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    Thread: Back To My Roots: A Suzuki Samurai Project

    1. Member
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      09-23-2019 11:04 AM #1
      In 1991, I had just gotten my license, and was ready to step into the world of car ownership. Long before my current Volkswagen obsession, I wanted a Suzuki Samurai. It had to be a soft top, and really that was the only criteria. The appropriate 1986 Samurai, in white, was found and I drove it happily until winter came upon us and also when I had to take it on a road trip. The thing was dreadfully slow (65mph tops), and freezing cold inside, in the long New England winters. Otherwise it was EVERYTHING I was initially looking for in my first vehicle. Reliable, looked good, learned how to drive a manual on it, and learned that tinkering on cars is a lot like tinkering on BMX bikes (just at a larger scale).

      My best friend was a diehard VW guy and it eventually rubbed off on me around 1994. I sold my beloved Suzuki Samurai because it sucked on the highway, I froze in it in the winter, and I just HAD to have a GTI. I let it go and the rest was history. This is a local newspaper image of me driving my original, in 1993.



      Over the last year or so, I've been slowly finding myself looking Suzuki Samurai content all over the internet. As usual, I was browsing SearchTempest and finally found the one I had to have. Like my original, this one was a 1986 and white, had the same original body graphics, but this one was a Tin Top....pretty much EXACTLY what I would wish for. All of the Samurais available around my regions are rusted to crumbs, been converted into "rock crawlers", and have race car seats in them. Basically nothing I'm interested in. This one was in Houston, Texas, all original, owned by an older retired gentleman, 114,000 miles (40,000 of which were RV towed miles), and had never been offroad, nor seen salt.

      I secured a deal with the seller, sent out the payment, and arranged to have the vehicle picked up and delivered to me in Maine. I have never purchased a vehicle sight unseen, but the seller seemed very trustworthy and very accommodating to my needs. A week after it was picked up, it arrived to me....





























      After giving it the initial once over, I was very pleased. It started and ran, looked as described, and most everything worked. Unfortunately, it suffered a huge bullseye to the upper passenger's side of the windshield in transit. I'm assuming this is the case because the seller never disclosed glass damage and it was not documented on the initial check in form, written up by the pick up driver. Oh well.....I don't "think" Samurai windshields are very expensive, we'll see.

      Other issues that need immediate addressing are the lack of functioning ebrake, which was disclosed, and a pretty good sized oil leak, which was not mentioned. I'm a bit bothered about that, but I can live with it. Hopefully it isn't anything major, I haven't investigated, just monitored the drips.

      The first order of business was to gut the interior and clean the floors, jambs, and interior paintwork. Everything inside was dirty, not just sandy carpets, but dirty interior paint, filthy is more the word. I spent all day yesterday scrubbing and reinstalling the interior and I'm VERY happy with the results. Sadly, I snapped one of the mounting bolts for the rear seat when I was taking it out, but was able to drill out the bolt and will re-thread the hole with an oversized tap at a later date. All that remains from the headliner is glue and foam, which was disclosed, and that is next on my interior to-do list.

      Before:







      After:







      That's it for now. Reinstalled carpet and interior pics forthcoming.
      Last edited by Veedubgti; 09-23-2019 at 11:10 AM.

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      09-23-2019 11:13 AM #2
      I love the tin tops. Looks like you found a great one.

      Much cheaper to ship in a clean one than fix rust.

    4. Senior Member UncleJB's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 11:40 AM #3
      Wow! Congrats on getting it and it looks to be in amazing shape. As a fellow New Englander I know how rare these are these days especially in original condition.

      I almost bought one back in 1990. I was between a few different choices and ended up going in another direction but I remember how cool that little thing was.

      In for updates - looks like you are already off to a really good start!

    5. Member sicklyscott's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 11:42 AM #4
      Oooo...I'm going to enjoy this!

      Nice find, looks solid which as you mentioned is #1.
      The car that started it all! A work log and tale of tears (from my wallet)
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      09-23-2019 11:42 AM #5
      Quote Originally Posted by Veedubgti View Post
      All of the Samurais available around my regions are rusted to crumbs

      It never ceases to amaze me. Someone who lives in the north/northeast US says online that they just cannot find a particular car in rust-free condition anywhere in their area. They get a chorus of responses telling them to go buy one in the south and drive/transport it home. "Oh, but I can't do that--it's inconvenient."

      You know what's really inconvenient? Repairing lots of rust on a vehicle.



      Great job, OP.
      Dempsey Bowling
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      09-23-2019 11:50 AM #6
      Quote Originally Posted by TurboMinivan View Post
      It never ceases to amaze me. Someone who lives in the north/northeast US says online that they just cannot find a particular car in rust-free condition anywhere in their area. They get a chorus of responses telling them to go buy one in the south and drive/transport it home. "Oh, but I can't do that--it's inconvenient."

      You know what's really inconvenient? Repairing lots of rust on a vehicle.



