Jimny Cricket – The Suzuki Jimny LJ20

By putting Suzuki on the market as a global success, the Jimny is a compact off-roader that continues to this day. However, it didn’t start off as an original Suzuki design.

The original LJ-chassis Suzuki Jimny was introduced in 1970 as the LJ10, however, the design the LJs were based on was created by Hope Motor Company in 1967 and sold as the 1968 HopeStar ON360. It used a lot of Mitsubihi parts like the Colt 1000 rear axle, the Mitsubishi Jeep wheels, and even the Mitsubishi ME24. That engine was the reason for it’s ON360 name as it was a 359-cc (21.9-cubic-inch), air-cooled two-stroke engine that produced a whopping 21-horsepower. While it was capable of 43-MPH in two-wheel drive and about 19-MPH in four-wheel drive, it was a very capable compact SUV thanks to its basic design, light weight, and rugged four-wheel drive system. While it fit the kei car requirements, Hope only sold fifteen models.

The Jimny is Born

Since it had so many Mitsubishi parts on it, Hope approached them, but they would eventually decline to take over production. So, by the end of 1968, Suzuki purchased the design and created the LJ10 Jimny. Suzuki was a brand that was well specialized in the kei car market when it was introduced. So, the original ME24 was replaced by the Suzuki FB 359-cc two-stroke engine but produced 25-horsepower. To keep it within the length requirements, the spare tire was placed in the rear trunk area to keep it under three-meters (9.84-feet) in total length. This also meant that it could only hold three occupants. Despite all of that, the kei SUV weighed only 1,301-pounds and could hit a top speed of 47-MPH.

In May of 1972, changes were completed from the original model to create the LJ20. The noticeable change, and how you can tell a LJ20 from a LJ10, was in the grill. The bars went from two horizontal ones to seven vertical ones, much like a Jeep. The biggest change you wouldn’t feel until you put your foot down. The engine was replaced by the L50, a water-cooled version of their FB engine designed for the L50 Carry. Water-cooling allowed them to increase power to 28-horsepower at 5500-RPM and 27-lb/ft of torque at 5000-RPM with a 7.0:1 compression ratio.


Crawling Around The World

It had a two-speed transfer case with a 1.714:1 high-range and 3.013:1 low-range with a 5.667:1 axle ratio. So, the crawl ratio, with its 3.967:1 first gear ratio and low-range, was 67.74:1 being sent out to the bias-ply 6.00-R16 tires on 16×4.5 wheels. Our example here sits on 7.00-R15 with 15-inch wheels. The Hardtop LJ20V came with the smaller wheels with 5.60-R15 tires on its 15×4.50 wheels.

In fourth gear and high-range, the LJ20 could hit a maximum speed of 50-MPH.

The LJ20 was also the first model Jimny to get a left-hand drive version and, while not done by Suzuki, the Jimny was exported to the US by International Equipment Company. While domestic Jimnys had to have their spare tire mounted in the trunk area, export models had an outside tire carrier on the trunk door since they don’t have to conform to kei car standards abroad. So, yes, this is a US model Suzuki Jimny LJ20.

End of Life But Not End of Story

Towards the end of the LJ-chassis’ production, the L50 would get emissions compliant and lose power like many vehicles did. From that original 28-HP, the engine would be reduced to 26-HP, but would gain another 8-MPH in top speed (58-MPH) and carry a maximum of 550-pounds of payload. The legacy of the original Jimny would live on after 1977 when it would get its signature box look of the SJ20 hardtop. The LJ-chassis would finally retire with the LJ80 in 1981 to be replaced by the SJ-chassis.


Trouble Loomed and the End of Suzuki in the USA

The US would get it as the Suzuki Samurai, but in 1988, Consumer Reports stated that the Samurai was unsafe and prone to rollovers. Despite that, the Samurai continued until 1995 when more stringent safety legislation would make it impossible to sell without major work. In 1996, an investigation into Consumer Reports’ testing lead to a lawsuit by Suzuki of North America against their publisher, Consumers Union. The result was a settlement where neither side really claimed fault. Suzuki’s automotive division would eventually leave the United States via bankruptcy in November of 2012.

With its legendary off-roading performance out of such small displacements, all Suzuki LJ- and SJ-chassis are coveted and demand high-prices from even private sales. If you have a SJ, your best bet is to continue to hold on to it because it will become a collector’s car eventually. The LJ already is.

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Justin Banner

Justin Banner, Lead Editor and Founder of Carbage Online, has been involved with the automotive media and industry in many capacities and now tackles publication ownership with CarbageOnline.com. Prior to that, he has freelanced for top online publications of modern media that include Speedhunters, MotoIQ, Super Street Online, Hot Rod Magazine and many others. All due to his nearly 20 years experience as a mechanic, service writer, and technical support in the automotive industry. Justin is also a Journalist Level member of the Motor Press Guild - an industry recognized entity of professional automotive journalists - since 2015.