Japan has probably produced more iconic high performance vehicles than any other car-manufacturing country. The Supra, Jimny, Impreza and GT-R are just a few of many.
Ok… rewind. The Jimny? Really? Now before you bite my head off for mentioning the Suzuki Jimny and Nissan GT-R in the same breath, let’s discuss it over a latte in the café of Japan’s Jimny Museum.
This is the private collection of Mr. Shigeru Onoue, the founder of Jimny specialist shop APIO. Onoue-san is the undeniable godfather of Jimny tuning in Japan and has been producing aftermarket upgrade parts for the wildly-popular Suzuki off-roader since the late 1980s.
Located in the countryside of Kanagawa, just a stone’s throw away from lush mountains and clear running rivers, it’s the perfect place to geek out over some of the best go-anywhere machines ever made.
Walking into the lobby, visitors are greeted by a second generation LJ-20, finished in a brilliant mustard yellow. This one, just like all the cars in the museum, has been personally restored by Onoue-san and the team at APIO.
Right, I’ll order the coffees while you check out the body of another LJ-20. This one has been separated from the chassis, which is possible because it’s how all Jimnys are built.
This is the LJ-10, the first vehicle to bear the Jimny name, based off the HopeStar ON360. The ON360 never saw commercial production, with only around 40 ever made. Suzuki bought the Hope Motor Company and utilized its AWD system for the Jimny.
Ok, you’re probably still wondering why I included the Jimny in a list of icons like the almighty Supra and GT-R. It’s an eyebrow-raising statement for sure, but there is a thread holding it together, I promise.
Remember the rusty old body in the café area? This is what sits beneath it – a ladder-frame chassis that includes all the suspension components and the part-time AWD dual-range transmission. Where the Supra has the 2JZ, this basic but brilliant four-wheel drive system is what makes the Jimny worthy of icon status.
Just how good is the AWD system? Well, Suzuki themselves are a little humble in recognissing its brilliance. The G-Trac (an abbreviation of Good-Traction) model above is probably selling itself a little short. Just Google ‘off road lifted Jimny’ and enjoy hours of footage of little Suzukis inching up and out of some incredible terrain.
Because the Jimny has no center diff, it will always find traction at either the front or rear axle. I’m sure there are plenty of other things that make it a great off-roader – like approach angle and wading depth – but that’s all a bit out of my knowledge pool.
The icons we are all familiar with – GT-Rs, Supras and other high performance cars – all do amazing things on asphalt. But there’s another kind of high performance. High performance vehicles can also exist off road. And that is why the Jimny deserves its own museum, and to be mentioned in the same sentence as our other heroes.
Not to mention the joy this little off-roader brings to thousands across the world. Just look at this Santa Monica edition. The FRP body was sold at Suzy Sports in Tokyo and bolted straight onto any SJ-30 chassis. You can’t help but love it.
Things start to get a little more serious when the cars are set up for rally. Onoue-san’s own JB23W series Jimny entered the Mongolian Rally three times, winning its class in 2014.
He also entered the cars seven times in the Australian Safari Rally and nine times in the Paris-Dakar, crossing the finish line on all counts.
If I had to pick one of the cars on display at the Jimny Museum as a daily driver, it would undoubtedly be this bright orange, left-hand drive Samurai. Then again, if you want to rub shoulders with Japan’s finest at the next Daikoku PA meet, then a rally-prepped Jimny is probably the way to go.