      Great job, OP.
      You know, it's funny.... When I told the seller where I was located, he thought I was absolutely crazy. "Why would you want to purchase a plain Suzuki Samurai so far away from home?" he asked. To him, living in Houston TX, these things are still a dime a dozen. Up here, where I am, these are unicorns. What I paid, including shipping, was far cheaper than any pile of rust, offroad dents, and hacked up interiors that I can currently buy in a 500 mile Craigslist radius, by far.

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      09-23-2019 12:01 PM #7
      This is awesome, it cleaned up really well!

    9. Member Stangy's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 12:04 PM #8
      Congrats! ALWAYS loved these bad boys
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      09-23-2019 12:04 PM #9
      Looking good, what plans for it down the road?

    11. Geriatric Member ValveCoverGasket's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 12:05 PM #10
      wow that looks really clean!

      these arent uncommon in the pnw, but as you noted theyre usually hacked up, rock crawlers, or otherwise not stock.
      its been a while since ive seen a clean unmolested one

    12. Member
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      09-23-2019 12:32 PM #11
      Quote Originally Posted by JET70 View Post
      Looking good, what plans for it down the road?
      Since you asked... Clean it all up and fix whatever I can with available stock parts. Certainly no full on paint jobs or anything like that. I will do some mild "paint correction" myself, but that's the extent with the paintwork.

      My original 1986, that I owned in 1991 (when the car was 5 years old), had seats in far worse condition than these ones are in. I ultimately had to have them reupholstered at that time. Seeing the seller's pics, I was prepared to get these reupholstered, as well. But it isn't a necessity at this point in time, as this isn't a show car (minus cars and coffee) and I've personally seen far worse, first-hand, when they were much younger cars.

      The third plan may be quite controversial, so I'm putting myself out there, here it goes....

      I'm pretty sure I will be performing a VW 2.0L ABA swap in the relatively near future. This thing is carbed with a manual choke, leaks oil like a sieve, and is quite loud. And as much as I'd like to keep it "all original", I just don't see myself directing that effort into this engine. I'm very familiar with VWs (they are my comfort zone), I've wired a million of these engines in my day, and those engines are bulletproof. Plus, I'd like to blend a little bit of what I was into in the past with what I'm into in the present.

      TDI Samurais are pretty popular with the offroad boys. So much so, that there are a couple companies that make TDI conversion parts for these vehicles. Engine mount brackets, flywheels, and bellhousing adapters to run TDIs with Samurai drivetrains. And if you know VWs, you know that TDI blocks and 2.0L ABA blocks have the same mounting and transmission provisions.

      That's the plans as of right now.
      Last edited by Veedubgti; 09-23-2019 at 12:35 PM.

    13. Senior Member DonL's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 12:38 PM #12
      As I started reading your first post, I don't know if I would have expected one this clean. It looks in really solid shape, nice buy!
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    14. Geriatric Member ValveCoverGasket's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 12:41 PM #13
      what about something with big cams, itbs, etc?
      that seems like itd be a fun twist of old and new

      i have a friend doing an itb 4age swap in a samurai, i think expanding on your aba idea with an itb big cam 16v, might be interesting

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      09-23-2019 01:06 PM #14
      rotary swaps are kinda popular on these... brap brap.

      congrats on the fun project!
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    16. Geriatric Member Air and water do mix's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 01:17 PM #15
      Love the project!

      I can totally relate to having a photo of my car blasting through a puddle in the newspaper.



      Photobucket sucks, as they've restricted my account. Because they suck. You get the idea, though.
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    17. Member
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      09-23-2019 01:24 PM #16
      Quote Originally Posted by ValveCoverGasket View Post
      what about something with big cams, itbs, etc?
      that seems like itd be a fun twist of old and new

      i have a friend doing an itb 4age swap in a samurai, i think expanding on your aba idea with an itb big cam 16v, might be interesting
      I've always wanted to put an ABF 16v clone into something, but I feel like this isn't the appropriate application for that. Seems like a lot of tracking down grey market parts, rebuilding heads, etc. This will be an around town daily driver, so I'm after dead nuts reliability, budget, and a quick turn around. I also have a fascination with scanning old ass cars with VCDS as needed.

    18. Member
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      09-23-2019 01:26 PM #17
      If interested, the seller's Craigslist ad pics can be seen here...

      https://forums.vwvortex.com/showthre...#post113708233

      This is my current To-Do list is...

