Three Japanese companies also recognised the value of having presence in the sporty car environment. Datsun introduced their first sports model, the Fairlady, in 1959 but it took three years for the MKII generation to make impact. This was a 1.6 litre model whose styling made it look like an MGB clone. Eventually the Fairlady name was transferred to the first of the Z-series coupes in 1969, entering a more powerful niche of the sportscar segment. Another Japanese company, Toyota, was also in this niche with the 800 Sports.
Honda's first car made headway in Europe and the UK : the S500. This was a small open 2-seater, technologically very advanced with many features based on Honda's extremely successful motorcycles. With twin overhead camshafts and four carburettors the tiny 53 lcc engine developed an amazing 44bhp. The engine grew to 79lcc and 70bhp, and a coupe version was brought out. The S500 had independent rear wheel suspension while the later S800 had a conventional rear-end set-up.
Production was always on a small scale as the vehicle was primarily designed for the Domestic Japanese market : built in a compact size (less than 10ft/3m long and correspondingly narrow) to fit in with Japanese legislation which bases vehicle taxation on exterior dimensions (the K-class). Comparatively few cars were sold in the UK, where the S800 nevertheless attracted, and retains, a devoted following.
The car story behind Suzuki began in the mid 1950's with the Suzulight, based on the Austin A40 but never destined for Europe. Although Suzuki had micro-cars similar to Honda during the 1960's and 1970's, very few were exported as the main focus for the company was in motorcycles. Suzuki began the importing of passenger cars into the UK in 1979, with the 3-door hatchback SCI00 "Whizzkid", and later the Alto and Swift models. The Suzuki innovation began in the 4x4 market, creating a new segment with the launch of the LJ80 in 1979 : this dictated
the way forward for the company,
Samurai in 1982 and hard top 4x4 range.
seven years Suzuki held
consolidating its effort with its replacement, the SJ/ later introduced the more sophisticated Vitara soft/ the enviable number two best seller in the off-road
market, behind put their minds
Land Rover. It was during the late 1980's that the Suzuki Design Team behind another lifestyle market yet to be exploited in Japan : a cult had
created in 4x4s,
for the taking
JEM ... Look out for the continuation of the Cappuccino Heritage in our next issue of The Latest SCORE.