Better known for their two-wheelers as much as a range of small economy cars, the 1985 Suzuki R/S1 was pretty as it was bold. So of course they never made it. Or did they?
For a time during the mid-1980s, it really did appear as though the automotive future was being dreamt up in Japan. With the mainstream European carmakers for the most part mired in creative and technical retrenchment, not to mention chronic overcapacity (some things never change), the Japanese manufacturers had it seemed, invested wisely and emerged as a power to be reckoned with.
Certainly, this period proved to be perhaps the great flowering of Japanese creativity and ambition when carmakers demonstrated to their European (and American) rivals that there really was nowhere to hide. Amid the numerous notable production designs which can be traced back to this period, an even greater number of concepts graced the show stands, further illustrating the Japanese manufacturer’s reach and exposing the singular lack of vision of their ‘old World’ counterparts.
The 1985 Suzuki R/S1 is a prime example. Not simply a styling exercise, the R/S1 was a fully running prototype for a compact, mid-engined sports two-seater. In typical Suzuki fashion, it was as dainty dimensionally as it was in its choice of powerplant.
Fitted with a similar G13B fuel-injected twin cam 16 valve engine as fitted the relatively unloved production Swift GT, the 1299cc unit produced 100 BHP at 6600 RPM. However the R/S1 engine was said to have been built with fibre-reinforced metal pistons, which Suzuki claimed, were both lightweight, strong, and highly resistant to wear.
Such a small capacity powerplant would be to little purpose in a heavy bodyshell, so the R/S1’s outer skin was made of fibre-reinforced plastic. Suzuki made claims for a drag coefficient “fully competitive with today’s advanced aerodynamic designs”. However, they did neglect to state the actual figure.
With the engine mounted transversely behind the cockpit, Suzuki cited a weight distribution of 45:55, front to rear, and with a version of the Swift’s independent strut suspension all round, the carmaker boasted an “unbeatable combination of a supple, well-damped ride together with excellent levels of grip in all conditions and over all road surfaces.”
Stylistically, the R/S1 was low-nosed, angular and purposeful, yet very well proportioned – quite a difficult thing to pull off with such a compact package. While it could be said to have contained similar styling elements to that of Nissan’s MID 4 of the same year, the Suzuki was far better resolved and more distinctive than Nissan’s rather undistinguished looking supercar concept.
Arguably closer in concept to Fiat’s sublime, if by then woefully dated (and visually besmirched) X1/9, the little Suzuki also showed up Toyota’s sweet-handling if bland looking MR2 for the lumpen behemoth it was.
Probably too compact and ‘pure’ for production feasibility, Suzuki evolved the concept with the 1987 R/S3 which maintained the earlier car’s silhouette, but with an eye to Japanese safety regulations, appearing softer-formed, not to mention virtually production-ready.
Perhaps the business case for such an expensive programme could not be justified in Hamamatsu, or equally, it fell prey to the same factors which befell the entire Japanese industry as it entered the following decade. Either way, the RS series was abandoned, Suzuki developing the smaller and more conventional kei-Cappuccino model instead.
In a postscript however, elements of the RS programme formed the basis for Mazda’s distinctive gullwing AZ-1 two-seater, said to have been developed by father of the MX-5, Toshiko Hirai and sold by Hiroshima’s Autozam brand and by Suzuki themselves as the Cara.
Small mercies one assumes, but we’d really have preferred the original. But it’s worth remembering, that in 1985 when the MG-F was but a twinkle in Gerry McGovern’s eye and the European industry was in thrall to the performance hatchback, Japan was creating automotive delicacies such as this. That Suzuki subsequently rowed back on such a delight is perhaps as understandable as it is lamentable.