      -Install new headliner......................................... ................................................DONE.
      -Clean exterior
      -Get a new windshield quote or see if they can epoxy a 1/2 dollar-sized bullseye.....New windshield in future
      -Re-tap bolt hole for rear seat.............................................. ...............................DONE.
      -Fix E-brake............................................. .................................................. .......DONE.
      -Investigate engine oil leak.............................................. ...................................Valve Cover is leaking, engine swap in near future.
      -Clean dash and console........................................... .........................................DONE.
      -Remove trailer wiring birds nest.............................................. ...........................DONE.
      -Remove RV Tow Bar evidence.......................................... ..................................DONE.
      -Replace Door Window Weatherstripping.................................. .............................DONE.
      -Fix windshield washer system............................................ .................................DONE.
      -Replace side view mirrors
      -Replace a side marker lens
      -Hood prop rod grommet........................................... ..........................................Replaced, grommet doesn't stay put.
      -Jack handle grommet........................................... ..............................................DONE.
      -Pull wheels off and inspect 4 corners
      -Replace Radio Antenna........................................... ...........................................DONE.
      -Replace Outer Door Window Lower Weatherstripping
      -Replace Vapor Barriers.......................................... ............................................DONE.
      -Replace Front Bumper
      -Replace Tail Lights............................................ .................................................DONE.
      -Fix Back Up Lights............................................ .................................................DONE.

      That's it for now. This list will hopefully get smaller, but most likely grow.
      Last edited by Veedubgti; 11-25-2019 at 09:29 AM.

    19. Member Pnuu's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 01:30 PM #18
      Quote Originally Posted by Veedubgti View Post
      Since you asked... Clean it all up and fix whatever I can with available stock parts. Certainly no full on paint jobs or anything like that. I will do some mild "paint correction" myself, but that's the extent with the paintwork.

      My original 1986, that I owned in 1991 (when the car was 5 years old), had seats in far worse condition than these ones are in. I ultimately had to have them reupholstered at that time. Seeing the seller's pics, I was prepared to get these reupholstered, as well. But it isn't a necessity at this point in time, as this isn't a show car (minus cars and coffee) and I've personally seen far worse, first-hand, when they were much younger cars.

      The third plan may be quite controversial, so I'm putting myself out there, here it goes....

      I'm pretty sure I will be performing a VW 2.0L ABA swap in the relatively near future. This thing is carbed with a manual choke, leaks oil like a sieve, and is quite loud. And as much as I'd like to keep it "all original", I just don't see myself directing that effort into this engine. I'm very familiar with VWs (they are my comfort zone), I've wired a million of these engines in my day, and those engines are bulletproof. Plus, I'd like to blend a little bit of what I was into in the past with what I'm into in the present.

      TDI Samurais are pretty popular with the offroad boys. So much so, that there are a couple companies that make TDI conversion parts for these vehicles. Engine mount brackets, flywheels, and bellhousing adapters to run TDIs with Samurai drivetrains. And if you know VWs, you know that TDI blocks and 2.0L ABA blocks have the same mounting and transmission provisions.

      That's the plans as of right now.
      I once had grand plans to swap a mildly built 1.8L 8v VW engine (that was sitting in my garage) into a Sammy, and I live pretty close to Acme Adaptors so everything would have been an easy bolt-in affair.

      Please make this happen so I can live vicariously through you.

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      09-23-2019 03:32 PM #19
      Quote Originally Posted by Veedubgti View Post
      This is my current To-Do list is...
      Remember: a To-Do list only counts if it is written on cardboard.

      Dempsey Bowling
      Sales Consultant at Doug Smith Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram/Subaru/Kia/used
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    21. Member Lujess's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 03:34 PM #20
      1986 = antique....wow. My first new car was a 1987 model year.....now I feel really old ;-)

      Awesome project.
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    22. Geriatric Member Air and water do mix's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 04:18 PM #21
      Is that rust popping up under the adhesive under where the driver's seat goes? Unless you already know otherwise I'd get into that and check it out before there are big holes. :/


      As far as your bird's nest is going, at least you're not undoing hippy wiring. I've had a few Microbuses back in the day and man, they don't know a damn thing about wiring! Id bet you don't have wire nuts and lamp cord in there, anyway.
      Quote Originally Posted by Boyz in da Park
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      09-23-2019 04:42 PM #22
      Veedubgti,
      This thread makes me all sorts of happy You and I are probably the same age. The Samurai was the first car I ever learned to drive on (got my license also in 1991). My parents purchased theirs from John Chezik Suzuki in St. Louis in 1988.
      Last edited by SWeetie; 09-23-2019 at 04:46 PM.
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      09-23-2019 07:10 PM #23
      Quote Originally Posted by Veedubgti View Post

      I'm pretty sure I will be performing a VW 2.0L ABA swap in the relatively near future...
      YES!!! I'm a big VW 8v fan, and wholeheartedly endorse this!

    25. Member Aw614's Avatar
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      09-23-2019 11:18 PM #24
      I like the aba swap idea.
      Quote Originally Posted by danny_16v View Post
      rotary swaps are kinda popular on these... brap brap.

      congrats on the fun project!
      the rotary swap samuari is as puerto rican as you can get lol, my PR friend loves rotaries, but hates the samurai swapped ones, and they are plenty of these in Florida:


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      09-23-2019 11:26 PM #25
      Man, that thing is nice! Interesting choice on the 2.0 ABA. It will feel super torquey in that little tin-top.

      Definitely a rad ride!

      Chris
      | 20 Ram | 13 Altima | 00 Tahoe | 94 Integra GS-R | 74 SuperBeetle | 62 Ford Unibody |

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