Since 1949, kei cars have provided the Japanese population with a cost-effective means of transportation. These days, one third of new vehicle sales in Japan are ultra-compact cars, vans and pickups from the kei class. While the rules for the class have evolved since the early days, a restriction on dimensions, engine capacity and a gentleman’s agreement on power output have always remained in effect.
While the majority of kei cars are designed around practicality and economy, the early ’90s brought with it a trio of kei sports cars: the Autozam AZ1, Honda Beat and Suzuki Cappuccino. Each provided different driving experiences, all while making what seems like a paltry 64hp. But when you remember these cars only had to move a little over 700kg, the power output becomes less important.
I’ve known Lewis Noakes, the owner of this Cappuccino for a number of years. His approach to the Suzuki, and car modification in general, is fairly straightforward and simple: improve all aspects.
For a start, it was a rather fetching shade of metallic pink and had plenty of rust. The latter is what sent the majority of Cappuccinos to an early grave, and what necessitated a large degree of remedial fabrication work in Lewis’s car. Retro Speed Shop in Stoke-On-Trent replaced the floorpans, removed the spare wheel well and repaired other areas that had been devoured by corrosion.
At the same time, any unnecessary brackets were removed and holes filled and smoothed. A comprehensive 6-point roll cage was then welded in and the interior painted in Nardo Grey, along with the exterior receiving a fresh coat of black.
Inside, the Cappuccino’s already minimalist interior has been stripped even further. A custom aluminium dash now only has the essentials – a dash display and dashboard warning lights, along with toggle switches for the windows and horn.
The cockpit is finished off with FRP seats with Luke harnesses, a Nardi 330mm wheel and custom Delrin shift knob.
At initial glance, the exterior doesn’t look like much has changed. But looking closer, the details become apparent.
Only the nerdiest of Cappuccino aficionados would recognise the rare Japanese parts that are fitted to the car. Lewis went to great lengths (and great cost) sourcing the front bumper from Japanese Suzuki tuner Take Off, along with the Toyoshima Craft bolt-on arches. These cover Ueo-spec 14×7-inch RAYS Volk Racing TE37s shod with super-sticky 185/60R14 Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 semi-slicks.
Aftermarket FD3S Mazda RX-7 side skirts have been modified to fit, and the rear bumper has been cut down to accommodate future plans for a diffuser, with the modified Ducati exhaust muffler exiting centrally. Directly above is a trimmed down dual-plane wing that has been solid mounted to the chassis.
The upgrades continue underneath with Lewis having made a large amount of the suspension components himself. The rose-jointed control arms, nylon engine and gearbox mounts, along with the aluminium solid mounts for the 2-way differential are all his doing, with BC Racing coilovers fitted front and rear.
Wilwood Dynalite callipers bolted to custom adapters and Nissan S13 disks squeeze under the wheels providing ample, consistent braking power.
While internally the F6A motor remains untouched, many custom parts are bolted to it.
Lewis drew inspiration from Cosworth when fabricating the dual plenum intake manifold. While it may look odd, this design allows air entering through the Rover Metro throttle body to be pushed into the first plenum, and then move through a small opening into the second plenum. This equalises the flow, meaning all four runners into the cylinder head receive the same amount of air.
The high-mount exhaust manifold is also Lewis’s handiwork, with an uprated GT12 turbo providing boost. It’s almost comical to consider a turbo this small an upgrade, but the original can pretty much fit in the palm of your hand.
Toyota 1NZ-FE coil packs and Starlet injectors work in conjunction with the machined OEM crank pulley to provide trigger wheel function.
An Austin Mini radiator has been repurposed, along with a Nissan NV200 intercooler. Both of these will likely be swapped out in the future, but work well enough for now.
All of the above result in some impressive figures: 120whp versus 64hp stock, 667kg versus 725kg. This equates to a power-to-weight ratio similar to an unmodified BNR34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, but in a package less than half the size.
Power is sent through the Suzuki’s original 5-speed gearbox mated to a lightened flywheel and modified clutch. The latter was upgraded following the issues encountered at the recent Curborough Sprint Day, now using two stock diaphragms to increase clamping force.
The only way to describe the car is like a pint-sized Audi Quattro Group B rally car. The distinct three-cylinder intake and exhaust note, chirps and whistles from the wastegate and dump valve as the car is driven wouldn’t be out of place on a rally stage. Sadly, the Cappuccino saw limited running at the aforementioned sprint, but before some of us had even gotten home, Lewis already had the car on the lift and the gearbox out to make the clutch upgrade.
I’d like to think this Suzuki Cappuccino is a visual representation of the mindset Lewis embodies; not only does he has a vision of what it should end up like, where a solution doesn’t exist he’ll make it himself. While I have varying degrees of appreciation towards all car projects and builds, knowing that so much of this one has come from the owner’s own two hands just makes it that little bit more impressive.