The Suzuki name is now garlanded with accolades from two-wheel motor sports. Such success was inconceivable when, in 1952, the company abandoned its long history of making industrial looms for weavers, and gambled everything on motorizing some of Japan’s 97 million people. Early experience with mopeds and motorbikes encouraged Suzuki to explore ways of minimizing four-wheel transport for domestic and commercial use.
In 1955 it was the first to launch a `Kei.’ every small’) car (aka plain `K’), ideal for the appalling snarl-ups of Japanese conurbations, and which attracted tax and parking benefits for their owners. For twenty years Suzuki made the best Kei cars, but were unable to challenge the relative sophistication of Toyota, Nissan and other major Japanese car manufacturers at home.
Only in 1979, with a network of overseas co-manufacturers and agents (for their off-road vehicles and vans) in place, did the company put all their thwarted expertise into an internationally-competitive Kei passenger car. The Suzuki Cervo (SC) 100 was released in 1972 as a 2+2 coupe version of the rear-engine Suzuki Fronte saloon. It was a tiny 3.2 m (10.5 ft) long, pushed along in Japan by a 539 cc two-stroke engine to a maximum of 65 mph (105 km/h). In 1979 the export model launched in Holland and the UK as the SC100 GX (there were never any other options) put it to shame.
The SC100 GX was thrust by a rear-mounted four-cylinder Alto engine which raised its parental 28 bhp to 47 bhp. It flew, and the power in the tail made driving enormous fun. It had zip. It had zing. It had more lavish equipment than any European carmaker could offer at the price. It was a brilliant city car, amply fulfilling its fond UK nickname of ‘Whizzkid’.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Japan
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1979 (until 1982)
ENGINE: 970 cc Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 85 mph (137 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 16.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Despite being a bargain, sporty smash hit, under 5,000 Whizzkids were sold because Suzuki failed to anticipate the demand or respond to it. The Whizzkid’s stock has been rising ever since. In 2005 Suzuki re-used the Cervo name for a new luxury Kei-car: it helped Suzuki to attain its longstanding though conventional ambitions, but left no room in the kid for renewed whizz.