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Most people may associate the Suzuki brand with the two wheeled MotoGP race winning Suzukis. But even though Suzuki may be a motorcycle company first and foremost, Suzuki is making some very worthy cars and 4X4 vehicles.

It all began in 1909. Michio Suzuki was a young man who founded the Suzuki Loom Company in the small seacoast village of Hamamatsu, Japan. For the first 30 years of the company’s existence, its focus was on the development and production of highly sophisticated looms for the textile industry.

But in 1937, Michio Suzuki decided to explore some other avenues that his company could expand into. The thought of producing a small compact car came to mind, and within two years, Suzuki had completed several compact prototype cars. These first Suzuki motor vehicles were powered by a then-innovative liquid-cooled, four-stroke, four-cylinder engine. It featured a cast aluminum crankcase and gearbox and generated 13 horsepower from a displacement of less than 800cc.

With the onset of World War II, production plans for Suzuki’s new vehicles were halted when the government declared civilian passenger cars a “non-essential commodity.” At the conclusion of the war, Suzuki went back to producing looms.

When the loom market took a dive, Michio Suzuki faced a rather large challenge of what to do next. Suzuki’s thoughts went back to motor vehicles. After the war, the Japanese had a great need for affordable, reliable personal transportation. A number of firms began offering “clip-on” gas-powered engines that could be attached to the typical bicycle. Suzuki’s first two-wheel effort came in the form of a motorized 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. An unmatched feature was the double-sprocket gear system, enabling the rider to either pedal with the engine assisting, pedal without engine assist, or simply disconnect the pedals and run on engine power alone. The system was so ingenious that the patent office of the new democratic government granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research in motorcycle engineering. And so the Suzuki Motor Corporation was born.

In 1953, Suzuki scored the first of countless racing victories when the tiny 60cc “Diamond Free” won its class in the Mount Fuji Hill Climb. And by 1954, Suzuki was producing 6,000 motorcycles per month and had changed its name to Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd. Following the achievement of its first motorcycles, Suzuki created an even more successful automobile: the 1955 “Suzulight.” Suzuki showcased its affinity for innovation from the beginning. The Suzulight included front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. These were things that were only to become a common feature with cars half a century later.

It was in 1977 that Suzuki built the fun and rugged little LJ80 4×4 vehicle. Shortly afterward the tiny Suzuki SC100 rolled off the production floor. This model was later replaced by the Alto. The years that followed were highly productive ones for Suzuki, particularly in the motorcycle arena; however, some important 4X4 vehicles – namely the Samurai and Vitara – along with the little Swift car also came into being. The Suzuki cars and 4x4s offered reliable and economical motoring. The Samurai and Vitara were very competent little offroad vehicles. Perhaps the only thing that marred the otherwise successful formula was that the tiny cars were rather flimsy and therefore performed very poorly in crash tests and real life accidents. Thankfully Suzuki has got its act together with later model cars and 4X4s. Many of the late model Suzukis are very well built and are fitted with ABS and Air bags which do make them a much safer proposition.

Looking into the future for Suzuki is an exciting view. Perhaps the most interesting product on the horizon that was revealed at the recent Melbourne Motor Show is the Ionis concept which features a drive-by-wire control system and a zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell arrangement mounted under the floor. The car would allow passengers to download music via wireless Internet access and to watch satellite TV (hopefully not while negotiating rush hour traffic in a busy Sydney street).

The current model range is certainly exciting and enjoyable to drive. The 4X4s are very capable off road whilst the small Swift is simply superb. The Suzuki Swift GTi can be driven very hard and quickly via a very peppy little engine and handy handling package. A van is in the lineup as well. Each vehicle offers the driver class leading fuel consumption figures as well. Best hop on down to your local dealers and see if you like em.

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