As Suzuki prepares more Kei car retro-conceptual joy for Tokyo, we dip into their toybox. Gosh it’s fluffy in there…
Scribed within the official automotive aficionado manual, [chapter 37, paragraph 8, subclause 14.7] is the injunction that both interest and enthusiasm for that unique Japanese phenomenon, the keijidōsha, or light vehicle is a prerequisite for full and unfettered admission.
Here at DTW, we’re not exactly slavish in our fealty to motor-enthusiast norms, tropes or mores, so it would, you might imagine be in our purview to take a less than conventional position on the subject. Believe me, we tried, but faced with such an unrelenting tsunami of Kwaii, it takes a very firm resolve indeed not to succumb to the Kei-car’s cuddly embrace.
Somebody really ought to write a comprehensive history of the keijidōsha, which not only would explore the background, the semantics and the culture that informs this incredibly diverse and fecund motoring genus, but provides a comprehensive compendium of the makes, models, concepts and derivations. But in the absence of such a tome, perhaps we can make something of a stab at building an approximation of one on these pages.
As we can all probably agree, nobody does retro in quite as convincing a manner as the Japanese, and in the land of the rising sun, few exponents of the art better it than Kei-car specialists, Suzuki and Daihatsu.
Today’s subject was previewed by Suzuki at the 2005 Tokyo motor show. An almost unbearably cute retro confection, the LC concept was powered by one of Hamanagun’s off-the-shelf 660cc triples, coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission. Given that there was probably no real intent towards production, further details remain sparse, but one assumes the regular production Kei-car parts bin was plundered accordingly.
But unlike Nissan’s Figaro (in whose idiom the LC clearly fits), which was after all more akin to a sushi platter in design-inspirational terms, the Suzuki can trace its lineage directly to a model from its own back catalogue – the 1967 Fronte 360. A development of the 1962 Suzulight Fronte, the 360’s three cylinder, triple carburettor two stroke power unit was rear mounted. Capacity was either 356cc for the domestic market or 475cc for export. Outputs were unsurprisingly modest. Suspension was independent at each end.
Styling was a notable advance upon its decidedly upright and dated looking predecessor, with a marked shift to a more voluptuous aesthetic form, so much so that it was alleged to have been dubbed “queen of the Kei’s” by Suzuki’s marketeers. Yet despite this they also emphasised the Fronte’s sporty nature (including a Nardi-style steering wheel), not to mention the largest cabin in its class.
It’s a delightful looking little thing with a notable Italianate character to its appearance (as so many Japanese designs from this era possessed) and certainly puts Fiat’s rather plump-looking 850 to shame – in visual terms at least.
Demand for the Fronte 360 is believed to have outstripped projections, with production having to be almost tripled to cope. Over its 1967 – 1970 production run, something in the region of 280,000 360s found enthusiastic homes. It would not be until the advent of the 1979 Fronte/ Alto that the model line abandoned the rear engine layout and two-stroke powerplant for a by then conventional front-transverse four-stroke triple.
Today’s Alto Keijidōsha (now in its eighth generation) is a direct, distant and somewhat less distinctive descendant, which seems a pity.
Which brings us to the forthcoming Tokyo show, where amongst the studies being prepared by Suzuki is the Waku SPO concept, another overtly retro coupé confection. According to some sources, its styling is believed also to have been influenced by the ’67 Fronte, although if so, it’s been subsumed beneath its more obvious (to these eyes), if far more recent reference point – 2015’s Mighty Deck concept. But the deeper into the Keijidōsha universe you penetrate, you discover that little, even concepts such as retro are what they might first seem.
9 thoughts on “Kei Car Compendium – 2005 Suzuki LC Concept”
Why does this Suzuki remind me of this:
Eóin, you make an interesting and more general point about Japanese designs of the 1960’s, many of which had a strong Italianate influence that lent them an attractive light and airy look. Unfortunately, this was succeeded by a rather ersatz and heavily ornamented look that prevailed in the 1970’s. Compare the first and third generation Datsun Sunny models:
Yes, S.V., the current Swift really is a bit of a disappointment after the sublime 2004 model and almost identical 2010 replacement. (The 2004 car shades it with its cleaner A-pillar treatment.) The current model has the same basic profile, but is blighted by a fussy C-pillar treatment with a “hidden” rear door handle in a textured black plastic, which bears no relation to the high-gloss black finish on the A- and B-pillars. It’s a shame because, otherwise, it’s still a good looking car.
Here’s the 2004 model:
And the current one:
Imagine how much tidier it would look with a conventional rear door handle and C-pillar treatment.
On the subject of Suzuki specifically, the company has a long history of producing interesting and quirky prototypes and production cars that gave enriched the automotive landscape. One of my favourites was the SC100 “Whizzkid” a rear-engined fun-sized Porsche 911:
The latest in this line is the Ignis, which reprises elements the SC100’s style in a different form, and of course the lovely new Jimny.
Love the Whizzkid, and the current Ignis and the Jimny. The current Swift is a bit of a misstep, but by and large Suzuki delivers us thought-provoking and uplifting cars.
Oops, put my reply to S.V. re the Swift in the wrong place. It’s up there…⬆️
Reminds me a bit of the Ford concept of the 90’s – I want to call it the Model 21C but that’s completely wrong – Richard quite often refers to it … Hang on and I’ll go and look it up!
Got it now – the 021C; there you see, I wasn’t that far off was I?
Those were the days when Ford actually seemed to care about creating interesting and thought provoking concepts and bothered to show them at Motor shows.
Launched in 77, phased out in 82, the Cervo CX-G was itself the second gen of the Cervo in its 1971 guise. What we knew as the Whizzkid was 100mm wider and lass « kawai » than the so-cute original. The extra width gave space for the four stroke four, replacing the tiny two stroke triple (360cc!!) in the first version.
Setright quipped that it could fit through most gaps in traffic even when travelling sideways, which given the ease of spinning in the wet was a boon! RIP NWK 66 W…