaned up, painted and fitted with new bushes in readiness for its revamped, rebuilt and bigger capacity hardware. Alan says he’s tried all the readily available suspension kits for leaf-sprung Suzukis and none of them really get it right. With this experience he developed his own leaf packs under the Seriously Suzi brand and, after driving Jaffa around the paddocks, we have to say he’s definitely nailed it.
Leaf springs under a lightweight, short-wheelbase car tend to produce a bouncy, harsh ride for passengers, but the Seriously Suzi kit under Jaffa is supple enough to soften the ride and allow a modicum of axle articulation, while being sturdy enough to handle on the road.
The springs are matched to new shackles, shocks, bushes and bump stops for a fully fresh setup. The original diffs were rebuilt and fitted with new wheel bearings and brakes, before the Suzuki Vitara alloy wheels and 235/75R15 muddies were fitted to each corner to get it rolling again.
Removing the lightweight body tub from the chassis made it easier to engineer the front and rear bars and rock sliders. These are all Seriously Suzi parts, and the front bar mounts an Ultra Vision light bar and a Warn Tabor winch with Dynamica line. The rear bar incorporates a swing-away wheel carrier for the spare tyre. The hitch under the rear bar isn’t a tow hitch but is simply there to mount a recovery point.
The bare chassis also makes life easier when working on the mechanicals. For Jaffa, that involved a ‘big block’ engine swap. The Sierra came out with a little 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, but Alan wanted more cubes.
He threw caution to the wind and fitted a monster 1.6-litre mill yanked from a Suzuki Vitara which, when mated to the five-speed gearbox, is sure to step up the car’s highway performance. Alan says it’s a fairly straightforward swap but one that really improves any Sierra, even though there’s only a handful of kilowatts difference between the two engines.
The added horsepower of the engine is truly unbridled thanks to a set of Redback exhaust extractors and sports exhaust system that give Jaffa a rorty note. A new radiator, clutch and all ancillaries help to complete the rebuild and make the Sierra better than new.
Also better than new is the refurbished body. There mightn’t be a lot to it, but it was massaged back into shape and scored a set of Seriously Suzi checker-plate protection panels before it was hit with the fresh coat of grey.
All the badges and body plastics were colour-coded in either grey or orange, and any items in poor condition were refurbished or replaced with new or better ones. The headlights were updated with halogen replacements for better night vision, while LED lights are fitted at the back. Flexible flares are fitted to cover the oversize mud terrain tyres.
The tube doors were made in-house at SS and will get some canvas covers to match the soft top and offer protection for occupants in inclement weather. There’s a Seriously Suzi roll bar/hoop for added protection, just in case anyone decides to roll this Jaffa down the aisle.
New seats, carpets and full re-trim complete the interior and add some comfort to what is basically a very utilitarian cabin. It’s all weatherproof for when the owner is enjoying the Sierra sans roof and full doors, appreciating the full open-air driving experience.
A ground-up, turn key rebuild like this doesn’t come cheap once you factor in the purchase price of a second-hand Suzi and all the labour involved. It can be made considerably more affordable depending on the car you find and how much of the work you can do yourself.
If anyone is thinking about undertaking such a classic Suzuki 4x4 rebuild, then it’s nice to know that people like Alan and Seriously Suzi have already done the hard yards and have the products and knowledge to help you get it done right.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the Seriously Suzi workshop to see what they come up with for the new Jimny, and we’re sure many of those lucky enough to score a new one will be too.