Suzulight was the brand used for a the Kei Jidosha small cars built by the Suzuki Motor Corporation from 1955 to 1969. They were Suzuki's first entry into automotive manufacturing, having previously only produced motorcycles. The Suzulight sedans and light vans all had transversely mounted engines and front-wheel drive. The Suzulight Carry trucks and vans were the first to use the Carry label, still around today.
Suzulight SF series
Introduced in April 1955, "SF" stood for "Suzuki Four-wheel car". It was closely based on the Lloyd LP400, chosen after Suzuki also having considered the Citroën 2CV and Renault 4CV. The Suzulight SF shared the Lloyd's transversely mounted, front-wheel drive layout and the two-cylinder, two-stroke engine was a narrow-bored copy of the Lloyd's, using the same 66.0 mm (2.60 in) stroke. It had drum brakes all around, was 2,990 mm (117.7 in) long, 1,295 mm (51.0 in) wide and 1,400 mm (55.1 in) tall, with a 2,000 mm (78.7 in) wheelbase and a 1,050 mm (41.3 in) front and rear wheel track. Because of the smaller bore and resulting 359.66 cc (21.9 cu in) engine, it met the Japanese Keijidosha ("light car") legislation. When introduced, the SF also had double wishbone coil-sprung suspension front and rear, with rack-and-pinion steering, features which were far ahead of their time. Just like the Lloyd which inspired it, the Suzulight featured a chassis consisting of a central tube with the suspension attached to each end of the tube.
The introduction of the Suzulight SF series also dovetailed nicely with the "People's Car Program" recently announced by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which established a goal for the Japanese auto industry of producing "a four-seater with a top speed of 100 km/h, priced at ¥150,000," in order to speed up motorization of the country.
When it first went on sale, in October 1955, three body styles were listed as being on offer:
- Suzulight SS (sedan) — ¥420,000 (only 43 Suzulight SS were built)
- Suzulight SL (light van) — ¥390,000
- Suzulight SP (pickup) — ¥370,000
A fourth bodystyle, the SD Delivery Van, was added soon thereafter. In April 1956, the engine bore was increased to 59 mm (2.3 in), making for a 360.88 cc (22.0 cu in) displacement. Power was up by two PS, to 18 (13 kW). Since the Suzulight's modern suspension was unable to cope with the bad Japanese roads of the time, the wishbones and coil springs were replaced with leaf springs on all corners at the same time, while the SL sedan version was withdrawn. In November Suzuki took advantage of the fact that Japanese tire manufacturers, who had hitherto not made any tires smaller than 16 inches, had begun making 14 inch tires. While the wheel wells remained rather large for a 3-meter car, making for inefficient space utilization, the Suzulight's appearance became considerably more harmonious with smaller wheels.
In January 1958, after sluggish sales and to take advantage of economies of scale, the range was whittled down to a single model. The "SL" Light Van, with two seats plus an auxiliary seat and a 200 kg (441 lb) payload and a standard two-tone paintjob, was also referred to as the "Suzulight SF Light Van" in period brochures. Although looking a lot like a modern hatchback in design, this was more utilitarian in nature and was the first ever bonneted Kei-truck. In the end, only 30-50 of these were built. Production ended in July 1959 with the introduction of the Suzulight TL Light Van. Production of the commercial use Suzulight SF series were 101 in 1956, followed by 385 examples in 1957, 454 in 1958. 1,115 Suzukis intended for commercial use were built in 1959, but the lion's share of that year's production consisted of the succeeding TL series.
In July 1959 (on sale by October), the new Suzulight TL was introduced, replacing the SF. Only available with a split folding rear seat and a large tailgate opening to the side, its layout was far ahead of its time. With rear seats folded, the TL could take 1 cubic metre (1.3 cu yd) or 300 kg (661 lb), 50% more than the SL had been able to accommodate. Suzuki took full advantage of 12-inch wheels having become available and produced a modern glassy design with one wheel at every corner, very reminiscent of the Mini introduced two months earlier (see size comparison on right). The 360 cc engine, tubular chassis, and column mounted three-speed transmission were lightly modified carryovers from the SF, but power was up to 21 PS (15 kW).
The interior was spartan. One publicity blurb of the era mentions such luxuries as "synchronized wipers", "a lever-operated winker switch", a fuel gauge, and "self-starter activated by turning the ignition key". There was only one, central taillight. The 59-60 TLs were not even available with a passenger side windshield wiper. Nonetheless, the Suzulight TL Van was the most expensive car in its class, at ¥398,000. Meanwhile, the Subaru 360 Commercial cost ¥365,000 and a Cony 360 Truck a mere ¥330,000. Sales in 1960 were 6,075, against nearly twice as many Subaru 360 and 23,417 Mazda R360 Coupés. Nonetheless, this equalled about five times the total number built of the preceding SF series. By the end of 1960, monthly production had reached 1,000.
For 1961, the Suzulight TL II was presented. Mechanically, there were no differences, but a new pressed steel grille in place of the TL's simple mesh and chrome rubbing strips on the bumpers enhanced its look, and there was also a second windshield wiper. The price dropped to ¥360,000. Next year's TL III continued this trend, dropping down to ¥345,000 while offering an updated dash, turn signals integrated in the grille and taillights instead of on the B-pillar. The sheet metal was changed to accommodate new doorhandles, but the biggest difference was at the rear, where there was a horizontally split two-piece tailgate. The TL III was marketed as the "Suzulight Van 360".
In March 1963 the Suzulight series received an all new engine. Still an air-cooled, two-stroke two-cylinder, the FE had already been introduced in the Suzulight Carry FB five months earlier. With a 61.0 x 61.5 mm bore and stroke, for a total 359 cc (21.9 cu in) displacement, power and torque remained the same as for the TL. The biggest improvement was the introduction of Suzuki's patented "SELMIX" automatic lubrication system. This eliminated the need for pre-mixed gasoline, improving convenience, economy, and reliability. It was offered as a Standard (FEB, ¥345,000) or DeLuxe (FE, ¥360,000), with yet another new grille design. The Fronte FEA cost ¥380,000.
Soon thereafter the rear end was redesigned, becoming very square and van-like. This kept the appearance of the Suzulight Van quite modern, and sliding open rear windows made the rear a more comfortable place to be. For November 1964, the rear wheel housings became larger. One year later, the front end was reworked, with the headlights now incorporated into the grille.
In January 1969, the Suzulight Van was replaced by the conventionally laid out Suzuki Fronte Van (LS10). Having been an early adopter, Suzuki now embraced more traditional layouts and was not to build another front wheel drive car for over ten years, until the May 1979 introduction of the SS30/SS40 Alto and Fronte.
In March 1962, the TL-based Fronte TLA passenger car appeared. The name was meant to symbolize Suzuki's position at the front of Kei car development, as well as alluding to its FF layout. The Fronte received a different grille from its working sister as well as a reworked rear end, with a top-hinged trunk lid (later bottom-hinged) and roll-down rear windows. Softer springs and a more plush interior made it more comfortable. Developments generally mirrored those of the Van versions, until the LC10 Fronte replaced it in 1967.
End of Suzulight
The first four-wheeled Suzuki sold under the company's own name rather than as a Suzulight was the Suzuki Fronte 800, presented in August 1965. In 1967, when introducing the LC10 Fronte, Suzuki Motor Company chose to market this too under the "Suzuki" brand, even though it was a light (kei) car. This also made marketing easier, with Suzuki no longer having to split their resources on two different brand names.